The Opel and the MINIs

Beastmaster and Peanut Adventures

International New Mini Meet - Lommel June 2005

Exactly what it says on the tin - over 100 new minis from all over Europe congregating at Center Parcs in Lommel Belgium.
The Czech ReviewDiary Write UpPhoto Album

The Czech take on INMM - a review by Natalie Williams

International New Mini Meeting in Belgium, 24th – 27th June 2005

Chips, beer and burgers

It could not have been better: my husband is taking me to spend a weekend at the meeting with other very cute new Minis from all over Europe in a country, famous for its chocolate, beer and very appealing life-style! – Oh, Belgium... I cannot wait to embrace your pralines...

But we were not to get much of the above-mentioned renouned items. Instead, the host land presented us with another typical local attribute –constant road-congestion. You have to understand that there is no traffic in Belgium; there is either a mild traffic jam, allowing you to move 40 miles per hour, medium traffic jam with an average speed of 20 miles an hour, or a total traffic jam when you get stuck somewhere on the extensive plains of the country between all the right angles and straight lines for about three hours. Needless to say, that after such a warm welcome, without a sight of a nice cafe to sit in and rest, with several near escapes from mad lorry drivers, travellers and their restless Minis arrived on the spot – the Centre Park near Lommel exhausted.

I must admit that I am not a Buttlins/Centre Parcs/ Disney Land sort of person, - probably because I am a snob as my husband likes to point out - but from a pragmatic point of view, it is a good idea to organize a meeting of such a scale in a place where you can accommodate everyone and there are all the necessary facilities. Nevertheless, throughout our stay I had never got rid of the feeling of an utter discomfort of being constantly watched. I grew up in a communist country and I know what it is like and recognize when I am under surveillance. The lady’s voice that appeared out of a thin air in our little hut, asking us politely in four languages to move our cars immediately, confirmed my suspicions. I could not help searching premises for hidden microphones and cameras. My Western husband and housemates Peanut and Beastmaster, alias Chris and Adrian, however, calmed me down, explaining that there is no KGB in the capitalist world, there is only Big Brother.

Now I feel safe! Bags full of goodies from our kind hosts made me forget about my irrational worries soon and I enjoyed riding a scooter, the first time after twenty-five years, driving a Mini with a flat tyre, which to a horror of my husband Andy, I loved, the Pirates of the Caribbean party and the rally on Sunday with very tricky tasks.

 However, the whole meeting brought up some disturbing questions in my mind which, if left unanswered and unexplained, will cause me many sleepless nights: were all the original medieval thinkers who insisted that the Earth is flat originally from Belgium?; why does a receptionist in a Centre Parcs in Belgium when you ask her where is the closest nice restaurant, send you to Holland?; where does a Belgian Mini driver go when he wants to try his car on a bendy road?  There are some mysteries of life that are meant to remain beyond comprehension. There are some defeats in life that are too bitter to swallow and too absurd to admit publicly, and not trying a single piece of chocolate while in Belgium belongs to them. I could not tell anyone that in fact the only thing we had were chips, burgers and beer. So the day after we returned I brought a box of original Belgian pralines shaped as seashells to work. I bought it in Tesco in a town near us.

Courtesy of Natalie Williams

INMM - The Diary

INMM at Lommel and Port Cogolin

Day One – Friday 24th June 2005 

The day began with a civilised full English breakfast at Peanut’s Mum’s in Ashford. This gave us plenty of time to get to the ferry terminal for our 11.15 crossing. When we got there we met Natalie and Andy (PAA100 on MINI2) who we were convoying to The International New Mini Meet at CenterParcs in Lommel with. The ferry crossing was over in a flash as we exchanged travel and mini tales with Natalie and Andy over a cup of coffee. In no time at all we were heading out of Boulogne on the A16 and pointing towards Calais and Ostend on the first leg of our road trip to Lommel.

