De Graaff tobacconist

Nowadays a truly good tobacconist sadly is a rare thing here but decades ago The Netherlands boasted lots of them. Specialist stores where the knowledge of the salesmen was of crucial importance because the clients relied on it. These days we can simply look up information on the digital highway but back then you had to trust the expertise of your tobacco vendor. One of the most well known and respected tobacconists in that time was G. de Graaff in the political heart of our small country: The Hague.

Churchill at the Congress of Europe in 1948 ©Haags Gemeentearchief

Founded in 1928 by Gerard de Graaff (who was later joined by his son Frits de Graaff) the business was located at the Heulstraat no. 27. Not far from Noordeinde Palace, Council of State, Council for the Judiciary and the Binnenhof in the old city centre. They got well-known both at home and abroad very quickly, mainly because of their excellent house-brand G. de Graaff cigars, which were made by 5 different cigar factories in The Netherlands. Even the legendary Winston Churchill had heard of them. Dutch Pipe Smokers Forum member Willem tells: “My father, who had a high ranking job at the Ministry of Finance, knew De Graaff very well because he always bought his cigars there. So when Churchill visited The Hague for the Congress of Europe in 1948 my father arranged some special Cuban cigars for him which came, of course, from De Graaff.” Other famous people who visited the store throughout the years were amongst others Bill Clinton, prince Bernard, Josip Tito, François Mitterrand and Konrad Adenauer.

Frits de Graaff 1978 ©Haags Gemeentearchief

After the war the sons of Frits, Robbert and Gerard de Graaff, entered the business. But soon father Frits realized that letting Gerard and Robbert work together was not a good idea. So Gerard kept himself busy with the production side and Robbert took care of the sales in the store. Frits de Graaff was a remarkable man, a real old world salesman. He lived above the store and was always impeccably dressed, like the true gentleman he was, with his trademark bow tie. Also he was a man of principles, if he did not believe in a brand he would not sell it. Willem tells: When I had my practice in The Hague, around 1976-1980, the De Graaff store had something special, something chic. In that time I smoked MacBaren. When I asked for such a tin at the store Mr. Frits always said that the tobacco contained too much glycerine “Which is not good for your throat!”. Like the polite man I was and still am I then bought a tin of Flying Dutchman, which was much better according to him. 

Frits de Graaff 1982 ©Haags Gemeentearchief

Also I know that De Graaff did not sell Peterson because of the P-Lip mouthpiece, the often shabby finish, the many fills and because of the long time it took to break in a pipe. I think he liked Dunhill better, Dutch Pipe Smokers Forum member Rob tells: Once I was in the store together with Mr. De Graaff. While talking he took a Dunhill pot-shaped pipe out of his pocket and told this was his father’s favourite pipe. You could see the pipe was old and that it had once been a heavy sandblasted Shell Briar but because of the use the surface had become smooth. After his death he kept the pipe and smoked it several times a week. As far as tobacco went Frits de Graaff liked latakia very much. Rob tells: I remember well that I was a boy of about 18 years old when I stepped inside the store to buy a pipe. When the conversation drifted towards pipe tobacco he pointed out “the only tobacco” latakia to me. Besides the pipe I let myself be persuaded to also buy a tin with latakia and indeed, I was swept away. Back in those days that fine tobacco was significantly more expensive than e.g. Mac Baren so I smoked latakia in moderation, because I had to pay for it from the proceeds of my newspaper round. Sadly Frits de Graaff passed away in 1996, Robbert took over the business but he sold the store in 2005. The new owners tried their best but the grandeur of days past never really came back. Just recently I learned that the shop at the Heulstraat no. 27 is closing, the owners want to merge it with another store of them at another location.

