European Parliament Elections Promotion
in UK by Balloon


Adrian Rayson - Balloon Crew to the Government...!


The European Parliament Elections take place in Europe (where else...?) on 10th June. In UK they are, very cleverly, being promoted by the use of a hot air balloon. At the official launch on Monday 19th April at Horseguards Parade in London the head of the European Parliament UK Office Mr. Chris Piening was quick to point out to the assembled gaggle of assorted press that the campaign was about using one's vote and NOT hot air! By the same token those of you wont to muse on the fact that your truly has at last found his true métier in the inflating of hot air balloons ("Just talk at it Adrian - it'll be inflated in no time...") can think again.

A couple of pictures follow. I might bung in a few more of the starting activities but playing, as I do, such a key role in the launch procedure I am not able to record the events for posterity. Those who have seen me playing my key role might have fallen into the trap of thinking that my main qualification for hauling on the rope (or Crown Line as we balloon crew-types call it) is my 20 kilos overweight. This misses the delicate finesse associated with the procedure, although were you to suggest that a 130 kg man would be better qualified for the job than me with my mere 95 kg I might have to agree.

Anyway, together with the balloon pilot David Usill, who's idea the whole balloon promotion thing is, I am about to go off for a 25 venue jaunt round Britain. Watch your news source. If your TV screen is graced with images of a bright blue balloon sporting the words "European Parliament Elections 10 June", "Use Your Vote" and twelve yellow stars then that will be us. Look for the chap on the end of the line which comes down from the top of the balloon, for we shall be tethered, you see, in market squares and car parks etc. and not flying as such, look for that chap looking cool in action, for that chap will be me. Yes, David Usill will be looking cool in action, too, flicking his long curling flame deep into the envelope, but this is about me okay...!

18th April - The London Marathon.  We put the balloon up in Wellington Barracks on Birdcage Walk. The space was a little tight and the opportunity to wrap either the Welsh Guards Regimental Building or the trees next to the perimeter fence was always there. It was a wonderful day, but, since I was on the Crown Line jousting with the balloon a lot of the time, I was not able to watch many of the runners. Those I did see, however, were most impressive. The front runners were wonderful by dint of their fitness, athleticism and awesome drive. Those who came behind, some of them far behind, lacked something in fitness and athleticism, perhaps, but know you this - they made up for it with their awesome drive. I'd not seen a big city marathon before, and maybe I still have not, but what I have seen is a triumph of the human spirit. I'm not sure that my hanging off a Crown Line for three hours contributed much to the overall event, but the balloon was there and was seen by many and I was part of that. In a very small way I guess I did my bit!

Picture: Adrian Rayson (crew) and David Usill (Pilot) discuss policy
on board the Window on the World balloon G-USIL

19th April - Press Day at Horseguards Parade, London. This all went well. We inflated the balloon at about 12.30 pm. I don't know on who's piece of video tape it appears or, therefore, on which particular three hour TV spectacular it will feature, but on tape somewhere there is an extended sequence of me wrestling with the balloon as it is cold-inflated by the fan (No! - motorised fan. We have more than one human-type fan, you know...). At 1.00 pm the speeches began. Picture: Judith and David Usill, the brains behind the European Parliament balloon campaign, on board Window on the World balloon G-USIL There was more than one speech going on at the same time... Chris Piening (see above) and the Minister for Europe did their thing, but, one has to say, their eloquence was a little dented by equal eloquence, albeit less well amplified, from the anti-European lobby who shouted most effectively from the sidelines. Constantly. Were I to dwell on them I'd talk of the 'Keep the Pound' banners and of people shouting that the European Parliament Elections UK Balloon campaign is burning up UK tax payers money. That's a view, and maybe not a bad one, but it fails to take on board that Britain has been in Europe since the mid-70s and, since we are in, we might just as well use the power of our vote. Hence the "Use Your Vote" campaign which, if I were politically-motivated, I'd agree is a very good pan-party-politics slogan.

29th April - University of East Anglia, Norwich. The day dawned bright and clear. Bright, clear and windy... "Got a nice bit of wind for your ballooning, then" quoth several interested bystanders. Flat calm would have been oh so much better. Still, look on the bright side. We were outside Suffolk and Norfolk Terraces at UEA, on a piece of grass which rolled gently down to the lake. The setting was perfect. Hunters Landrover of Norwich had provided us a second tether vehicle and the European Parliament 'battle bus' with its literature, pens and stickers was there too. And so were the press. BBC TV plus the local TV station, Anglia, and the widely read Eastern Daily Press newspaper amongst others. The wind seemed to be easing a little so we decided to perform for the press and the increasing number of UEA students who'd appeared at windows and balconies all over, to see the fun. In the event we did okay, but it was a bit lively to say the least. I was hanging on to the crown line but I was picked up bodily a couple of times. I need to be heavier it seems! The press got their pictures so David the pilot "ripped out" and we got the balloon down smartish. About 1 o'clock we had another go. The wind was gusting then, and coming from more than one direction. Ah well, we got the balloon up again, but after a couple of minutes of very animated hopping about (the balloon I meant, but actually it was very lively, again, on the crown line!) David ripped out again and we got the thing down. A group of students applauded enthusiastically. They turned out to be a group of Malay students from Kuala Lumpur. Thoroughly enjoyed the show but they will not be voting in the European Parliament Elections on 10th June, in fact! As to press coverage we were on Anglia TV and the BBC local service at 6 o'clock and we are in the Eastern Daily Press today, so job done.

