Back in black

At the end of November 2017 my world came falling down. For weeks and weeks it was extremely busy at my day-job, in the evenings I was often working on the blog, answering personal emails etc. and in the weekends I was doing all kinds of things. After a while I really had trouble finding peace, in my head it just kept going, night and day, day in day out. I could not find the “stop” button any more. A big feeling of unrest, anxiety and stress began to creep into me. My stomach pained me, my neck pained me, I had constant headaches, I slept badly and on top of that my shoulder hurt. On Bali last year I had dislocated it, luckily it went back in again but it kept bothering me. I could do nothing without the feeling that my arm would pop out of my shoulder and there was a constant, nagging pain. In October I went to to the hospital at last, after my shoulder got dislocated again, for some X-rays. It turned out that the bottom of my right glenoid cavity had broken off, I needed surgery. But before that my brain called it quits. There was so much work at the office (plus a colleague with maternity leave, all kinds of hard- and software issues, no extra helping hands) that I could not handle it any more. Every day I was snoring vast amounts of snuff tobacco, I had a hip flask filled with Austrian stroh-rum of which I sometimes took a swig, all to keep me going and settle down my nerves. Then at a night I had a severe panic attack. I suddenly awoke drenched in sweat with my heart racing while my brain was going in full overdrive. Poor Ellen thought I was having a heart-attack.. That morning I called in sick while crying.. I went to the family doctor and he came to a quick conclusion; I had a mental breakdown on the verge of a full-blown burn-out. I had to take total rest.

First selfie after my mental breakdown, just take a look at my eyes and see how far I was gone..

The next couple of weeks were utter hell. Every day when I awoke, often after a short night sleep, my mind was racing and I was full of feelings of paranoia, unrest, stress, anxiety and guilt. Guilt because I felt that I had let myself and my colleagues down. Also my emotional barriers were totally shot. I would burst out in tears at nothing several times a day. Luckily I have some great friends who (sadly) had similar mental issues in the past. I talked to them and they gave me all kinds of useful tips. First I had to follow my daily routine as much as possible. So not lie in bed forever but get up, take a shower, make breakfast etc. Second I got the advice to exercise. I began taking a ± 40 minute walk every day through and around the village where I live. Of course while smoking one of my trusted corncob pipes, lunting that is called. Slowly halfway a walk my negative emotions subsided and I began feeling a bit human again. The evenings mostly went ok until I went to bed and awoke again the next morning..

Pipe smoking was a big help for me in those weeks. Just the ritual, the act of choosing the pipe and tobacco, filing the pipe, lighting and slowly smoking it gave me some peace of mind, a soothing experience. During my lunting walks I always smoked aromatics. When enjoying my pipe in public I always try to please the noses of passers-by. Plus that it is a shame to smoke fancy tobaccos which burn away quickly because of the always present winds. I started with Danpipe’s Sweet Vanilla Honeydew (now called SVH), a great tasting blend but it burned way too hot on my tongue. Then I tried Planta’s Danish Black Vanilla which was much better. I really don’t understand the low score on tobaccoreviews.com, for me it is one of the great all time aromatics. But my favourite was Graf Adolf Brauner Flake, one of the home blends of Linzbach in Düsseldorf and also known as John Aylesbury Dragon Flake. Great taste, slow burning and cool. Currently I am smoking Cornell & Diehl Autumn Evening, no bite and very tasty! Another tip of my friends was to do fun things, things that made me relax. So for example I watched all kinds of series on Netflix (loved Peaky Blinders!), shot pictures for my Instagram page, I devoured books on my e-reader (a lot of Indiana Jones books), sometimes had an outdoors lunch after walking and with Ellen I went to see nearby forests and places. By the way, Ellen drove the car wherever we went. I could not drive, it was simply too much for me, too many stimulations. Also I was visiting a psychologist and started practising some mindfulness.

See the screws in my shoulder, I certainly feel more “metal” now!

