NEWSLETTER - SPECIAL EDITION.
This is a special edition of the Newsletter devoted entirely to the visit of a party from The Handlebar Club to The Snorrenclub in Antwerp, Belgium, from 17th. October to 20th. October, 1980.
It is difficult to find superlatives to describe our visit to The Snorrenclub, the Belgian moustache club, in Antwerp. It was absolutely marvellous - beautifully organised by the officers of that Club and fully supported by the members. It was something we shall never forget - the warmth, kindness and generosity of everyone we met in Antwerp, a beautiful city, was wonderful. In the words of John Roy our President, this was the greatest occasion at which The Handlebar Club has been present since its inception in 1947. We were treated like Royalty - literally. But read on.......
For several weeks before the trip on the 17th. October there were at least three people who were living on tenterhooks. One was Willy Dupon, the PRO of the Snorrenclub, who was most anxious to know how many people were coming along so he could finalise his arrangements, another was Marion Marks of Beaver Travel in Edgware who was making the travel arrangements (Allan Beaver is a member of the HBC), and finally, the other was your secretary who was frantically hoping that all the 17 HBC members who had expressed an interest would eventually come along. As it was, there were 14 of us, 9 Handlebars and 5 ladies, who made the trip one way or another. Not a large number, yet not as small as it might have been.
Originally we were to go by Jetfoil from St. Catharines Dock in London to Ostend - without cost - and then to Antwerp by coach, but the Jetfoil was suddenly withdrawn. So after a heroic last minute effort by Marion Marks we eventually flew by Sabena, the Belgian airline, from Heathrow to Antwerp at a reduced rate.
Thus it was that 12 of us, John Roy, Andre Acres, Van Van-Nuffelen, and Doug Hardy with their respective wives, together with Ian Peak, Ivor Ridd, Pete Burgess and your Secretary, met at the time of about 7.30 on the wet and gloomy morning of the 17th. in the foyer of No.2 Terminal at Heathrow. As requested, all HBC members were wearing deerstalkers for headgear and John Roy was resplendent in his kilt as well. After the usual preliminaries and clutching our Duty Frees we boarded a hard-worked Boeing 737. John Roy said hed received the VIP treatment at Heathrow. What that exactly means I dont know - perhaps a wee dram on the way to the plane?
Duly, at 8.30 a.m. the plane doors were shut, we trundled out onto the runway and without hesitation took off like a rocket straight into the clag. At several thousand feet we finally broke out into sunshine only to be met by turbulence. This was not unduly severe but sufficient to cause the Captain to instruct the two stewardesses to stop serving coffee and lash themselves into their seats, and André Acres to subsequently remark that he was waiting for the wings to drop off ! However, the Captain eventually came down a little lower and all was smooth.
It seemed that wed hardly settled down and had our coffee when we started the approach to Antwerp Airport. Down we went again through the clag - almost to deck level - and over the runway threshold with vapour streaming from the extended flaps. Antwerp Airport is a very small one, usually used by business aircraft, so the Captain put the 737 on the deck as soon as he could, slammed open the spoilers, opened the thrust reversers and crammed on the brakes, nearly standing the thing on its nose. Even so, it seemed he finished his landing run with a broadside to park us neatly outside the reception building. The flight had taken 40 minutes - and we were there.
As we were going through the Customs and all that sort of thing we could see several of the Snorrenclub chaps waiting for us in the main hall, amongst them Mark Gilis the President, Roger Bal the secretary, Willy Dupon and the Snor-meister, Willy Poppe. We were very pleased to see them once again after their visit to London earlier in the year. Immediately it was explained that due to circumstances beyond their control we would have to stay the first night in one hotel and the other two in the one originally envisaged. So off we went in a collection of cars and taxis to the Antwerp Docks Hotel in Noorderlaan. Now the reader may envisage here a small, dingy hotel in a back street, but this certainly wasnt the case. It was a most modern place with full amenities facing a wide boulevard. Although not five-star it was pleasant enough for some to say they could quite readily have stayed there for the whole visit.
After booking in we all had coffee, and I think brandies in some cases, with Mark Gilis and Roger Bal who went over the programme with us - which was substantially the same as had been sent to us before we left. We were also each presented with a pack of descriptive literature, including that of Antwerp Docks, part of which we were to visit the following day.
