Hail to England! Part 1.

“It will be fun!” he said…
At the end of last year Bob Gregory (formerly the Managing Director of Samuel Gawith) was nagging me to get my ass over to England. Why? Well, because even in his old age and slightly demented state he was organising the British Pipe Smoking Championship (BPSC). Together with English pipe-maker Ian Walker. “Come here, it will be fun, fine pipes, good tobacco, good food, good drinks, lots of girls and you know the sun always shines here!” Bob exclaimed. I had my doubts about some of his words, but then I heard that my old chap, Sergeant Matron of the Kearvaig Pipe Club (KPC), also was coming. And even better, on his way from Scotland to the South he could pick me up at Manchester airport and drive us to the quaint town of Middlewich (already baptised “Middlebitch”, by Matron). The heart and home of the BPSC. So I said “yes”, I will come. Being as organised as he is, Matron also took care of lodgings. We were staying at the local Travelodge.

Sadly going by Spitfire wasn’t possible, I had to do it with Sleasyjet..

Too early..
At freaking 05:30AM my alarm clock went off on Friday May 10th. Ughhh…. What do normal people do at this time?? I asked myself while groggily walking to the bathroom. After a hot shower I felt a bit better and was looking forward to the trip and thought like: Ha! The quest for the ultimate pipe smoking price on the scarred fields of Middlewich finally begins! I will have to conquer the great metal beast on the flat lands, fly with the iron bird over the deepest seas to the ancient kingdom, slay many fuming dragons, but in the end the virgin leaf will be mine! So I got on the train, the most nerve wrecking part of the journey. Will it be on time or not? Will it have a delay or not? You never know in The Netherlands.. Thankfully it was on time and with a sigh of relief I entered Schiphol Airport.

They took me knife!
Sadly the relief only lasted until I got to customs, where my luggage was checked. Being a pipe smoker, you always get picked out because the x-ray folks think you are carrying illegal items. In this case, my cigar cutter and pocket knife. After I explained to the customs woman how a cigar cutter works by nearly slicing off the tip of her finger she took my knife. I know the rules, the blade can be no longer than 6cm. But she held it against some card for measurements and said she had to confiscate it because it was 0.5cm too long… What?? “Normally you don’t have an issue with something being half a centimetre too long..” I muttered to the woman. At which point I was taken away for a thorough strip search by a big man called Bubba.. No, only kidding, but I lost my knife! Grumpily I entered the plane. Fortunately the flight went well (except for that there should be a place in hell for parents who bring their little crying children along) and when I saw my old friend Matron with open arms waiting for me at Manchester Airport all was forgotten.

My Smoking Shop
After paying a hefty parking fee of £20(!!!) we went on our way to Preston, in the opposite direction of Middlewich. Because I arrived early and we couldn’t go into the Travelodge yet, Matron proposed a visit to the famous My Smoking Shop in Preston. By all means, fine by me! When we arrived and went in we expected the shop to be a bit bigger. Nonetheless we were impressed, mostly by the array of British made tobaccos. I swear Matron was getting a hard one by seeing all the smoke-able goodies before him. Sadly, very sadly they didn’t have much J.F. Germain offerings. I was hoping to score some Rich Dark Flake, but apparently My Smoking Shop only had 2 Germain deliveries in the past 12 months. Both without Rich Dark Flake.. Bummer! So I went for some mouthwatering Gawith & Hoggarth Westmoreland Slices, Dark Flake and the excellent Irish Brown Twist. Also I needed a new knife to cut my tobacco. The nice lady behind the counter came up with a good looking Joseph Rodgers 3 in 1 Gentleman’s Smokers Knife. Made from genuine Sheffield steel, Rodgers (founded in 1724) still produces the finest quality knives, ensuring excellence in every aspect of production, from materials to craftsmanship. I immediately loved it so bought it.

“It will only be a small walk there…”
I tested out my new smokers knife at the nearby terrace of a cafe. Worked like a charm! I had an alcohol-free beer while Matron was drinking something I didn’t know: an orange juice – soda mix. Typical English I guess. I tried it, loved it and had many more during the whole trip. After a delightful smoke we drove to Middlewich and checked into the Travelodge. It was nearing dinner time and Matron thought it was a good idea to eat some proper fish & chips at The King’s Lock Inn, the venue for the pipe smoking championship. “It will only be a small walk there.” Matron said. Famous last words.. He got lost (and the freaking internet didn’t work..) and when we asked a local man for directions he had a big laugh at us twits and said we were some miles away.. Thankfully in the end we got there and it didn’t disappoint.