Gradually after some weeks I began to feel a bit better. The mornings were not as bad as before (although still not even near pleasant) and my negative feelings and emotions began to subside somewhat. Slowly I was preparing myself mentally for the surgery on my shoulder at the beginning of January. But 1 day for the actual date I got a call from the hospital, the operation was called off because the surgeon got sick. Another blow.. I also started feeling a bit bored and useless so in consultation with my office I began working again for a couple of hours per day. Which went pretty well luckily. Soon a new date was planned for the shoulder surgery (after some pushing from my side), the last day of January, such a relief. So at the 31st I checked in at the hospital. The operation went well (despite I felt ill afterwards because of the narcosis). They had sawn some bone from another part of my shoulder and used it to repair the glenoid cavity. Also they re-located part of my biceps so it wouldn’t interfere with my shoulder.

Posting pictures on my Instagram page also was a nice distraction.

Recovery went well, the first week was pretty painful but aside from the nights (I could only sleep on my back and left side) I really could not complain. The most annoying was that I had to have my arm in a sling all day and night. Unfortunately after some weeks I suffered a mental relapse. I got a mail from my work about my travel allowance (nothing serious) but that in combination with the thought of working again in some weeks time (just like the first drive after a car accident) fuelled my feelings of paranoia, unrest, stress and anxiety. It took me more than a week to shake the feelings off. I noticed I wasn’t there yet where I wanted to be mental-wise. Also I discovered that work was not the only reason of my mental breakdown. Roughly for about the last 2 years I had a nagging feeling it was going slowly downhill with me. That I was running aground in who I was, my habits, my thoughts, my past etc. The psychologist I was seeing was a very nice lady but a bit formal, I did not have a connection with her. Besides I needed something more than just talking. I decided to look for someone else.

Guusta’s yurt
© G. Zuurbier

Soon I stumbled on the website of psychologist Guusta Zuurbier and immediately had a good feeling with her for some reason. So I called her up but could not find the right words immediately at which we both had to laugh a bit, a good sign. She has her practice at home and when I visited her for an introductory conversation I was pleasantly surprised. She lives on a beautiful farm with lots of grassland around it in the rural area of my village. A place of peace and quiet, just what I needed. But I was truly amazed when I saw the practice itself; a stunning original Mongolian yurt! Ok, a tad woolly perhaps but it felt like a place of healing. After some talking we came to the conclusion that I had 2 options. Or take regular sessions with her or begin with an intensive yearlong treatment program called Tools for Life. I choose the latter, I was ready for change. In the following weeks I had 2 intake interviews so Guusta could determine my problems and pain points.

Beautiful views, in the background Guusta’s farm.

But before it all started I first wanted to let my shoulder further heal and have some working experience again. Luckily all went well and soon it was time for therapy. Tools for Life consists of 2 weeks of 2 hour sessions every day and after that once a month (or more if necessary) for a year. From a friend of Ellen who also did it and from the things I had read I understood those 2 weeks were going to be pretty heavy. Well, I thought, it certainly will not be that bad. Famous last words.. The first day I waited outside the practice in the sunshine enjoying the view before Guusta called me in. I had to take off my shoes and we sat in the yurt while enjoying a cup of herbal tea (afterwards I learned that deliberately no coffee was provided (too much of a stimulant) and alcohol was prohibited in those 2 weeks (which Guusta forgot to mention, whoops..)).

Young me (of course with a pipe).

We talked and eventually she asked me to lay down on a mattress and put on an eye-mask. Behind the mask she had put some tissues and I remember myself thinking “Why the tissues? Ah, probably to keep the mask from getting dirty”. We did some relaxing exercises and then she asked me to imagine I was a young child again, about 7 years old and that I was standing before the door of my parental house. Which I did. At that moment I suddenly noticed I got a lump in my throat. What the hell?? Come on man.. So I swallowed it away and continued. Then I had to visualize that my parents came home and constantly, with everything that happened then, I had to tell how that felt, what it was doing to me, the young Arno. I had to feel, feel, feel again and again. And that child now had to say things to his parents, things that he would not have said back then but that the current grown up version of me would have spoken of. So in short I said the things out loud I wouldn’t have said as a child. I accepted and took responsibility for them as a grown-up. And it was soooo hard to do.. Getting those words out of my mouth often felt like getting a stuck cork out of a bottle. I won’t go into specific details but after that session on the mattress I understood the tissues behind the eye-mask, they were soaking wet.. When we sat down again I heard the sentences I had to say out loud were from a technique called logosynthesis, very interesting and incredible. I went home feeling like a zombie who just got steamrollered over.

The circle

Every next day pretty much followed the same concept; first some talking, then the mattress and then more talking. I also had home work, for example each day I had to bring a symbol with me that represented the day before. So after the first day I brought an old wristwatch with me that I had bought together with my father to represent his relationship with me and time, the young and current Arno. Besides that I had to write letters to persons and read them out loud to Guusta. Pretty emotionally heavy I can tell you. Further we discussed the circle, which represents my boundaries and wanted (new) and unwanted (old) behaviour. Boundaries in a sense that I only had to let persons, things and events in my life (circle) that I really wanted. Tools for Life also is about recognizing and changing behaviour that you learned in your youth and is making life difficult now. Unwanted (old) behaviour is outside the circle and wanted (new) behaviour is inside. For example old unwanted behaviour is wanting to write a blogpost every month because I feel I have to please people. New wanted behaviour is writing whenever I feel like to without any pressure.

Slowly throughout the days all my mental layers were professionally peeled off like an onion. On the second Monday I could not stand it any more. My masks had all gone and Guusta was, figuratively speaking, constantly rubbing my open wounds and putting salt on it. Feel this feel that… Suddenly I had enough, I wanted to get away, which I told Guusta. “That is escape behaviour, which you also showed before your mental breakdown. But feel free to leave whenever you want.” Arghhh…. I battled with myself but in the end stayed and continued the exercise. I believe that was the turning point. From then on I felt I was slowly getting stronger, more confident. I was on the rise again, an incredible feeling. At the end of the second week it was like I was drifting on clouds, it felt almost unreal. The last day we had a little party, to celebrate I had completed the first stage of Tools for Life. I could ask for anything to eat and drink so at 09:00 in the morning I was sipping away whisky while munching on Croky paprika potato chips. One of the symbols I had brought with me in those weeks was the first CD I ever bought, Back in Black from AC/DC. Like she had read my mind Guusta put on the title song, very fitting: Back in black, I hit the sack, I’ve been too long I’m glad to be back. Yes, I’m let loose, from the noose that’s kept me hanging about. ‘Cause I’m back, yes, I’m back. Yes, I’m back in black.

See me smiling, trying to be more positive!

But the real work starts now, the new road has only begun. I have got some tools to re-program myself. Now if I fall into old automatic behaviour I know and recognize  it, so I can change it. Like a birds-eye view I see myself and the situation and am able to respond to it in a new way. Easier said than done, believe me. Luckily Ellen supports me and sometimes points things out to me. So every evening before I go to sleep I go over the day, how did I feel, good or bad, old or new behaviour etc. And some things I write down so I can discuss it in a next session with Guusta. Those will be going on for maximum a year, or less. Right now I feel pretty damn good, back to earth but in a good way. It feels like like once in me was a shed full of all kinds of garbage and now it is clean. And I want to keep it clean.. So I am trying to be more positive in all aspects of my life, unconsciously I had became fairly negative. The glass is half-full, not half empty. And oh, of course there is much more to Tools for Life as I have told here. But some things have to remain a mystery until you undergo it yourself.

If people read this who are experiencing what I experienced, who are having a mental breakdown or a burn-out; learn from my story, there certainly is light at the end of the tunnel. You will get better, you will get stronger. There is absolutely no shame in your condition. Seek (professional) help, talk to people and most important, smoke a relaxing pipe now and then. It helped me! Regarding this blog, there will be fewer posts. The past 2 years I often was really struggling getting a blogpost ready every month. The amount of research, making and getting pictures, the writing itself.. Pffff… No more of that now, I’ll write whenever I feel like writing and take things easy. To you, my readers, I would like to say, thank you for reading!

Happy Easter 2018!

Also see this post: Smokin’ Easter

Happy International Pipe Smoking Day 2018!!!

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Merry Christmas and a smoky 2018!

I would like to wish all my readers a merry Christmas and a smoky 2018!

Unfortunately I am slowly recovering now from a mental breakdown and in January I am having surgery on my shoulder (the bottom of my right glenoid cavity has broken off..). So for the coming time there will be no blogposts. But as another Arno(ld) once said: I’ll be back!