2nd May - TruckFest '99, Peterborough. My goodness me... I mean you'd expect to see a lot of trucks at a TruckFest: stands to reason. But THAT number? And what trucks! There was a Volvo tractor unit there which was as big as a small house, I kid you not. We have got used to truckers having a bunk or two and a small TV etc. in the cab with them. This thing? If someone had said it had twelve bedrooms, all en suite, parking for six cars under cover and an olympic-sized heated pool, I'd've been ready to believe them! Anyway - I was working so did not get to see much of the displays hence nothing by way of outlandish pictures. Never mind. About six or seven balloons were expected at TruckFest '99; in the event we were the only one. We inflated the thing three times during the day and it all went rather well. Potential MEPs obviously see a short vertical flight of about thirty feet a campaign-boosting exercise, for there was no shortage of such types wanting to do it. There was talk of David, our pilot, being required to fly out of the show from the central arena, but it turns out we would have been competing with the ever-popular Jet Truck (big tractor unit with a jet engine - yes..., for propulsion). Now we can burn, make flame and a roaring noise, and jolly good it sounds too. But not up against the Jet Truck. We left happy with what we had done and with our eyes fastened on Hull and the Radio One Road Show!

3rd May - Hull and the Radio One Roadshow.  I must be getting old. Am I getting old? Be honest. No, not that honest... BBC Radio One do Roadshows throughout the summer. The one at Hull was the first one for '99 - and  we were there. So were 25,000 yoofs (or yoots, if you are a fan of My Cousin Vinny) of all sexes. It actually went very well. We had a pitch close to the stage and were up and down for several hours. And so was the balloon! Lots of big, big cheers went up. They might have been for us, but I doubt it. A local girl band were on at the time. A band which, I am told, look as good as they sounded that day and I think the awful truth must be faced. Girl power beat hot air power that afternoon! Notwithstanding, we had several hundred people watching what we were doing, at times many thousands, and the potential of the European Parliament Hot Air Balloon as an effective vehicle with which to promote the election on 10 June, was perfectly realised. More potential MEPs came for a spell in the elevated waving platform which is the balloon basket. We create a sterile area' of about 200 x200 feet around the balloon when we operate. It was difficult keeping 'people' out of it in Hull, and once the balloon came down we were invaded. No-one, save for a few cheeky 6 year olds, seemed particularly interested in the balloon and equipment which we were packing away as fast as we could. No, they wanted to play football. All around us. Even though, after a three hour wait, the Radio One Roadshow proper was about to begin. As we left, again happy with what we'd achieved, Radio One began a slick and exciting show and the Hull police were about to get busy...

5th May  - Albert Dock Car Park, Liverpool.  Those of you stoic enough to have stayed with this narrative will recall, perhaps, Norwich. Windy. Very windy. "Nice drop of wind for your ballooning, mate..." is not the right comment, although I appreciate to the non-ballooner (which actually includes me if ballooning is deemed to be the leaving of the ground, which it is...!) 'a nice drop if wind' is a reasonable thing to think necessary for a successful balloon. No. One needs some when actually in the air, of course, otherwise one goes nowhere. But with the EPHAB we are doing a tethering exercise, staying strapped to tether vehicles which we have with us, and for that we need flat calm. The Albert Dock complex in Liverpool is a fine place and always worth a visit. Its car park is huge (and free, incidentally!) and can be somewhat windswept. And it was, on Wednesday. Gale-swept, almost. In a bizarre way that was good. A marginal situation might have been tricky - should we have a go or not? No such question need be asked on Wednesday. However, just being there created something of an event. The UK Independence Party had about six elderly representatives in attendance. They spent the morning chuntering about wasting taxpayers money and the need to save the pound and generally got in the way. BBC television came down and shot a load of stuff. Look out, for instance, for a television spectacular called "Adrian Rayson Lifts the Fan into the Trailer". They shot it twice so they clearly wanted to get it right (or was that me they wanted to get it right?). Passing public suddenly found themselves required to pontificate on Europe on camera! No balloon but no washout either. Our balloon programme is weather-dependent and anything over 60 percent success is good. So far we have done seven events with only one non-inflate. On, on...

7th May - Council House Forecourt, Nottingham.  Not A council house, but THE Council House. Slap bang in the middle of Nottingham right outside the Council House. It was a grand site. Bloody small, but grand for all that! When we inflate the balloon the most crucial task (say I) is the operation of the Crown Line. I am on the Crown Line! The line comes down from the top of the balloon and as the balloon is being inflated (first with cold air from the afore-mentioned motorised fan and later with hot air from the burners) the Crown Line has to be kept taut. Indeed one has to pull like hell. In effect one is trying to stop the balloon from standing up even though that is what one is working towards. If it stands up too soon it looks like a wet tissue and is very difficult to bring up to pressure. So there we were on this small site in the middle of Nottingham. If you are Posh Spice, the Queen Mother, George Michael or PC49 you stop the traffic. Well, on Friday so did I! With the balloon neither up nor down I had to cross the road with m' Crown Line! Local Nottinghamians chuckled as a gust caught the balloon and purple veins stood up on my face and neck! The driver of the bus smiled as I indicated to him I'd hold him up for two minutes only. In the event the balloon scraped me across the road, dragged me through the perimeter fence which only an hour earlier I had put up to secure the area and left me doing a sort of Peter Pan thing before the assembled company. However, the balloon was up, David the skipper was happy and thus we had a result. There are no pictures of Nottingham here because for most of the time there the balloon was a bit 'nervous' and I calmed it with gentle use of my Crown Line (yes, okay - I hung off the thing like a self-propelled sandbag, but, hey, a chap can dream).

