We had already booked a visit to Pete Bish’s Emporium on Friday 20th September and as Jane’s elderly dad had gone down with a touch of a bug when the call came through that Grassroots was a go-go it looked like it was touch and go for us but, as it ‘appened, we managed to get Angie baby to keep an eye out for the old chap got the car loaded up with new tent, bedding and dogs and got away around lunchtime on Saturday forsaking the morning slot. I’d been asked to do a couple of check flights which meant Saturday evening and Sunday morning slots were booked so as we couldn’t do the Friday evening or Saturday morning there was no balloon to take up this year alas. Now, last year we had a tent you couldn’t get your feet in but this time we were very kindly given a tent by Dave Such who had graduated to caravan man. It promised to be a lot bigger certainly the bag was heavier and wouldn’t fit into the glovebox like the last one so things were looking good.
First to find us was John Everton who had booked the evening slot for a check flight. He smiled understandably at the inside out pile of fabric and three long poles which didn’t appear to fit anywhere. Whatever happened to instructions? After a bit of a campaign and final surrender the inner tent was finally installed along with cusions and bedding. Dave had done us proud. You could stand upright in it and it had two rooms and another bit which was marked ‘Dogs’. Naturally it was nearly briefing time as we wandered down to the marquee once again supplied courtesy of the NFU. Sadly the pig roast had all been eaten so we made do with a burger of magnificent proportions and a fine cuppa. We’d also just missed a brilliant helicopter demonstration by Martin Lovell . The turn out was good and the weather looked promising albeit probably quite quickish. Good old Barry the Met found some suitable weather and whilst we waited for the surface wind to drop Julian Hensey from the BBAC Main Committee gave a resume of what the BBAC was up to and a plea for new members. It was all very civilised, still some were sauntering tentatively towards the field and balloons were being unpacked. Our Alice and friends turned up having managed to pitch their tent alongside ours in about ten minutes and headed for the food and bar. We met up with John again who declared he thought he’d like to give it a go. I suggested he set up away from the main pack to give himself some room as it looked like there were possibly going to be 40-50 balloons hurtling skywards. Taking me at his word he said he’d go down the end of the runway which he did. It’s a long walk that! It was certainly breezy and balloons were generally going out well hot all except one which wheezed over the trees with all present willing it higher. Tim Wilkinson’s roof was saved and it lumbered off into the distance. Probably a tad porous we suspected.
In the stalls John went through his preparations and briefings. Andy Austin elected to come along which would help Andy Kayes red ‘Quik Kaye’ 105 that he kindly loaned for the flight. After some diligent hands on and hands off and waiting for the gusts over the trees to abate for a moment we were off and climbing away and heading northish. John carried out some nice approaches even failing to be caught out by rising ground. The conditions were not that easy but he coped well, Andy bit his lip and looked east. The A6 approached and a friendly farmer was bang on track but he’d already ploughed and sown his fields though so that was out. Best keep on good terms so it was over the main road. Now last year I’d spotted a nice unfenced road on this track but having descended a bit early turned right and missed it. Not this time though we were spot on but as with the lone tree getting in the way another balloon had plonked down on it ahead of us. Never mind we made a neat landing in the field before it gently lifted off and finally settled down on the verge a couple of lengths away from our neighbour the wind having almost dropped completely out. It was great and our retrieve headed up by Neil Iveson was with us in a trice. John had passed and what’s more we still had a bottle of wine! In fine form we headed back to Sackville and the bar. Paperwork was sorted and John informed us that he would not be flying in the morning but, as he lived reasonably locally would continue celebrating there, which is exactly what he did. The moon was gloriously huge and bright the stars glistened and all was well until the ale ran out so the stand-up tent beckoned.
Now deaf old dogs are OK when you can keep an eye on them but camping with deaf old dogs is not advised. Firstly it decided to sleep on the bed. Not good. Then it crashed through the side of the tent and vanished oblivious to the hooting owls, grunting hedgehogs and howling wolves. As it was stupid o’clock stomping round hollering at a bonkers lurcher is a waste of time and would only achieve a hail of shoes and things heavy from fellow campers who were snoring in harmony. After tripping over guy ropes and tripping over untied laces it was found mainly in a bin. Now it was a wet smellier deaf dog that as soon as it got back in the tent crashed out on the bed again. Blinding. A hour later it was off again but caught much earlier. Then Jane’s dog vanished. Never mind it was now nearly time for briefing, it was raining and there was definitely fog down to the ground. Great.