Hospitable Heukelum 2017

Label of the 2017 forumbeer

As every year the annual meeting in Heukelum of the Dutch/Belgian pipe-smokers forum marks the beginning of dark and rainy autumn. At least, that is what the weather-forecast said. And when I looked outside the window on Sunday 29 October I believed it. Oh well.. Like always I picked up Mark at the Deventer train station and together we drove to the carpool place where Ed would be waiting or us. Normally Johnny would also be there but he had to finish some work first and came later. So the three of us rode to Heukelum and to my surprise the weather cleared up; blue skies, sunshine. Very un-Dutch-like. When we arrived at ‘T Kuipertje owner/brewer Henk had made a tent at the front of brewery with most sides closed. As the inevitable rain began to fall we were glad about Henk’s foresight.

Martin’s new self-made pipe

Inside I almost immediately walked to stone-cutting tamper-maker extraordinaire Martin, who like every year organised the meeting, to get my name-badge and drinking coupons. Yup, for the money (€27,50) you get two drinks, there is a big BBQ with all kinds of tasty fresh meat, sauces, salads and baguettes, the rent of the brewery is included and last but not least you get one bottle of special forum-beer with a label made by myself! Since this year Martin is also active in the field of pipe making. And like with stone also wood seems to have no secrets for his hands. He had brought his latest creation with him and I immediately loved it. A perfect mixture between a classic and organic shape.

Like always there was also a little business to be done. The week before I had mailed Rudi, the tobacconist who always comes to our meetings, if he could bring with him a tin of the new Danpipe Fred the Frog, which I already smoked at the Inter Tabac fair in Dortmund. €10 for 50 gr., not bad for this fine blend! Friend and mentor Klaas had offered some vintage tobaccos for sale a couple of weeks before the meeting. I mostly was interested in a couple of older Robert McConnell Pure Latakia tins with in them perhaps some Syrian dark leaf so I bought 3 of them. When I met Klaas he immediately apologised. “Hello Arno, I am sorry, I made a mistake. I thought I had more Pure Latakia but I only had 1 left for you. So you know what, I am going to give you 2 De Graaff Latakia tins.” Wowwww!!! Very generous! Once upon a time De Graaff in The Hague was one of the best tobacconists in The Netherlands and they had their own range of house-blends. They were made by a company in London but exactly which one De Graaff always kept a secret. Nowadays the blends are sadly discontinued. Klaas still has quite some tins under which the pure latakia. And that is not some regular pure latakia, no, it is the Syrian Mountain Blue dark leaf made famous by the legendary Balkan Sobranie 759. Soon I am going to do some home-blending and these tins will come in very handy!

For Frisian pipe-maker Meindert I also had something. Weeks before Heukelum I was looking on ebay when I suddenly saw a beautiful Dunhill. Most of the times it is an auction and in the end the price is way too high for this cheap Dutchman. This one had a Buy It Now price of €100. Hmm.. There must be something wrong with it, I thought. So I took a better look and to my surprise the Dunhill dated from 1943, a patent era wartime pipe, pretty rare! Only thing I could discover was that the rim was very slightly damaged but that was it. So I bought it. When I received the pipe in the mail and unwrapped the package it even looked better than on the pictures, it even still had the inner tube. But still the Dunhill needed some work with the rim and stem. So I handed over the pipe into the skilled hands of Meindert.

I had to laugh when I saw the entrance of forum member Kees (nickname Kiske). For a while he was absent from the forum due to ehm.. differences of opinion with the administrators and moderators of the forum but now he was back. For some time he had been (jokingly) saying that our usual name badges were no good and that we all should wear tiaras instead. Of course you should never say that aloud on the forum because someone made an actual tiara for him. Luckily it was no problem for Kees to actually wear it, it suited him!

Erik Stokkebye and me with the pipe I won

Thinking back the weeks before the meeting the Pipe God really was smiling upon me. On a Wednesday afternoon I had a meeting with other pipe-smokers and forum members at tobacconist Willem Schimmel in Zutphen. Erik Stokkebye, blender and son of the very well known Peter Stokkebye, was there to promote his 4th Generation tobacco range. We had a fun evening, it truly was a delight to speak to the very knowledgeable Erik, which culminated in a contest in which you could win a 4th Generation pipe made by Neerup Pipes. Several questions were asked and the one who had everything right in the end would win. I can’t remember all the questions but the last one was where the 4th Generation tobaccos were made. So I blurted out “In the Orlik factory!” Well, not entirely correct… “In the Orlik factory of the Scandinavian Tobacco Group!” Which was the right answer, I had won the pipe! Back home I quickly noticed that it was a rather large pipe, I mean, my thumb fully fitted in the bowl. Too big for my taste. So I decided to put up a lottery on the forum which was won by Frans. In Heukelum I gave him the pipe, I hope he gets many enjoyable smoking hours from it.

