Pleasures of life in Belgium 2016
Like every year for me the annual meeting of the Dutch/Belgian Pipe Smokers Forum (PRF) at Wuustwezel (Belgium) halfway March always marks the beginning of spring. The lengthening days, the slowly rising temperatures and the anticipation of the meeting make all the shadows in my mind from the dark, grey and rainy winter disappear. For some reason (probably the location in Belgium near the Dutch border and cheap beer) the Wuustwezel meeting always has been the best attended one. This year about 70 people applied and like last year Matron, a Scotch-man and Florian, a German, both from the (in)famous Kaervaig Pipe Club, were there. Tobacconist Rudi even brought a special guest, more about that later.
The day of the meeting began at 07.30 am but I was already awake because of my bad back… Great, ageing… But when I came from under the shower and had a small breakfast (their would be plenty of food and drinks during the day) I felt re-energized and ready for the day. Normally good friend Ed would have picked me up but he moved away from his old town near me to a location pretty far away due to some private stuff. So now I had to first pick Mark up at the train station in Deventer. I parked my car there and texted him where I stood but no response. And I waited, and waited.. In the end he turned up. At the train station they have small gates and Mark’s public transport pass malfunctioned so only after a lot of trouble with the security guards he could get through. That soon was forgotten and we drove to a parking lot somewhere beside the highway where Ed waited for us together with Johnny.
After a pleasant ride we arrived in Wuustwezel where, just like the other times, our first stop was the local liquor store. Only once a year I get the chance to properly re-fill my beer basement and I take that chance with both hands (while carrying a stocked beer-crate of course). “No cash payment because we got robbed” said a sign on the door. How sad.. I mean, Belgian beer is so delicious that one could steal it but to actually do that.. Bastards.. Inside the store I noticed I was not the first Dutchman there that day because the shelf with the delicous St. Bernardus Abt 12 was already half empty. Luckily there was enough left and together with my standard favourites and a few tips from Johnny my beer basement bulges out again now. Then we went to the snack-bar. Unfortunately Zodiac from last year closed down permanently. No not the recession, the owners were old and decided to quit. Thank the fried-heavens another snack-bar was open, the one we went to in 2014: Fritsnack, with the remarkable choice of Dutch (sweet) and Belgian (sour) mayonnaise. I went for the Belgian one this time together with a snack called “Twijfelaar” (doubter), which includes small bits of all their meat snacks on one stick, very yummie! Half the establishment was already taken by hungry familiar looking pipe-smokers under which Matron and Florian (this time with no hang-over from the previous evening). Matron had brought the prices which I won at the KPC raffle with him: a tin of Bothy Flake and Holger Danske Royal Navy Flake. Thanks! I sat across Arjen who had a big portion of fries (and in Belgium that is BIG, I had a medium fries which was too much for me..) together with two more snacks. While we were talking I watched with amazement how he devoured it all in no time. Wowzers!
When we arrived at the Bellekes Hoeve, the location of the meeting, organiser Jan sat beside the door to collect the money for the traditional Belgian sausage rolls and rent of the place. Which by the way was only €1 per person due to the fact we drank so much last year. Jan used the profits he made then to keep the entrance fee low for us. First thing I did when I put away my belongings and shook a few hands was order a Vlaamsche Leeuw at the bar. Utterly delicious! Which was also the opinion of Matron, Florian and Ed who all praised the Belgian beer. Then I bumped into Rob who had made a guitar out of an empty tin of WO Larsen Indigo, hilarious! On a table I made some space to place a mason jar which had to serve as a money box. In September my girlfriend Ellen is going to climb the Mont Ventoux in France for a cancer fund. Louis, one of the forum members, suggested that I put a money box at the meeting so people could make a small contribution. Well, small, in the end €131,60 was put in the mason jar! So unbelievably great! By the way, supporting Ellen is still possible through this site.
