Two hundred and thirty years ago Vincenzo Lunardi took off from London in a hydrogen balloon and drifted north towards Hertfordshire, accompanied by a dog, a cat and a caged pigeon. He made a stop in Welham Green where he set the airsick cat free, then took off again before finally bringing the balloon to rest at Standon Green End. The road junction in Welham Green near where Lunardi made his first stop is named Balloon Corner to commemorate the landing.
The Welham Green Residents Association organises an annual event called Balloon day, which was held yesterday on the green. I had considered going in previous years but this was the first time I actually got there. Normally I would have cycled but I decided to take my neighbour’s three dogs so I walked with them up to Bunchleys pond, past the trig point and down the other side into the village. I don’t know Welham Green very well but it was easy enough to find the event.
I spotted the Welwyn Hatfield Friends of the Earth stall right away and went over to talk to people I knew before checking out the other attractions. It was basically like a small funfair, with rides, tombola, kids paddle boats etc. Being the hundredth anniversary of the First World War there was period music playing, though there was a fair bit of WWII stuff mixed in. There were no punters at the coconut shy when I came to it and I was easily persuaded to hand over a pound in exchange for four balls. I had never tried my luck on a coconut shy and was amazed when I knocked a coconut to the ground with my first shot. I was not surprised when my other three shots missed completely – it is strange how often I have experienced such beginners luck. There was my first game of poker where I had to have the rules explained to me before going on to win. Also a time when a guy took me target shooting at a biathlon range in New Hampshire. I had never fired a gun before and was nervous when he handed me a Ruger semi-automatic pistol with a ten shot clip. We were a good long way from the target but my first shot popped up a flag – and so did the next two! My remaining seven shots missed the mark, as did the whole clip of ten when my friend showed me how it should be done. We both fired off another couple of clips but none of the shots were on target – apart from my first three. Anyway, my success on the coconut shy attracted a small crowd, including the Mayor, who had a go but left empty handed.
I was probably only there for a little over an hour but the dogs were getting restless so I bought a lemon sorbet from the ice cream van and then set off home carrying my coconut. I returned the dogs to their home where they quickly settled down for a nap, as did I when I got in.