9th May - Symphony Hall, Birmingham.  With a low pressure system piling in from the west, and with gales in the Irish Sea, the likelihood of being able to inflate the balloon on the rather exposed square in front of Birmingham's Symphony Hall was slim. In the event the balloon stayed in the trailer. But never mind. The UK Independence Party were there in strength, as were the Labour Party, the Liberals and the Greens. The Conservative Party were not there because their campaign does not start, apparently, for another two weeks! Odd. Ah well. The man from the BBC was there with his camera to record the scene so everyone's presence was justified. Actually his arrival was rather amusing. The assembled crowd, the UKIP in particular, had paused their campaigning efforts, it being about lunch time. Banners were furled, leaflets no longer were being distributed and flasks of coffee, ham rolls and packets of fags were being passed around. Then the man from the Beeb hove into view. The first I knew of it was when the UKIP suddenly grabbed all their bits and pieces and formed a well-ordered group near the balloon trailer. The Labour lot quickly followed suit, thrusting their photogenic and politically-correct flag-waving black kids to the fore! The Greens, who's small but perfectly-formed stand had been 'personed' throughout smiled charmingly and looked, well... Green, really. Man from Beeb got what he said he wanted (I wonder what it was, for he was not around long) and left the milling politicos pregnant with anticipation ("When does it go out? Will he use me? Did I get my point across properly and will the viewers know the significance of my tie...?!")

We balloon types popped off home and now have a short break until Northampton on Thursday. Watch this space and thanks for dropping by.

13th May - Becketts Park, Northampton.  You are no doubt getting the hang of this now... low pressure, high winds - bad! High pressure, low winds - good! Thus it can be seen that low pressure puts high pressure on us, the balloon team. In truth it puts high pressure on David, the pilot. As lowly crew I am too far from the epicentre of performance-related angst to be effected by such things... ha, bloody ha! No pictures from Northampton for it was windy and for most of the time there was little to photograph. However, not wanting the Birmingham experience to perform in Northampton, David took an "old soldier's" view (or is that old airman's? - yes airman, in fact) and said we'd 'have a go...' The Home Secretary has a view on Have a Go Heroes, of course...! He'd've been proud, even though he'd've had to explain our actions at the dispatch box the next day. With the trees in the park around us performing a jazz ballet by an up and coming young choreographer we pumped up the balloon and inflated her. The increasingly-large group of political-types and would be same were not as impressed as they would have been had they known the effort going into this. When the balloon and David were gripped by 'false lift' and shot into the air to the end of some very taught tethers, they thought it was part of the show. When David burned gas like mad to sustain the height but was still slammed back into the ground with bone-crunching force they were strutting about like so many peacocks because the man from the Beeb was 'just parking his car...'. For three long minutes David was the ballooning equivalent of El Cordobes and I the hapless bullring clown who tries to distract the bull! Eventually the balloon did a spectacular impression of Bangkok's reclining Buddha. Horizontals and verticals changed places and clearly things had to stop. So they did. Stirring stuff indeed. The man from the Beeb took longer than expected to park his car...!

15th May - Guildhall Square, Southampton.  You may recall the site in Nottingham. It was small. Well we thought it was until we came to the site in Southampton... Never mind. The close proximity of the buildings actually provided a good windbreak, for there was, dear reader, wind in Southampton also. Now I have sailed out of Southampton on many occasions, when I asked for a good blow. It was a curious feeling to raise my eyes skyward and ask for a dead calm. Imagine the scene: "Excuse me God." "Yes, Peter..."  "That Rayson fellow's in Southampton and is mentioning the wind again." "Well, what's wrong with it, Peter? Steady Force 4 from the south west blowing - just what he always wants. I've programmed it to blow all day." "Yes, God, sir, but things have changed and he now wants a dead calm...." "Oh, my hat. I'll turn the fan off but it takes a couple of hours to blow through... I'll have to keep an eye on Rayson: imagine if he ever became a farmer...!"  We were up for about two and half hours in Southampton and were on both the BBC and Meridian TV. Lots of people took propaganda material from the 'battle bus' and all in all Southampton was a good gig. I and then we (David, Judith and self) were roundly entertained by the Goyder family, to whom many thanks. Only one picture, post event. No excuse - I forgot to take any!

17th May - The Hoe, Plymouth.  A wonderful location. The mighty and magnificent Royal Navy War Memorial, the Memorial to RAF personnel, the Drake Memorial and the maritime vista. A wonderful location. Spoiled only by one thing. A wind of a steady 40 knots (about 45 miles an hour in old money) and gusts of 50 knots could only mean one thing. No balloon. At least the situation was not Norwich/Nottingham marginal (which actually means over the margin...) so there was no 'shall we, shan't we' talk. Several campaigners turned up. I admired the chap who started to set up his speaker-backdrop display board. He got the frame together and was about to mount the poster thing upon it when the frame set off across the Hoe at a fair lick. Rather like running before a storm at sea under bare poles.  Had he rigged his poster in the very lively nor-easter I fancy it might have been in Rio de Janeiro by now! There was absolutely nothing we could do. The battle bus went into town and drummed up a bit of trade; David and I went to Bristol to check out what proved to be a lovely site (and sight, in fact...)

