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My First Video and a Top Five – My First Week

October 19, 2009

A Video Message From Durbuy, Belgium

People like lists. I am a person, no different to most people. So I have decided that ‘Top 5’s’ will become a regular theme of this blog. If you want me to do a ‘Top 5’ of anything, then please just make a suggestion ! For now though, it’s my turn. Here is a list of the best five things about my first week as a cycle tourist (all ‘Top 5’s’ will be accompanied by ‘Bottom 2,’ just to balance matters and to feed my naturally cynical outlook)

Cycling into a Lord’s Taverners Bus – as I rounded a sharp corner in the Kent countryside somewhere near Meopham, I was greeted by my friends (they were all cycling faster than me), and a Lord’s Taverners minibus. It was being used to transport kids from the Helen Allison School for Children with Autism in Meopham, and served as a timely reminder that the money we are hoping to raise goes to great causes. We all marvelled at the coincidence, but the Lord’s Taverners give out so many mini-buses to worthy causes that it wasn’t such a surprise in hindsight. Hello to John and everyone at the school !

The Kindness of Strangers – about a month before I left I got a call from Martin O’Connor at the Belgian Cricket Board. He offered to help me out during my cycle through the country. As a result of all his hard work, my time in Belgium has been a breeze ! His kindness has been duplicated by the wonderful people he has put me in touch with along the way. With Some of The Arcadians Cricket Team, GhentSteven Reynaert, a WW1 historian, and his family in Ypres, Tom van Poucke in Ghent, The British School of Brussels and The Emerson family in Tervuren, you all made me feel very welcome, so thank you !

Beer – asking a Belgian man if he would like a beer is like asking a Millwall fan if he’d like a fight. More often than not, the answer is yes. Not that I’ve been going around asking Belgian men if they’d like a beer you understand. It’s just that every time I arrive somewhere the first thing I’m offered is beer. I’m not complaining. At Steven and Isabel’s house I tasted at least 6 varieties, including the world renowned Trappiste beer, West Vleteren. I’m honoured to have been offered a glass. I’m told that if you want some you have to book an appointment to visit the Abbey where it’s made (yes, it’s made by monks, of course). If you’re lucky enough to get through and book a time to see them, you can only buy one crate at a time. It’s worth the effort though. More of the same in Germany please !

Learning about Belgian Cricket – upon arrival in Ghent, I was met by Tom van Poucke, a South African of Flemish descent, who has moved to the city of his birth and joined The Arcadians Cricket Club. If your club is looking for a new venue for a pre-season tor then give them a go. Made up of cricketers from every test playing nation, they seem to have a great team spirit that plenty of clubs back home could learn from. Nets at The British School of Brussels, TervurenCricket in Belgium is developing, and it was great to get a chance to visit the British School of Brussels to see how seriously it is now taken. After giving a talk to one of the GCSE classes, I met up with some of the school’s cricketers for a net session. I was asked by one of the boys if I had played for England. I was tempted to not let him down by saying yes, but knew my batting would give the game away. Cricket is booming in Belgium, as it is across Europe, but more of that in another blog.

Learning about Flanders’ History – Martin O’Connor is not just a keen cricket administrator, but an avid historian. When the England cricket team visited Ypres earlier this year, he showed them many sportsmens’ World War I graves. He really knows his stuff. Colin Blythe , the great Kent and England all-rounder is buried at Oxford Road Cemetery close to the town. I saw the very spot whee John McRae wrote his famous poem ‘In Flanders’ Fields,’ and also the site of the famous Christmas Day Truce Football Match. I learnt about the Battle of Messines, in which Adolf Hitler fought, and I was hugely honoured to lay a wreath at the Menin Gate Memorial to the Missing on behalf of my two charities. Site of The Christmas Day Truce Football MatchThe gate lists the names of 58,000 British and Commonwealth soldiers who were killed near Ypres during World War I, but whose graves are unknown. My history lesson was all very humbling, and served to make my cycling trip seem very small indeed.

And the Bottom 2…..

My Knee on the First Night – towards the end of the first day, my right knee was giving me serious cause for concern. It is no exaggeration to say that I lay awake most of that first night and wondered whether I could carry on. One of my friends accompanying me down to Dover, Doctor Kate Jenkins, told me I was being pathetic and that pain wasn’t always bad (which was news to me). Since that day the pain in my knee has disappeared. I don’t know what you did Kate, but thanks. I just realised I have managed to turn that into a good thing, which in itself is good.

A Thief – what kind of thief sees a valuable bike, a camera, an ipod and a laptop, and decides that what he would really like are some bike lights ? I realise it’s somewhat unlikely, but if you’re reading this, thief, you’re an idiot, and a terrible, terrible thief. The thief struck in the dead of night in Dunkerque, less than 8 hours into my time on European soil. Thankfully, my trip has only got better since, so in a way, perhaps I should be thanking the thief for providing me with a low-point from which all other moods shall now be measured? Oh good, I turned that into a positive as well…..

Tomorrow morning I head for Germany, and Passau in particular. The nights have got very cold, very quickly ! If you know anyone who might be willing to accommodate a smelly cycle tourist for a night on the route, then please do let me know ! Until next time…..

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7 Comments leave one →
  1. October 19, 2009 4:51 pm

    I’m loving your blog Oli – you leave me hungry for the next! x

  2. October 19, 2009 7:06 pm

    Hi Oli,

    Many thanks for your very kind comments. Great to see you’ve camped in Durbuy. A beautiful place but getting frosty no doubt! ‘Brrrrr !!!’ as The Sun would have it.

    Can I, in all modesty and more particularly before Steven tears my head off, just say that we’d really have to describe the Christmas Truce football site as the alleged site, and also say that while Hitler was at Messines for a time and in fact painted some oustandingly bad water colours of it he wasn’t there during the actual Battle of Messines in June 1917.

    Cricket Belgium’s annual awards are on Frday October 30. If you could make a quick diversion to Antwerp, we’ll give you one to present.

    Great mate! We’re with you all the way to Brisbane.


  3. October 19, 2009 11:14 pm

    Sounds like you’re having fun Oli so far. Best Wishes, Michael @ Santos.

  4. Ross C permalink
    October 20, 2009 3:16 pm

    Top 5 songs you hum or sing while cycling along! – You know you do it!! Come on own up!

  5. Nicholas Tatlow permalink
    October 20, 2009 6:53 pm

    First website I check in the morning to see how you are progressing. Great first week review and look forward to those going forward. Having supps with Bradley soon and trying to work out if we can visit you somewhere. Keep rolling on…..

  6. lucy macdonald permalink
    October 20, 2009 10:09 pm

    ps top 5 belgian beers?

  7. Nick C permalink
    October 23, 2009 8:47 am

    awesome work Oli. loving your route map! Nick C

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