The trip quickly developed into something quite different from our normal skirmishes into Europe. First, the motorway was very busy with a lot of dodging around erratic Belgian drivers going on. Secondly, the scenery was as dull as ditchwater and a view that Belgium was only good for two things – beer and Poirot was quickly forming in my mind. This view was reinforced by the third thing that was different from our normal continental forays – the toilet / picnic stop. Instead of a shady table in a pretty forested area, we had to settle for a very stark rest stop with toilets that excelled themselves for being “even worse than any I have seen in the whole of Lithuania” as Natalie put it. Having our picnic in 35 degrees of brilliant sunshine with no shade quickly had us overheating. Mind you the minis looked good as they too took a well deserved break.

The journey continued but quickly ran into trouble as Antwerp proved almost impossible to navigate around. The congestion was horrendous and we were going nowhere. Eventually Andy took the brave but inspired decision to defy the advice of his sat. nav. and start to go the wrong way round the Antwerp ring road. The gamble paid off and we were moving again. A little after seven and two hours late we all finally staggered into CenterParcs all less than enamoured with Belgian roads and their drivers. Peanut, our leather chair and I decamped into our excellent chalet in the forest, after which we decided we could murder a cup of tea but “chose” instead to play the “hunt the matches” game to light the stove. An hour later and only after consultation with other chalet users, we discovered them wrapped inside a dish cloth! Yes we were in Belgium but no, we were not the great detective Poirot! Still the tea was lovely but whilst drinking it a disembodied voice asked us to move our cars as they were still parked outside in the road. One began to suspect that Big Brother was popular with CenterParcs.

After a quick change we headed for the beach party and our first encounter with Belgian beer. Well in truth two cans of Stella were consumed first, which meant that Peanut still can’t really tell you what her Leffe Blonde was like! I can though and it was gooood! A few Belgian sausages some chicken wings and er meat balls was the somewhat improvised but enjoyable supper that we shared – a pleasant enough way to end Day One of our Belgian adventure. (Ady)

Day Two – Saturday 25th June 2005

The day began with a long walk from the chalet to breakfast, which was a buffet affair. This walk was becoming tiresome already so we decided to hire some bikes to make our journey easier.  We both found them a bit large for our liking, me more so obviously.  So I chose a girl’s bike and Adrian chose a mountain bike as the frame was smaller than the standard ones.  Unfortunately he soon discovered that a mountain bike has a mountain biker’s saddle! Still, he had a noble stance standing on his pedals for most of our bike riding. 

At 12.00 we took part in the mini events that had just started, beginning with riding a scooter round a small course.  The next task was to steer a radio controlled mini round another course, then we could drive a full sized mini round a course with a flat run-flat (try saying that after your second leffe blonde).  This was Natalia’s first drive of a mini and Andy (or his wallet) might yet regret this! Incidentally, the car handled brilliantly while being driven with one flat tyre – this was an excellent demonstration of the abilities of run flat tyres. Meanwhile, Adrian was pathetically pleased to win some Mini sunglasses in the raffle.

It was by now very hot and we thought it would be nice to have a swim in the pool, not knowing how hard it would be to find it – perhaps locating the swimming pool was some kind of Big Brother task! It was far too hot to have to trawl about the way we did looking for the pool and it is beyond me why it needs to be so hidden away, so when we did get there we were irritated and desperate for a chilling beer, which another hour later we managed to get! The whole rigmarole of changing in the changing rooms ensued, which seems perfectly acceptable back in blighty but so very alien on the continent,  where usually you just dry out by the pool or on the beach and worry about nothing more than whether or not the knots are tied right in the hankie on your head. (Peanut)