Ton

Last year I bought some pipes for the father of a friend of mine, Ton. At that time he was visiting The Netherlands because he lived abroad. Since a month he moved back to our wet, cold and flat country so I invited him to the meeting. Since he is living alone some company is always welcome, so he accepted my offer. Afterwards he told me he stared his eyes out. Ton is an old-fashioned smoker, preferably he smokes the same blend in the same pipe over and over. “What a pleasant gathering of people and what a lot of pipes they did bring with them! And so many bent ones!” Ton only smokes straight billiards  and thinks everyone smokes those because they smoke the best. Well, ehmm.. Ehrrr… Guess I have to teach an old fox some new tricks. Later I was approached by Jos, “Arno, I have something for you, do you want it now or later?” Ehmm, now? He presented me a wrapped package, so I unwrapped it and saw a bottle of Huppelolie (hopping oil)! Yummie! Huppelolie is a tasty “kruidenbitter” (no translation), sometimes my stomach pains me and a small glass of Huppelolie does wonders. But why the bottle? I asked Jos. Because years ago I gave him some tips about buying tobacco overseas. So kind of him!

I also was glad Shaun was there all the way from Belgium and of course all the others of the Fuming Four. For months they have been pestering me that I should go with hem next year to Scotland again. Not only to the beginning of the Highlands this time but all the way to the utmost North point at Kearvaig, where the home-bothy stands of the Kearvaig Pipe Club. An almost spiritual journey. But I still don’t know if I want to go.. I mean, beautiful country, Scotland, but a big chance of bad weather, cold, midgets ehrrr.. midges, mediocre food (although Matron’s curry was excellent!) and the worst of all, no comfort! The bothy has no shower, no soft bed and no toilet which means digging a hole outside if you have to take a dump.. I admit that throughout the years I turned somewhat into a sissy boy, I just like a little bit of luxury mmkay? But who knows, I like organizing such trips so perhaps while doing that I fully decide to go. The other guys of the Fuming Four had a request for me. I am a bit different from them as I don’t have a beard and I don’t have tattoos. Now they wanted me to design the latter. And I also should get it. Ehmm.. I have a virgin skin and I like to keep it that way. But in Shaun’s eyes I already could see his evil plan: Get Arno piss-drunk and then…… *evil laugh*

The rest of the afternoon and evening in Heukelum was very pleasant as usual. So many people, so many conversations, so little time. Around 5 o’clock Henk told us that the BBQ was ready and we could eat. I don’t know what it is but when someone says something like that no one wants to be the first one. But when Arno is hungry Arno is hungry you know? So I began putting tasty meat on my plate and the rest soon followed. A bit earlier then expected the majority of the forum members began to pack and went home. So not long after that Ed, Mark and I also decided to leave. When I got home Ellen was snoring on the couch and woke up when I entered the room. “Did you have a good meeting?” “Yes darling, it was another great day.”

I would like to thank Martin for organizing the meeting! All pictures were made by Klaas, Dirk, Martin and myself.

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Happy Halloween 2017!

Also see The Demon Skull Pipe

Inter-Tabac 2017 impression

Yes, smoking is still allowed at the Inter-Tabac fair!

September 23th it was once again time for one of my annual highlights: The Inter Tabac fair in Dortmund. For those of you who missed the blogposts I made of the visit the last couple of years; the Inter-Tabac is the leading and biggest trade fair of the world for tobacco products and smoking accessories. This year 12,500 folks from all over the world visited the Inter Tabac. With halls 2 to 8 from the Westfalenhallen the fair occupied the largest space in its history. 560 exhibitors (also from all over the globe) presented trends and innovative tobacco products. This included cigars, cigarillos, cigarettes, E-cigarettes, E-pipes, E-shishas, smoking accessories, pipes, pipe tobacco, shishas, shop equipment and spirits. Unfortunately the fair is for retailers, not for consumers. Like the previous years I was able to secure a ticket through Fred. The saying goes, the more the merrier, so (with approval of Fred) I invited Pascal, who is an enthusiastic pipe-smoker and also a member of the Dutch/Belgian Pipe Smokers Forum.