18th May - College Green, Bristol.  What a delightful place. The intriguing Cathedral to one side, the fine-looking City Hall behind. We'd look magnificent there and attract much media. Alas and alack the wind that had ravaged us in Plymouth was not finished with us. Tantalizingly calm at times we were under much pressure to do something... But it is to the top of trees one must look. The 'false lift' of Northampton and abroad is caused by wind whipping across the top of the balloon causing a localised low pressure system into which the high pressure system of the balloon (Thank you Prof. Mangus Pike - we'll let you know...) and that happens 90 feet up, not down where we are... So, again, no balloon. No, no - don't switch channels: Bristol had much to offer, it transpires! The UK Independence Party, who have followed us (note careful non-use of the word 'dogged') around the country were there again. This time they had a logo'd lorry complete with PA system into which they cried unconvincing slogans. To keep the reality quotient alive, however, they also had their strange collection of hand-written posters. They are committed and fervent and I for one would defend their right to campaign, but why do they have to make such an ALLEGED (the word alleged appears on the not-taken advice of my lawyer) botch of their message. They laid into me for wearing a Euro sweatshirt... "But I'm just the balloon crew," quoth I! Anyway, I have to be a bit careful, perhaps, about what I say. I will not, therefore, be saying that we should thank the UKIP for being an amusing foil to the serious business of Euro-politics. Neither will I be saying, certainly not, that their campaigners are mainly crusty and somewhat cantankerous older people and very young people (grandchildren?). It would be wrong to speculate that the youngsters have not a clue about the implications of the banners that they are carrying for their older folk. No, I won't be musing on any of that. Pity. But enough of them for by Jimminy, there is much better fun to be had just arriving down the street... To the sound of whistles and loud hurrahs a troupe, there is no other word, of scantily-clad young ladies sashayed  into view and onto College Green. I went to find out. 'Distressed' blouses, laddered stockings and outlandish makeup was the order of the day. These sixteen year olds had just finished 'mocks', now had a bit of time off and then were going into exams proper. For them structured school was over for a long time, and they were out to enjoy it. There must have been fifty or sixty of them. Clifton High, if you're wondering... I offered to take a picture or two. "Great," they said, "hang on - we'll just hide the porn..."  I know what they meant and you never will! I mentioned that the Beeb were coming plus some snappers from local rags various. The ladies, for whatever else they were, they were young ladies, were great - real excitement, real enthusiasm. A breath of fresh air. And when the Beeb came they did their stuff and got on BBC TV. And on HTV! And so did we. Okay, so we had no balloon but we had cameramen and at 6.30 pm the region was blessed with the "Adrian Rayson Puts not One but Two Coils of Rope into the Trailer Show..." This goes well with the 'Fan' show from Liverpool and the makings of a mini-series are in place...! Seriously, David was put under pressure to do something which would have been a bad idea. The day was deemed a media disaster but then in the evening we got 5 minutes on the BBC and 4 minutes on HTV. And good stuff too - no 'Fails to Take Off' nonsense which we have to endure from uninspired subbies! So not a disaster after all. A cynic might turn a phrase using the words 'skin' and 'teeth' and they might be right, but it is media we're after and media we got. At any price? No: the Adrian Rayson Removes Clothing To The Delight of No-one Show will never be shot, let alone aired!

19th May - City Hall Lawn, Cardiff.  We really needed to get it up in Wales and furtive calls to Viagra suppliers in the back of Private Eye would do no good. Wales - Seven Estuary makes a big difference! Cardiff is a fine city and the City Hall Lawn was another magnificent site. And, praise be..., the weather was cloudy but calm. By 8.30 am we were ready to go. By 9.00 am the man from the Beeb had arrived and by 9.05 am he was 'canning' stuff of David and self working like a well-oiled machine. The balloon was up, tethered, rising gently up and down on extended lines and all in all doing exactly what it says on the tin! Marvellous. The sound of rushing wind was not actually the wind but self and pilot sighing with relief. And from then on it all went like clockwork. Initially we stayed inflated for some three and a half hours. Various Euro politicians came and posed with the balloon, some being taken for a ride by one of the electorate, and those at the 'battle bus' handed out leaflets, pens and other propaganda. European Parliament Elections 10th June - Use Your Vote. That's the message in case any of you are loosing the plot here! We broke for lunch. Well, no, David and I did not break for lunch, but others did, thus we paused in our operations. I mean there is not much point in pushing forward the campaign if one's supply lines have gone to lunch, is there? After lunch, and with a VIP visit in the offing, we slung the balloon skyward once again. A bit later we were told that VIP was now unlikely to arrive (this being given to us as 'new' information, although the cynical ones amongst us reckoned this was very old information...) but could we stay up anyway, just in case? Male libido and tethered ballooning are not so far apart, actually. One cannot just order these things...! Given the right conditions, yes, but things can change. In the event we stayed up 'til quarter past three. By then not only was there no sign of the VIP but even the ubiquitous UKIP had gone home. As for us, we'd used all our fuel. If we'd stayed up any longer I'd have been chopping down trees for logs and setting up a nice pot-bellied stove in the basket! Success. A great success. Nearly 6 hours of tethering and contented faces all round (including the face of the senior Euro bureaucrat who is in charge of the people who are in charge of us and who turned up in Cardiff but who was not, apparently, a VIP!).

21st May - Hereford.  I was not there but I understand Hereford was a case of suddenly nothing happened. David the pilot was as keen as always to shove the balloon up in near-impossible conditions. This time, however, the conditions were not like that. This time the conditions were impossible. That I cannot now recall, sitting writing this stuff, what David said about Hereford is testament to its low key aspect. There had been talk of very lively campaigners slithering out of the woodwork to demand something akin to the cancelling of the monetary system, a return to bartering, plus a pulling up of the gangplank and a sailing of the good ship 'Albion' into waters well clear of Spanish fishermen and French lorry drivers, but in the event they kept a low profile. Pity: they make an interesting change to 'normal' politics.

