Claire wrote the other day,
Hope you have a lovely weekend - I'm sure you have
made plans, you always seem to have something interesting to
tell me about!
Friday night, the plan was to meet some friends for dinner at a
gastropub near Petworth. Very sadly, their dog needed to be put
down, and after a bit of humming and hawing - "maybe just this
weekend..." - they had to accept reality. Not an evening for
jollity, then, we'll make it another time.
But Amanda says to me that we will not hold a wake for Oscar, we
will have an early night with minimal alcohol consumption. Why?
She'll let me know at dinner time.
Well the time comes, and I will not keep you in suspense: more than
once, we've talked about visiting the Bristol Balloon Fiesta, and
we're not just going, she's booked me a flight in one of the
Should be interesting; we've been ballooning before, but never in
the First World :-)
Balloons over Bagan, 2013. Not how I remember Bristol...
But beforehand, on Saturday morning Amanda fancies a little 17-mile
run first thing, as you do, so I'm on my bike to give chase and
carry water and gels.
A film crew has temporarily turned the Thames into the Cam of many
decades ago. They're making "Chariots of Water" or something.
I am just old enough to remember phone boxes with "Button A"
and "Button B", though I'm not sure if I ever actually used one.
To Bristol, then...
Amanda has this notion that it will only take us a couple of hours,
because that's what Google Maps says. I'm rather less sanguine.
First off, the A3 slip road onto the M25 looks utterly horrendous,
so I make a spur-of-the-moment decision to carry on and loop around
the Hog's Back to pick up the M4 at Wokingham. This seems a good
idea at the time, but then we grind to a virtual halt some miles
before Guildford. Once through that, we do get up to a decent speed
again, and by the time we reach the M4, we're probably only about
half an hour behind what we would expect in normal circumstances.
It's a bit worrying that the motorway signs keep warning us of
severe delays at J16-17, but they lie: there's no hold-up at all.
Then we reach the Bristol end of the M32 and we're back to crawling.
The last couple of miles are absolutely ridiculous. After sitting in
a jam for what seems like days, Amanda suggests I get out and walk
while she takes over the (non) driving, otherwise it looks like
there's a serious risk I'll miss my flight. We've noticed quite a
few people getting out of the shuttle buses already.
At this point, walking is much faster! We've covered less
than two miles by car in the last hour.
Ah, that sounds like an idea!
It's Pam and Jude, who aren't expecting to see me! Unfortunately,
the drinking of ice-cold bubbly has to go by the board as I explain
why I'm here and why Amanda isn't. Thanks again, Jude, for the
above-and-beyond-the-call offer to find Amanda in the traffic jam
and take over parking the car for her. (And thanks, both, for the
little surprise pressie too!)
I have to get back to the balloon field in preparation for my
She's made it! After thinking that she wouldn't be parked before the
balloons took off, suddenly the marshals direct her into a field! Of
course, she has no idea where I am - or where she is, for that
matter - but thanks to modern technology in the form of extensive
mobile phone conversations, we figure it out.
Mike, our balloon pilot, calls his passengers to order.
You may be a little perplexed at what one woman thinks is sensible
Post-briefing, we're getting ready to inflate.
"I'll huff and I'll puff and I'll blow your balloon up!"
Here's one I prepared earlier. Ok, no I didn't, somebody else did.
Ah, this is the one I'm riding in, just lifting off. Photo by
Amanda, of course, not me with the world's biggest selfie stick.
As we lift off, other balloons are at all stages: flat out on the
ground; partially inflated; and ready to go too.
There's a lot of balloons ahead of us!
This is what it looks like from the inside...
Burn, baby, burn! Even down in the basket, you can really feel a
quite uncomfortable blast of heat, so it's impressive that the
envelope doesn't burst into flames.
Here I am in my balloon. What do you mean, you can't see me?
Look more closely!
Amanda is somewhere near the bottom right, I think.
The famous Clifton Suspension Bridge. No cars on it as it's
completely closed to all traffic today, although I'm not quite sure
why. I fear it hasn't helped the congestion problems.
Mike at work.
Even more balloons behind us!
The lower balloon always has right of way, so it's our job to keep
clear of him.
One of the first to land. We're now well outside the city and over
And we're down too now.
Everybody mucks in to squeeze the remaining air out of the envelope
so it can be packed away. I suspect we are not making the most
efficient job of it, but it's all part of the fun.
And squash it down!
Back at the Fiesta itself, the "Nightglow" is under way. I'm still
in one of the recovery vehicles on the way back.
I get there just as it's finishing, so I'm in time for the
fireworks but I still have to find Amanda somewhere in the mêlée.
She spots me first as it happens, and we watch the fireworks
Amanda has cunningly re-parked the car right close to the exit, so
getting out isn't too bad, and it's infinitely easier than getting
in. We're still glad we decided to get a hotel room for the night
rather than driving straight home; it's been a long day and a short
hop to the hotel and a little glass or two of something somehow
sounds better than the M4!
And so to bed :-)