The remainder of the day was free, Mark and Roger having left us, so we first had lunch - large steaks and pommes frites. One of the national dishes of Belgium must be French fried potatoes, they love them! Well replenished we then decided to pay an unofficial visit to the lair of the Snorrenclub, the bar/restaurant called De Snor (The Moustache) in Brouwersvliet, a pleasant tree-lined road approaching part of the docks in the older part of Antwerp. A group decided to go by taxi but 5 of us walked the couple of miles or so. The walkers soon learnt - within the first few hundred yards - to be very careful, for some of the pavements in part are designated as motorcycle, moped and bicycle tracks. So into the older part of Antwerp we went, passing on the way a Leyland dealers which had a Mini-Metro tucked away in the back of the showroom - the first wed seen.
A few words here about Antwerp although of course many books are available about it. It is a lovely city, much of it having been devastated during the latter stages of World War II. Its main feature is the Docks which extend for miles along the Schelde Estuary. Both manufacturing and trading are carried on, vast areas outside the city being cleared and ready for further new factories. The Flemish people are justly proud of Antwerp for, for many centuries it was virtually a city-state with jealously guarded rights, indeed, in some respects it seems to be so even now. The older devastated parts have nearly all been rebuilt and the historic buildings lovingly restored to their former state. One thing that quite surprised us was that about 90% of the population speaks three languages - Flemish, French and English. Very little French was heard and our hosts at De Snor could all speak English at least sufficiently well to make themselves understood - so no problems there.
So we walkers finally got to De Snor having lost our way once or twice, and were greeted by the remainder of our party. After a few beers we then went off to the Maritime Museum nearby, housed in an old castle adjacent to one of the wharves. It was a pleasant hour or so examining the many models and pictures of Flemish shipping throughout the centuries. Walking back to De Snor we passed through the red light district in the quiet back streets. The ladies sit in their cottage windows knitting or sewing whilst waiting - all very sensibly arranged!
On getting back to De Snor we were pleased to find that member Bob Carter had arrived safely with lady friend, having travelled, via Dover-Calais ferry, by car. So that made 14 of us. It was as well that they did arrive, for that evening 12 of us went to a Portuguese restaurant near De Snor for a fish supper. The proprietor couldnt speak English so the only communication was in French between him and Bob Carters lady friend. However, an excellent meal was enjoyed by all. The other two members went to the Eurotel, where we were to spend the final two nights, to contact the British Legion Branch which was meeting there, but they were unsuccessful in this. After that, a return to the Antwerp Docks hotel, a few drinks and then to bed.
The next day, the Saturday, dawned raining stair-rods and blowing hard. We were at breakfast in the hotels large dining room when in walked 5 burly great Antwerp motorcycle policemen looking very much like ours in this country but with the added accoutrements of revolvers and truncheons. They greeted us and seated themselves in a group and had coffee.
After breakfast our luggage was whisked off to the Eurotel in Copernicuslaan for our next two nights while for us it really all happened. Up to the front of the hotel came eight 1981 Ford Escorts, one of each model, suitably embellished as demonstration cars and on each bonnet was painted a large moustache. All were silver-grey except the last, the most expensive of the range, which was bright red and had John Roys name and a large moustache painted down each side.!!! These cars were provided by Autostrade Motors NV, the Ford dealers at Jan Van Ruswijklaan in Antwerp. Each car had a driver, 7 chaps and one young lady, all similarly attired and led by Oscar Permeke who I think is the Sales Manager.
A few words about the new Ford Escorts - quite unsolicited! The general opinion of these cars is that they are very good - and indeed in our opinion they are. Theyre a vast improvement on the old Escorts, beautifully made and with a low fuel consumption. They also go over the pavé without a tremble - and at least one couple in our party is going to look at one when they soon will be changing their own car.
The drivers then escorted us to the cars - umbrellas being produced to shield us from the rain - and then we all set off to visit Antwerp Docks Lock - with the five policemen on their BMWs clearing the way! At this point your scribe became virtually speechless - and remained so for the rest of the holiday!
It was a sight to behold! - the policemen worked with clockwork precision. The sergeant in charge led the way and another policeman was in the rear whilst the others dashed ahead to stop all traffic coming out of side roads. No sooner had one road been controlled and we had passed then another policeman roared by, blue lights flashing, siren going, to stop the next lot of traffic with much blowing of whistle and god-like gesture of raised arm! As said before, we were treated like Royalty - literally! It is a fantastic sensation - especially in the lead car! The drivers of the cars lapped it up too!
