Balloon Repair Station

Airships, Balloons, Rockets and Dan Dare – Making space in the bookcase (Pt 1)

Every so often we elect, well I elect, to have a Biffa-out. Quite often this transpires to be a de-clutter and rearrangement rather than full blown lob out but, whatever occurs, it does involve some rather prolonged involuntary pauses and distractions when lost or forgotten about treasures emerge. Jane gave me a book on Vinyl for Christmas which started all this. Now interestingly this does raise a question to which I’m not sure I have an answer for. Is someone with loads of something a collector? I don’t necessarily think so. I have lot of LPs and they get played and I only buy ones I want. I don’t ‘collect them’ as in I don’t get them for the sake of it. Same is true of books. I don’t have a collection but I do have a pretty eclectic library, housed in three, or maybe four, bookcases (if you count the floor and random shelves) on subjects that interest me all of which have been bought for a reason or came as presents which, incidentally, if they have been read and I don’t reckon they need to stay, like ‘Dad likes Beer’, get passed on. The books are more often than not secondhand and picked up somewhat randomly. I don’t go out somewhere to specifically to buy books, nor do I do that with LPs. It is a bit of a quandary I’ll grant you. Its said if you have two of something then you have started a collection. I once noted that I have two copies of Pink Floyd Beds on a Beach, or whatever it is called, only because in an emotional moment late one night, I thought I’d lost it. Clearly I had and purchased another copy on Etricks a few days later. When I get round to it I will do two things, sell it and renew the missing guide to buying online that asks, ‘Do you need it?’, Can you afford it?’, Have you been drinking? And ‘What time is it?’ I only had issues with having two copies of one book, that was Metroland but one was a present and it eventually went to Tony the Train. I usually have two packets of porage oats in stock but I’m not collecting them. I admit that I do have a stamp collection and envelopes stuffed full of stamps that one day will be sorted or more likely given to the first child that shows signs of being a philatilist. I haven’t attended to my collection for years now but did enjoy it at the time. My dad got me the London Stamp Album with the pictures of stamps I needed to get (age 5) and, of course, I did try and complete it but we lost the Empire, went decimal and everything changed. Got most of the Ceylon and Gilbert and Ellice Island stamps though as we had relations who were missionaries there. That was the other thing, even the countries changed their names.

Quite where all this is leading is somewhat the obscurity of the subject of stuff gathered rather than collected and what happens when a glut appears leaving no room for additions should they arrive. Maybe that’s it. If you think you have a glut and have a clear out maybe you are not a collector? A collector would never ditch anything, or does that make one a hoarder? OK, so ‘collected’ is a broad term and I’m sure that before the age of the all knowing interweb I did ‘gather sufficient books’, more than perhaps I really needed, to research a subject, plus I then made a visit or two to the library. I don’t think I have bought more than half a dozen books off the Interweb. If you buy something and ‘collect’ it are you a ‘collector’? my mother used to tell people that ‘Christopher will collect anything.’ but in the context that if I found something I liked I’d take it home. Drove her nuts. This then is really nothing to do with collecting but an account of why I don’t necessarily succeed in thinning out stuff and, to demonstrate, I am going to explain why half a day was spent looking at a few books rather than concentrating on the job in hand. Then I found a reference to ‘Telstar’ in one of them and, of course there was single called ‘Telstar’. I’ve go that somewhere, with its chummer-chunner backbeat. Neat hook with vinyl.

This time then its all about books. I have lots of books and can honestly say that I have read or studied them all. Some years ago nearly all my paperbacks, going back to school days, went to the charity shop who were delighted I’m sure. I did keep few of my favourites though! They get lent, some get looked at frequently, others less frequently and a number that have bits of this and that in them I treasure so am reluctant to let them go. Two books I really regret ‘losing’ was one that had a description of a train snaking across the Velt which may have been The Sky Trap and another that described the way the moon echoed and vibrated when one of the Apollo Moonlanders was deliberately crashed back into. I think it was in a copy of National Geographicals. To help balance the equilibrium, paperbacks and magazines not required once read always end up getting passed on, in the charity shop or donated to the local Surgery waiting room but I noticed recently that my back copies of Current Archaeology, when I last visited, don’t seem to be there. I glanced a look at the local ‘Friend of the Wendover Health Centre’ sitting at their desk who smiled guiltily back. When potentially expelled books do finally go they go into two piles. One for the charity shop and one for people who I think might like them. The ‘might like them’ pile usually lurks about for ages and, more often than not, some (or all) end up back in the bookcase until next time when I vow to be a lot tougher.

This foray all started as the aforementioned book on LPs, titled Vinyl Countdown by Graham Sharpe, which I will fully revue when I finish it, prompted me to tidy up my pile of LPs and see if anything he had written made sense. You can only spend so long sorting stuff out and after about an hour of putting back the correct LPs in the correct covers I’d rather lost the will so I decided that the only way to make room for the increasing pile of new library additions some existing books were going to have to go. I think it was Barry who once commented that he’d never seen a bookcase where a smashing book on The Bikini lounged alongside Fungus the Bogeyman. Well, Fungus has gone to a child but The Bikini book is still there and snuggles up to The Castles of England. My ‘library’ is arranged by size of book that will fit onto a shelf and the easy to get at shelves have, generally speaking, the most looked at books on them unless they are on the Dynatron, table or somewhere else. Thus I found myself attacking some smallish sized books that had got stacked sideways on top of some medium sized books.

