Day 11 - Tuesday 1st

Some doubt on whether a launch from the hotel grounds will take us over the Bridge, so we move over to the other side of the river and congregate in a stadium used for dog racing (our best guess). The flags on the stands of the market next door flutter out, well, let's be honest, stream out horizontally - not a good sign for a gentle ride. We rig, making sure that the quick release safety rope is in place as it looks as if we're going to need it. Humbug rolls and bucks wildly, but is nominally upright. This takes us back a bit to our Nationals days, when conditions like this were normal and we spent more time wearing crash helmets than sunglasses. Competition ballooning was always a more macho sport than pleasure ballooning. Wonder if we can still hack it?

Checks done, balloon hot, rip tested, second burner online, catch the pendulum with a couple of good burns, HANDS ON!, release is bar tight, check all clear above and behind, release armed, wait for the next swing, HANDS OFF & RELEASE! And we're away like a rocket. 10 knots on the GPS already at 50 feet, that's OK. It's all so exciting that we are only momentarily disappointed to find that we have already passed the bridge and that it would not have been possible to get there with this wind direction and launch site. Never mind, this is a suburban flight at roof and television ariel height and there is plenty to occupy us. As things settle, the speed slows to 9, 8, then 7 knots. (Per hour, I add sotto voce, for Norman's benefit. I don't know why he always rises to that one).

The small station and marshalling yard is off to the left of track and we can spot two steam engines and the locomotive and carriages used in last night's performance. By the time we reach the outskirts we are down to 3 knots and our starting track of 125 degrees has backed to 52 degrees, which is quite a shift owing to the effect of the rising sun. We land in some rough ground and Norman repeats his trick of flying on to the pickup. We are greeted by a Thai, who compliments Norman on his landing, telling us that he also is a balloon pilot and that he knows Yutakit. This seems quite a coincidence as it s only a few years since private flying was illegal here and Yutakit himself is a somewhat rare animal.

Over breakfast, Yutakit tells me a strange story about this person. Coming from a wealthy family, he fancied hot-air ballooning and bought one, hiring an instructor to teach him. This individual lived in Hong Kong, which isn't big or open enough for ballooning and so spent his time tethering, rather than free-flying. On one such flight the instructor breaks a leg and our hero an arm. When the bones have knitted and the instructor pushed off back home, hero buys a book on ballooning and decides to teach himself, succeeding not only in setting fire to and destroying a 50 acre sugar-cane plantation, but also the balloon. Giving up on ballooning, he buys a microlight and puts another instructor in hospital with compound fractures and damages his own spine. Known locally as Mad Sam, it is believed, or at least hoped, that he has twigged that if he wants to fly again he buys a ticket like everyone else who possesses brick-like qualities. It's a nice illustration of the effects of combining too much money with a lack of ability and common sense.

The noodle break over, we visit the Commonwealth War Graves Commission to see the cemetery that we observed on our flight this morning. Over 6000 graves in dignified and tranquil symmetry pay mute tribute to these countrymen who died in service and who now lie under foreign skies. It is surprisingly democratic, given the remnants of the class system during the post-war years. Brigadiers lie alongside privates, RSMs and Driver Sapoys. A sole stoker from HMS Lankin here, two REME comrades (my father's outfit) there. Just walking on the grass in the shade offered by the trees and looking at the graves leaves an impression that the Royal Norfolks lost a lot of men here, also the Cambridgeshires. The Dutch have their own large section. Rien, whose grandfather died during construction of the Death Railway, has a particular interest here. We leave him to himself as he discovers his grave. As we leave, schoolchildren work at their project sheets. "What's a Sapper?", one boy asks another. I tell him, and three brains absorb the information.

The cemetery is now gratifyingly full of the living as well as the dead. It's no consolation, but at least this way they are not forgotten and unvisited. A visit to the JEATH museum helps to put these events in context with photographs, cuttings and pictures that I've not seen before. This museum was formed and run by the Chief Monk - I suppose we would call him an Abbot - of the main temple here as a tribute and testimony to all the workers on the Death Railway. The name is an acronym for the nations involved - Japan, Europe, Australia and THailand.To my surprise I learn that the Japanese allowed photography quite freely at first and only banned it later when events looked as if they would generate bad publicity. I can't blame the veterans for hating the Japanese to this day - they have every right - but I believe that only they should do so as they suffered so much. The inhumanity is probably balanced to some small degree by the Hiroshima/Nagasaki bombs, but it's hardly equivalent. There is another cemetery next to this one and we are told many more in the hills.

By way of complete contrast, the whole party board three long-tailed boats for a fun trip that lasts about an hour. I take back my earlier comments about the environment. It's enormous fun and I'd bet that you could catch huge numbers of fish by using Aspirin as a bait...

Tomorrow we fly from the hotel grounds for another go at the Bridge.

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