Mention should be made here that of course this police escort had to receive official approval but Ive been asked not to mention who specifically arranged it all. Whether this is just modesty or for professional reasons I dont know, but to him our very many special thanks!
In this way we proceeded some kilometres to a large Ford tractor factory for publicity photos, then on through open country along wide boulevards - ready for industrial building - to the Antwerp Docks Lock. Here we inspected the control room of the lock, a privilege not accorded to the general public - one of the Snorrenclub members is employed there - and to him our thanks too - and watched three ships going through the lock - one Irish, one Russian and the other British. Some people were prepared to bet that the Irish one would come out sideways! In the event we believe that she just scraped the side of the lock.
From there it was back into the city - to the Town Hall - once more magnificently escorted by the motorcycle policemen. However, before that we went into a well-known Antwerp pub nearby, Den Engel (The Angel) - policemen and all.!!! - but Im sure they had coffee, which is available in their pubs! Before many of us could have a drink we heard that Bob Cools, a leading magistrate in Antwerp, was ready to receive us.
In Den Engel we noticed two bagpipers in full kit - Belgian chaps - and they proceeded to play John Roy, followed by the rest of the chaps in to the Town Hall. The ladies had, at this time, a little guided tour elsewhere. In the magnificent Town Hall we met Bob Cools and speeches were made in Flemish and English. Bob was made Moustache of Honour of the Snorrenclub - more about this anon - and we toasted this in champagne. The Press was there and photos were taken - to appear with articles in the Antwerp newspapers on the Monday morning before we left. All HBC members were presented with a beautiful illustrated book on the painter Reubens whose house we were to visit the following day. John Roy gave a small speech and presented Bob Cools with an engraved pint pot from the HBC. John also made Bob a member of The Handlebar Club and we are honoured to have him as a member.
Next, a guided tour of the Town Hall. This old building, beautifully maintained, is the seat of the Town Council and is hung with many magnificent paintings and displays many mementoes of the history of Antwerp. One of these is a plaque given to the people of Antwerp by the Allied Supreme Command in World War II for their standing like good soldiers during the time of the invasion of Europe in 1944/5. It is not generally known in this country that Antwerp had more V1 Doodlebugs and V2 rockets land on it than did London. A map in the Town hall shows where they landed - over 3500 V1s hit the city and 8000 people were killed - and that after 4 years of the deprivations of war. We must never forget. Our guide round the Town hall was Mr. Georges Van Cauwenberghe, a prominent guide in Antwerp who made it all very interesting - one of those people who, in my words, Can make the very stones talk.
From there, via. Den Engel again briefly, we crossed the ancient square in which the Town Hall is situated for a lunch at the Noord Restaurant. Here 70 of us sat down to a lunch which took nearly all the afternoon. This consisted of an excellent soup followed by a huge individual plate of salad and meats together with the favourite pommes frites. Most of us could hardly eat it all! During the meal we distributed to the members of The Snorrenclub present, 25 of them, plus others who had been prominent in organising this trip, a small memento from the HBC in the form of a Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, 80th. Birthday Crown - 30 in all. It is to my regret that we were unable to present them in little presentation packets but these were unfortunately in short supply. One beautiful young lady sat at the end of our table - we immediately named her Angela Rippon, she looked very much like her and was just as charming!
After this, into the Fords again and off to the Eurotel, escorted by the policemen, to book into our rooms. These were truly magnificent, air conditioned, television, and a well-stocked refrigerator with soft and alcoholic drinks. A few minutes to wash and brush up and off we went again, this time with the Fords unescorted, to De Snor for an official reception. Willy Dupon opened the pub especially for us as Antwerp pubs have to shut for one day a week and normally he would have been closed. Beer flowed and the bagpipes played. John Lundström a well-known folk singer, song composer and musician, a leading member of the Snorrenclub, entertained us with his violin and others played the guitar and accordion. John, to us, is a typical Flemish gentleman although he is of Swedish ancestry. A specially good version of Amazing Grace was played on the bagpipes accompanied in part by the accordion. A strange combination perhaps, but most effective.
