Dying is the first step
Kurt Cobain is dead. Dead as a doornail. For some reason he shot himself into the next world. You don't know his name? Don't worry, the important thing is that he is dead.
I knew him vaguely and I can't say that I was a fan of his. We only met at the volume control of the radio whenever a Nirvana song blasted through the house. He was the hero of another generation, the generation of my son and his friends. There are boundaries in life that you just have to accept and ever since Elvis, pop music determines the borderline between old and young.
I feel sorry for the generation gap mostly when I talk to young people. About their idols and my heroes of yesterday. I try to tell them about Paul Simon or the Stones but they only look at me without any comprehension.
And when you hear yourself saying: 'Could you turn that racket down please', then you can be sure that you've said goodbye to your youth. And there is no going back. In the past we had rock and roll, now they have 'sex, drugs' and rock and roll. But it is a different kind of rock.
That is why it didn't touch me so much when Kurt took his own life. But millions of Nirvana fans over the whole world were surprised and shocked by it.
However, upon the news of his death there were those who saw the profitable side of it. In the record business nothing sells so well as death, and when a rocker dies all kinds of elements come to life.
The best thing about the dead is that they stay dead.
They can't defend themselves against lies anymore and others can rake in the money from their products. Elvis and John Lennon have been dead for so many years ... but their record sales rocket and for many people money means more than lives.
The Grim Reaper is the best PR man anyone could wish for. Because death immobilizes and preserves. For many idols from pop stars to Diana to Kennedy, dying was the best career move they could have made.
A star who dies at a young age begins a second career without ever knowing about it, and one that is often more glittering and more profitable than the first one.
For the living this is much more difficult. These people are constantly in the spotlight and there comes a moment when they fall out of favour and then it becomes very evident that even the best singer, the best footballer, the most famous pigeon fancier is only human after all.
News about the living is more boring then news about the dead. For all the times that the football player Romario didn't show up, people just shrugged their shoulders. All this is very different for famous people who are dead. News about them is devoured and they are transformed into something they probably were not while they were alive.
The hero of my youth. When he was alie he earned fortunes, after his
death even more.
What I mean is perfectly illustrated by Maradona during the World Cup in the USA.
He was called Pele's equal, his nickname was 'The Angel of God', sent to earth to give joy to his people. But if his talents were out of this world, his behaviour was certainly very down to earth, as a fighter, as a user of drugs and as womaniser. He wanted to redeem himself at the World Cup. There he would show the world his talent for the last time. But it would turn out to be his last great solo. He would never gain his objective. Football fans would never again cheer for Diego. He arrived as a living legend and went as a drugs user and a criminal.
If Maradona had wanted to become immortal, he should have ... died.
What has all this to do with the pigeon sport? A lot. Quite a lot really. Try to make the comparison with the champions that are no longer among us. And if you want proof, try to get hold of a foreign pigeon magazine. The idiocy you read in those is heart rendering.
Fellow fanciers who have never made their mark in Belgium are able to become world famous abroad. They can freely publish the biggest lies without anyone putting a stop to it.
They use names like Hofkens, Bricoux, Delbar, van Wanroy, Huyskens van Riel, Wegge, Stichelbaut, Jan Aarden and the inevitable Janssens.
And coincidence or not, almost all of these names are of deceased pigeon champions.
I have it on good authority that some people are now waiting for the demise of the last named fancier, because only then they can cash in on the investment made in his pigeons.
Allow me to take you by the hand into the theatre of the pigeon sport. You won't bedisappointed because you will get proof of the power of death and the saleability of illusions
The star actor is someone I knew very well:
The butcher from Merksplas lived only a few miles from me. And I must say, he raced fantastic.
From 70 to 600 km, from April until October, in the seventies he was the man to beat. He became well known when people noticed the big money he won by pooling his pigeons, but he became an international legend after his death.
But that was long after the top of his career.
The time that Hofkens was most successful was when he participated in the regional speed races.
But speed races don't give you much publicity.
Only the smarter fanciers, like Grondelaers, knew where to find him and they bought from him pigeons that would make them famous all over the world.
Hofkens' fame was mainly made through the 'Eenoog', the 'Geschifte' and the 'Driebander'.
It is said that the 'Eenoog' had won 50 first prizes. Which of course was rubbish.
Many tall stories have been written about Hofkens and likewise about his 'Geschifte' And it is about the 'Geschifte' and his descendants that you can see what I am going to write. The lie should be stopped sometime.
He was supposed to be a son of Hofkens' favourite pigeon, the 'Driebander', paired with the 'Theeuwesduivin'.
It has been written time and again that he won 20 first prizes.
And what is the truth?
The father of the 'Geschifte' was not the 'Driebander', the mother was not the 'Theeuwesduivin' and he didn't win 20 first prizes but seven. And even these seven also seem to be questionable.
