The Balloon Festival originated shortly after we arrived in the West Country and as hot air-filled canvasses have no control over direction, while sitting in the garden with the wind in the right direction, we would have the privilege of beholding a lovely colourful display of dozens of different shapes, as they flew past with an occasional roar from the gas burners.
On one occasion it was birthday time, and all the family were there to celebrate with my wife when her brother Allan arrived from Essex. He looked up at the display saying, “I’m impressed Percy, how did you organise that for Sissies birthday?”
‘Bristol Balloons’ was a forerunner in the manufacture of the airborne objects, they were made in many shapes and sizes. It was not unusual to see the form of a car or a house floating in the atmosphere. Some companies had their profile shaped as a balloon to promote themselves as it crossed the heavens.
My Architectural Practice was instructed to redesign an old warehouse near Bristol to give the company more space in the development of the various designs being asked for, it also included office space and a large gas tank for the fuel to fly the balloons.
While doing the work and pouring over details on a drawing board I guess I got hooked on the thought of having a ride in one and with my darling wife’s birthday coming up again shortly, why not a surprise trip.
And so it was, we arrived at Ashton Court. That was after I waited for Jean to finish the day’s task at the bank where she was manager, while I sat outside watching the clock tick past, as we had over twenty miles during rush hour to get to the balloon fiesta by seven.
Jean had wanted to go home and get changed, it gave me a little difficulty. I told her we were going to Ashton Court where we were meeting the family for a birthday meal and there wasn’t time. She looked at me knowing it was not true. It was partly but I was missing out the bit about the balloon ride first.
Because we were booked to fly, we were able to ignore the car park and we pulled up not too far from this big beautiful yellow semi-inflated canvas with its basket standing upright attached to it.
My lady was not impressed. She stood and looked around her. “So where are we going to eat?” My darling is not slow on the uptake and said, pointing to the basket “If you think I am going up in that then think again.”
I am starting to think this is not the best surprise I had organised. She then started to relent “What dressed like this?” as she looked down at the tight skirted business suit she was wearing.
I told her I had other clothing for her in the car and she stared around her with a questionable look “And where am I supposed to get changed?” I had a sickly grin when I answered, “In the car!” That did not go down too well but she took the things off me and shortly after we were ready.
While I had small steps to climb into the basket Jean had to be lifted in. Then we were ready, and it was a strange feeling standing in a large basket watching the canvas taking shape above us. There were two other passengers and a pilot and his assistant.
Once fully inflated it was like a living thing struggling at the basket to be let free. Eventually the pilot nodded to the ground staff to be let loose and with dozens of other balloons we took to the air.
What a wonderful uncanny feeling of total silence. The balloon with what felt like an unsafe basket, which we were swinging in below it. We swept over Bristol City, but first we flew past the Clifton Suspension Bridge, where I got a lovely picture of the famous structure.
The journey took us over East Bristol, total silence when the burners were not in use, and we could hear people talking on the ground and of course the dogs barking as we flew past. Then out to the villages where we could see our house and onwards to the North of Bath at Mangotsfield.
We had been going for over an hour when the pilot pointed out a field he planned to land in. The area was gently coming towards us, driven by the breeze pushing us forward.
Suddenly the pilot was trying to gain height by lighting the burners, but too late and the bottom of the basket dragged over the top of a strong hedge, the balloon kept going forward dragging us which tipped the basket over and we landed on our sides in a field on fresh stubble, where the wheat had been recently cut.
From somewhere the crew whisked out bottles of champagne and glasses, very welcome and presented us with certificates for the flight. Yes, we did finally meet up with family for the birthday bash.
In a business Zoom meeting railway manager, 60-year-old Simon Isherwood, mentioned the phrase ‘white privilege’. At the end of the call, he forgot to switch off his microphone and he was heard saying in private to his wife ‘I wonder if they have black privilege in Africa’ for which he was fired from his job, although he won his case at a tribunal, his life is in tatters.
It has been widely reported that Hospital Trusts are banning the word woman or female and replacing it with a ‘person who bleeds’. I’ve just cut my finger. Does that make me a bleeding person? Take care.
www.facebook.com/percy chattey – author and writer