Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Happy Landings

I know you're all (both?) desperate to find out how the balloon flight ended. Hey, you at the back, wake up I tell you! Well, after drifting for about an hour over the Perthshire countryside our expert pilot brought us down in a grassy field. Our flight had been a source of high anxiety to some of the creatures below: a herd of cows was seen to move in a very peculiar way, and a deer let out the most blood-curdling scream. A pheasant emerged from a hedge, looked up at us and dived out of sight into a field full of crops creating a frenetic rippling effect in the process.

Andre radioed his assistant to ask him if he could see where we had landed, but unfortunately the reply was that he couldn't. Andre decided it was best to take off again, and this time we alighted in a field that had been harvested. The prominent stubble in the field seemed to bring the basket to a more abrupt halt than the first time. We noticed that a herd of cattle in a field slightly further on seemed more than a little spooked by the appearance of a huge bizarre red object in their vicinity. The farmer who owned the beasts was on site within minutes in his four-wheel-drive rather forcibly "requesting" that Andre deflate the balloon. Although the pilot would rather have kept the balloon inflated for a bit longer to help his assistant see where we were, the farmer made it clear that this was not an option.

The farmer claimed that some of the animals were pregnant, and said that he was worried that the fright of seeing the balloon would induce premature labour. While this may have been true, I believe farmers have been know to tell a few fibs to get the balloonists to do what they want. Some, when they see the Virgin logo, simply demand that the pilot gets his cheque book out.

Finally, Andre's assistant arrived, we all helped pack the balloon back in its bag, and we then toasted the flight with champagne----very civilised indeed! The landrover took us back to Perth, ending an evening that I don't think any of us will forget.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

The Flight of the Sog 2

The whole balloon.
Originally uploaded by Wosog.

We flew for about an hour, floating over Perth and out into the countryside. It was amazingly quiet, the only noise being the intermittent blast of the burner heating the air to keep us from plummeting to the ground. Because the weather was hazy we only flew at 500-700 feet. I believe they usually fly at around 3,000 feet, but I'm sure Andre said they could go to 5,000 feet.

Andre is not the most talkative of people, but he's a pretty interesting guy, and, as you can see from this page on the Virgin website, he's a very experienced flyer----not just of balloons. I noticed that the balloon had a gps (global positioning system), and I said to Andre that it must come in handy when his team had to complete the task of finding the balloon after it landed. "Do you know what gps stands for?", he said. "No.", I said. "Go phone someone.", he replied".

As we drifted out into the country, he pointed to a stretch of land to our left. Not all farmers are delighted, it seems, when the ballonists land in their fields. "The woman that owns all the fields along there is mad.", he said. Apparently, after he landed in this woman's field earlier in the season her son stabbed the virtually new £80,000 balloon in several places as well as attacking his landrover with a baseball bat and threatening him and his crew with a gun!

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

The Flight of the Sog 1

By the time we arrived in Perth, the weather was really quite spectacular, and we were confident that the flight was going to go ahead. We had a walk around the city of Perth, taking photographs of the buildings, and of an interesting graveyard! After two o'clock, we phoned the number that we had been given. We found that we got a recorded message telling us that, indeed, the flight was to go ahead. It said that the participants in the flight were to meet at “the stone sculpture” in South Insch Park. Our hotel was right next to the park, and we had sufficient time to explore the area in some detail. We found, what we thought was the stone sculpture, but we were not entirely sure that we had the right location!

At 18.30 Wosog and I made our way to the stone sculpture and waited for the balloon, and our fellow passengers, to arrive. At around 18.20 a young man who had travelled up from Preston, arrived at the stone sculpture. We were reassured that, at least one other person had made the same mistake as we had! At around 18.25 the balloon arrived at last. The problem that the balloonist had, however, was that he was missing eight passengers. The mystery was solved when a party of seven girls from Argyll were found around the stone statue of Sir Walter Scott that was located at the entrance of the park. We never did find the remaining one passenger.

After the fascinating process of inflating the balloon, we finally took to the skies over Perth around 19.30.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

To Travel Hopefully?

As I stated previously, in June I booked the hot air balloon flight that my relatives had bought me for my fiftieth birthday. It was scheduled to take off from Perth around 18.00 on Saturday 19th August. I don't usually pay much attention to the weather forecast, but the week before the flight I was painfully aware of how the previously settled weather was deteriorating relentlessly as the weekend approached.

On the Friday in Glasgow the rain was so heavy that there was localised flooding! On Saturday morning I checked the weather forecast on the internet and it was predicting fog for Perth! I wasn't sure if the torrential rain that fell as we set off for Perth would cause the flight to be postponed, but I was fairly sure that fog wouldn't go down too well! We were supposed to phone a number after 2 o'clock to see if things were going to go ahead, but I was far from optimistic as we drove north. We had booked a hotel room for the Saturday night anyway.

In the event, the weather improved steadily as headed for Perthshire, so it looked like Wosog might get a chance to claim the life assurance after all!

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

The Fat of the Land

When I was a wee boy my mother always used to tell me, when I was reluctant to eat something, that I should "remember the starving children of the world". The relentless training to clear my plate from an early age is probably part of the reason why I am a fat bloater now, although I suspect that it has more to do with the fact that I am basically a lazy sod---like most of my fellow inhabitants of the Western World. However, I was still astounded today to read that world now has more overweight people than hungry ones.

According to this article, there are about 1.4 billion overweight people in the world as opposed to the 800 million that are undernourished. The global march----or perhaps waddle is more appropriate----towards obesity is only going to get worse as countries like India and China start to enjoy the "benefits" of growing prosperity. The "powers that be" are just starting to think about how they might try to influence the unhealthy trend towards increasing bulk. Having tried for years to encourage patients to lose weight, and failing miserably both with them and myself, I really do wish them luck!

Sunday, August 06, 2006

It Brings Tears To Your Eyes

Another gem in this week's "This Life" column in the Sunday Times concerns a certain Mr Mario Visnjic who sat back in his beach deckchair after a refreshing swim. Unfortunately, he got a bit of a shock when he tried to stand up as his testicles had become stuck between the slats of the chair!

It seems that Mr Visnjic's testes had shrunk while he was skinny dipping in the sea off Valalta in western Croatia, but they had re-expanded in the sunshine and became wedged between the wooden slats. Fortunately he was able to summon an attendant with his mobile phone who released him by cutting the chair in half!

Wosog and I have periodically thought of visiting Eastern Europe, but I think we'll not bother.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

The Blunt Facts

The Sunday Times' "This Life" column usually makes interesting reading. Amongst other things this week, it details the results of a survey of 2,059 adults to see what things they found most irritating. Perhaps surprising in view of the large amount of dosh he has made, or perhaps not so surprising, is the fact that James Blunt is the fourth most irritating thing after "cold callers", caravans, and queue jumpers (no surprises there).

Poor James is even ahead of Carol Vorderman (surely not?), traffic wardens and noisy neighbours!

My American friends will be pleased to find they only come in at number 46.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Cats that look like Hitler

I need to stop taking pictures of my cat.
Originally uploaded by little_hobbit_feet.

I've previously blogged about the fact that you can find a site about anything on the Interweb. This is Luther, the cat belonging to my Flickr friend little_hobbit_feet. Although he is IMHO an adorable moggy, he does bear a passing resemblance to a certain psychopathic German politician from the last century.

However, it would appear that he is not unique in this respect. This site hosts pictures of other felines with this dubious distinction. "Why?" you may ask. Well I don't really know.