Up, up and away ... at the age of 86

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Up, up and away in my beautiful balloon ... those of a certain age will remember the melodic fluff that used to drift out of the kitchen radio, tuned in from breakfast time to the time everyone abandoned the kitchen for the comfort of the living room (a misnomer in my childhood home, as we did most of our ‘living’ in the kitchen).

From first thing in the morning til after tea-time, the ever-present soundtrack to my childhood was the local BBC radio station’s playlist. The closest I can come to describing its DJs are a Yorkshire version of Alan Partridge, complete with phone-ins and a mobile studio which did endless rounds of gala openings, village fetes and – very occasionally – turned up at a truly exciting time, like a night-time fire at an empty factory.

‘Up, up and away’, ‘Only Yesterday’ by the Carpenters, ‘Afternoon Delight’, ‘Sweet Caroline’ and ‘Claire’ by Gilbert O’Sullivan were seemingly on an endless loop. Or so it seemed. Ahh, those golden days of easy listening.

But ‘Up, up and away’ was always quite cheery and uplifting. And this last weekend, it came oddly to life at about 6.45am on St Boswells’ green.

The story of Gamford’s very own beautiful balloon started last year, when we bought him a hot-air balloon flight from the (excellent, IMHO) Alba Ballooning for his 85th (birthday, that is).

Despite repeated bookings, windy weather and a double cataract op put paid to his chances of being airborne in 2014. Alba recognised there was a period he couldn’t fly due to medical reasons – you’re not supposed to shake, rattle and roll new cataract operations, so a bumpy balloon basket landing would not have been allowed – and extended the voucher for us for another six months. Brilliant.

The ballooning season, I now know, is a short one (April/May to October at the latest), fraught with cancellations due to wind. Perhaps, like I once was, you are thinking: ‘But wind is a good thing for balloons, isn’t it?’ Or maybe not, because you’re probably not a dumb as I am. I now know much better.

Hot-air balloons are filled with hot air from the burning gas, and naturally-occurring wind outside the balloon is a Very Bad Thing, because it can toss the balloon hither and thither. And perhaps into pylons or into trees. Not good at all.

Anyhoo, the flight wasn’t cancelled the day before (as had happened every other time) and so we found ourselves standing on St Boswells’ green, after getting up at Stupid O’Clock, as a big Defender pulled up towing a long trailer with the most enormous-looking picnic basket and huge bag on it.

It was amazing to see it unloaded and set up, with the help of the potential passengers and well-wishers, before finally taking off into a near cloudless sky. Perfect.

Usually the flight is around an hour, and upon landing champagne is served and certificates are handed out. Then it’s a quick repack for balloon and basket and back on the trailer, before heading back to Bosils.

True to his northern roots (Derbyshire), Gamford managed to get summat for nowt and ended up in the azure blue Selkirkshire skies for almost 2.5 hours before the pilot could make a safe landing. Talk about value for money.

But even at 10 times the cost, it would have been worth it.

He absolutely loved every minute, and his face lit up like a child in wonderment at the sight he had seen way down below.

As they say, every day is a school day – even when you’re 86.