At this point a few words about the Snorrenclub itself as far as can be ascertained. Although much different from The Handlebar Club we get along very well indeed. The Snorrenclub is based in and draws its members from one city and thus there is greater collective participation in activities. Indeed, members are expected to do so. The age range is also greater than in the HBC. Discipline - in the nicest possible way - is much more strict. The membership limit is 75 and this has nearly been reached. Beards are permitted provided there is a moustache of some kind as well. This is tested on admission by Willy Poppe the Snormeister (Moustache Master). Willy Poppe looks very much like a smaller version of our Vice-President, Bunny Austen. Apart from ordinary members there is a Moustache of Honour section which is restricted to moustache growers who, whilst they have made an outstanding contribution to the growing of the moustache, are unable to attend meetings regularly at De Snor or participate in other activities due to business or other commitments. The identifying garb of the Snorrenclub is a dark blue shirt with a maroon tie with a small golden single moustache motif. A boater is also worn.
In the early evening everyone was thrown out of De Snor - shades of our English pubs! - and we were guided to another pub owned by another Snorrenclub member, Gerrit Kool. This was the Berenbak (Bears Place) in Minderbroedstraat. Looking at that last word I think it could be translated as Broad-minded Street - if I remember correctly there was a few of the aforementioned ladies sitting in their cottage windows nearby! Anyway, all was in full swing at the Berenbak and the beer flowed. There some of us chatted with another Snorrenclub member, Hadermann Wim, a stocky, well built Antwerp Docks pilot who regaled us with many stories of his working life in the Docks since 1937. Some stayed on there till quite late, others went back to the Eurotel, had a few more drinks in the bar there, quite a nice lady singer/pianist entertaining, and then to bed.
I hope youre still following this - by now we were all in a pleasant daze!
Sunday morning came up quite bright and sunny although cool, but it clouded over eventually. About 10.30 a.m. along came the eight Fond Escorts again, this time with just 3 police motorcyclists. We set off steadily through the city but shortly ran into slight trouble when the young lady driver bumped into the car in front of her due to a sudden halt . She was most upset but, as we pointed out to her, it wasnt her fault. A little tin was bent but no-one was hurt and we proceeded on our way as planned. Our destination was the painter Reubens house, a lovely building in a pedestrian precinct. The policemen ignored this fact and the cars were directed right onto the pavement and we drove to right opposite the house. This caused quite a stir amongst the good citizens of Antwerp who were strolling nearby. Before going into Reubens house we saw in the sky a couple of aircraft towing advertising banners - not allowed in this country I think. On seeing the beautiful garden in Reubens house one cannot help but gasp, it is really wonderful. In this garden the television service took film of us and Willy Dupon and John Roy were interviewed. John later, helped by two young ladies, unrolled his nearly 6ft. long moustache for the benefit of the cameras. Next, a tour of the actual house with our now friend Georges Van Cauwenberghe guiding us wonderfully. Reubens certainly was a great painter and bon vivant. One thing we learnt on seeing a very small four-poster bed in one room was that people in the 17th. Century slept in a sitting position - at least they did in Antwerp
Next, Antwerps version of Petticoat Lane Market which was but a few steps from Reubens house. On entering the market area the first stall holder, being a flower stall, presented all 14 of us with a beautiful bunch of flowers each for which we gave the lady the traditional Flemish greeting of three kisses on alternate cheeks - in front of the TV cameras. A lovely gesture. Progress through the market caused quite a bit of hilarity all round, boaters and deerstalkers mixing freely. About halfway we were to go into a café/pub called Het Orgel (The Organ) which boasts a fair-ground type organ playing music. This your scribe forgot and had moved ahead of the party, so there was great surprise when one Snorrenclub member, cant remember his name but he looked like Omar Sharif, dashed up and said We have to go into the café and consummate some soup!! On sorting that one out there was great amusement - hell take a long time to live that one down! The soup, a traditional dish of the establishment, was really nice however, as was the rice pudding with cherries which followed.
A short journey after that brought us to another pub, the name of which escapes me - wed been in so many - but it is well remembered for it was there that a Belgian beer called Trappistenbier was sampled. This, as the name suggests, is brewed by monks and there are three grades. The strongest grade is really beautiful, the best beer Ive ever tasted - and it should be sipped gently!
