Brussels Unicycling Convention

Jez and I decided to attend the 7th European Unicycle Convention several weeks
ago, so naturally I left all the niggly organisation (like passport, transport,
money, you know, details) to the last day…

On Thursday, I test drove a car a friend of mine was selling. Not so much
selling as giving away for free, owing to the prohibitively high cost of
insuring a second car here. After 10 minutes I said I wanted it, and he handed
over the papers.

This was to be Jez and my means of transport to Brussels :-). Drive an
untested 13year old Citreon 450 miles across Europe, with no breakdown
insurance? Mad? Nah…

Friday morning we confirmed the train times/prices, did a few calculations and
discovered the car would be ridiculously more expensive (430 quid to insure me
to drive it!) than the train. So we went for the car option, as basically it’d
be more fun. (It’s also pretty good for transporting MTBs around the country
for races.)

After a frantic packing session in the afternoon, picking up my passport which
had been Special Delivery’ed down from Bristol, ordering ferry tickets,
forgetting to change any maney, and seemingly hours in the insurance office I
cycled up, picked the car up and sped back to the flat. Unicycles and sleeping
kit loaded, we aimed for the ferry port with 3 hours before it set sail.
Unfortunately we missed it by about 20 minutes (knew I shouldn’t have gone to
the lecture that morning) and bummed about for another 3 hours…

We eventually arrived outside L’Ecole de Cirque in Brussels having done several
laps of Brussels trying to find the place at 5:30am. Thank God Citreon had the
sense to install comfortable horizontally reclining seats.

8:30am, blurry eyed with more hours of motorway fatigue than sleep we spotted
a group of French-speaking kids unicycling up the road, so followed them to
the venue.

Arriving at the sporthall of Brussels University we realised the convention
didn’t in fact consist of 5 French kids but several minibuses full of unicycles
and their riders. I’ve never seen so many … in the hall there must have been
over a hundred riders, mostly it seemed locally (the Circus School) and from
other circus schools in the European neighbourhood. There weren’t more than 4
other English people, although several of the Dutch contingent could speak
English. It’s times like these that I’m grateful I paid attention in the French
classes at school…

The two days consisted of various unicycling related activities (surprise) from
races to basketball matches. These matches consisted of tournament style
competitions where 5-person teams competed against one another, winners playing
winners. Sunday’s final match was an incredibly impressive display of not only
unicycling but basketball talent. It was impressive enough to see people
(including myself) just about stay up with a basketball flying around, but
accurate consistent passing, tactical positioning and almost faultless shots,
all on a unicycle really is something that just has to be seen.

Sporadic hockey matches were organised which were less together but more
entertaining (yeah, OK, so I play contact ice hockey) with gratuitous barging
and frenetic stick thrashing being the main idea. I basically have to buy a new
unicycle now.

The skill level amongst the participants was very impressive: almost everyone
was competent, with a couple of beginners still learning (quickly). Specially
constructed ultimate wheels were being ridden by a few, including one guy who
could ride one, carrying another, throw the second so it rolled, chase it, and
transfer on to it by jumping. Another guy managed to ride an impossible wheel
(wheel, plus axle extensions, nothing else!) several meters. This was the guy
who later carried and span around (above his head!) a fellow gymnast who adopted
ballerina style poses. Again, all on a uni.

One contrast with England was the high number of female unicyclists. I reckon
they were getting on for half the riders there. Most of them were teenagers too.
Probably the best unicyclist there was a young girl from Germany who was pulling
backward wheel walks and effortlessly transferring from (forward) wheel walks to
glides and back.

On Saturday evening there was a show organised where the participants could do
short routines. I admire the people for having the nerve to perform at all -
well done!

Accommodation was provided by the circus school in heated practice halls, with
most people sleeping on gym and camp mats. As ever, the Belgian cuisine was
excellent. Saturday’s spaghetti bolognese was so huge Jez and I could hardly
move; we only left the canteen because we were scheduled for a basketball
match %-P.

Since we spent essentially 18 hours riding unicycles (although admittedly not
continously) with skilled teachers on hand, we learnt a healthy number of new
tricks and perfected old ones. I’ll send a few notes on how I got on later,
while all the little details are still floating around…

The convention ended at 4pm and prizes of kitsch spray-painted pedals were
awarded to the winners of the basketball matches. After the farewells were
wished, we headed back, arriving back in Cambridge at 3am Monday, legs aching,
dying for some sleep! (The car made it fine, despite a heart-stopping incident
where the engine started to seize halfway along the E40 to Brussels. The same
sort of luck that landed me a free car also caused a garage to roll up in
coasting distance so we could buy some oil (and change our underwear…).)

Congratulations to the folks organising it on a well put together and enjoyable
weekend! I’m looking forward to next year!

Cheers, Paul.