Fish & chips with mashed peas

“Try it, it will be nice.”
The King’s Lock is a nice rustic old pub alongside a canal suited for narrowboats. In front is a field with some wooden benches where we sat down. At the back the tents for the pipe smoking championship were already erected. Opposite the pub at the other side of the canal is the best fish & chips shop of Middlewich (according to many): Kings Lock Fish & Chips. Which was underlined by the long row before the door. Matron asked me what I wanted and I answered: fish & chips as British as possible. When he came back he had some food-boxes and other things with him. For me he had gotten fried haddock with chips (fries) mixed with mashed peas and salt and vinegar on top. For himself he had fries with a curry sauce. But before delving into the main course he had an appetiser for me: a pickled egg. A peeled hard-boiled egg with a bit of a sour smell. “Try it, it will be nice.” the bastard said. I took a big bite and…. UGHHHH!!!! It was so sour all my facial muscles contracted, to the great amusement of Matron. Apparently it is something you eat after a night of hard drinking. From my experience I think you will go from drunk to sober in a split second. Of course I didn’t give in and ate the whole damned thing. Afterwards the fish & chips (despite looking like someone’s stomach contents) tasted heavenly. Great Britain had redeemed itself from the foul junk fish & chips in Jedburgh.

“Sorry, he comes from the Netherlands, he doesn’t know better.”
Saturday May 11th was the date of the BPSC. It started at 11 o’clock so Matron and I had plenty of time for a good breakfast. You have to lay a good foundation for a day of smoking right? On Google Maps we found a nice looking place called “Drinks & Bites at 35“. Matron went for the obligatory beans on toast. Beans in the morning?? No thank you.. I ordered “Eggs at 35”; scrambled eggs with smoked salmon, cream cheese and 2 slices of toast. I was keen to try the famous black pudding so added one of those. The lady at the counter looked weird at the request, so Matron responded with “Sorry, he comes from the Netherlands, he doesn’t know better.” The meal was utterly, utterly delicious. Every aspect prepared to perfection. To top it off I had a slice of home made lemon drizzle cake.. *guttural sound of pure pleasure* Best cake ever!

The BPSC venue
Matron dropped me off at the The King’s Lock and went back to the hotel because I (stupidly) didn’t bring my pipe bag. The venue was in essence a field with tents and benches. Upon entering I was immediately warmly greeted by Bob Gregory. We hugged and both were very pleased to see each other. “Come, I’ll introduce you to everyone. Here now lads, this is Arno, The Dutch Pipe Smoker, all the way from The Netherlands!” Bob exclaimed to a group of mostly young pipe smokers with dashing matching shirts. It turned out to be the Yorkshire Pipe Club. I had barely shaken everyone’s hands before Bob dragged me along to the big tent, where all the exhibitors, pipe-makers, tobacco-sellers were. Where it went something like this: “Arno, this is…..” *shake hands* *bit of small talk* “Let’s go!” “Arno, this is…..” *shake hands* *bit of small talk* “Let’s go!” etc. I snapped some pictures and promised to return later. Finally Bob dropped me off at the Yorkshire Pipe Club table. What a lovely bunch they are! Very passionate and knowledgeable. I spoke a lot with founder & chairman Dan about the current smoking regulations in both Great Britain and The Netherlands. It was quite a shock for him to hear the current bleak situation in my home country where tobacco is even more expensive than in the United Kingdom. I also shook hands with president Jim Boyle, who I know, but didn’t recognise.. Sorry Jim! And chaps, if you read this and ever need help when visiting The Netherlands or Belgium, let me know!

Perhaps “The Piped Peter” is a good bothy name for him?

Peter our saviour
Matron had also arrived and slowly we got ready for the main event. Only, we had a small problem.. We were there as the KPC but teams needed a minimum of 3 persons. No worries, Bob had the solution in the form of Peter the pipe smoker who would join our exalted ranks. We immediately hit it off with Peter who was quite nervous since it was his first pipe smoking championship. Join the club lad, it is also our first time! We are all virgins here! He was present with his charming multilingual wife girlfriend who even could speak a little bit of Dutch! “I really hope I don’t go out first..” Peter muttered. Almost famous last words!

Stay tuned for part 2 and find out about the championship results, a nicotine overdose, English girls, an ancient cathedral and a possible terrorist attack.

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