After a brief siesta the evening arrived. CenterParcs at Lommel have a whole pirate theme going on in an area called Discovery Bay. As a stage set for a Pirate party it is truly brilliant and INMM took full advantage of it by hiring it for a private party for the mini gang. Full Pirate costume was the dress code for the evening and our crew did not disappoint. Food and drink fit only for the finest Pirates of the Caribbean was served and in keeping with the whole Big Brother thing that seems to emanate from the CenterParcs concept, vouchers had to be obtained to acquire drinks. Our costumes did not alas win any prizes, nor did Peanut’s brave capture of the Pirate ship by climbing up the rigging, but RVW was mentioned in despatches for his Pirate attire. (Ady)

Day Three – Sunday 26th June 2005

INMM arranged a Mini run through Holland as the main event of Sunday. This kicked off at midday so a leisurely breakfast was the morning’s entertainment. We all gathered in the car park where the minis had their own private parking area and  spent a good half hour or more “ooohing” and “aaahing” over each other’s minis. The pace notes for the run were in the booklet we all received when we first checked in for the mini weekend and to be honest they looked very brief and scant of detail. It did not bode well when the organisers gave us at least six amendments to the pace notes just prior to departure. I think Andy had a strong suspicion that following the run pace notes might be a fraught experience and so decided that for him a successful outcome to the day would be to have ice cream at one of the stops.

At last we were under way and within half a mile we had entered Holland, within a mile we had to stop for petrol and within two miles we had taken our first wrong turn ending up on a cycle path annoying some cyclists. It has to be commented upon by the way, that Holland is suffering from a severe epidemic of cyclists. The strain is extremely virulent and aggressive and seems to spread by “doubling up” thus blocking a road off completely and allowing more cyclists to quickly grow behind them. I think we managed to knock about seven off the road during the course of our run but to be honest, this was a very small dent into what is clearly a very serious contagion in Holland.

Anyway, we soon discovered we were off route and got back on track only to get lost again further up the road, only this time we went about five miles before concluding that something was wrong. We turned around and finally hooked up with some other minis that seemed to know what they were doing. Mind you, it was at this point that some of the pace note amendments kicked in. Weird place Holland – some kind of suburban nightmare - and every village seemed to be having a fete on and the amendments were to route us around the villages where the road through had been blocked off. This took us along some very sandy tracks and as all mini drivers have vivid imaginations, we all thought we were on the Dakar Rally! Following this group, the pace notes started to make sense and soon we felt confident enough about the route to stop for lunch in a small village that we went through. Chips and satays was a very appetising lunch and from the fraught start the run was turning into a lot of fun.

Lunch over and we were off again and finding the pace notes much easier to follow. This allowed us to look around and “take in” what we were seeing. We already knew that Holland is a prosperous country with high living standards and that it is densely populated - oh and very flat too. What we now saw as we drove around was the manifestation of these facts. Basically, the whole place seemed to be one suburban housing estate after another, all much the same, all neat and tidy and all fundamentally characterless. The roads seemed to be built on a grid pattern in the American style and the proliferation of speed cameras is the other epidemic that Holland suffers from. Clearly some of the cyclists ride very fast. Peanut concluded that she now understood why the Dutch were such great travellers, popping up everywhere in their oversized camping vans – it was just so boring to drive in Holland! I have already said that Centerparcs feels like the Big Brother House – well with the cameras in every street this felt like the Big Brother Garden!

Time for another break and yes ice cream was the order of the day – delicious it was too. By defining the parameters for a successful outcome at the start of the day as “having ice cream” Andy had clearly set an achievable goal and miraculously our perception of the day was now that it was a huge success and in truth reflecting upon it now, yes the run was a great success and a lot of fun. Clearly these civil servants do know a thing or two after all.

Back in the Big Brother chalet and after a lovely cup of tea we began to plot a break out from Centerparcs and decided that if we could slip off site unnoticed we would have a real meal in a real restaurant. Eersel beckoned and the four of us enjoyed a very pleasant evening with a good meal, a little wine and a lot of amiable chat sorting out the failings of Holland and Belgium. We never did decide exactly how we were going to get the mountain into the country! (Ady)

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