Jane’s Pocket Book 7 Airship Development, was on the top. I used this book an awful lot when I was editing Balloons & Airships years ago. I does come in handy now, every so often like. There’s an awful lot in it and is always worth a dip. By Lord Ventry and Eugene Kolesnik it was published in 1976 and is a cracker of a book and won’t be going anywhere. Lord Ventry was an amazing character and in 1950 built his own airship at Hurn Airport called, appropriately, ‘Bournemouth’ and thus the Airship Club of Great Britain was founded. He was injured during WW1 serving in the Irish Guards and following recuperation joined the RAF and took command of 902 (County of London) Balloon Squadron where he gained his gas balloon license. During WW2 he joined the Balloon Command and Intelligence Section organising tethered barrage balloons to protect targets from attack. The Bournemouth was built around an old barrage balloon gas bag obtained for £25 and filled with hydrogen. Power was provided by a 75hp Salmson radial engine from the 1930s and the plot was designed to carry four passengers however, on its maiden flight from Cardington, Lord Ventry, described as ‘having a generous frame‘ and ‘despite removing his duffel coat and emptying his pockets it refused to lift’. Very reluctantly he remained on the ground to watch its maiden flight, a day later than planned on account the engine overheated. It would appear that there weren’t any licenses available for airship pilots so there was a deal of ‘umming and ‘arring by the authorities as to who could actually fly it but despite this trials went ahead and once tail-heaviness and steering problems were sort of sorted she took to the sky with fewer passengers and Lord Ventry. After a 35 minute flight the landing, which involved crashing into the Station’s gymnasium when a handling line got snagged, meant that repairs and more modifications were needed and she was deflated. Back together and re-inflated she was finally granted a Certificate of Airworthiness and after a bad winter she took to the skies again in the Spring of 1952. An ex-Bournemouth Royal Blue motor coach was acquired and converted into a mobile mooring mast and plans were put in place for her return to Bournemouth but eventually an accident on the ground in the autumn caused serious damage to the gas bag and, as club funds were now low, it was decided to call it a day. Lord Ventry died in 1987 aged 88 leaving an enormous and valued collection of documentation on airships to the Royal Aeronautical Society but of ‘Bournemouth’ nothing known remains. I know nothing about Eugene Kolesnik but have found out that he is described as a defence journalist and military historian and also produced Airship Saga co-authored by Lord Ventry.

Under this was ‘A Source Book of Rockets, Spacecraft and Spacemen’ by Tim Furniss published in 1973. Now this is book that I haven’t looked at in ages and still has scraps of paper marked Armstrong, Aldrin, Collins poked in the appropriate pages. I must have written something on the Apollo 11 mission then! Tim Furness is still writing I think. Born in 1948 he is described as a journalist and to date has written over 30 books, his first in 1970. He covered the launches of Apollo 15 and several Shuttle missions from the Kennedy Space Centre, and in 1988 was one of the first journalists to report on the launch of cosmonauts from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. You can get a copy of this compact little book off of eFacebaything for about four quid! Full of everything that got chucked into space from lists and pictures of launchers to satellites and spacecraft it is crammed full of useful info. Built by the British Hovercraft Corporation, Black Arrow is in there, another cancelled British success, that put the satellite Prospero into orbit on its last launch in 1971. The third stage was a solid fuel rocket motor named Waxwing and developed by the Rocket Propulsion Establishment at Westcott, just up the road. You could hear, or rather feel, the test firings in Wendover. For the past few years I often met up with a chap called Adrian Meade with his ageing dog at the old Café in the Woods. It was only when he sadly passed away in November 2018 that I learnt that he had been a very important scientist at Westcott. He specialised in orbits and trajectories and today some of the satellites he worked on are still out there, somewhere in space. Quite a legacy. Remember Volynov, not the little stuffed pastries? Thought not. He was the one of the very first Russian cosmonauts and joined the space race in 1960 but it wasn’t until 1969 he was fired into space aboard Soyuz 5 when he flew for 73 hours 20 minutes, completing 50 orbits and delivered two fellow spacemen to Soyuz 4. Here’s another question. Once in orbit are you really ‘flying’? Do you remember McDivitt? He first flew in Gemini 4 and went on to being hurtled forth into space atop the first Saturn 5 rocket to test fly the Lunar Lander in Earth orbit in March 1969. Should have raised a glass to him! Then there was the first female cosmonaut. She was, wait for it, Miss Valentina Tereshkova and married fellow spaceman Nikolayez. They are credited with having the first ‘space baby’. Not sure about how that occurred. This then is obviously a keeper.

