Balloon Repair Station

Whatever happened to Graham Dorrell? Have shed will travel .

Graham Dorrell is one of the most charismatic characters in ballooning, possibly outside as well, and from time to time we are graced with his full on continuous beaming smile and his equally happy other half Julie. Graham has got thousands of hours under his braces and these days flies G-CBZZ, a Cameron Z-275, for Wickers World. Julie is his crew. Yep pilot and one crew on a whopper. Never wandering far from his beloved Peak District without a sandwich and thermos, the vast majority of his flights are made from Tissington, Rowsley (just down the road from Chatsworth House) and Buxton.

We first came across him many years ago whilst on the old-fashioned ‘circuit’. I well recall once watching him descend quite steeply into the middle of an enormous wheat field having flown from the East of England Show at the Peterborough Showground. He certainly appeared to arrive and didn’t even bounce! Being from farming stock it was clearly unintentional. We dropped down and passed him low level inquiring if he was OK. “No problem”, he beamed back, chuckling merrily whilst one hand kept the burner going and the other appeared to be valiantly untangling the red line from around the passengers, cylinders and his feet taking time out to gallantly wave as we climbed away. Moments later, line in hand, he was off again still grinning and this time giving us a jolly fine salute.

We get to see him from time to time these days for the odd repair. The balloon he is currently flying is now, with well over 600 careful hours on it, getting to its autumn years and the nomex, typical with high-houred ride balloons, is more prone to tearing than getting burnt and periodically needs some tlc around the mouth. When they come visit they drop the balloon and trailer and go in search of adventure around the village or surrounding area. This time the mission included breakfast, drop balloon, fine lunch, find a new shirt and, if time allowed, a trip to the local upholsters for some dense foam and trim for Julie’s latest project.

On the dot of midday, walk-in twin-axle box trailer, Landrover, Graham and Julie arrived. In time-honoured fashion the kettle went on and we set about coaxing the forklift into life.

Now there are trailers and there are bloke’s trailers. Graham has a bloke’s trailer. To make the drive easier, and with rain forecast, the envelope had been decanted into his trusty old trailer. As the shutter went up there was a short pause as we took in the spectacle. Sure enough, lounging towards the back was the envelope, face down, looking as if it had got quite settled, like Cornflakes, during transport. The rest of the trailer was full of stuff. Brilliant stuff. Golf clubs, a small chest of draws with some kitchen pots and pans on top, a coal scuttle, a few slightly tired boxes, the contents clearly not having been disturbed for some considerable time. Some wheels but no sign of the golf trolley they may have once gone with. Not to be outdone Graham had also constructed a loft in his trailer. A set of dingy paddles were found, roll of carpet and the handle and hose from an old Hoover. A couple of demi-johns and lengths of wood various gave us a wink. We hadn’t even tried to lift the envelope out. The Staggs were having an inspection done. We dragged them out and got Jane down from the office to come and have a look. Well laugh, he’d get a discount! Only when the assorted bits of cast iron and baker’s trays were cleared from the rear of the trailer and the balloon lifted carefully out could we see the full extent of this truly mobile shed. A plug clunked down connected to an old eight track player and what appeared to be the back cushion and uprights of a garden swing fell down. Graham dived in and wrestled them back before they recovered and made a bid for freedom in the warmer climes of the Chilterns.
You could just hear it now.
“Where shall I put the spare oven door?”
“Stick it in the trailer dear, we never use that.”

See, they live in a caravan, all chrome and cut glass, down a track, nestling on the side of a hill. Apparently the trailer can be docked with the caravan to give them a bit more room. Maybe it becomes a utility room? Julie wants an American touring trailer with a fifth wheel. Well I suppose that will give them a bit more room for storage in the old caravan. One has to ask what happened to the stuff they cleared out to get the envelope in?

As a shed it was only let down by not having a bar but, in fairness, we never checked what was in the very front. “Got a spare wheel, Graham?” “Hmmm,” big grin, “That’ll be under the pillar drill I expect.” Love ‘em.

Here he is being famous: