Balloon Repair Station

Robin Batchelor-the hidden bits bite back!

Many years ago whilst flying from the sadly missed Southampton Balloon and Flower Festival I was asked by Lenny Vaughan, then new to the ‘circuit’, about flying out of shows. I told him, quite seriously, that the take off should be as good as you can get it but the landing didn’t really matter as you probably had journos on board who wouldn’t know what a good landing was and as long as you were out of sight no one would see it anyway so it didn’t really matter. That was the write-it-on-the-blackboard-moment!

We were flying the Citreon balloon that morning and as they had a film crew and huge big screen thing we were going to launch last and follow the pack out. The wind was set fair for the Isle of Wight. One camera was sent off to The Steeplechase end of Southampton Common the other would come with me in the basket. Lenny and the main pack very professionally slipped the bounds of earth and all that stuff and floated down the Common, over the Steeplechase bound for the Isle of Wight. A few managed to get down on building sites or in the odd bit of park. My crew wanted to get back quickly and get the mornings launch up on the big screen. Now between the Steeplechase and the trees was a strip of land that was a large kids’ play area. It also used to have two enormous one foot deep paddling-cum-model-boating pools. One had been drained, the other was full. I figured if I got lucky I could drag across the empty one and end up with the envelope in the grassy bit. I think you probably know what’s coming. The track was about ten yards to the left meaning all I had was the maker’s, sorry wrong story, all I had was the full pond. No worries it was shallow and the film crew were up for it. We got it just about right and with an impressive bow wave we scooted across the pond until we hit the far edge whereupon the basket lurched the final six inches onto the edge the envelope like a well-felled tree sinking between the swings and slide. Textbook stuff. We wondered if the pub was open.

It wasn’t and ten minutes later film crew and balloon were back on the launchfield. We headed off for breakfast and a shower. Arriving back at lunchtime we were greeted by a well-smiling Lenny. He’d managed to find a a bit more right and had popped down on the edge of a park. Hadn’t been easy getting the Nuclear Electric balloon out but the Hyacinth and Crocus Breeders Journal people were thrilled and there were some great shots of them on the big screen climbing over the trees from the air and the ground. Ground! I’d forgotten about them. Just then the screen erupted into life showing the morning launch. There was Citreon, first from the on-board cameraman’s perspective, zooming in on the pond making appear we in freefall then the water swirling around the basket as we ploughed across the lake until, with a jolt we hit the side, the camera briefly showing the soundman’s bushy eyebrows before it came to rest pointing at the sky and scudding clouds. The angle from the ground camera was equally enthralling showing us drifting over the trees and with a bit of a splash arrive in the pond. The power of the making the envelope look like it was about to wrap up the slide and swings just before it cut to approaching Citreon BX retrieve vehicle! “So”, said Lenny, “Thanks for the tip. They have been showing that bit of film every half an hour or so!” and, true to form, they continued to show it over the weekend, every half hour or so! The following week the Southampton Slur proclaimed, ‘Narrow escape for ditched balloonists’.

Well that leads me onto the bit about the camera platform not being seen. ‘Not being seen’ has led to quite a few piccies coming in and a film of the filming of Robin’s Australian Adventure set to music! Thanks to Robin and all those that have contacted us. Where’s the editor, I want a word with you!!!! Have a look at the clip, it is pretty hardcore and not a parachute in sight! Never underestimate the power of youtube, it’ll get you in the end!!

Click on the piccies for more (as if you didn’t know!!).


“In action” shots, coursey of Robin – thanks, Rob!: