|Friday 10th February came around very quickly this year and that meant it was time to play Chequers with our ugly (and infamous) Brass Monkey.
So, what do you call a balloon meet without balloons? A blinking good social weekend that's what!
We trialled a new venue this year following the falling standards at a previous venue, and the Chequers Inn at Bishop Thornton certainly ticked a lot of boxes if not all; very reasonably priced (and nice) rooms, caravan/motorhome pitches, huge car park for all the balloon trailers (ha), fantastic food, good prices in the bar.....but the icing on the cake was the fantastic people who came along, just a shame that none of them brought a balloon - almost unheard of for Kevin and Judy/Martin to not bring their balloons - that's how dire the weather was!
Some of our number arrived on Friday afternoon, team Hunt/Holtam went looking for a suitable watering hole and found the most expensive one in God's Own County. Later that evening we all met in the bar and ventured in for dinner, a lot of us had the delicious fish and chips, Bryce and Kevin had a steak and Bryce declared it the best steak he had eaten in 20 years!
The food was followed by the bar (again). From here on in the fun started; Kevin wandered around with the ice bucket and ladle asking if anyone would like punch, telling everyone it had been watered down a bit, Kevin dropped his trousers to show everyone his propane burn, Kevin waltzed off without paying for his meal (has he straightened up with you yet Bryce?), yes you've guessed it, Kevin was very 'happy'. And a cockerel landed outside Vanessa and Ray's room......
Saturday started with breakfast and briefing, one was good, the other couldn't find a weather forecast good enough to even think about flying - not that anyone could anyway there being a severe lack of aerostats in the immediate vicinity, so it was a playing out day instead.
Everyone filtered back for the dinner in the evening and the place was heaving, including 30 odd of us plus lots of regulars. It was absolutely obvious why the Chequers has such a fantastic reputation for their food; the carvery was amazing - as much as you wanted, this was after a very generous starter and before the sweet/pudding. The sweets looked delicious so no matter how full you were, it was imperative to find a little gap to squeeze in a little pud - the roulade was fabulous.
Back into the bar for us and prize giving - not one entry had been submitted for the Trans-Pennine challenge in 2016 so the trophy remains unclaimed; the Land Owner Relations Trophy was awarded to Claire and Craig Westwood for agreeing to take on a couple of maps; the Arbor Eat 'Em trophy was awarded to Martin Read - nominated by Emily, for his little argument with a tree at Naburn Lock in September, there was a distinct theme building in Emily's funny write up of the incident in that this tree scuppered Martin's chances of winning the Splash and Dash Trophy, it was mentioned a few times to say the least; and the infamous Brass Monkey trophy was awarded to Oliver Webb for completing his CPL licence recently. The Westwoods and Oliver were not present at the meet so the trophies will be passed on - although John Till was quite reluctant to actually pick up the ugly ape - poor monkey, nobody loves him!
Ed Macholc came along to tell us tales of ballooning, vetting and paramotoring, ably assisted by Phil modelling his 'Fred' t-shirt, as 'Fred' belonged to Ed and Laura-Jane before Phil. Phil also mentioned that whilst being under training with Ed he followed his every move - including following him disappearing around the back of some bushes just to find Ed didn't really need to brief a trainee pilot on that task!
And all too soon it was Sunday morning. We gathered at 10am under the 'crackling fire' and had a chuckle about the goings on over the weekend, including the noise emitting from room 9 - which I hasten to add was none of us, and I will leave it at that. Brian and Kathie Mead (our newest members) took home a box of Yorkshire biscuits to remind them they had travelled the furthest to join us, with a 160 mile journey home again.
Finally, it was proven that cockerels do lay eggs, well, the metal one outside Ray and Vanessa's room certainly laid an egg overnight - what a talent!
Thank you Ed for boldly volunteering to entertain us and doing your best to kidnap L-J, sadly to no avail. We hope to see you both soon, anyone got a hopper for sale? Ed may be tempted!
Thank you to all those of you who ventured to Harrogate in the appalling weather, I think that has to go down as one of the best social meets ever.