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L J Parkinson Belgium 09-08-18

A few days away with Les & Elizabeth in Belgium.


We have said for a while now that we would have one last trip to see our friends in Belgium and we eventually got around to it. All sounds so easy, jump in the car take a 4hr drive to the Chunnel then a 35min trip under the English Channel before arriving on the French side in Calais. We have been many times, but this was a nightmare, whichever road we took there were roadworks. I understand these jobs need to be done but as we slowly went along we were glancing at the workmen and we only saw one on all the roadworks we passed between junction 18 on the M6 right though to Calais who was actually working, the rest were standing talking, we must have caught them all having a rest period. This was by far the worst trip we had taken to the continent and we have made a few, plus it took us 1hr 20mins longer than even the worst trip we have taken before.  Another problem was it was so hot on the Chunnel crossing at one stage I thought Elizabeth was going to pass out, good job it didn't last any longer.

When we arrived on the other side of the Channel it was a doddle even though the roads were busier than we had seen them before, but traffic flowed very well with no hold ups. After that journey there was only one outcome and that was to find the bar and relax with a drink or two and then another before retiring to our room and a rather longer than usual night’s sleep. We woke on Saturday morning thinking there was going to be an early hive of activity with the market in front of the hotel but that was not the case. Since our last visit they have done a lot of work on the square in Bruges it looks so clean and fresh, the one downfall is they have done away with the water display which was always a tourist attraction, I asked a policeman next morning and he said it had been stolen. Elizabeth was looking forward to the market but even that is not here this time, it was probably the best market we have seen, and I am not in love with shopping. There were a few vans and that was it, no spending a couple of hours walking from stall to stall, there is a heaven after all. It was not until much later that we noticed it had been moved to one of the side streets off the square and the vans we could see were just the start of the market. It was so hot we could not stand in the sun for very long and for once I was even wearing a hat, didn’t want my brain frazzled anymore and it is too hot to go out doing anything. I now know why they siesta around the Mediterranean countries and laugh when we English go out in the mid-day sun while on holiday.

After breakfast and a brief walk round, we set off for the Rigole household which was the main reason for this visit to Belgium. Before we could leave I had to let the car cool down it was so hot, and it was only 10am, the air conditioning soon cooled it down and off we went. I had been told that the Belgium law had become very keen on people speeding on their roads, if that was the case why were we sticking to the speed limit and being left as if we were still in first gear even though the little red circle had just started to flash informing me that I had just gone past the speed limit. As anyone who has visited the Rigole home will tell you the drink and nibbles are soon on the table and that was what happened even though we had only had breakfast a couple of hours earlier. A bottle of champagne and some nibbles went down well, Regina always puts food out and I have been doing very well on my diet, so this trip is doing it no good at all.

Les & Elizabeth with the Vanneste family.

This is the first time I have been with Frans and not gone down to see the pigeons on the first day, but rest assured that won’t happen for all our stay. We had a better option and that was to take a new look at the new home of Guillaume & Leen Vanneste, the latter being Frans & Regina’s daughter. I am told that this is a good area to race pigeons into Belgium and I don’t know if or when this will happen, but Guillaume was telling me he could quite easily put a 100ft racing loft into the garden, looking around I think that will only take up a small amount of the space available, it really is a big garden even though it needs a lot of work doing with it after years of neglect. Would Guillaume make a good pigeon fancier, I think he would because whatever he does he is dedicated to it. Although his close family are not pigeon fanciers he is a relation to the legendary Henri Vanneste who was a real good fancier from the past, could this be the pigeon instinct coming out further down the family line.

They were telling me that there were lots of tree’s in the garden when they bought it and they have gradually reduce them to just a handful that will be sorted in due course. I got back to the subject with Guillaume about racing to this space and he was saying he has already made a contact in the village who may be interested in helping out with a loft full of racing pigeon’s, no grass growing under his feet. This is a case of will he or won’t he have a loft full of racing pigeons in his own garden, we shall have to wait and see. Elizabeth said, “Just think what you could do with a garden this size” to which I said with a smile, “I have already planned it out” Anyway after a few more drinks and another bite to eat Frans took us back to his place where we collected the car and returned to the hotel. Before we left and made arrangements for Frans to collect us at the hotel next morning for a barbeque, so my first thought was, don’t eat too much at breakfast time. Sunday morning saw us rise reasonably early with thoughts on an early breakfast and a day at the Rigole household for the barbeque. We had arranged to be collected but I thought it would be better if I drove and that is what we did, a reason not to have a few drinks. As always there was plenty of good food and drinks and while sitting there the conversation went to pigeons. During the conversation I was told about the latest superstar of racing pigeons in Belgium, I must admit that I had not heard of him. His name is Joel Verschoot who lived only a few miles from where we were so Guillaume got on the phone and made arrangements for a visit later in the day. This fancier has a great record in recent years, but I am not going to go into his lofts in this report because I am going to compile a separate article because he is worthy of one.