DTM stand

Early in the morning I picked him up from his AirBnB in the village where I live and together we drove to Germany. After a pleasant ride with a lot of talking we arrived at the Westfalenhallen. A renovation was going on there so instead of the main entrance we had to go to a smaller one. Fred texted that he was in a traffic jam so he was a bit later. “You know what, let’s head to the stand of Dan Tobacco Manufacturing (DTM)/Dan Pipe, they have coffee.” I said to Pascal once we were inside. When we got there the DTM management was in a meeting but I managed to greet Andreas (Mund, master-blender) and the lovely daughter of managing director Heiko Behrens. Like last year she recognized me, more or less. “I know you, right?” She asked. “Yes you know me” I answered.

Fred the Frog

Unfortunately they were too busy to offer us some coffee but Herr Behrens quickly gave us both a tin of Peter Rasmussen Green Label. A smooth, flavourful but a bit unremarkable blend in my opinion. My attention focused more on a big beautifully labelled jar with in it a new mixture: Fred the Frog. Rich matured Virginia, perique and black cavendish with a soft touch of English taste in the background are combined in a cube cut, loose cut and ready rubbed mixture. A really palatable casing with sweet liquorice is added to provide a full-bodied but nicely smooth smoking – natural tobacco taste. I smoked it and I have to say yummie, good stuff! Indeed mostly a natural tobacco taste and those cube cut pieces look really nice. I think some tins are going to find their way into my tobacco-closet. Once again quality stuff from DTM! By the way, just as I was sniggering a bit about the blend name “Fred the Frog” with Fred in mind (he does have some little frog-like features) the man himself found us and we were complete.

Poul Winslow and Pascal

But we still did not have any coffee.. “Let’s go to the Scandinavian Tobacco Group stand, maybe we have better luck getting some dark liquid there.” I said. And indeed, we had barely entered the booth and a friendly young lady asked if we wanted a cup of coffee. Yes please! Pascal is a huge Poul Winslow fan so when he was sipping from his cup I whispered “Look behind you..” Lo and behold, it was the famous Danish pipe-maker himself. Pascal turned around, grabbed his (Winslow) pipe, walked to Poul Winsow and blurted: “HelloMrWinslowIamahugefanofyoursIloveyourpipes!”. Mr Winslow thanked Pascal with a smile and I asked if it was ok to make a picture of the both of them. “Of course, put it on Facebook, social media, whatever” Mr Winslow said. For the rest I noticed at the STG stand that a brand was missing that was there the other years: Butz Choquin. No idea where they had gone to.. So there was more room for Peterson, but not much new there. Except that they now also had (ground) coffee! I kid you not ladies and gentlemen.

Glued tins..

As with the other years the large stand of Kohlhase & Kopp was pretty busy. No one of the staff bothers making contact with you but that is ok, makes looking around easier. Not much news here, except for the seasonal tobaccos in their beautiful tins. I wanted to take a better look at one but it was glued to the shelf! In fact everything was glued to the shelf. I guess people in the past have nicked some tins to complete their collection or so.. Some of the Rattrays pipes looked nice, I still love their Old Perth cutty line.

The stand of Vauen was close-by but when we got there I saw something weird. Something I had never seen before at the booth of a tobacco pipe company. Something with long hair, curves, sensual smile and a cleavage. It was a female promotion model! Complete in German dress with an Auenland pipe and some tobacco samples. To be honest I admit with some shame that I can’t remember what she said about the tobacco, my eyes and mind were a bit elsewhere.. Pascal wasn’t stunned, quickly stood beside her and hissed “Take a picture!” to me. What was new at Vauen were some Medwakh pipes. Some years ago I encountered a Medwakh vendor with Fred so I knew what they were. Basically just one-quick-shot-of-nicotine devices. Then they costed a few dollars but these were pretty damn expensive. Vauen also has pipes from which the bowls can turn, the Spin. I grabbed one of those, turned the bowl and to my horror had it loose in my hand. Oooh sh*t! I thought I had wrecked the pipe! Until I discovered that the parts of the pipe were connected by magnets.. *Phewww!!*

*sighs* Beautiful, isn’t it?