The real origin of the 'Geschifte' (B-72- 6311120) is as follows: Father was the 'Witpen Paenen' (B-69-6225818) from Jaak Paenen from Berendrecht. Mother was the B-69- 6320035.
So nothing to do with 'Driebander' or 'Theeuwesduivin'.
And the best wins of this super pigeon were:
3rd St. Denis 91 p.
2nd Etampes 160 p.
2nd Dourdan 264 p.
7th Melun 988 p.
2nd Corbeil 515 p.
5th Melun 1,060 p.
4th Melun 458 p.
3rd Etampes 543 p.
3rd Melun 795 p.
4th St. Denis 167 p.
5th Melun 463 p.
4th Orleans 819 p.
4th Dourdan 1,086 p.
And what about those first prizes? These were won against 113 p., 103 p., 58 p. and so on. I have noted doubles as well. To understand this you have to know how it often works in Belgium.
1 July 1973 Etampes.
The 'Geschifte' won:
' 3rd of 543 pigeons
' 1st of 103 pigeons
' 2nd of 160 pigeons
These are three top prizes but all in the same race. That first prize is there indeed, but if you look at the larger picture against 543 pigeons, he won the 3rd prize.
A good pigeon all the same
All the same, the 'Geschifte' was a good pigeon. He was champion in HaFo Lier in 1973, 1974, 1975 and 1976. During his carrier he won about 33,000 Dutch Guilders in prize money. At the total sale after Hofkens' death Rommen from Dessel bought him for 276,024 Belgian Francs, which was almost 15,000 Dutch Guilders.
Rommen sold him to Verbruggen, Verbruggen sold him to Raoul Verstraete and he ended up in a loft in Germany.
Why all these transfers? Because the 'Geschifte' couldn't live up to the high expectations as a breeder.
We have explored the career of this pigeon a bit deeper because he is so famous and because there are so many misunderstandings about him.
Well, misunderstandings? The late Gust Hofkens had the very best pigeons, nobody will deny that.
In the sixties Piet Verheyen from Chaam bought pigeons from Hofkens. He paired them with pigeons from Vermeulen, who lived in the same village, and had one success after the other. At that time Vermeulen had the best pigeon I have ever known, the legendary '05'.
A pigeon that seemed bewitched and mocked all competition.
That men like Verheyen and Vermeulen never had the same fame as Grondelaers was probably because they didn't live in Belgium. But we can safely assume that their pigeons were as good as the Grondelaers pigeons.
What would have become of her if she was still alive?
In 1972 and 1973 I organised a public auction sale for Hofkens. Both were failures but Hofkens didn't care. He didn't understand that you needed publicity for a succesful sale and therefore he refused to pay anything for it. And I had handled it all wrong too. On a simple piece of paper I had introduced the pigeons like this for instance:
Father the 'Blauwe' of 1968 paired with the chequered hen which Hofkens bought from Nees. The father was a good racer.
Honestly, who will become enthusiastic over a notice like that one?
But that doesn't mean that this pigeon couldn't have been a champion. After Hofkens' death and with different pigeons other people handled the publicity better.
For that matter, at those failed sales in Zaal Olympia in Baarle Nassau some fanciers bought real champions for a few coppers. And I didn't do bad out of it all myself.
I was so ashamed over the end results of the sales that I refused the percentage I was due. I said: 'Just give me a few eggs from the old pigeons'. Which proved to be a mistake, I should have asked for many not a few!
Van Den Hoek
The same story applies to Arie van den Hoek.
After his death the sale of his pigeons was a huge success too and now you will find his pigeons in many lofts.
Van den Hoek pigeons were in great demand, especially white ones and grizzles, because 'these breed easier', a 'seller' told me.
And suddenly many Belgian fanciers 'remembered' that their white pigeons and grizzles could be van den Hoek pigeons after all.
Another part of this same story is van Rhijn- Kloeck. This duo did very well for many years in the Union Antwerpen and their pigeons became popular. The magazines showed this clearly, everyone had the Rhijn-Kloeck breed.
And the more successes they had, the more popular their pigeons became. Until Jan got a run of bad luck and his success dwindled.
As if by magic the demand for his breed dwindled with it. Because it didn't sell anymore.
Meulemans and Wegge
The last few years many fanciers without much success themselves but keen to make a sale are selling Meulemans pigeons. This may be so, but, coincidence or not, this happens to be a time when everybody wants them.
A few years ago especially the reds, the 'recessive reds' were sold for large amounts of money. Karel Meulemans, a good man, didn't understand it either. But he is still alive and hopefully will be for many years to come.
Hofkens, van den Hoek, Jan Aarden and so many others are no longer alive and can't defend themselves anymore. And that makes selling their so called strain a lot easier.
In the USA they are still advertising the pure Wegge pigeons. He was not very well known in Belgium but abroad he became 'world famous'.