Now Mark Clarke had laid claim to the Sunday morning slot to do a CPL check flight. It wasn’t looking good and once the fog started to lift a bit it was clear that there were some swiftly looking low clouds scudding overhead low level. Barry Newman failed to find anything encouraging met-wise so it was decided that it was a no-no. Tea and bacon sarnies beckoned. Long term it didn’t look good until very late in the day so an early Prize-Giving was declared and Richard Penney was summoned from his caravan to present the prizes courtesy of Ultramagic. The Nice Dave Johnson got a cup and a bottle of bubbly for being nice, some small people got bags of goodies for being helpful and someone got a prize for having the smallest tent with clouds painted on it. Our John Everton, notable by his absence, got the Letchworth Cup or could have been the Linslade Cup for checking out. Big thankyous went to the NAAFI girls who had cooked their way through two tons of bangers, 200 tins of beans and 300 burgers. Fortunately there were just sufficient rations left for a breakfast and a very social morning. The wet tent was taken down somewhat more easily than it went up packed away then unpacked, a deaf old dog removed and repacked. Team Alice were soon packed up as well and we had a pleasant cuppa with Team Johnson who it seemed had a bigger tent than Team Chadwick, not present this year due to a wedding, apparently.
Once again the Grass Roots came up trumps and delivered. No surprise. It is always a tricky decision to call it on or roll it over and this year some said it should have been the first weekend but the Met seemed to change by the minute and sponsors Ultramagic really wanted to get it right. Choosing this weekend to fly did mean that it clashed with a host of other events including the 3.4.40 Regions’ Newbury Show, the Irish Meet, Naburn Lock and even the Kop Hill Climb (which we were tempted to attend). Lennie Vaughan was gutted as he was booked to cycle round the Isle of Wight so didn’t even get to try out his new tent! As ever it was primarily a social event with no pressure to fly, plenty of food and naturally a bar. Tim Wilkinson and his team work flat out to keep everyone fed and watered. Barry Newman always seems to find the weather admitting defeat only when the cloud gets to ground level. Rob Cross and all the other Team Grass Rooters keep everything bubbling along. Sadly Stumpy the Pilot, the founder member of the Sackville event, couldn’t make it this year. He probably flew over with the Night Mail heading south on Saturday night dipping a wing to give us sleeping masses a wave. I reckon I saw his navigation lights second venture out to retrieve the deaf old dog. Roll on Grass Roots 2014.
For the purists here is a list of the balloons that flew free as far as we know!!!
EC-LVK, G-PSAX, G-CIBN, G-BYOX, G-HOPR, G-SBIZ, G-BXDR,
G-BYNN, G-CGWU, G-MINN, G-KSKS, G-BYHC, G-ODAF, G-CGIH,
G-RTBI, G-OKEW, G-CEOV, G-CFXP, G-TIPJ, G-OMOO, G-CBNI,
G-WOTW, G-PURP, G-TKNO, G-ONCB did a late hop down the runway.
EC-LVK, G-CIBN, G-BYHC, G-CCOP, G-WIFI, G-SLII, G-CFXP
G-CEOV, G-OKEW, G-SBIZ, G-TKNO, G-BUYC, G-CGWU, G-RTBI
G-BUIZ, G-WOTW, G-HOPR, G-PSAX, G-CCPO, G-CBNI, G-BWPP
G-PURP, G-CBHW, G-OOCH, G-BWAO, G-PATG, G-BYNN, G-SUED,
G-BUIN, G-CGIH, G-BOOB, G-BTJD, G-BUAM, G-MUCK, G-BWTE,
G-BXDR, G-BSMK, G-MINN, G-BYOX, G-KIEV, G-PAFC, G-DUGI.
EC-LVK, G-MUCK, G-BWTE, G-BXDR, G-BYNN, G-BUIN, G-BOWB,
G-CHWE, G-BYOI, G-BWWE, G-CBRK, G-WIFI, G-CEOV, G-BYOX,
G-FWAY, G-PURP, G-PATG, G-SLII, G-CBHW, G-CFXP, G-SBIZ,
G-OJMS, G-BUYC, G-CGWU, G-BTJD, G-CCOP, G-KSKS, G-OMOO.
Thanks to Sandy Mitchell for the piccies and stats.