Is it a Bird? Is it a Plane? No, it’s US…. in a Balloon…

It’s Five o’clock in the morning…

By all the Gods what am I doing up at this hour?  I could understand it if I had been partying… Or if I needed to for the  hell that is known to all as “The Commute”… But I haven’t been and I don’t. Yeah Ok, it’s Friday but I’m not working (and even if I was I could still have another couple of hours sleep before I wake in a panic thinking I’ve slept through the alarm, two minutes before it goes off).. So what the hell am I doing up at this ridiculous hour?

Oh Yeah… That’s why…

Today is the day I get my Birthday present from my beautiful, amazing, way-too-good-for-me Wife. Yay!!!!

Having successfully managed to keep the day’s plans secret for Goddess’ know how long it is, however, no longer a mystery to me what we are to do… It could be the way I was informed I MUST have today off work (and next Friday “just in case”), or it could’ve been the “You Must wear your hat” (as if I go anywhere without it), or My Loving Angel’s recent obsession with the weather but something, some hidden signal, or psychic link has given it away…

Today, I am to enjoy a Hot Air Ballon Flight 🙂 YAY!!!!

And so, it’s up at 5 am so we can be at the Take Off  point for 7(ish) somewhere in the wilds of darkest Kent. Following the directions of the (sometimes quite stupid) sat-nav we are surprised by the number of people out and about at this hour. I know we shouldn’t be – having both worked in jobs that require waking before the dawn chorus – but to see the sleep filled people standing shivering at bus stops and hurrying towards train stations is quite a reminder that the world doesn’t run to our clock. Especially my lazy-arse one.

After an hour of playing tag along the motorway with lorries on their way to Dover and negotiating unlit country lanes with the locals doing speeds that would scare the Campbells we arrive at the Weald of Kent Golf Club. But only after we pay a flying visit to a Guinea Pig farm (thanks to the stupid sat-nav) on the other side of the hill. Suppressing the urge to point and laugh at the golfists in their sartorially challenged (in)elegance we munch our way through our garage supplied breakfast sandwiches and await the arrival of our Air Steed.

The balloon arrives.  On the practice green.
(c) Tina Price-Johnson 14.10.11

Ah, something we hadn’t planned for. We will actually have to help to get this thing in the air (I’m sure this wasn’t in the brochure). Step forward Our Hero {Oh Bollocks, not him again. Ed.} to give a manly shoulder to the effort of removing the basket from the trailer. Cue one mighty pull, one stumble and one broken toe. This is not getting off to a good start, but with a shrug and a slight limp Our Hero carries on with the prep.

Trying not to get entangled with the cables and ropes our small group assist in the spreading and inflating of the multi-coloured silk bubble that will lift us into the blue beyond.

I be helping.
(c) Tina Price-Johnson 14.10.11

As you can see (right) the majority of the air that goes into the balloon is cold, this has something to do with us not wanting the balloon to (a) take off without us and (b) go up in flames, not that I understand much about thermowotsits… My mind usually lingers on what is under our feet, not over our heads…

Birfday Balloon Flight 14.10.11 008
(c) Simon Price-Johnson 14.10.11

And up it goes… Quick everybody climb in and we will be off… but first we had better untie ourselves from the Landrover…

Ok, now this is the point in our narrative where I could tell the rest of this tale with a series of photos {That sounds familiar. Ed.} but obviously I won’t (regardless how beautiful Tina’s pictures are) because you want to know what I felt and thought (though the deities know why)… so I won’t disappoint you… It’s a weird sensation Ballooning – As you lift off all you can hear is the burners (if you ignore the golfists hitting their spheroids with their sticks) and you rise almost like an outdoor lift… That being said, there is no sense of movement… No rush of wind, no lurch in the stomach, it is only the evidence of your eyes (and the aforesaid burner roar) that tells you you are moving at all…

Take Off!
(c) Tina Price-Johnson 14.10.11
Balloon Flight 048
(c) Tina Price-Johnson 14.10.11
Balloon Flight 036
(c) Tina Price-Johnson 14.10.11