Klaas and myself

My own story with De Graaff began in 2011. I was just discovering the realm of the dark leaf when I began exchanging messages and tobacco samples with Klaas. Because of him I was able to try wonderful blends like Balkan Sobranie Original Smoking Mixture, GL Pease Westminster and De Graaff Kegelbaan Mixture and Back in Town. The last 2 were house-blends. I knew sh*t about pipe-tobacco in those days but what I noticed was that they were all of very high quality. Klaas saw that I really enjoyed the De Graaff tobaccos, generously gave me some tins and told the following story: I discovered the De Graaff house-blends fairly late, in the 90’s, but I was immediately smitten. I really invested in them and bought loads of tins. Suddenly at the end of the 90’s I was told in the store that the house-blends were being discontinued. I panicked a bit and decided to buy all the tins I could get my hands on. In the store and in other tobacco shops in The Netherlands who also carried the De Graaff house-blends. Of course during the years I smoked a lot of them but I still have some left. The only thing I always wondered was where those fabulous tobaccos were made. It was a well kept secret that De Graaff never told to anyone..

Louis

Throughout the years I smoked some excellent De Graaff blends which were given to me by Klaas and another forum member. Also whenever I was in a tobacco-shop I asked if they had some old tins stashed away somewhere. Now and then I even got lucky and I was able to buy some old De Graaff tobaccos meant for home-blending, which I did and created lovely blends with them. But when I heard that the actual shop at the Heulstraat was closing down I decided to write a blogpost about De Graaff and do some research. At that point all I had were the names of the 2 sons of Frits, Gerard and Robbert. So I asked yet another forum member, Rudi, who had a tobacco-shop in Middelburg for years, if he had a contact address or something like that. He didn’t but he pointed me towards a Belgian man who made cigars for Gerard. I contacted him but he knew very little, only that, very sadly, Robbert had passed away a few years ago. Damnit! Robbert was the mastermind behind the pipe-tobaccos, so I was pretty gutted when I heard that. Then I decided to use an old contact of mine, Louis Bracco Gartner, founder of the Historical Tobacco Museum in Delft and the Tobacco History website. He helped me before with my Diepenveensche Tabaks Centrale blogpost and when I mailed my questions to him he responded with “call me, I know more.” So I phoned him and he turned out to be friends with Gerard de Graaff. I got the mail-address of the latter, contacted him a couple of times and got no response besides a mail which said I had the wrong man and that he did not know anything about pipe-tobacco..

So I phoned Louis again, told him this (according to him the mail-address was correct) and said I only wanted to know where De Graaff house-blend pipe tobaccos were made. “Oh but I know that!” “Ehmm.. Excuse me??” “Yes I know that, the house-bends were made by Dunhill in London.” Wowwww…. I was gobsmacked.. Made by Dunhill.. Hmmm, the 60’s and 70’s ok, Dunhill was still Dunhill, but during the 80’s and 90’s Dunhill blends were made by Murray. Those tobaccos were not highly acclaimed, not just by me (I smoked some) but also by others. The De Graaff blends I smoked dated from the 90’s and were of exceptional quality, way better than Murray-era Dunhill. Then from out of the back of my head I remembered I read something on the Dunhill page of the great late John Loring. Something about blends still being made (in the 80’s and 90’s) at the Dunhill Duke Street shop: One exception to the 1981 blending transfer (from Dunhill to Murray) should be noted. The Dunhill Duke Street shop continued to offer custom blending for the next two decades and as part of that continuation, a small batch blender in London (I suspect with Dunhill associations) continued to produce a number of My Mixture blends available only from the Duke Street shopSo it could very, very well be that that was the way the De Graaff house-blends were made.

Now about those house-blends. I don’t know precisely when the first pipe-tobacco house-blends were made but Rob has to say this: It must have been 1967 when I first visited De Graaff. I remember that in the room where the pipes were there also was a display with pipe tobaccos, sold under their own name. A couple of years ago I luckily had downloaded through the Wayback machine the original house-blend descriptions from the old De Graaff website. Here they are with notes from myself and pictures:

-Abu Riha-
Exceptional aromatic flake with a good deal of Latakia, as well as Turkish, and Red Virginia tobaccos. Excellent composition over a glass of Single-Malt whiskey. I smoked some tins of this one and I can best describe it as the prefect marriage between Smoker’s Haven Krumble Kake and Esoterica’s Penzance. In fact, it looked and tasted so much like those blends that I decided to mail J.F. Germain (and added some pictures) and they responded: These are very interesting pictures, we did not make any tobacco for De Graaff but I understand why you ask the question the tin and the tobacco look like Penzance from years ago.

-Back In Town-
One of our most successful mixtures, an ex-cigarette-smoker assisted in composing this blend. A fine composition of light and dark Virginia’s, Syrian Latakia, Kavalla (Macedonian tobacco) and Carolina Cavendish. A medium mixture with a pleasant flavour. A pleasant flavour indeed! This is one of the De Graaff classics, Syrian latakia, Kavalla, nomnomnom! Perfectly blended, very harmonious.

-Carl’s Own Blend-
Carefully composed by the HOUSE OF GOOD TASTE. Is the choice of a man of FINE TASTE. Born and bred in the THEATRE OF ROYAL TASTE. Full-flavoured mixture on the basis of Virginia tobaccos (Flue Cured East Carolina and Georgia) and a small quantity of Latakia. Sadly I never smoked this blend.

-Coronation-
This blend has been already produced for more than a century for the discerning smoker. Very mild, not burning the tongue. For the morning. I once had a sample of this blend but can’t remember it any more..

-De Kegelbaan-
An unique blend of first class tobaccos: Syrian Latakia, Old Belt Virginia, Brown Cavendish and Turkish tobaccos (Yenidshe). Mild taste, cool, slow burning. This is another big classic, I just finished a tin and only 1 word: exceptional. And not just a couple of times, no every time! The Yenidje is immediately recognizable (for those that have smoked Yenidje Supreme) and sings together nicely with the Syrian Latakia and Virginia’s. The Brown Cavendish mellows it all out a bit. I think that the creator Robbert De Graaff tried to imitate the old Balkan Sobranie with this one if I see the ingredients. And for me he absolutely succeeded!

-Golden Virginia-
Cool, somewhat sweet Virginia Bright Leaf. This is one of the oldest varieties of “flue cured” tobacco. Pleasant taste. I used this blend a couple of times in home-made mixtures. It reminded me a bit of Dunhill Flake, but then in a ribbon-cut. I had several tins but threw them away in a fit of cleaning rage before I could take a picture..

-Latakia-
Jebeli is also called “Abu Riha” (Father of the pleasant smell) by the Syrian population. The flavour is acquired by drying the tobacco over a fire of camel-dung (nice commercial story but not the truth..). Tobacco especially for mixing. And that is precisely where I use it for. When you open a tin, whoaaa… It smells so damn good! Also when you smoke it straight it is very yummie. On the tin it says Mountain Blue Syrian, of course made famous by Balkan Sobranie 759, the stuff of legends.

-No 27-
This tobacco gives evidence of craftsmanship. Composed of the best Golden- and Middle Belt Virginias, Corolina Cavendish, completed with a pinch of Lousiana Perique, for the perfect taste. Especially made for those smokers who prefer a Virginia blend. This tobacco is particularly aromatic and yet mild of taste. The only thing I can remember about this one is “tastes a bit like Dunhill Elizabethan“.

-Perique-
The Perique tobacco is unique, its history is dating back to the Choctaw and Chicasaw Indians. It adds a spicy flavour to all tobacco blends. It is without “bite”, although it is far too heady to be smoked straight. Well, Aleister Crowley did! I use it only for home-blending.

-Seamen’s Club-
Matured dark Virginia. This warm, dark tobacco is mild in taste and can be smoked pure or in mixtures. Unadulterated Red Virginia, I used it many times in home-blending for some Virginia backbone.

-Turkish-
Excellent burning qualities. Suitable for mixing, can also be smoked pure. Extremely mild with sweet undertone. I used this once in home-blending, it tastes like there is some Kavalla in it.

De Graaff also had house-brand pipes. Several Dutch Pipe Smokers members have such a smoking device. They were made in London and later in France. But where? No idea.. So I mailed Louis again, he asked around and came with a name: GDD! Ehrrr, I guess you mean GBD? He wasn’t sure but I now know it was GBD indeed, just look at the picture beside this paragraph. Where the pipes were made in France I sadly do not know..

Of course there is much more to tell about De Graaff, especially their cigars, but since this is a pipe-smoking blog it is enough for now. One last thing, here is a PDF document of 2 interesting old booklets/flyers from De Graaff, in Dutch.. I would like to thank all the forum members and people who have helped me and made this blogpost possible!

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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