Today I found a bunch of old newspaper cuttings kept by my maternal grandmother, mostly about dad. She didn’t like him much on the surface but there was a strange love running under. She was a year older than he was and he was married to her daughter.
Despite traditional animosity, she collected the cuttings diligently – all about this unusual human who swept off with her daughter and seemed to spend the best part of his life steering around in anything from powerboats to vintage Bentleys to hot air balloons while somehow having time to help Max and I become people. I’m glad she kept them. I haven’t gone through them yet but I will – it’s a good time for it. It’s a time of year when I think about them a great deal – late March. We are coming up to the shared anniversary of their respective deaths, years apart.
I remember the balloon across the Alps thing in the article very well from my childhood.
I was at boarding school when he and his friend Gunter were in the air. Mrs Beale the art teacher got us all to paint our parents and it was a strong image in my head. I was eight. Balloons are cool. I remember the painting because dad loved it and kept it. I made a little stick man in a massive colorful balloon over some mountains. There was a sun and he had both of his arms up with joy. I got into trouble because I didn’t paint people in a garden holding hands. “You’re supposed to paint a parent!” “That’s my daddy, he’s crossing The Alps in a hot air balloon!” “Now what have we told you about your overactive imagination.”
I’d do it tomorrow like a shot, even though I’d probably drop the thing into the side of a mountain. Bring me a balloon and a frozen lake and I’ll give it a go anyway. Didn’t they use large bottles of booze as ballast? Sign me up. Come with me. Let’s get the hell out of here in a sodding great balloon with a bat on the side of it and go to Imaginationland where the trees and flowers look beautiful all the time ha ha.
Over 50 years ago now, dad and Keith from the article tried to race from London to Sydney in a vintage racing Bentley with a supercharger that steered from the rear. They drove it off the road in Afghanistan, but eventually rolled it into Bombay from whence they were supposed to get a specific highly monitored ferry to Perth (no repairs) before the Australia leg of what was then the inaugural Daily Express London to Sydney Marathon. They missed the boat. No surprises really – they weren’t in it to win it. They were in it to try and do it in a ridiculous but beautiful car. “Bombay Bound” was the title of a painting they had done of it. I’m lucky he didn’t get killed before I was born really. It was a different age. I’d give my eye teeth to drive from London to Bombay in that car or in one like it. It would probably make a great documentary – a journey of the soul and reconnection with my dead father. I’m not famous enough to get the doc made yet. Plus I’d get shot in the head in Afghanistan. But it’s on the list for if I get that call from Spielberg with, perhaps, an adjusted route to avoid the warzones…