Sinterklaastreffen

1st December 1989 - MotorToerisme Oostende

I discovered a local bunch of bikers were going to the St. Nicks, (one of my 'must go' list of rallies), so I tagged along with them. Fairly early trip down to Dover, then a short boat trip to Ostend. We arrived in good time at the site, the local outdoor velodrome, which was not surprising as it was only a couple of miles from the ferry terminal.

Sinterklaas = Santa Claus.
In Belgium, Sinterklaas visits at the beginning of December, a few weeks before Christmas day. He arrives by boat, not sleigh.

We had to camp on whatever patch of land we could find in the trees around the track. In that respect I was lucky I only had a small tent with me, having been unable to source a properly sized one following the recent destruction of its predecessor, since "nobody wants to buy a tent out of season".

Friday night was pretty cold and most of the rallyists, (well, the Brits, anyway), headed into town and filled most of the bars. I managed to baffle some local youth by making technical repairs to my little headband, which had flashing LEDs in it, (I was into silly things like that back then). The battery lead had broken so I was doing precision repairs using a small screwdriver and a sharp knife.

Some members of the Harlow 70s MCC had caught sight of posters outside a Night Club advertising a lounge singer by the name of Eddy Wally, who bore a striking resemblance to veteran DJ Alan 'Fluff' Freeman. They were attempting to get a copy of the poster to take home with them.

Click to find out about Eddy Wally, the Voice of Europe.

I do not have pictures for Friday as, annoyingly, my first film from this rally got lost in the post somewhere in England. A hole managed to appear in the envelope carrying the films to Truprint or suchlike. Remember sending films off for processing? Remember films?

While being very polite to policemen with guns, I remember seeing a lit-up display of the temperature as we walked back to the campsite. It was only -3°C.

Having purchased some food or drink tokens at control, we went down to the marquee in the centre of the track and partied on with all the others. By the time we went back to our tents, they were covered with ice that made the fabric a bit stiff.

A fairly early awakening, to more ice and freezing fog was necessary, as we had to greet Sinterklaas' boat as he arrived to distribute goodies. My surviving photos start during the parade through Ostend, carrying St Nicholas and his helpers, Black Pieters, to the town hall, where speeches were made, (either in French or Flemish or, possibly, both), and a symbolic handing of a present to a young child. Then out into the fog again, for a further ride around the town. There were a few stops along the way, presumably St. Nick had business at various buildings and we were presented with cups of hot soup and bread rolls. Eventually, out duty had been done and we were led to a cafe, which may have been the MTO clubroom, for coffee and pastries (maybe even alcohol?) with the police outriders also partaking, still armed!

After a while of thawing out, we drove back to the velodrome and went into the marquee for a bit, then got bored with that and wandered into town again. The bars were all jam packed now, with the locals joining the increased numbers of Brit bikers, so we just bimbled around a bit, discovering the Eddy Wally Night Club, before returning to the marquee.

The party was well under way by now, so the evening passed quite quickly. Some Brits had brought very large flags with them, which were soon hanging from the scaffolding.

Eventually, we crashed out, into our igloos, from which we emerged into the Winter Wonderland on Sunday morning. It had been our plan to drive down to Calais for the quicker ferry trip home, but the weather put a stop to that so we holed up at a cafe outside the harbour gates while our tickets were re-assigned to a ferry from here. The radio was playing a local station Radio Nostalgie, when a song came on sung by Eddy Wally!

Tickets were exchanged and we found room on a ferry and went chugging back to England.

Back in Kent, the weather was damp, but nowhere near as cold as we had been putting up with. The short day meant it was dark before we got home.

- Phil (the Spill) Drackley