In what I always call “The Italian corner” (in fact the Italian row) with stands of several Italian pipe-makers we first stopped at Castello. I don’t have a pipe of that brand (in fact I don’t have any Italian pipes) but I always wanted one. Only thing was most of their shapes are not really to my taste. Until I saw a table with some pipes displayed on it. Between them was a stunning army mount Castello Sea Rock prince. I immediately knew, whatever the cost, I must have that pipe! Every pipe-smoker will recognize this feeling. But the Inter Tabac is for retailers, not customers. I tried to use my considerable charm (*coughs*) to persuade the Castello salesman but to no avail. Fred also could not help me, if I wanted the pipe I had to buy 11 other Castellos. Unfortunately way above my budget..

Bob and me

One of the mandatory stands I had to visit was that of Samuel Gawith/Gawith & Hoggarth. As soon as we came near Bob (Gregory) spotted me and pulled a tired face and made go-away gestures. British humour at its best. Of course we greeted each other warmly. Bob and I know each other from the PRF forum tobacco Flatlander Flake that he and I created. “Do you already have a smoke?” was the first thing he asked while pushing a tobacco tin towards me. At that moment I was pipe-less so I said “Do I look like I am having a smoke??” He grinned while I filled up my pipe. “How did it go with Flatlander Flake, did you sell everything?” Bob asked. I happily answered that all tins were sold.

I also had a question, on earlier meetings Sergeant Matron of the KPC gave me some Gawith & Hoggarth Balkan Flake. I really grew to like it but I can’t get it. English tobacco shops don’t send it abroad and in the USA they don’t have it. So I explained that to Bob and asked if perhaps he could convince the USA-importer to add it to their range of tobaccos. “Arno, when you are here you always present me problems. Which I solve, I am a problem solver. What is your address again, I’ll send you some.” Don’t let him know but I could kiss him right then. After all that he had done regarding the forum tobacco I could not leave him with empty hands. There exists a picture of Bob while he is on holiday while showing off his very hairy chest. So I made a label from it and put it on a large beer bottle which I gave him.

Talking about beer, suddenly we heard loud noise coming from close-by. It was German music coming from the big stand of Pöschl. Men and woman in traditional clothing were singing and tapping large 0.5 litres pints of beer for everyone who wanted. Well, we sure were interested to say the least! In no time Fred had secured some golden liquid for us. Prost! Afterwards we went for something to eat. Food and drinks are terribly expensive at the Inter Tabac so after all these years I know that I have to pack my own lunch: cheese sandwiches.

Bruno, vintage_briars at Instagram

Since August I am also active on Instagram. Photography is something I love to do (not that I am any good..) and I can share things that I and perhaps other people like more easily. Soon I struck up a friendship with a German there called vintage_briars, real name Bruno. As his Instagram name says he loves vintage briars but besides that he has a passion for all things coming from the beginning of the last century. Bruno also went to the Inter Tabac and we decided to meet each other at the DTM stand. I recognized him first, not difficult because he dresses and looks like an gentlemen. And behaves like one I discovered. We had a very pleasant (but too short) talk about the stunning old Dunhill patent era pipes he had brought with him and other things. We made a promise to meet each other another time.

Me and Per Jensen

After that it was on to the stand of mighty MacBaren. We were greeted by well known product manager Per Jensen. My first question was what was new at MacBaren, well, not much. Only some new Amphora blends, undoubtedly fine mixtures but a bit too sweet for my taste. Also I asked Per about their website, which is offline for quite some time now. New EU tobacco legislation he grumbled, you may have a website as an online tobacco seller, but not as a tobacco manufacturer. Which is kind of strange because the websites of other European tobacco manufacturers are still functioning..

HH Vintage Latakia

Earlier this year I posted an update about Syrian Latakia, specifically HH Vintage Syrian, in my corresponding blogpost. As you can read I had a bit of an discussion with Per about the subject. As soon as I mentioned it to him at the Inter Tabac I could sense him tightening up a little bit. Per is and always will be a true gentleman so he will never use harsh words but let’s say a good discussion followed. He ended with “In 2006 I created the blend and in 2018 I will take it to its grave. Not many tobacco makers can say that!” In fact the last batch has just left the factory. The follow up to HH Vintage Syrian is already known: HH Vintage Latakia. And I am glad they follow it up, MacBaren does not have that much latakia blends so.. “We had to use way less Cyprian latakia in this one because as you know it is more assertive as Syrian taste-wise.” Per said, and gifted me a tin. Thanks Per!