23rd May - Stoke on Trent. Nice location this one. Right outside the Victoria Hall in Stoke centre. Victoria Hall was built with EU money so it was highly appropriate that the European Parliament Balloon be there. The Victoria Hall is one of those catch-all halls where people come to dance, put on plays, create music and generally art about. On the day we were there Malcolm from Stoke City Council had laid on Irish dancers (although whether they were Irish people dancing or English people doing Irish dancing I did not establish), country bands and a troupe of drummers. All these were excellent and entertained the assembled throng of quasi-politicos through the morning and afternoon. Which was good because we were unable to... Stoke is about the highest city centre in UK and when the wind blows, it blows. It blew. Hard... We got the basket out of the trailer and rigged the burners etc. but there was no chance of getting the balloon up. However, we still got some telly out of it! Miss BBC Reporter went out of her way to make people say on camera that the day had been a failure, and she herself failed. The five minute piece they ran on TV that night had generic shots of the balloon flying intercut with shots of the basket in the car park being buffeted by high winds. The usual 'failed to take off' phrase was hawked about again but, and this is the nub of the thing, one way and another they spent five minutes on BBC TV talking about the European Parliament elections on 10th June. Hey - job done! That night, and for no particular reason, I was led astray in a pub by a man who shall remain nameless but for ease of reference I shall call Colin Hoy. That's COLIN HOY - graduate psychologist and some-time European Parliament van driver! Drink was taken. We had a bit of a chuckle when we discovered he'd lost his supper some time in the night, but the laugh was on me when I had to adorn a grassy knoll beside a roundabout as we left Stoke. No doubt I'd eaten a dodgy prawn the night before. That must have been it. I can't recall so doing but then anything after about 10 pm that night is beyond my recall anyway.

25th May - Caernarfon. What a huge pleasure to be in North Wales! We, that is David, Colin who by now had taken to following us about in convoy, and self, stayed in a pub owned by a ballooning friend of David's. Sadly he was away but we made full use of the facilities and went for a bracing walk along the beach. In Caernafon we were to tether the balloon in the car park at the foot of the castle walls. To put no too finer point on it we needed a result here. We're not good at failure and whilst the balloon draws a crowd of some sort whether up or down obviously if one's job is to get the thing up then one has not done very well if the balloon has not gone up. Because no-one remembers the wind, only that the balloon did not get up... Well in Caernafon it did! It was rather windy but in a gung-ho 'nothing on the clock but the maker's name...' spirit David had a go. It was a bit damned lively and if the BBC man, who was there getting it all down, had his mike turned on he'd have had an abstract commentary from David as to how it was going. David can be very economical with words. This time he only used one - but he used it often! "SSSSSSSShhhhhiiiiiiiiittttttttt". I ran around taking pictures, but with David's camera, not my digital one, so, unfortunately I have nothing to show you. I've just discovered this and find myself using David's favourite word!

26th May - Manchester. Well not really Manchester, perhaps. Heaton Hall is closer to Bury than Manchester but since Manchester was completely gripped by UEFA Cup fever it did us little harm to be out a bit. Curious site. At first it looked like we would not be able to do anything - nowhere to stick the balloon up. Then, on my way back from having a pee (no, you don't need to know this, but there is a human story behind the balloon thing and talking of having a pee opens a small door to that, perhaps...!), I happened upon the front of Heaton Hall. There was a small open area in front of the colonnade. David agreed we could get the balloon up there at a pinch, so next day we set about cheating the location and the elements. In getting the balloon up we broke most of our own rules. We avoid tethering to flora or, in fact, to anything that isn't a vehicle. That day we were tethered to two vehicles, but also two trees and a Grade Two list building! The BBC were late arriving due to a light aircraft crash somewhere and when they got there we'd pulled the balloon down due to over-lively weather. Sense of Humour Failure! The mood was very much "But We Are The BBC"... Got quite testy for a time and toys were being thrown out of prams all abouts. Soon, thankfully, the person who is bigger than the BBC, us and everything else, decided to turn the fan off. The wind dropped, we popped the balloon back up and the BBC got what they wanted. Which was a lot, it turned out... Senior Beeb political reporter (whose name I wish I could remember) did several 'intros' for different programmes which are due to go out in the few days before the election and eventually said that he thought the balloon the best political spend he had ever come across and would be prepared to say so in writing. He will be saying so in writing because David does not let a moment like that pass!

27th May - Leeds. Good gig this one. Everything was right. We were in a car park at the Crown Point Shopping Centre thus were able to do our thing before a crowd of would-be shoppers. Sunshine, not much wind, a four point tether and all was well in the world of Eee Pee Promo. I got my camera out as you can see and there is not much else to talk about.... Did you see the game? Why they didn't play Sherringham from the start I just don't know. And that Andy Cole? I'd start looking if I were him. He's okay at club level but he can't play the big game. No I know I can't play like 'im but I'm got tryin' tah, am I...?  35 thousand a week. Best defender Man U had was the bleedin' woodwork on the goal. 'ere... make mine a triple!

