Up, Up And Away

There’s an ad­ven­ture in the sky in this en­gag­ing com­plete story by Mag­gie Cob­bett, set in York­shire.

The People's Friend Special - - CONTENTS -

A feel-good story by Mag­gie Cob­bett

HOW do you feel about bal­loons, Ni­cola?” He­len Bar­ber asked, walk­ing into my class­room late one Fri­day af­ter­noon. My pupils were all long gone and I was work­ing alone. The last time I’d had any­thing to do with bal­loons was a few years ago at my lit­tle sis­ter’s birth­day party. I’d blown up so many of the wretched things that I nearly passed out.

“Well, as long as there aren’t too many of them, I sup­pose I could . . .” He­len laughed. “Not that kind of bal­loon! I mean a hot-air bal­loon. In­vented by the Mont­golfier broth­ers just be­fore the French Revo­lu­tion, but you’d know all about that.”

Of course I did. There was even a pic­ture of one on the front cover of the course book I was work­ing through with some of my younger pupils. Maybe that was it. He­len had dreamed up a joint pro­ject be­tween Science and Mod­ern Lan­guages and needed my help.

“Well, I’m all for cross-de­part­men­tal co-op­er­a­tion,” I said cau­tiously. She laughed again. “So am I, but this is noth­ing to do with school. James just phoned to say we’ve been let down at the last mo­ment and I thought you might like to give us a hand. If you’re free to­mor­row, that is.”

He­len had been friendly ever since I joined Weaverthorpe High as a newly qualif ied French teacher, but I rarely saw her out­side the staff room and had never met her hus­band. What help could the two of them pos­si­bly need from me?

“James and I have been work­ing over the last cou­ple of years to qual­ify as bal­loon pilots. Now we’ve both got our li­cences and we’ve bought a small bal­loon of our own.”

“That’s won­der­ful, He­len, but I don’t see how –”

“I’m just com­ing to that. The weather forecast for to­mor­row is very promis­ing – light wind, good vis­i­bil­ity and no rain – and we were plan­ning to fly, but one of our ground crew can’t make it. If you’ll take his place, I prom­ise James or I will take you up. You’d be do­ing us a real favour.”

“But why me? I don’t know a thing about bal­loon­ing.”

“We just need an ex­tra pair of hands. The oth­ers will show you what to do. Of course, if you have other plans . . .”

He­len had hit a nerve. I hadn’t been in Weaverthorpe long enough to es­tab­lish a so­cial life and was sorely miss­ing my stu­dent friends. A week­end of soli­tary meals, mark­ing and les­son plan­ning was all that awaited me. These days I al­most looked for­ward to Mon­day morn­ings. “No, I haven’t,” I ad­mit­ted. Be­fore I had time to think it through any fur­ther, He­len was writ­ing down the de­tails of the launch site and ad­vis­ing me to dress up warmly.

“You’ll need trousers and flat shoes with a de­cent grip, and you’re tall, so I’d wear a hat as well.” With­out wait­ing to ex­plain the re­la­tion­ship be­tween my height and the need for head­gear, He­len thanked me again and headed for the door.

THE sun was just ris­ing on that early Oc­to­ber morn­ing when my bus dropped me off at the gates of Windy Bank Farm.

Some way from the main house, and in a field from which it was very ob­vi­ous that cat­tle had only re­cently been moved, a large wicker bas­ket was ly­ing on its side and a group of peo­ple was un­load­ing other equip­ment from the back of a van. A bat­tered Land-Rover stood along­side it.

I was half­way across the field when He­len spot­ted me. Her long blonde hair was tied back and she looked very busi­nesslike in her navy fleece jacket and match­ing trousers.

“Ni­cola! Glad you could make it. Come and meet ev­ery­one else! This is my James,” she an­nounced proudly, seiz­ing a stocky, red­headed young man by the arm and pulling him for­ward to shake hands with me. “And An­gela, David and Char­lie.”

They were all very friendly, par­tic­u­larly Char­lie, who had floppy dark hair, warm brown eyes and the kind of mouth that looked as though it smiled a lot. He took it upon him­self to ex­plain ev­ery­thing to me and I started to feel that it was good to be out­doors and work­ing as part of a team.

Once the propane burner sys­tem had been f ixed to the bas­ket, we all set about lay­ing out the brightly striped bal­loon, which was much big­ger than I’d ex­pected. The next step was to in­flate it, us­ing a pow­er­ful fan at the base.

“It’s like a huge mar­quee,” I mar­velled. “You could al­most hold a wed­ding re­cep­tion in­side.”

“Now there’s a thought!” An­gela gig­gled and shot David a mean­ing­ful look.

“Women!” He grinned, but he gave her an affectionate smile. “Come on, let’s get this baby into the air.”

Once James and He­len were sat­is­fied that there was enough air in­side, the next step was to blast the burner flame into the mouth of the bal­loon – which I’d al­ready learned was called an en­ve­lope. It wasn’t long be­fore it started to rise.

By no means as or­nately pat­terned as the bal­loon made fa­mous by the Mont­golfier broth­ers, its rain­bow colours still made it an im­pres­sive sight to be­hold.

“This is the tricky bit, Ni­cola,” James warned. “We don’t want the bal­loon to take off be­fore the launch crew’s on board. He­len and I will be go­ing up first to make sure ev­ery­thing’s OK.”

The bas­ket was still f irmly at­tached to the van, but the rest of us helped to hold it steady un­til they were safely in­side.

As soon as James sig­nalled that they were ready, Char­lie un­tied the rope. With a steady flame shoot­ing up­wards from the burner, a cheer rang out as the bas­ket lifted right off the ground.

“How long un­til they get back?” I en­quired, watch­ing the bal­loon climb­ing higher and higher above us.

“Oh, they won’t be land­ing here,” Char­lie in­formed me. “Didn’t He­len ex­plain? You can’t re­ally steer a hot-air bal­loon, only take it up or down into dif­fer­ent air cur­rents. That’s where a lot of the skill comes in.”

“You can’t con­trol the speed, ei­ther,” David added. “The bal­loon can only travel as fast as the wind blows.” “Then how . . .?” “It’s our job to fol­low them. Have you locked up the van, An­gela? Come on, then, ev­ery­one, let’s go!

It turned out that Char­lie’s bat­tered old Land-Rover was the “chase ve­hi­cle” that day, and off we went down roads he seemed to know well, some of them scarcely more

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