And so we are flying… No wind to steal my hat, no buffeting, not even the sound of wind… All we can hear is the occasional blast from the burners, the exclamations of delight from our fellow passengers and the barking of what appears to be every dog in a fifty mile radius (apparently it has something to do with the burner coils giving off a high-pitched whine – similar to a dog whistle – whenever the valves are opened, or it could simply be that they are aware that people they can’t bite are somewhere above them – but as anybody who has seen Shaun of the Dead can tell you, dogs can’t look up – so that theory must be wrong)…

We are torn for a direction in which to look despite our pilot doing her best to point out places of interest – some big house that used to be owned by somebody – a long stretch of railway line – a huge (and rapidly expanding) fish farm – the proliferation of Oust Houses (despite the hop farms disappearing under fruit trees and poli-tunnels).

It is a fantastic experience, we are gently drifting at about 2000 ft above some of the most beautiful scenery in the country, travelling at times at approximately 17 knots (we are informed more than once that this is really quite fast for a balloon)… Unfortunately, despite my increasingly desperate searching, I don’t see any parch-marks in the earth below us… We do see the Kent countryside from a different angle though (at such a low speed we can still appreciate what we are seeing ) and wave at just about everybody we can see below us… Tina is of course snapping away with her camera, trying to get the ultimate picture of our journey… Oh go on then, here a couple few more…

Balloon Flight 031
(c) Tina Price-Johnson 14.10.11
(c) Tina Price-Johnson 14.10.11
Birfday Balloon Flight 14.10.11

(c) Simon Price-Johnson 14.10.11

All too soon our pilot is asking us to put away our cameras and get ourselves prepared for landing – but not before Tina has shown her respect for her recently departed friend and colleague with a scattering of rose petals over a beautifully autumnal copse with a river running through it, a show of love and remembrance that enhanced what was already a lovely day.

And so we land (eventually – after consulting a map with such notations as “too many balloons landing”, “no easy access”, “M.O.D land” and “Farmer Has Shotgun, Don’t Land!”) in a field of stubble… It’s a bit bumpy, and with the speed we are travelling almost horizontal, but we hold on tight and do all those things you think will help in these situations and soon we are back on Terra Firma. After a bit more faffing with ropes and burners Our Hero is dispatched to grab a rope attached to the very top of the balloon and – at the signal from our pilot – begins to pull for all he is worth, in an attempt to empty as much air as possible.

And that’s it. Flight over 😦

All we have to do now is placate the farmer – usually accomplished with the transference of the folding stuff from one pocket to another (in this case, a charitable donation to the charity of the farmer’s choice) and fold, bag and stow the balloon. Return the basket to its place on the trailer (just as well we had a distinctive balloon, it made it easier for our ground support to follow and find us), climb into the Landrover and return to our departure point…

Stopping just off the farmers land for a quick glass of fizz (an unexpected bonus) and the presentation of our certificates of bravery/fool-hardiness…

Heads are nodding, legs are cramped and buttocks numbed as we wind our way back through the winding country lanes (often ignoring the sat-nav)…

We have had a magical morning.

And now it’s back home (and an extra couple of hours sleep) for our adventurous twosome…

Well, that’s it. All over. Another twenty minutes of your life you will never get back. Sorry.

Oh, before you go, I just want to say a huge thank-you to our pilot (don’t ask me to name her – you know what I’m like with names :)) and a MASSIVE THANK YOU and I LOVE YOU to my amazing, fantastic and brilliant wife, Tina. xxx

Bucks Fizz to celebrate.  I'm stood on a foot high bank.
(c) Tina Price-Johnson 14.10.11

Oh, By the way… I don’t know if I have broken my toe… It’s a very funny colour and I may have to go to the hospital tomorrow to confirm it but I think it is just very badly bruised… Oh well, yet another injury added to my already battered body…



One comment on “Is it a Bird? Is it a Plane? No, it’s US…. in a Balloon…

  1. For some unknown reason, the bit that’s sticking with me is the Guinea Pig farm! I didn’t know such a thing existed!!! And now I’m wondering how much they are by the pound & do they do take-out? ;P

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