Some Americans boast openly that they still have the pure Wegge breed. And this is despite all his pigeons being sold in 1903 (!). I still have the sales program. And half of his pigeons he bought from other fanciers!
'Pure bred and pure bred'
To try to sell 'pure' Hofkens pigeons, 'pure' Wegge pigeons and so on is fooling others as well as yourself.
Hofkens, Wegge and so many other fanciers didn't have a pure breed, didn't believe in a pure breed and never intended to form a pure breed.
They believed that the so coveted super pigeon was bred out of pairings with pigeons crossed with those from other fanciers. The origin of their better pigeons shows this clearly. Hofkens bought pigeons from fanciers that he believed had good pigeons. On 30 April 1977, the complete Hofkens family was sold and to study the sales program is illuminating because it shows the truth.
In this sale there were lots of pigeons that were part of Hofkens' loft, but ... which he had bought elsewhere. In other words, pigeons bred and ringed by other fanciers.
There were pigeons from Paenen, Smolderen, Keustermans, Houben, Wouters, Mariman Raey, van Dessel, Heylen, Andre Berte, Henri Gielen, Grondelaers, Tamsen, Louis van Gorp, van Rhijn-Kloeck and also some of unknown origin. Hofkens breed? Laughable! He had pigeons from at least 15 different fanciers.
But all these pigeons were sold and bought as true Hofkens breed and their offspring would go down in history as 'pure' Hofkens.
In all this we have to assume that the sales program was correct. It wasn't an easy task for the makers of the program because Gust was a terrible book keeper and his death was very sudden. To trace the origins of the pigeons I mentioned was easy. These 'Hofkens' pigeons had the rings from those other fanciers on their legs.
It should be clear that many Hofkens pigeons had little to do with the 'Hofkens breed'.
In the sale there were of course pigeons that were bred by Hofkens himself. But even most of those originated from parents he had bought from other fanciers.
Thus a pigeon that he bred out of a cock from Tamsen (Germany) and a hen from van Dessel could become a 'pure Hofkens'. The names of the fanciers from which he bought his pigeons were not mentioned in the sales program. Only Louis van Loon, Rene Maes, E Verhaart and the Janssens.
So fanciers who say that they have 'pure Hofkens pigeons' are claiming a breed that Hofkens himself never had. If ever he had known about it all it would have sent him more crazy than his own pigeon the 'Geschifte' (which means the 'Crazy One').
A last remark about the 'Geschifte'. Gust Hofkens did have better pigeons than the 'Geschifte', but those have NOT been elevated to the fame as the 'Geschifte'.
Of course there are fanciers who breed their own type of pigeons. At Schellekens, Klak, Bruggeman, van der Wegen and Braakhuis and others I have seen pigeons of the same type that were mostly related to one another.
But to my knowledge Klak is the only one who really bred within his own family.
Once Antoon van der Wegen made a remark that was right to the point. He was asked if his pigeons were pure bred or if they had different blood in them. He side stepped a direct answer by asking:
'Do you ever drink coffee?'
And when the answer was 'yes' he asked:
'And do you add a little milk to your coffee?'
The answer was again 'yes' and he said:
'And what are you drinking then? Is it still coffee?'
His meaning was clear. You can be sure that many champions do the same. They don't cross breed all the time just like that, but they do cross. For me the words 'breed' and 'pure' have very little value in the pigeon sport.
The merry-go-round in the circus that the pigeon sport sometimes is, could do with a more realistic view in regard to 'breed mania'.
Then unsuspecting fanciers wouldn't be taken in by all these hot air theories.
I can just about understand English newspapers. But when I think of all those tall stories and untruths I am very glad that I can't read Chinese or Japanese. I clarified Hofkens and his pigeons a bit because of my own knowledge about him and his pigeons. And because I fear that in a while no one will remember who did what wrong and when.
Karel Meulemans. He is still alive and well and hopefully will be for many years to come,
A rockstar who disappears in a cloud of mystery and riddles becomes suddenly very interesting. It seems that the same applies for the pigeon sport. But survivors such as Houben, Toye, Theelen, van der Wegen and others have proven that it can be different.
' That you don't have to die first but that you can breed pigeons that become popular during your life ' That you don't have to be six feet under to become a mythical legend.
When I was a student I saw a vase painted by van Gogh and I thought: 'That vase is either badly painted or badly made.'
And immediately I asked myself:
'What if van Gogh hadn't cut his ear of, what if he hadn't been committed to an institution, what if he hadn't taken his own life but if he had continued to paint on a farm in Ulvenhout, would he have become as famous as he is now?'
But I don't know the first thing about vases and painting.
And of pigeons I know very little ...
This article is one of the many in the beautiful new book 'The Duif chronicles' published by Syndicate lofts England. www.syndicatelofts.com. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
A new publication by Peter Fox that I can strongly advise!