Postcards from Cognac – Part Tres

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Bond: I trust you can handle this contraption, Q? Q: It goes by hot air. Bond: Oh, then you can.” – Octopussy.


Up at dawns crack with 3 hours sleep, 5.45am call. Yesterday was spent drinking nothing but the finest cognac, the finest wines, the finest cocktails. Now my ass is out in a field in the middle of nowhere, lifting ripstop nylon aloft whilst a French man of diminutive size blows puissant bursts of fireballs from the propane burners. There’s something magical seeing the inner workings of a hot air balloon. Once erect, (the balloon, not I) I clambered in. Some other guy tried to vault inside, but got told his ‘names not down’. He got sent packing across the field. Imagine being told you can’t get in a hot air balloon at 6am in the damn morning. How’s your luck?


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I was up. Up up and away in my beautiful balloon. There was a rather large oak tree looking to interrupt our ascent. “We’re going to clear that right?” I asked. “Because right now, it looks like we’re heading straight for the damn thing.” But the young wiry balloonist was not concerned. “If you need to pick cherries now is the time.” He said. How quaint. It’s only my life, and the lives of two cameramen and three other journalists on the line if we don’t.

We clipped the roof of the tree and we were clear.


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I took a few snaps, then relaxed. I couldn’t help think about what got me here. Thinking back to the days when I’d be throwing bricks up a ladder on a construction site at this time of morning. Or placing scorpions into bottles of vodka on a production line. Or chopping off frozen bark from willow clefts. I don’t regret any of those jobs. People were good to me in those places. Most people have always been good to me. When I left the cricket bat factory 4 years ago, on the last day I showed my boss a cleft of willow that I split with zero knots and straight lines of grain. (The best cricket bats will be of a certain weight, made from willow, with no knots and blemishes). Months later in my new job, a parcel arrived for me. It was a brand new cricket bat with a note from my boss:

“Pete, do you remember on the last day you worked for me, you presented me a cleft of wood. Well I put that cleft aside and sent it away to be produced. (We just produced the clefts, we’d then ship them off to India or Pakistan to have handles and labels put on them etc). Here is the bat that you made, typically you finally figured out how to make a cricket bat on your last day of work. All the best, Jeremy.”


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So just because I was a few hundred feet in the air, didn’t mean that I was higher than those friends I made in the cricket bat factory. When people tell me I work hard writing, podcasting, whatever, it’s not work. Digging ditches is work. I’m sailing over the vineyards of Bordeaux with a Henri Winterman cigar in my hand. None of this is work. I’m lucky, I’ve always been lucky.


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