Tuesday 9 February 2010

Up, up and away

Toadstools on the path down to the henrun this morning, and acorns scattered over the pavement on my walk: though the days are still swelteringly hot, autumn is on its way.

There was a hot-air balloon over the upper harbour this morning, too. I haven't seen one for ages: they're not hugely unusual here, but nowhere near as common as they were where we lived in England. We'd often wake to see three or four drifting over Penyard Hill, alerted by the barking dogs or the sound of the gas jets as they fired up. Once I was towelling off in the bathroom and looked up to see one through the skylight, directly overhead.

Ross-on-Wye is a centre for ballooning, mainly because of Ian Ashpole, an enthusiast who was known for his stunts: we lay on our lawn once and watched him bungy-jump from a balloon; another time he walked a tight-rope between two baskets.

I went up in a balloon from Ross late one summer, on a golden evening. It was brilliant, and not scary at all: it went up as fast and as smoothly as a lift, and then we just drifted over the low-lit countryside, looking down at the villages, the ploughing and sowing patterns in the fields, dipping low over the Wye, then high as high, and again low enough to pick leaves from the top of an oak tree. We frightened some sheep and they ran away into the next field, pouring through the gateway like sand in an egg-timer.

What made it even better was that the wind took us near Linton and I was able to see our house and all my familiar surroundings from an unfamiliar angle. Then we floated away towards Hereford, slow and silent apart from when the burners were on, with no sensation of wind because we were moving with it. When we came down, it was so gently that I scarcely needed to bend my knees as we bumped: it was all very civilised.

Much less civilised was my other balloon flight, in Canberra, because of the timing: early morning, so it was a brutal awakening, but worth it of course once we were up and drifting over Lake Burley Griffin with the dawn mist lifting and stained pink and gold in the sunrise. We landed next door to the Mint, where the pilot told us a worker had stolen some extraordinary sum by simply filling his lunchbox with coins, day after day. Good to see persistence rewarded.

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