Doorzetter bier

Before I went to the Inter Tabac I already had made an appointment with Elbert Gubbels (Big Ben, Hilson, Bentley etc.). I know that he is always very, very busy at the fair but I had to speak with him about some things. But first I had a present for him. Elbert has done an enormous amount of work to get Flatlander Flake to The Netherlands. The troubles and sh*t he went through, pffff… So I also had a beer for him: Doorzetter bier (go-getter beer) which he very graciously accepted.

Speaking with Elbert Gubbels

Then it was time to talk a bit of business. Of course I am already thinking about the next forum tobacco and I also have in my head who has to produce it: J.F. Germain. I have a “connection” with director Robert Germain and some time ago I already asked him if he was willing to produce a small batch of forum tobacco, and he was. Only problem is getting it legally in The Netherlands. This is where Elbert comes in, he already imported Samuel Gawith so why not Germain? I spoke with Elbert about this, importing Germain tobaccos, explaining that they are of superb quality. The Samuel Gawith blends are selling well so there is a good chance Germain mixtures also will sell well. Elbert absolutely was interested. He is busy with a new range of Big Ben tobaccos but they are all sickly sweet (his own words) aromatics. So a line of really superb quality blends, very interesting. Somewhere next year I will talk further with Elbert about this.

Cornell and Diehl

On an island in one of the halls were several pipe-makers and a tobacco manufacturer together. The latter being Cornell and Diehl. They had the same small desk as last year and I had the feeling that not much was going on. Such a great brand with wonderful tobaccos but they can’t crack Europe. I think it is the prices. For example, in Spain they have C&D (and related brands) but the price difference between normals brands (± €9,-) and C&D blends (± €25!) is just way to large. At least I heard that the upcoming FDA regulations have been postponed to 2021! Also I was able to get a sample of the new GL Pease Stonehenge Flake, no Lakeland drama, excellent smoke! Talking about GL Pease, Greg, if you are reading this, come to the Inter Tabac next year, I’ll buy you a beer!

Peder Jeppesen and Pascal

On the other side of the Island were several pipe-makers such as Michal Novak, Mr. Brog and Peder Jeppesen of Neerup Pipes. Pascal is also a huge fan of Neerup Pipes, actually he had just bought a new one. But, when he puts a filter in the pipe (which I already don’t get, why filter a good smoke, you don’t see me filtering a good steak for example) the mouthpiece is just a little too short. Peder looked at it but he could not help it. “Some filter-brands are slightly larger than other..”

Pascal and his first shisha

We saw most of the pipe related stands, Fred had to go elsewhere so Pascal and I went to the e-smoking and shisha halls. But before that we bumped into a boot with all kinds of snus tobacco. “Have you ever tried it?” I asked Pascal. “Ehrr, no.. And I am not sure if I ever want to try it..” “Ah come on, you only live once, here is some that should be not too bad, lots of menthol.” “I’ll put it in my pocket and try it later ok?” “No, later never comes, you and I do it now.” So we put some between our gums and cheek. It was not bad! The first couple of minutes.. Then our gums and cheeks burned so hard we spew out the snus.. Pascal also had never smoked a shisha before. It was damn busy in the hall (lots of young people!) but at a stand we found a spot where we could try some. A friendly Spaniard helped us, we told him that we were pipe-smokers at which he smiled. “Not too long ago I tried my first pipe with some Dunhill blend, can’t remember which one but it tasted a bit smoky, loved it!” The flavour of the shisha I smoked I also loved, despite it being the weirdest taste I ever had: peanut butter! Pascal had a menthol flavour and he liked it pretty much.

Nomnomnom ^^

At the end of the afternoon my feet were killing me, I think we walked kilometres through all the halls, time to go. Not home (yet), but to the Greek restaurant in Herne, El Greco, where we go every year. Sadly the friendly curvaceous waitress was not there, but the food was good as ever! A lot and compared to The Netherlands pretty cheap. To top it off we got 2 coffee from the house, Ich liebe Deutschland! The way home went smooth and I dropped Pascal off at his sleeping address. It was another great day and I want to thank Fred and Pascal for their company.

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