29th May - Belfast.  David returned to London from Leeds to attend a friend's funeral. Luckily the couple of days we had to get to Belfast made this possible. I took his Range Rover with balloon trailer on the back, plus a couple of hundred quid for 'contingencies' (love that, don't you? I think it was Wellington whose Napoleonic accounts ran something like this: "1,000 guineas for laundry and tailoring of uniforms and other clothing, 2,000 guineas for personal requirements and 1,400,000 guineas for war sundries and contingencies!") and set off for Belfast via a night stop in Dumfries (for which read a Travelodge on the Dumfries by-pass...). We, being the man Colin and self, went across on the ferry from Stranraer. Now I am not a ferry fan. It seems to me that on a ferry one is cooped up with a vast number of people with whom one'd prefer not to be cooped, half of whom are boisterous kids apparently out of parental control. The best thing about a ferry journey is getting off the damned thing, so I am delighted to say that Stena Line have a nifty thing going on the Stranraer - Belfast route. Called an HSS, which might stand for High Speed Ship, but I am not sure, it is a jet-powered catamaran capable of very high speeds. It does the crossing to Belfast in under two hours. This, as far as I am concerned, makes it marvellous!  Belfast had a TasteFest on whilst we were there and Colin and I enjoyed bits of food from the stalls there, plus a few cleansing ales at the Heineken tent. There were a couple of 'tribute' bands playing... Abba (something) were not bad but Blondie Experience (or something) were excellent. All in all a good time was had. Indeed Colin chose to celebrate his enjoyment well into the night. I went to bed but I got this story from him in the morning - at some stage he woke up rather uncomfortable and not at all happy with the appointments in his room. A room that was too damned small to boot. It seems he'd fallen asleep in the Gents toilet next to the bar and, in the small hours, slunk off, rather sheepishly, to the comfortable and well-appointed room he'd foolishly shunned! David flew in on Saturday morning for a 'gig' in the afternoon. Gusting winds made the thing unlikely. Pity - for we had made quite some effort to get to Belfast, and we would not get another chance. Clearly this was noted by the man upstairs for, lo and behold, the wind dropped for a couple of hours and we enjoyed a very successful tether in the Lower Botanical Gardens. The day was rounded off with a couple of drinks (a couple, really!) in The Crown Inn in Belfast, the only pub owned and run by the National Trust. Go there, if you can, it is worth the visit. Particular thanks go to Mark Ashby of Belfast City Council who was enthusiastic and helpful in his support.

31st May - Dumfries.  Scotland, Scotland. There is something about Scotland. Were I a Scot (and I am not, I am English) I'd walk tall indeed. A proud band living in a fine land, the Scots. It was good to be there again. (Will this do, Suzi?!). The town of Dumfries is charming, but the site we were to go, in a small park next to the Robert Burns Museum ("My love is like a red, red rose....") was a tad too small for anything but the calmest of days. We went elsewhere. In fact we were nearly four miles outside the town at the Dumfries and Galloway Technical College. At first this might have seemed damned stupid, but in reality the college is on the edge of a large housing estate, close also to an industrial estate and the Aeronautical Museum and, and here's the real point, the whole area, including the Technical College itself, has received considerable funding from the European Union. Indeed the college has an EU plate drilled to the wall next the front door. Joy of joys the day dawned flat calm. Indeed had it been any more clam it would have been sucking rather than blowing! We tethered the balloon, which was better behaved than at any other time on the Tour so far and were able to take the assembled groups of MEPs and potential MEPs up to a height of some 90 feet, rather more than we'd done in the past. Fool that I am, and against my better judgement but realising I would have to do it sometime and this calm day was the best chance I'd get, I got into the basket. I'm just not good with heights, and whilst David's protestations that I'd be all right had a loud ring of truth about them, to my way of twisted thinking we were both about to die! Clearly either the basket was going to become detached from the balloon or the bottom of the basket (the one David was jumping on to demonstrate how secure it was!) was going to drop out.  I have sailed around the world, past Cape Horn and through the Southern Ocean from East to West, but I am not good with heights. I have little trouble with 'real' flying and will, perhaps, have a go at free-flying in the balloon. But to be 90 feet up yet tethered to the ground strikes me as damned silly and I shall not be doing it again!!

2nd June - Edinburgh.  A Scottish friend of mine says that the creation of the Scottish Parliament is but a first step which one day will see Immigration and Customs posts at the border with England. Isn't that right, Julie?! Well, as far as I am concerned that would be fine. Scotland is a different country and Edinburgh is a fine capital city. We tethered the balloon at The Meadows. The castle was out of view but was actually just behind the trees, and the backdrop was Arthur's Seat. Again rather windy, but, hey, we can do windy these days! A large gaggle of MEPs and potential members of the species turned up, including the ubiquitous UKIP man. He'd been in Dumfries also and seemed to be the UKIP's sole representative effort in Scotland. He carried the curious hand-drawn placard which seems to have become the UKIP trademark, and furtively shoved crumpled leaflets into reluctant hands, from a store he kept stowed in the pockets of his closely-buttoned tweed jacket. It was good to see him. We'd missed the UKIP in both Leeds and Belfast, and we like to keep our little band, and its quirky tableau, intact!

INTERLUDE - Ladies and Gentlemen, for one night only, I give you the Barbecue at Headshaw Show! En route from Edinburgh to Gateshead we chose to travel down the A7 and spend a night at Headshaw Farm Cottages. Like the wilderness land of south-west Tasmania Headshaw Farm is a precious jewel in the terrestrial crown. The conundrum is, should one rave about it to the world or keep quiet about it and selfishly furtle up there when in need of rest and relaxation? My sister Felicity found the place a few years ago and, together with her husband Sir Chay Blyth, is an annual visitor. Headshaw Farm is a 900 acre hill farm which also has a 17 acre fishing loch. It is home to the Hunter family and the farm and its cottages are run by the very wonderful Mrs. Nancy Hunter. We called in there on the night of 2nd June. We walked to the top of the hill in driving rain and stood looking out over the loch. To heighten the already sensuous experience we had a glass or two of Scotland's finest! Later we came down to enjoy a barbecue. I am told it was great. Personally, after a few more glasses of Scotland's finest, I have trouble recalling much. Nancy joined us and all in all it was great to be there. Email Nancy Hunter on to ask about availability. Mention my name. It won't help but mention it anyway, why not!

