When the Invitation to attend Ian Chadwick’s wedding plopped through the letterbox we were delighted but then checked and realised the date, 26th April, happened to be the same as the BBM&L Inflation Day. This couldn’t be, Mr Chadwick arranging his wedding on the same day as the Balloon Spotter’s Bi-annaul Bonanza? There had to be a mistake somewhere. We called Bishy. “Inflation Day is the 26th ‘innit it?” “Yup, and its going to great as we are hoping to get some of the ‘pairs of balloons’ there”, he responded and with boundless enthusiasm went on to say that the Westerns may come as well. That meant the printers had made a mistake on the invitations. A call to Ian’s office at CAA indicated that he wasn’t at his desk so we left a message deducing that he must have gone round to Whizzy-Quick printers with a large rocket. A couple of days later we mailed him. He was mortified as yes it was true the dates clashed but he had called Pete to enquire whether or not the date could be changed! Understandably, Ian went on, as so much work and planning went into the event unfortunately there was not a sausage’s chance that it could be changed. We had a dilemma but reassuredly so did several others including Ken the Fireman, Mark ‘Stumpy the Pilot’ Stelling and, on the quiet, Ian Chadwick.
We looked at the logistics and finally had to come to the conclusion that we probably couldn’t do both and that food and beer tended to sway things the Caterham way despite the fact that I may have to find a suit and tie. Stumpy decided that he could fly his EasyB jet to Birmingham, hire a car and drive to Pidley where his mate had dropped his car off, assist with the Inflation Day and then drive through Central London to the Chadwick Wedding. Seemed unlikely especially when the plan changed at the last moment and now he’d drive down from Scotland leave his car at Birmingham, fly back to Edinburgh with a plane load of punters, do a quick flight to Barcelona and back to Gatwick, get a lift to Pidley from Ken the Fireman to Birmingham to get his car, camp on the nineteenth Green, do the Inflation Day and then meander his way south to Caterham. We called Ken, “Can’t talk now I’m on the M42 and the traffic is dreadful.” Stumpy’s plan seemed to be set in motion.
As the weekend approached the weather looked like it was curtains for Inflation Day. Overcast and windy, probably showers as well. Maybe it wouldn’t happen after all and any inflations would be the model balloons indoors but knowing the Old & Rusties everyone knew deep down that it would take more than 10 knots gusting 18 to put them off. Come the day it was windy, it was overcast and there was a touch of precipitation about. Brilliant. Whilst I tried to work out how to put me suit on and tie a tie Jane sorted the dogs as hers has now gone bonkers so can’t really be left as it forgets where it is. Yes I do have a suit. It was made by Balmar and cost me £18 from someone in High Wycombe. It was brand new and unworn and probably dated from the seventies. I nearly didn’t get it as when Jane went to pick it up there was an armed siege going on a few doors down. She explained the urgency to policeman on the cordon who told her not to worry as they person they were after was probably out. That’s Wycombe for you.
In Pidley the groundsheets (even older envelopes) were out and a rather tanned and confused Stumpy was about to inflate his first balloon of the day. On the other side of the field Team Freeston were good to go. Despite the conditions they were as good as the event’s name and one by one old and famous envelopes were dragged out and got to at least horizontal. Meanwhile down at Whyteleafe we had managed to arrive half an hour early. Quite a calamity as it appeared we had time to spare. Now the church was ‘just up the road from the station over the crossing’. There are three stations in the village,Upper Warlingham on the Oxted Line, Whyteleafe and Whyteleafe South. The clue though was the level crossing which we found ourselves stopped at, and me without me spotter’s notebook, so in case you are interested, or want a chuckle, we watched a class 455 EMU pull into the station. Quite a moment for someone who lives on the diesel powered Chiltern Line you must admit. Fortunately it was the right level crossing and the right station and St Luke’s was just up on the left as promised. St Luke’s isn’t an imposing church and it isn’t very old having been built in 1864. Don’t let that fool you this is a lovely church, more village hall than church it is friendly and welcoming. There are some surprises there to not least the War Graves. Sitting literally in the shadow of old RAF Kenley there are memorials and graves to Pilots, Crew and those who served at the former Fighter Station which started life as a Royal Flying Corps airfield in 1917. By the time we’d wandered around the churchyard people were well and truly congregating and soon we were chatting away to John Russon and his missus who had come all the way from way up north. Ken the Fireman was there with his far better half but of Stumpy the Pilot? There was no sign. Well there wouldn’t be now as Gavin Chadwick made a last check that distant cousins had actually been picked up from the hotel and ushered us in.
In deepest windy Cambridgeshire the gallant crews had somehow managed to get the three Budweiser Cans out and even more amazingly inflated the things. Next up they were going to have a crack at a couple of the Financial Times’ balloons. Norman Apsey’s two old envelopes came out their bags. These were the Kodak Balloons G-RUDD and G-SNAP, not quite identical but near enough. The spotters then had a gasp moment as G-BSEA started to inflate. A T&C AX7-77 it was built in 1990 and had been hidden away for years until Pete Bish ‘acquired’ it. It seems like years ago that the Perrier balloons were about operated by the Bristol-based Balloon Stable and Peter Mossman bought along G-LEAU a Cameron N-31 built in 1981 to the delight of many. Amongst the gallantry even Bob Jones valiantly got behind the burners. Stumpy was rushing about helping, noting and inflating balloons clearly well aware that he was likely to miss, never mind the wedding but the meal as well.
