We were lifted up by 42 Balloons

Not literally, of course, but in 1982 a truck driver called Larry Walters really was. He had dreamed of flying, carried by balloons into the air for a long time. For many people this would have remained an idle fantasy – which explains why we do not regularly look up to see people floating around. Larry planned carefully, and with the aid of his girlfriend Carol – who took out a large bank loan to enable Larry to fulfil his dream – and a small team of friends, Larry achieved his dream.

This really happened and you can look it up after the show

42 Balloons musical

About six years ago, Jack Godfrey came across the story, and dreamed of turning this event into a musical. For many people this would have remained an idle fantasy, but Jack started writing songs, and planning, and with aid of quite a few very talented people Jack achieved his dream, and the musical “42 Balloons” is performed at The Lowry from 18th April to 19th May 2024. (YouTube video of Jack telling the story)

The author at his show

Jack Godfrey started writing songs and playing in Rockfish (the church band) at Wesley Memorial Church a long time ago, and Oxford Phab members have performed or assisted backstage with several of his early musicals, including Amazing Love, so it would be a dream come to true for Oxford Phab to go and see 42 Balloons on stage – even though The Lowry, in Salford is 160miles from Oxford. For many groups with would have remained an idle fantasy, but Mary started planning, purchasing tickets, and with the aid of our members and supporters, who moved seats, brought people to rendezvous sites and. particularly Chris who did much of the driving, an Oxford Phab group went to see the show.

Oxford Phab, with Jack Godfrey at The Lowry

After an unfortunate start to our trip, when a car drove out of a side road right in front of the minibus (fortunately we were obeying the 20 m.p.h. speed limit so no-one was hurt), and loading the minibus in heavy rain, the journey was smooth and we arrived in Salford in time to eat before the show, and even sit in a replica of the lawn chair which Larry had used for his flight.

The cast were incredibly talented and energetic, and particularly impressive as unfortunately one member slipped during the highly athletic introductory number so there was a pause before the musical continued with some members in re-arranged roles – which they did amazingly well.

The show has been reviewed by the BBC, and there is more information about the cast and team and videos at the show’s own website.

Differences and Dreams

Despite having achieved his dream, rather than being celebrated, Larry was mocked for having dropped the air pistol he had been using to shoot the helium filled weather balloons which were lifting him into the air, after he had only shot a few of them. His forethought in bringing spare spectacles in case, as did happen, the ones he was wearing came off in the launch was cause for laughter, rather than congratulations. Although Larry had done something new and impressive, because he was a truck driver, all the public focus was on the parts which had gone wrong rather than his successes. He broke the stereotype of what we expect from someone from his background, and was derided rather than being applauded. If he had been, as was his dream, a NASA astronaut, then his successful return to earth, despite technical difficulties might have been made into a film, like Apollo 13.

There is an unfortunate part of human nature, particularly in herds, to make fun of, or fear, those who are different or do not conform to ‘the norm’. If someone staggers when they walk, sounds different when they speak, dresses differently, does not fit the stereotype for their gender, race, occupation etc they are likely to be excluded from society, rather than welcomed into it.

If we can learn to celebrate the variety there is in people, to see the similarities as well as the differences, then when we come across someone out of the ordinary we can be lifted by the encounter, rather than wanting to pull them down.

Those of us fortunate enough to belong to Oxford Phab gain much from our interactions with each other – as well as the opportunity to travel to Salford to see 42 Balloons!

Looking forward to Spring and Summer

Having had a break for Easter we had plenty to talk about, but the main focus of the evening was looking forward to the events of the Spring and Summer.

Particular highlights of the Summer will be our return to Avon Tyrrell for another holiday there, and PhabFest at Parallel Windsor , where we hope to meet up with friends from other clubs, and also arrange to be sponsored as individuals or groups as a fundraising activity.

We are also looking forward to our trip to see 42 Balloons, at the Lowry Theatre in Salford. This musical by Jack Godfrey is based on the story of Larry Walters, who really did use a cluster of weather balloons to fly high into the air in a lawnchair. The musical has received very positive reviews, and an article on the BBC website. This is particularly exciting news for us as although 42 Balloons is performed by a very talented professional cast Phab members have appeared in some of Jack Godfrey’s earlier musicals, including Amazing Love.