For Marielle I had some Amphora pouches. The evening before the meeting she asked on the forum if anyone had some and could bring it to Wuustwezel. Last year on the Inter Tabac PipesMagazine.com host Brian Levine gave me some Amphora pouches since MacBaren produces them. I never smoked Amphora and to be honest the blend not really seems my cup of tea, so giving hem away to a lovely lady was pretty easy. And in return she gave me a tin of one of the only aromatics I smoke: DTM’s Sweet Vanilla Honeydew. But I had more for Marielle. For some years I own a small 1980 Dunhill group 1 pipe which in essence is a ladies pipe. It came from the time when I snatched up every Dunhill below a certain price but I never had a click with it. So Marielle could have it, I mean, a pipe is meant to be smoked. But surprisingly she did not want it. What I did not knew was that Marielle is a filter-smoker and the Dunhill is non-filter. So she said “Give it to someone who really wants it and is really going to smoke it.” Ok, so if any female pipe-smoker reads this and you want this Dunhill, mail me at email@example.com with a picture of yourself while smoking pipe and perhaps you are the lucky one! And gents, please no pictures of yourself in a dress or lingerie while puffing away ok? Thank you.
Talking about Amphora and MacBaren, Rudi tapped me on the shoulder, “Look there, our special guest, he wants to speak you”. I turned around and saw Per Jensen, the product manager of MacBaren who I already met at the Inter Tabac. Wow! I know he goes to big American meetings but a humble Dutch/Belgian one.. So nice to see and speak to him again. He brought all kinds of MacBaren tobaccos that are not for sale here so we could try them out. I lit up a pipe filled with the excellent HH Pure Virginia. Per had a question for me, he was busy with re-creating an old Amphora blend but he could not find any info of it. So if I perhaps could dig up some information. I’ll do my best Per! Of course I also had question for Per. This year I am busy with a new forum tobacco made by Samuel Gawith, but over 2 years perhaps MacBaren is a nice option. So a bit hesitant I asked Per if he was interested in producing one of our forum tobaccos. Hesitant because I know MacBaren only produces large quantities and around 250 tins is just total peanuts for such a company. But surprisingly he was willing! I get back to you in 2 years Per!
The generosity of the people on the forum never ceases to amaze me. I saw Freek sitting and he motioned for me to come closer. Last year at the Heukelum meeting I got a bottle of Westvleteren blond from him. One of the best blonde beers I ever drank. But now with a sly smile he produced 2 bottles of the mythical Westvleteren 12! “Here, these are for you. They were a gift to me but I don’t really like the beer.” Wowowowowowow!!! I mean, Westvleteren 12 is chosen as best beer in the world multiple times. What Balkan Sobranie is in the pipe-tobacco world, Westvleteren is in the beer world in my opinion. Last week I drank one bottle and I must say, a truly exceptional brew! Thanks Freek!
Still with a smile I bumped into Klaas, one of my pipe tobacco mentors. “Arno, I enjoyed your Upper Ten blogpost so much, here is a tin of De Graaff Kegelbaan for you.” Wow again! One of the earlier latakia blends I smoked through Klaas was the no longer made Kegelbaan, one of the house-blends of the once famous tobacconist De Graaff in The Hague. This mixture is really something special and spoiled my taste buds. It contains Syrian latakia, Old Belt Virginia, Brown Cavendish and the elusive Yenidje. Thanks Klaas! Later I spoke with Andre, who has a very good site where he sells refurbished estate pipes for beginning pipe smokers or people with a small budget. At Heukelum he gave me a blasted Orlik bulldog, a surprisingly fine smoker, and now he produced another Orlik, a good looking billiard. I could also have that one. Thanks Andre!
Suddenly every one was being hushed to silence. Nick took the floor and directed himself towards Arjen. In a couple of months Arjen is getting married with a lovely Canadian woman called Misty. Behind his back the forum members collected money so we could give them a dinner at a restaurant. Well, we ended up with giving the soon to married couple a 5-course meal at the fancy Las Palmas restaurant, a night at the Hotel New York Rotterdam and two glasses and a bottle of bubbles.
