Day 8 - Saturday 28th

A change in the weather from yesterday means a change from the normal routine of turn up, rig and fly. There's no mist, but an approaching front has produced a layer of cloud at about 1500 feet. This is not a problem in itself, but the small met balloon released to determine base wind direction bobbles and rolls as it rises, a sure sign of unstable air. This is bad news, because it makes for unpredictable control and a flight that might range anywhere between uncomfortable and down-right dangerous. The Belgians say that they are not bothered, rig and go. Other experienced faces look thoughtful, but no-one wants to abandon the flight. As my pilot is fond of saying: There are old pilots and bold pilots, but not many old, bold pilots.... . It is agreed that we will wait until 0700 to see if conditions improve. Aviators word-wide will tell you that it's far better to be down here, wishing you were up there than the other way round . The RAF war-time pilots also said the more firma, the less terra, but this may have been an in-joke.

After a few minutes conditions improve and we launch with Chris as passenger. Richard has jumped ship to Zodiac for this trip, obviously impressed with her performance yesterday. Conditions are much slower and the flight is much shorter. Norman does another stand-up landing right on the path next to crop. The pickup crew have found us before the retrieve bus with the radio, so we ask them to back up to us while Norman lifts off sufficiently to allow the crew to handle Humbug, which has an effective mass of about 3.5 tons, onto the transport pallet in the back of the vehicle. This means laying the envelope down along the path, which is leading up-wind. A following wind is a more usual way of doing this because with the crown facing into wind the envelope just stays full of hot air. I start the process of squeezing the hot air towards the crown and out of the open parachute vent by folding the lower panels together into a sausage, grabbing the next metre or so of fabric while holding the first section down with my knees. It's exhausting work on a summer evening in England, so adding the temperature (30C) and humidity (90%) of Central Thailand makes it much harder.

By this time all the local people have gathered and I take a break, sweating profusely. All over the world the sight of one person working up a sweat while others look on without expression is common - the Thais are no exception and I hope that, being mainly labourers themselves, they don't think that I make a poor show. A boy of some seven years watches as his father starts to help. I beckon to him and, using gestures only - it is considered very rude in Thailand to touch someone you don't know well, especially on the head - indicate that he should lie down on the envelope and roll towards the crown to help force the air out. Most children love doing this as the rip-stop nylon is still standing 20 feet high and makes a different sort of bouncy castle. This one is soon squealing with delight at this unusual and unexpected treat. Grinning at his father, who is enjoying the fun, I have forgotten the boy's six friends who join in with whoops of delight. Oh, well, they are nearly all barefooted and don't weigh much so they shouldn't do any damage to Humbug's canopy. Leaving the sausage-makers to their work, I climb back up to the basket on the pickup and retrieve my camera from the elastic webbing that we use to stow maps and other flying paraphernalia. There's a nice shot of the path, the sausage-canopy and about twenty Thais of all ages working on it. I frame the shot, but the camera is switched off. In the time it takes to switch on and reframe I have been spotted by one of the youngsters and suddenly it's photo-call time and my nice composition transforms itself into a side-to-side group of youngsters all mugging and waving for the camera. I take a couple anyway as it'll be a nice memory, which is more important.

Breakfast, shower, laze. After the noodle break we travel to Sukathai, the former ancient capital and religious centre of this region, sacked and destroyed by the Burmese in an earlier era. The Sukhothai Resort is another modern luxurious hotel. This one also has a wire suspension bridge leading to the accommodation. We arrive after dark, the grounds and bridge twinkling with thousands of tiny lights and contrasting with the glow of polished teak inside the veranda entrance lodge. The evening meal is not a huge success. The food is excellent - we've yet to experience a poor meal here - but loud music is suddenly in evidence and three girls take it in turns to belt out some local numbers. I'm afraid that we completely ignore them as we are the only residents and are only interested in each other's stories of the day's events. The only other occupants of the room are three Thai gentleman who take up position close to the singers. The noise is, frankly, unwelcome. Our volume goes up and the second singer takes over. When the third one takes the microphone it is obvious that she sings very flat. They give up and we compromise by tolerating the background music. Yutakit tells us that the three Thais are hoping that the girls will join them so that anyone who sees them will think that they are important. We ask about the girls, because it seems to us to be fairly bizarre to put on modern singing at dinner - a bit like being serenaded by Chas and Dave while dining at the Ritz. We discover that the girls are local and are hoping to be discovered by a film or record producer. An early night is what interests me most at the moment. The night outside as I walk across the swaying suspension bridge is full of insect calls and frogs croaking. It's so uncannily like the soundtrack of any jungle film that one is tempted to look for the concealed loudspeakers - after all, the large rocks in the stream forming the waterfall beneath me are made of fibre-glass....

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