3rd June - Gateshead.  'Twas windy... You know the form by now. We turn up at the site and the wind is blowing old boots. It really seemed like we would do nothing in Gateshead. David and I had decided to to push off down to London that night, so, had we been weak, we might have written Gateshead off early and got on the road south. To David's great credit, and in order to maintain our now-quite-long run of successes, he was keen to stick it out. We were in the car park of ASDA and an area had been set out for us using upturned trolleys! ASDA is a strange place... Well, maybe it isn't, but it seemed a bit odd to me. Cheap, certainly, but when they make what I would be inclined to call 'Staff Announcements' (you know - "Staff announcement - Mrs. Harries to the vegetable display, please.... Mr. Brown to till 4 please...", that sort of thing...), they call them "Colleague Announcements". I suppose I know why they do it, and I understand Archie Norman is always ready to stack a few shelves, but I think man is a hierarchical animal and copes well with that. Perhaps all animals are equal, but maybe some are more equal than others and maybe all us animals rub along just fine. Or not. Enough of this. Hey - what is this? For no reason at all, the wind dropped. We got the balloon up for as couple of hours and the usual gang of MEPs climbed in for a ride up and down. More to the point the man from the BBC, who had been waiting to see if we would do anything, got a load of good stuff and was delighted. The light was bad so the pictures are not good, but, heck, chalk up another one for the good guys! David and I packed the balloon away and headed south. For the first time David, who needs major surgery to get him out from behind the wheel, shared the driving. The journey down took about 6 hours and we were back in London by about midnight-thirty. I was back home in Henley by about 1-30 am and all in all we'd had a good day!
7th June - Maidstone.  Maidstone, Maidstone.... What can one say about Maidstone that has not already been said? Er.... We turned up at Mote Park at just after 7 in the morning to find angry clouds threatening rain from above and wind gusting strongly. "Ha," we said to the angry clouds and the threatening rain, "you're too late - we've just driven through you lot on the way down the M20." So we hung about waiting to see if things would get better. A gaggle of Labour (or is that New Labour...?) potential MEPs arrived and so did a select band of UK Independence Party activists. They hoisted a St. George Cross flag on their camper van which they adorned with posters calling for the UK to come out of Europe etc. etc. They are a feisty lot. Their camper van... No, no, of course it wasn't a VW camper van: what an easy target for Euro fun that would have made. It was a fine British camper van, surely. Well, no, actually - it was a FIAT camper van!  I wonder if they liked our tether vehicles. Land Rover dealers could not come up with vehicles for the morning so I telephoned the local Mercedes agent. As with other Mercedes agents we have talked to at short notice around the UK, they saw the point immediately and were pleased to join in. "We'll bring our Brands Hatch Pace Car," they said, and did. And they brought a swanky 320 soft-top job. We never did get the balloon up but we pressed a few buttons on the cars. David drove both of them, each about 100 metres, half of which was across grass, and declared, without a hint of irony, after what was possibly not a 'long term test',  that the C180 seemed a bit under powered and the CLK320 was slightly slow off the mark... Jeremy Clarkson - sharpen up your act; you can be replaced! It was my birthday that day and it had been the EP Office's Lynne's birthday on Saturday 5th so we had a clinch by way of mutual celebration! And what of Colin? He became a spaceman. He got into orbit without trouble but re-entry was a bit of an ordeal, I understand. I'm glad he did re-enter, however. He and David kindly bought me a birthday lunch. Oh? 44, actually. I should know better...

8th June - National Maritime Museum, Greenwich.  What a fine site. Indeed a fine sight too. Right beside the newly-reopened National Maritime Museum, with the Royal Obervatory to our backs and the Royal Naval College before us. And from across the river the mighty Canary Wharf Tower looked down upon the scene. We thought the Greenwich Meridian ran through the point where we put the balloon basket, but I found out later it actually runs a tad to the east, but never mind. To have the European Parliament Elections Promotional Balloon at the National Maritime Museum was a masterful stroke. Who says the British are apathetic about Europe? I think not. Britain has been a leading force in Europe for hundreds of years.... The National Maritime Museum reminds us of several defining British European moments, viz:
1588 - The Spanish Armada; 1805 - The Battle of Trafalgar; 1916 - The Battle of Jutland.
Maybe in deference to the fine Cutty Sark who sits proudly just around the corner from where we were, it was windy. Too, windy, really, but as you have now come to realise David, and thus me, are ready to have a go if we possibly can. We had a go...  David will be stiff tomorrow. Several times false lift sucked him into the air and back down onto the lawn so fast that his ribs swapped beds for a few minutes. The last time was different and left him winded and gasping. On the sidelines we all agreed he did a very good 'stranded goldfish'. Most people think this is just a question of opening and closing one's mouth silently but today David showed how much more realistic it is if one's eyes bulge and one's face reddens. Does Hughie Green still do 'Opportunity Knocks'?  No time for pictures when the balloon was up, and  I forgot to take any after that. Tell you what - have a couple of links. One to the National Maritime Museum and one to the Royal Navy.