From there back to the hotel where a reception had been laid on in the casino. At this many of those we had met during our journeyings around Antwerp were present. A really wonderful conjurer and a jazz pianist entertained us - both Snorrenclub members - and Oscar Permeke and John Roy were made Moustaches of Honour. We were greatly honoured too when the 9 of us HBC chaps were presented with a beautiful print of an original etching made by a well-known Antwerp artist, Willem Dolfyn - naturally another Snorrenclub member! Thank you Willem, we shall treasure them very much. Another person who impressed us very much was the wife of Mark Gilis, the President. Although with a small child and another pending, she appeared on a number of occasions. She is a typical Flemish beauty and Im sure that if Reubens was around now hed paint her portrait.
So that brought to an end the official activity and sundry groups of HBC/Snorrenclub types went off to various pubs and other places for the evening. For example, after visiting one pub, where I had the honour of exchanging my HBC tie with Willem Dolfyns Snorrenclub one - when we meet the Snorrenclub we seem to end up wearing each others ties! - John Roy, his wife, and I were most kindly invited to Roger Bals apartment for a light supper, after which we were driven back to the Eurotel by Rogers wife and daughter. The following day various reports came in, one HBC chap remembers being in a German bar singing Scottish and Irish songs at 3 a.m. and returning to the hotel at 4 a.m.!
Just before 10 a.m. on the Monday we all managed to assemble in the foyer of the Eurotel with the luggage packed and the bills, on which we had a reduction, paid. We obtained some newspapers with pictures, and articles in Flemish, of our visit. The plan then was to make our way slowly to De Snor, arriving by about 2.30 p.m., our baggage having been taken there direct from the hotel. Your scribe started off with a small group but going down one of the main streets became separated, shopped for some souvenirs, got lost but finally ended up at the appointed place at the right time. At De Snor we were all treated to a large meal of goulash and fried potatoes cooked by Willy Dupons wife. It was delicious!
Following this, John Lundström made a surprise presentation, giving each of us 9 HBC chaps a signed copy of his latest LP of Flemish folk songs. Having played it since, it sounds very good indeed. Thank you very much John. Oscar Permeke of Autostrade Motors dropped in and gave us each a small medallion of the Ford Escort in a presentation case - to him many thanks as well. We also saw prints of photos which had been taken at various times during the visit, copies of some of these will be sent to us shortly. Weve also been promised a video tape recording of the TV appearance at Reubens house.
Later in the afternoon there was a very mild panic when it was learnt that Brussels Airport was strike-bound and it was advisable that we reach Antwerp Airport early as there could be an influx of extra passengers for our flight. So promptly at 6 p.m. we said our Goodbyes and thanks to many people and boarded a small coach. Ivor Ridd stayed on for business reasons and Bob Carter and his lady friend left soon after us by car. Some of the officers of the Snorrenclub came with us in the coach to see us off at the airport. At the airport we duly went through the formalities, obtained some more Duty Frees and went through the detector arch - where great cheering arose if anyone went through and it buzzed! There seem to be only three services from Antwerp - to Brussels, Amsterdam and London - hence the informal atmosphere.
So more cheerios and out to the plane, again a Boeing 737, where we settled into our seats. We thought that this great holiday was over then, but - oh no! those wonderful Snorrenclub types came into the plane to say cheerio again!
Eventually, at 7.20 p.m. - the times were the same in Belgium and the UK throughout the holiday - the plane trundled out onto the runway and went off again like a rocket. During the climb we were treated to a wonderful view of lit-up Antwerp. Also, we climbed so steeply that a quarter bottle full of Polish vodka slid out from under the seat in front of me evidently left there from a previous flight. Ian Peak and I picked it up. We were served with some orange juice and this was enjoyed with some most delicious cookies, a box of which had been given to us by the Snorrenclub for the flight. After that, Ian and I looked at this vodka, we had the orange juice containers, so what do HBC types do under such circumstances? After a very smooth flight of 40 minutes ending with a grand view of London illuminated as we came into land, we reached Heathrow. Quickly through the Customs we said our goodbyes and wended our various ways home. So ended a wonderful, fantastic holiday.
And what can we say to The Snorrenclub? Thank you, most sincerely just isnt enough. The spin-off from this holiday will go one for a very long time. It has already provided a great boost for The Handlebar Club.
The future? Already a Snorrenclub member has suggested a combined trip to Paris late next year! It should be terrific. Well be there: