In 2003, not long after I took voluntary redundancy from BT, I was approached by a chap called Tony Gould to do contract work at BT. There wasn't much else around in the locality where I could employ my skill set, and the prospect of being a permanent employee for a company no longer appealed to me, so I took him up on the offer, and so returned to the company where I had worked for 30 years previously.
As I got to know Tony, I discovered he had strong interests in public speaking, running twinning organisations (with associated linguistic skills) and ballooning. He is passionate about all these diversions, but ballooning features head and shoulders above the rest. He has been involved in ballooning for decades, and in the past, to make costs manageable, he and a few other like-minded souls formed a syndicate in order to purchase a couple of balloons, trailers and all the associated kit that goes with this sport. For an individual, the equipment and annual insurance costs can be prohibitive.
We discussed at length the technicalities of ballooning, and seeing I was interested, he asked me if I would like to have a go. Naturally I was delighted and said yes immediately. Little did I know my first flights were to be at the 2003 33rd Irish International Balloon Festival held at Kells; in at the deep end with a weeks worth of ballooning in front of me. Despite cracking a couple of ribs on my first flight, I found the ballooning, and equally importantly the social aspects that go along with it, immensely enjoyable. Heaving all the kit about certainly keeps you fit, flying at one with the wind blissfully exhilarating, navigating at times challenging, and anticipating the crash landing (all balloon landings are controlled crash landings) adrenalin inducing. I even get a buzz out of being a member of the recovery crew (tracking a balloon from the ground with a view to retrieving it when it has landed) or even being the recovery crew. The social side: eating, drinking, sight-seeing, partying and general bonhomie complete the marvelous experience of a balloon meet. I have been enjoying this sport ever since my first bumpy introduction.
Over the last few years, when I haven't been off gallivanting doing other things, I have taken up all available opportunities to go ballooning with the various syndicate members, who are a cracking bunch of lads and lasses who work and play hard, know how to enjoy themselves and don't take things too seriously. We have had many flights in Suffolk, but it should be pointed out that some English farmers give balloonists a load of grief, and it is usually preferable to fly abroad where the farming community (and weather) is more amenable. The ballooning links at the top of this page give a little flavour of the sport at different venues, which I hope will convey the pleasurable aspects to you, and maybe even enthuse you enough to give it a go.