You probably know the feeling when you see a pipe and that it just speaks to you like in, I am beautiful, I will smoke good, buy me! I got that when I looked at a pipe amongst Rudi’s wares. A gorgeous D-grade Winslow bamboo. It was precisely what I was looking for, a small to medium sized pipe in which I could smoke Virginia or VaPer mixtures and flakes. And Winslow bamboos are relatively rare. I already have one (a B-grade) which is a terrific smoker. I must say, all my Winslows are excellent smokers and I can’t say that of all my Dunhills.. Rudi saw me (almost drooling) looking at the pipe but the only thing holding me back was the price. But Rudi knew he had the fish on the hook and only needed to haul it in. He made me an offer I could not refuse, a discount. I immediately shook his hands, the deal was closed.
I am a big fan of Lemmy from Motörhead and so is Matron. When we heard about his death we were both devastated. During an e-mail conversation we came up with the idea to bring a toast to Lemmy in Wuustwezel. Of course that would happen with the favourite drink of Lemmy, a Jack Daniels/cola. So I brought half a bottle of Jack with me (the other half I drank on the evening of the day I heard Lemmy died..) and to my delight I saw that Matron had taken 2 Motörhead shirts with him. His shirt was without sleeves. “You know, this shirt once had sleeves. But on a day when I was hiking I realized I forgot to bring tissues with me when I just had taken a shit. So I ripped off the sleeves of my shirt…” The shirt he had for me was a perfect fit, “size fat bastard” he said to me with a wink. We filled our glasses and raised them in honour of our fallen hero. R.I.P. Lemmy!
In the morning when we drove to Wuustwezel Johnny said “Always when I go to a meeting time suddenly goes very fast from the moment I enter the building until I leave it.” I also precisely had that. It was a fun day as always, I had spoken with lots of people, also did not speak with lots of people (better next time!), the sausage-rolls were delicious, the tobaccos great, the beer tasty etc. Around 20.30 we shook hands with the remaining forum members and half an hour later (you know how it goes..) we finally sat in the car on our way home. After a long journey which seemed short we arrived at the parking lot beside the highway. It appeared our cars were well guarded by some men around and in a van who were.. Ehmm.. Jerking off. So we hastily said goodbye to each other (and of course wished the masturbating men a pleasant evening) and went on our merry way.
I want to thank Jan, Sas, Miep and Dirk for organising the meeting and keeping us all hydrated. All pictures were made by Klaas, Jan, Dirk, Nick and Jef.
EDIT 09-05-2016: The Dunhill ladies-pipe has a new owner! Lots of pictures of ravishing pipe-smoking ladies were send in. Some even showed me totally new and quite interesting ways to smoke a pipe.. And no you pervs, I won’t show those photos! In the end there was a clear winner: Italian pipe-smoking lady Emilia. She is the vice-president of the Pipa Club Italia and owner of one of the biggest pipe-smokers website communities: Fumare la Pipa. She started smoking when she was 21 years old. Her first pipe, a Savinelli, was given to her by a friend. Her second pipe she bought at the Peterson factory during a study-holiday in Dublin. Today Emilia attends many events where she had the opportunity to meet many pipe-smokers and pipe-makers (like Tom Eltang and Manduela). For 90% Emilia smokes Italian made pipes. Her favourite is the Kronos pipe, made by Bruto Sordini from Don Carlos. Surprisingly (for a woman) Emilia likes the taste of latakia! Her favourite tobacco is GL Pease Maltese Falcon and she often likes to smoke Tuscan cigars. Emilia is also participating in the slow smoking Italian Championship for several years. Last October she even contented in her first World-Championship in Italy near Venice: 71st out of nearly 300 participants. Currently she holds the women’s title in Italy. Emilia, I wish you lots of happy smokes with your Dunhill!