What I will say as a taster is that he has won two Ace Pigeon Awards in the last two years with the same pigeon and is also a 1st National, I need to check out, but I am told he was 4 x 1sts National. I will include a couple of photos showing a rather large range of lofts, but they are far from overcrowded like so many who have more pigeons that they should have, perhaps that is why they race so well.

Guillaume took along three bottles of Champagne on ice to celebrate with Joel his latest success because he uses the De Reiger range of products made by the company that Guillaume now owns. By the time we returned to the second part of the barbeque pigeons were beginning to dominate the day, so we went over to look at the pigeons that Frans & Guillaume have. My first thought was, “There looks far less pigeons than ever before” This led to me asking the question and was told that they are cutting down on stock birds and concentrating more on a smaller stock team but a higher overall level of quality, which is always a good step forward. Then when we went back to the table I asked if they were doing anything on the following day which was Monday because we had nothing planned and the pigeons were getting under my skin and wanting to see more. Guillaume arranged for trips to Maurice Mattheeuws and Marc & Geert Pollin two very well-known lofts that I have visited before, that meant our last full day was taken up and it was thanks to Guillaume for taking us.

Guillaume Vanneste presenting the champagne to Joel Verschoot for his recent National Ace Pigeon win.

Lofts of Joel Verschoot

So next day we set off to the home of Maurice & Astrid Mattheeuws who are always a pleasure to visit and they have a lot of visitors over the years. Maurice is still winning after all those years, in fact at least 55yrs of winning with racing pigeons. I have sometimes wondered if the more prominent Belgium fanciers get fed up with a continual stream of visitors but that doesn’t appear to be the case of as long as those potential visitors make appointments. As we sat under the garden umbrellas having a cool drink Maurice was saying about some of the winning fanciers from around the world he had sat with in these same seats having conversations about racing pigeons. We eventually went for a walk down the garden to see and handle some of his latest winners and they were certainly quality, and we could understand why they have got to such a high level in the first place. This was a first experience for Guillaume because he had never met Maurice and Astrid before.

Maurice & Astrid Mattheeuws with Les & Elizabeth

Guillaume then took us to see Marc & Geert Pollin who I have visited on three previous occasions and was surprised with a change in the racing strategy. For my previous visits this loft was predominantly for distance racing but that is not the case nowadays. The best about this trip was that Geert was there, which was much better because Marc is not the best when it comes to English and Geert really is fluent, mind you we have been going to Belgium for about 30yrs, so we should have tried to at least understand their language. I had a good talk to Geert and we are going to put an up to date article together on their changes since my last report. What Geert did say is something that I have heard so often and that is they are now competing more in the middle-distance races because there are not enough races to compete in now for those long-distance races. The reason this surprised me is that for many years this loft is one of the very best when it comes to the long-distance races. However, I do understand why they have changed because as I said I have herd it so often. At times I think the changes are good, but my preference moved to the longer races many years ago because I saw them as more of a challenge. Even so towards the end of my racing I did start to think more on the lines of the rest of the racing programmes throughout the year because the longer races are so limited and finding pigeons to cover those races is long and hard work. Getting pigeons to successfully race from 600mls plus, is much harder than sprint and middle-distance birds, but I must add that it is harder to get middle-distance winners because the competition is fiercer. However, it is the shorter races that bring fanciers together on marking nights purely because there are more present. I do hope to find out more on the reasons why Marc & Geert changed the direction in racing their pigeons plus a lot more. Like other fanciers in this brief report I am going to look at them with further details for a future report.

Guillaume Vanneste,  Marc Pollin,  Les J Parkinson,  Geert Pollin.

We would like to thank the Rigole family for their time to make another trip to Belgium enjoyable, we had said that this would be our last trip to Belgium but after this trip who knows. As I started this report I mentioned the journey and the hold ups along the way. Well, coming home was just as bad, in fact worse because as we arrived at the border between Belgium and France we hit what was about a 20ml tail-back caused by the police, doing what, I have no idea. I say that because as we arrived at the point where they were they were filtering the traffic off on one of the convenience places and back onto the E40 we could not see them stopping anyone. Then when we arrived at the Chunnel there were delays there, the problem was they only had two stations open checking passports Etc. Anyway, we arrived at the Sheene Mill where we spent the night before finishing our journey next morning. And now I must start to make notes and gather further information for additional reports, before my head goes blank.

Les J Parkinson.

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