Oxford Branch

British Cactus and Succulent Society

27th – 30th March 2008
Organised by John and Joyce Jackson
written by John Watmough


Brian, John and Alice vander Bon at Headington at 5:30 in the morning. The hotel at Zaltbommel couldn’t (wouldn’t?) take us. So the trip has had to be put forward two weeks, hence Headington roundabout was warmer and lighter than usual. Coach is on time. Start eating packed lunch.

Pick up Nicky, our courier, then descend on Chingford. Much excitement – no Malcolm Pym! He has gastroenteritis. Sympathy expressed for Lincolnshire Drainage Authority.

Ricky, our incomparable driver, takes us direct from Chingford (apart from a few stops to pick up occasional Essex persons) to the Succulent Tissue Cultivation establishment situated one inch above sea level way out in the Dutch boondocks. Same route as last year, but many passengers do not recognise it. STC front office caravan needs a fresh coat of cow manure. Many more plants than last year, but not so many after our visit.

Settle in at New Tulip Hotel, Oosterhout. Mark Plumer is in bar. He is glad to see us. He has been drinking all day with the local idiot. He has come from Paris, where he has been watching some football match or other. He has travelled to the hotel door by TGV, local stopping train, then bus, for less than it would have cost him to take a train from Milton Keynes to London.

Food better than at Zaltbommel, but bar service terrible.


(So it must be Germany.) First stop Piltz, outside Düren. We surmise that German wind farms are really giant fans designed to blow their factory pollution into Poland. Piltz is up to standard. Usual difficulty allocating time between buying plants and rubbernecking in Piltz’s magnificent private collection. John has usual difficulty winkling us out.

Next stop Specks. Huge sums of money change hands. Ernst and Marita seem very pleased to see us. We buy plants that we didn’t know we desperately wanted (sometimes because we haven’t even heard of them!) Cactus purists stand in small group, wittering.

Last stop is not Ingo Breuer this time, but Katze at Wankum. Several members of the party are overheard asking Katze if he sells picture postcards. This is our first visit, but we hope it will not be our last. There are lots of super plants at very reasonable prices.


(The Netherlands.) Various people fall down hotel steps. John J. is one of them; he hurts his leg. Round the Rotterdam Ring Road, heading for Honselersdijk. Yesterday, it seems, one of us misguidedly described John J. as “Unser Führer”. Much sieging and heiling in back of coach. This all stopped when Joyce sat with us to allow John room to stretch his bruised member.

First stop Van der Lindens. Astonishment on part of first-timers when they see curvature of the earth inside the greenhouse. Wonder at sit-on-and-drive potting machine. Eddy has no concern for such trifles. He is away. Experienced travellers run after him. He has scented Lithops! Thousands and thousands of them. General filling up of boxes and baskets with lame excuses such as “They’re for the Branch Raffle”. Outside the front entrance there are some hideous gigantic concrete pots embellished with garish red and blue mosaic. It is suggested that the biggest should be placed on the back seat of the coach to remind us of Malcolm. “Pot more beautiful, Malcolm holds more”.

Management are informed that Gebroeder Westeijn have telephoned to say “Vere ze hell are you?” Apparently they are expecting us, despite their failure to reply to e-Mails, letters, telephone calls, pigeons, owls or Aldis lamps. Their new premises are only a quarter of an hour away, so Ricky nurses our enormous coach along a series of bicycle tracks and footpaths, stooping occasionally to remove a child’s toy from our path. Westeijn’s new greenhouse is very large and well-stocked. To pollinate their Mammillarias they have a bee-skip inside the greenhouse.

Pockets lighter, coach heavier, we proceed to Cok’s. Lots of all sorts of goodies, but write your own labels. Admire primitive toilet, drink Cok and Ine’s coffee, and pay respects to trapdoor that Malcolm fell through on a previous visit. Very civilised all round.

Some of our more observant members have noticed that many of our number purport to suffer from locomotive difficulties requiring the aid of sticks, crutches, zimmers, and the like. Yet these very same cripples are off the coach before it stops and are seen sprinting like Olympic finalists to be first in the next greenhouse. So when we arrive at Two Shovels there is a roar of laughter when a dust cloud indicates the cripples’ progress to the “Special Corner”. It is best not to get too close to the elderly and infirm on these occasions. The penalty is bruised ribs.

Two Shovels does not have the trees the Malcolm ordered. Hooray! He does have, however, some very large and spiky cacti for us to take back for Doug Donaldson. Boo! Much wrangling. Everybody cheers up on short journey back to Oosterhout by thinking of rude things to say about Doug.


Awoken with a start and accused of Old Fogeydom. It seems that clocks change on the Continent on the same day as they do in the U.K. (“And have done since before I was born”, sneers a younger passenger.) So tired old bones have to hurry down to the last remnants of breakfast. Ricky packs Oxford baggage in separate compartment. No chance of last year’s pandemonium.

Return to Chingford via the chocolate factory, the booze warehouse, Calais terminal, and various roundabouts in Essex. Discover that somebody has inserted a Chingford box underneath all the Oxford baggage in the separate compartment. Repeat of last year’s etc…

Tearful farewells. “See you on next year’s trip”. “If there is one,” says John darkly, but traditionally.

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