9th June - Spring Gardens, Vauxhall, London.  Spring Gardens: a veritable oasis on the south bank of the River Thames. In what, frankly, is not the most salubrious area of London there is a green sward. It is home to the remarkable Vauxhall City Farm and to The London Balloon, "Big Bob" to those so familiar (I am so in awe of the thing I still call it "Mr. Balloon"!). On Spring Gardens' periphery there is a cafe-bar called The Lavender and around the corner, although I did not get there because I was working, of course!, there is a Portuguese patisserie which is, I am told by those of our party who went there, quite superb (the 'sticky' I was brought from there certainly was). Into this oasis we brought the European Parliament Elections Promotional Balloon. What a day.... what a day! How many times have I written here that the day was windy, oh so windy, but we had a go and for a few minutes the balloon defied the elements to hiss its message to the assembled company? Many times, I know, I write this stuff! On Wednesday 9th June there was only a hint of wind at Spring Gardens. We put the balloon up in a small 'amphitheatre' surrounded by trees. and within good photography distance of "Big Bob". And they came... Not the potential MEPs and  their contingents but the media. Robin Oakley of the BBC Nine O'clock News was there, Michael Brunsen of the ITV 6-30 pm News, Carlton came, a couple of others (he slips in being blasé...!) came and TF1 of France came. They'd been looking for evidence of British promotion of the EP Elections and could only find us! Radio was there as well. You'd think a hot air balloon would not make very good radio, but no; the lady from Greater London Radio was very happy to climb into the basket, go up to 50 feet and interview Chris Piening, Head of the EP Office in London, with the sound of the burners roaring in the background. And "Big Bob" played a major part. The owner kindly authorised rides for The Press, gratis, so that they could tower 400 feet above the scene and get shots of the EP Balloon with the River Thames and the Houses of Parliament in the background. We were up for hours (no - not me: I did all that in Dumfries and very dumb it was too!) and had to send out for more gas. Wonderful stuff and a huge fillip for David and me as we were sorry to loose Maidstone and, in particular, Greenwich. Job done! Postscript: we made the television news several times on both the BBC and commercial stations. Good - bloody good... Aside from all that let me urge you to go to Vauxhall City Farm. At the farm there are a host of animals available for city kids to go and get to know and, later, I suppose, to work with. Meet Lauren, pictured. She is a youngster working at the farm. I took a picture of the balloons with some farm animals in the foreground. Lauren reckoned she was in it too. "Excuse me," she said, coming over, "why j'yah take me picture...?" "Ah," I said. "Sorry - I was actually taking a picture of the balloons and you were just sort of in it, if you were. However, I can take another if you do not want to be in it..." "No, no," she exclaimed, "I do want to be in it. What's it for? Is it for a book or somefing...?" So I explained we'd been taking the balloon round the UK and that I write some stuff on the Internet about it. I suggested that, if she like, I take a better picture of her and put in on the Internet. "Yeah...!" So meet Lauren. As we parted I heard her yell across to someone " 'ere - I'm gonna be on the Innernet....!"

10th June - Spring Gardens for a second day.  Follow that... Tricky. We were not used to going back for a second date at a location. When we arrived we were not arrested and we were not told to "Sod Off" and never darken the doors of the place again. So we didn't! There was a bit of wind, but we established a four point tether using the convenient trees which stood around the site and greeted the Reuters TV crew who'd arrived. What? Yup - on today's menu was to be Reuters, Channel Five and Sky News. The desire to cry "you should have been here yesterday" was almost overwhelming but that would have sounded cocky and we might be many things but I like to think we are not cocky. It worked. We toasted the cameraman: he stood inside the envelope as David shot hot flames past him and the balloon stood up. It was magnificent. It did get a bit hairy at one stage as one of an increasing number of gusts came though. Not hairy for me, of course. I'm on 'terra firma' and can stand looking nonchalant as David is hauled about the sky by false lift. Hell, they're my knots holding him in place and they're holding.... Anyway we shortened the tethers and stayed up for another hour or so. Heck this is a bit dry, isn't it? Okay - A horse walks into a bar and the barman says 'Hey, why the long face...?'! What do you call a fish with no eye? Fsh. Channel Five never showed, but then only half the country can get them (a half that does not include me...) and Sky said they were short of crews but would take a feed off Reuters anyway. Colin and Judith took a trip in "Big Bob" and Colin got the aerial pictures shown here, for which I thank him. It's the ol' height thing again - I fear Big Bob and I will never enjoy a full relationship! Then it was time to finish. We pulled the balloon down without incident and packed it away. Suddenly it was all over. And is...

If you've been reading this I thank you for taking an interest in our exploits. If you have not been reading this you are unlikely to be reading this, so please ignore it. However in order to respond to the instruction to ignore it you will have to have read it, thus ignoring the instruction, not the text. Get me out of here...!


Coming Up: David and I are talking about doing more together. Otherewise, I shall be conning an Edwardian launch at Marlow Regatta on 19th June and after that I expect I shall be on a project sponsored by the Government; a project called Job Seekers Allowance...

The full schedule of the European Parliament Elections Pomotional Hot Air Balloon Tour
of UK
looked like this:

 Sunday     18-Apr-99     London
 Monday     19-Apr-99     London
Thursday     29-Apr-99     Norwich
Sunday     2-May-99     Peterborough
Monday     3-May-99     Hull
Wednesday     5-May-99     Liverpool
Friday     7-May-99     Nottingham
Sunday     9-May-99     Birmingham
Thursday     13-May-99     Northampton
Saturday     15-May-99     Southampton
Monday      17-May-99     Plymouth
Tuesday     18-May-99     Bristol
Wednesday     19-May-99     Cardiff
Friday     21-May-99     Hereford
Sunday     23-May-99     Stoke on Trent
Tuesday     25-May-99     Caernarfon
Wednesday     26-May-99     Manchester
Thursday     27-May-99     Leeds
Saturday     29-May-99     Belfast
Monday     31-May-99     Dumfries
Wednesday     2-Jun-99     Edinburgh
Thursday     3-Jun-99     Gateshead
Monday     7-Jun-99     Maidstone
Tuesday     8-Jun-99     Greenwich
Wednesday     9-Jun-99      London
Thursday      10-Jun-99      London


If you come looking for us, we are the ones with the balloon, but we've finished now!