All seated in the church the Reverend Tim Goode introduced himself. A round faced happy smiley person sporting a very colourful musical themed stole. Phones were ordered off and the choir, mainly comprising the Swingle Sisters, warmed up. This was truly a community church and everyone was in fine spirits. Rather brilliantly one of the hymns was Lord of the Dance which got everyone singing along and effectively drowning out the choir. Then the wedding proper got going and much to Gavin’s relief he had remembered the ring. Sharon was given away by her daughter which was very touching. During the paperwork (its not a wedding proper until the weight of the paperwork exceeds that of the congregation) we were treated to a very fine bit of live guitar music. It went very well and was, as they say, lovely. The Swingle Sisters took a bow and posed for pictures and we all wandered out for the photos and a confetti throwing demonstration by the Brownies. The sun nipped in and out of speeding clouds and after everyone had congratulated everyone it was off to Caterham on the Hill for the reception. We opted to follow someone that thought they knew where it was. Fortunately they did.
By now Pidley was starting to get really windy but 39 balloons had been inflated plus a couple of models and an American registered one stood up in the Hall. Tim Turner and Pete Bish dolled out the prizes. Martin Freeston and crew got the award for most inflations, Stumpy might have got it but he was heading south on the A1, well late but he did get an award for managing to get so many balloons to the event. Christoff Deyaert got a prize from making the event International having travelled from Belgium. Big ones went to Richard Gahan for bringing 9 envelopes to the event with the prettiest balloon award going to Peter Mossman and G-LEAU. David Smith (despite Stumpy’s witterings) got the award for furthest travelled having driven 242 miles from deepest Wales. Andrew and Caroline Gibson who have hung up their ballooning gloves this year got a prize for all their support over the years to the BBM&L. One bloke that finally got an award by arranging to be 90 on the day was Derry Moore. Nice one. Thanks went to the long suffering host of the event David Hopkins along with big ones to Martyn Turner and Neil Ivison, “Who,” as Tim explained, “Were a great support and guidance with putting the whole event together. To make anything work you need a good team around you and they certainly represented that.” By now Stumpy was queuing to get onto the M25.
Now husband and wife, Ian and Sharon were about to reveal the most brilliant venue for a wedding reception I have ever seen. Caterham Barracks are on the hill. Built in the late 1800s almost contempory with St Luke’s, they were once the biggest in the country and home to four regiments comprising over 12,000 men. They were streets ahead of their time and a benchmark in the care and welfare of the troops that until then had had to put up with dreadful living conditions. When it closed the Caterham Barracks Trust was formed and, working alongside the developers, a fantastic community has evolved, not only that but they provided a really nice grassy area to use as a launchfield! At the heart of this is The ARC, a pair of adjacent old gymnasiums now converted into a Community and Arts Centre complete with the bestist kid’s indoor play area. No that’s nothing to do with airworthiness, that’s just a co-incidence I realised a few days later. Made me chuckle. The two buildings are linked by a clear glass roofed area down the middle of which the longest table on the planet had been set up. It was brilliant. We were at the noisy Brownie Pack end opposite a lady who had chickens sitting on Goose eggs and a local teacher and her husband. Now you would think that a long table like that where you could barely make out the far end would not be conducive to mixing but not a chance. The meal over it was musical chairs. Fortunately Ian saved some grub for Stumpy confident that he would arrive, eventually. The atmosphere was fantastic, true community spirit. There was a cease-fire whilst the cake was cut and the speeches made then it was back to it and the disco cranked up with music from the seventies and eighties. Adults disco dancing is always good for a laugh, the Brownie Troup definitely thought so. Other balloony notables turned up including John Viner and Ian Sharpy Sharpe. We got chatting to a very interesting bloke who worked for an aircraft restoration copy on Biggin Hill, a lot of Sharon and Ian’s rellies and an unidentified crowd from Manchester. Jane proceeded to collect all the remaining bottles from the long, long table and set up a bar in the dance hall. It was clear the evening was going to go on for a while. Clutching a list of 'balloons inflated' a well-tired Mark Stelling finally staggered in and went in search of Ian, his dinner and presumably somewhere quite to lie down muttering something about two laps of Trafalgar Square. Truly it was a wonderful and most enjoyable day and a smashing 'do'. Hats off and huge congratulations to Ian and Sharon and thanks again for a very splendid day.
So here is the official(ish) list of the balloons that turned up and inflated at Pidley courtesy of Sandy Mitchell (as are most of the pictures). Scroll on down for some more. G-AZBT, G-BBJB, G-BCAS, G-BDAC, G-BDBI, G-BDRK, G-BFOZ, G-BHEX, G-BJAW, G-BJYF, G-BKMR, G-BLCH, G-BLYJ, G-BMKX, G-BNEO, G-BOGL, G-BOSB, G-BPFJ, G-BSEA, G-BUET, G-BUEU, G-BUNI, G-BVIO, G-BVXA, G-BWST, G-BWYP, G-BXJT, G-ETFT, G-FTFT, G-FUND, G-JONO(1), G-JONO(2), G-LEAU, G-RUDD, G-SNAP, G-BERS / PH-YSI, G-TRIV / PH-HAS, G-BPBX / OO-BRB, EI-BSN. Models G-AZYL, G-BCFE, N1001P.