Memories (part one of two) Dec 21st
"Counting sheep" is probably the oldest sleeping advice on earth. I did it differently. When I could not sleep in my younger years I counted birds. The biggest amount of racers I ever had was 36. What I did then was check the nest boxes from 1 to 36 and try to remember which pigeon belonged in which box. When I still did not sleep when I was at nest box 36 I started again but now I tried to remember the ring numbers and possibly even ancestors.
This is a long time ago. What I do to-day on those rare occasions that I cannot fall asleep is think about the past. Unaware. It just happens to me.
‘The past’ are the days:
-That my raven black hair had not start the fight with grey yet.
-That I still had faith in politicians.
-That we in Holland were surprised every time we saw a coloured person.
-When there were fish in even the smallest stream instead of dirty smelling water.
-When sex did not exist.
-When you were a strange person if you did NOT race pigeons.
-When we had never heard of Adeno circus virus, paramyxovirus, circo virus and we had never seen a Chinese, let alone a Chinese who was after our birds.
-When the priest told our parents to what location we should not go dancing because of 'bad' girls. So you can guess where we were going.
-When there was so much money in the races that playing pigeons was more profitable (for some) than work.
-When every daily contained a page about pigeons.
-When there were more than 40 pigeon magazines in Belgium alone.
Pigeons was my passion since my early teens. Reading about pigeons was my favorite spare time. I had no money to subscribe to a pigeon magazine, but fellow fanciers kept them for me. And whenever I read something which was interesting, I made notes.
These notebooks I still have, as well as all race results from since I was 16. To-day I sometimes read those old notes that I made then but not too often, since it depresses me. I feel bad when I realise again how time flies. I feel bad when I think about the numerous fanciers in those days (where have they gone?) and I feel depressed thinking of so many great memories. In my twenties, I began to get interested in the sport outside the region. And I opened the hunt for good pigeons despite my small budget. Of course this involves countless loft visits to fanciers with extraordinary good birds.
In those days Merksem was one of the towns that I frequently visited because it was the home town of two great champions: Van Rhijn Kloeck and the lesser-known Louis van Alphen and son John. From them I bought my first pigeons and though these champions treated me well, I was not successful with their birds. But I learnt my lesson and this lesson was that even the greatest champions breed a lot of crap.
Another lesson was that you are often better off with pigeons that you get for free. Gust Hofkens was an example. At the time I organised two auctions for him. Since he refused to spend even one cent on publicity both auctions failed. I felt so embarrassed that I turned down my commission. Apparently Gust was sorry for me since he offered me a couple of eggs, which I gladly accepted.
Now I got Hofkens birds, I raced them, but alas… what a disappointment. These birds again appeared to be no good. Till I got tired of them and in order to get rid of them I entered them for a long distance race from Ruffec, 750 km. To my surprise they won 1st and 3rd prize. Okay, this was only in the club, but could this be a coincident?
It was not. One of them, mated with a hen that I got directly from Janssen Bros, became father of my ‘good yearling’ that became one of the basic birds of my family. From ‘Good Yearling’ descended my 1st National (!!!) winners from Orleans. Orleans was THE race then with once an entry of no less than 200,000 birds.
21 years old but already 'pigeon crazy.'
In those days I was also pretty close with William Geerts, who dominated pigeon sport in the province of Antwerp after the van Rhijn Kloeck era. William was unbeatable at Middle Distance, but before the Middle Distance season there were 3 short distance races from Noyon and you cannot believe how much he hated those races. His problem was a certain Soontjens who humiliated him in those races. Understandably the name of Soontjens began to intrigue me.
So you can imagine to whom I paid a visit with an empty basket and some money in my pocket. But when I saw those Soontjens birds I was shocked. They were not my type at all: Far too big. So with an empty basket I went home. How stupid I was. Others got tremendous successes with these big pigeons. It is reminiscent of the mistake I made at the Bros de Wit.
BROS DE WIT
When de Wit had won National Barcelona I went there to buy this bird for a ‘friend’ from abroad. I still remember my surprise when I was there. It was pure ‘Janssen’, so a typical Middle Distance bird that had won this 1,200 km race.
Apparently Jaap de Wit saw from my face how surprised I was because he showed me some more birds of their ‘Janssen family’. They were awesome. I was offered some babies for free. They were beauties as well but I politely turned down the offer. In those days I thought good birds were only to be found in the south of Holland, that was where I live of course, and in Belgium. What a stupidity again.
Verkerk, v d Merwe, Co Verbree Willem de Bruijn and so many others were smarter and would dominate the races for years with their ‘de Wit pigeons’.
Turning down the birds of Soontjens and De Wit are in my ‘top 3 ever stupidities’. What the third or was? Eliminating direct babies off Turbo, Kleinen, Kolonel (father 'Bliksem') Wittenbuik and so on from Vandenabeele in the 90-s. I still have the pedigrees, the birds were in my loft for 2 years only. Meanwhile others had gotten eggs from them and when I did not have them any more fanciers asked me if I had more stuff of that sort.
In another article more memories!