A nice little paperback that I confess to only have read bits of and looked at a few times was revealed called Aircraft by John W R Taylor. This is a copy printed in 1980 with the colourful illustrations by Gerry Palmer. During World War II John Taylor worked for Hawkers on the development of the Hurricane before becoming the editor of Jane’s All the World’s Aircraft in 1955 from which he retired in 1989. He was also credited with being able to predict with amazing accuracy the size and performance of the Soviet aircraft during the Cold War period from often blurry photographs. John Taylor died in 1999 aged 77. Sadly Gerald Palmer passed away in 2017 but will be remembered by those of a certain age for his contribution to the Dan Dare adventures in the Eagle comic. He lived on Jersey and was one of the islands’ foremost artists. Interestingly there is a fantastic painting by him of a Hurricane above the clouds called ‘In the Clear’. I wonder if he painted it for John Taylor? Lot of history there. It is a great little book, the illustrations are the best you’ll see, there is loads of snippets of information and it does put the time line of flight in general into an accurate perspective. No that isn’t a copy of the stuff o the back cover! Blimey, not sure now whether to keep it or retire it. Might do in case I get a painting by Gerry Palmer.

See what happens when you dither at sorting. You get distracted and thus it was then the Maisons Villages came out and Balloons around the World unearthed. Now first instinct was to retire this as it seems not to come out much at all. I think I forgot I had it even! The spine is delicate to boot. It was compiled and published by Alec Jenkinson, already a well known former Old and Rusty in 1975 when it was published and this is apparently the second edition and formally belonged to a Cathy Drake, whose name appears in pencil in the front! It is a book of its time and now I have had another look at it I think we need to pull a separate article based around the entries contained therein, for it is a list, a register of gas and hot air balloons from around the world as it happens. The frontispiece explains that there are 967 entries from 31 countries. Not bad. There are adverts from Raven Balloons, British Airways, one of the first into modern hot air balloon advertising, Thunder Balloons, Mongolfiere Moderne, Cathay Pacific, The British Balloon and Airship Club and dear old Cameron Balloons. I must admit to recognising quite a lot of the names then given to balloons. Balloon naming seems to have, in the main passed away but back then and into the early 1980s many balloons had names. Tigerjack, Marie Antoniette, Eight of Herts (Ray Bailey’s lot), Dante (still my favourite G-AZIP), Jack O’Newbury, Candytwist, and Snapdragon along with some I’d be interested to hear about such as Teutonic Turkey and Eric of Titchfield. Dear old Joe Philp’s record breaking flights are listed along with total numbers of balloons built. Cameron were on 164 but their numbering started with 11 as the first ‘Cameron Balloons’ were Omegas. Gerry Turnbull’s Western Balloons had built 22 (33 if you add the Omegas) and Thunder on 43. Amongst the piccies is one of G-BAYC with the registration placed upside down in error! There is a wonderful piece entitled ‘A glossary of some ballooning terms’ in which we find ‘Champagne-the traditional drink to launch a new balloon, or anytime’. Then ‘Freezing level-the altitude when it becomes damned cold’ along with the delightful ‘Hairy Landing-an experience one is glad to walk away from’. ‘Standup landing-the one in five situation when the basket fails to tip its occupants on top of one another on landing’. Love it.

Alec Jenkinson began his aviation career flying DC3s in 1956 for BEA (British European Airways). Later he transferred to BOAC (British Overseas Airways Corporation) as a relief Reservations Officer and getting posted to places around the globe. In 1972 when both airlines merged to become British Airways Alec got even more countries to visit and when he retired in 1990 he had visited 86. Taking an active interest in the fledgling sport of Hot Air Ballooning in the UK, back in 1971, he got his license and travelled the World on promotional flights with the BA sponsored balloon and the Dante Group. Sadly, six years later his pilot’s licence renewal was declined because of a deterioration of his Multiple Sclerosis. Despite this he kept his interest in ballooning and for many years was the familiar voice of the Bristol Balloon Fiesta and Icicle Meets, providing expert commentary from a caravan at the ringside. Always a great supporter of the British Balloon and Airship Club he was awarded the BBAC Diploma in 1992 and later became their Vice-President. He also took a huge interest in preserving the history of balloons and ballooning and, with a group of other like-minded souls, formed the British Balloon Museum & Library becoming the original archivist until 1985 when John Baker took over. He retired from the Council in 1997 and was awarded another Vice Presidency, that of the BBM&L. He wrote another rather nice book called BEA, BOAC & Balloons which I must confess that I haven’t read…yet. Alec sadly passed away in November 2006. This then is falling into the maybe next time pile.

So I’d spent a pleasant hour or so pondering over four little books and learning a lot more about them and the authors and not really sorting anything. As a start then it seems none are going anywhere soon, normal early result I’d say, but as a therapy it was fine. Best I slam dunk me new Public Service Broadcasting LP, Race for Space, onto the Mighty Dynatron, once I’ve cleared the the other books off that I planned to look through!

Please click on the pictures to enlarge them. Interesting piece about Gerry Palmer