2009 Festival Report

Something like 15 years ago now, the Suffolk Kite Flyers in association with the Suffolk Wildlife Trust, put on their first festival. In those days, an invitation meant just that, and so we travelled down to Parham Airfield for a days flying. It is the first time I had ever been directed to a ploughed field to fly, but so be it. Down wind was a ‘secret establishment’ and we were threatened with all sorts of nasty reprisals if any of our kites landed in there, and guess whose Jilly Pelham Roller was cut down and landed slap bang in the middle, yes, that’s right, me! Back in the ploughed field, I put up a parafoil, and then it started to rain. It was getting muddier by the minute and finally the kite fell to the ground with a gallon of water in each cell. Such was our first visit to the ‘deep south’ of the county. The following year the site was again Parham, but on a runway this time and thick fog instead of rain. Being in the middle of the airfield, the ‘facilities’ comprised a hessian windbreak affair around one of the runway drains! Eleven years ago, the Suffolk Kite Fliers took sole charge of the festival, moving it to its present site on Rougham airfield and things have not looked back since.

What has not changed however is the ability of the British weather to do its best to put the mockers on all the hard work that individuals and clubs do in putting on festivals. The 12th Suffolk International Festival had its fair share of weather, and it has to be said, an awful lot of wind, and not particularly nice wind at that. Martin Corrie and the Suffolk Fliers, along with the airfield’s owner and Rougham Tower Association had provided a magnificent site, and a plethora of teams and individual fliers to fill it, along with a wonderful selection of trade and concession stalls. I know we might lead a sheltered existence up here, but I have never seen a traditional wood fired pizza oven on a mobile stall before. By all accounts they were pretty good pizzas too.

As usual, one of the first in the air on Saturday was Andrew and Kathleen Beattie’s manta. We were still some miles from the airfield, when we saw it rise majestically from the landscape on a long launch. With the Beccles Bunch in its entirety, Brighton Kite flyers and Derek Kuhn to complete the large kite arena, there was no shortage of ripstop on offer, but after just a couple of hours the wind picked up even more, and coming over the buildings and trees was just too dangerous for maxi kites. By lunchtime it was gusting to nearly 30 mph and even the midi sized kites were becoming a problem. Strangely though, as long as the pilots were kept below 50 ft and the kites anchored to their bridles, the conditions were OK to keep something in the air all afternoon.

Tandem buggy ridesThe only people really happy about the strength of the wind were the power kiters who were flying up and down the grass runway at a most indecent speed. For £2 a tandem buggy ride was on offer and the crowds just kept coming all day for this most exhilarating experience. I bet there were a few tales to be told in school on Monday, judging by the whoops of delight emanating from the buggy area. Their arena slot clearly demonstrated how this side of the sport has ‘come of age’ and can exist happily alongside the more conventional forms of kiting.

It is the main display arena, where most of the action was taking place, and here Martin had assembled a better than ever array of talent to entertain the public. The flying was never easy, yet Airheads produced their usual range of choreographed antics, including ‘tails for five’ that looked most spectacular. Don’t know who had the worst job, Viv stitching the myriad of pieces together for these multi coloured marvels, or the poor souls who had to roll them up each time. Making a very welcome return to the arena was something that us ‘old hands’ are familiar with but came new to many, and that was ‘dog stake flying’. Once in the trick repertoire of all and sundry, it was good to see it making a return and congratulations to the young lady who pulled it off in the grotty wind. Flying three kites, such as Bryan Cantle and Carl Wright do with such skill, even tests them when it is this blustery, so well done to them for having the strength, skill and stamina to keep it up for the entire weekend.

Team EvolverWith the Robertshaw Brothers, and augmented by Chris Goff as Evolver, there was never a shortage of top quality two and four line flying. Steve Hoath had managed to persuade a sizeable number of the Flying Squad that Suffolk was not just south of Scotland, although 7 is not the easiest number of kites to work with. For the first time, Martin had secured the services of the Decorators to enhance the four-line contribution, which they did in their own inimitable style. With the best quad flyers in the country gathered together, the Rev ‘mega team’ of 16 did a superb job with their routine, which we appreciated, even if the conditions had the crowds thinning by the minute.

It was great to see Jerry and Carolyn Swift making their first visit to Rougham, even if the did have a very long walk on a retrieval. None other than commentator extraordinaire, George Webster in flying mode rather than talking capacity accompanied them on the long journey south. In honour of George’s first visit, Martin had arranged a special even, a mass launch of Mr Ws favourite kite, the Chinese rainbow delta! To celebrate their formation, the local branch of the National Autistic Society lofted 45 of these multi coloured tadpoles. I fear George was not impressed?

Inevitably, as the last of the public left the site, the wind moderated, the sun shone and we all gathered for a noggin of Black Furtle or other such strangely named brews, while the food was prepared for invited flyers and other guests. After the very successful auction last year, it was decided to have a repeat to raise funds for charity and for the festival. It is not always appreciated that some festivals are commercially run and the organising Clubs do not see anything of the gate receipts, so auctions are important to them. It has to be said though, that thanks to the generosity of everyone concerned they were inundated by items, probably far more than could realistically be sold in the time available. At the end of the evening over £1100 was raised, of which half was split between the Air Ambulance and the Autistic Society. It did get people thinking about auctions in general though, and how they might be streamlined.

Martin and his ‘merry men’ often come up with something quirky, and this year was no exception, with reincarnations of Zebedee from the Magic Roundabout all round the site. All day and most of the evening, the Essex Power Bockers were boinging about on their high tec, carbon fibre, stilty, springy things. Presumably the name was derived from the springbok pronk, which these enthusiasts use to bound around and perform tricks. Team ‘Robertshaw’ succumbed to a pair of these devices from the auction and it was not long before most of them were able to ‘walk tall and springy’ without too much trouble.

Sunday started off looking very promising, with the wind much lighter and almost across the arenas. For a couple of hours the conditions were superb, and the more knowledgeable would have seen a very rare kite in the main arena, a parafoil by the Danish artist Jorg Moeller-Hansen who produced a set of Rev skins for the Decorators some while ago. One can only assume it was one of the aforesaid team flying this remarkable foil. Fortified by an egg and bacon sarny all looked set for a good day, until a harbinger of doom informed us that squalls and rain were in the offing around lunchtime and to be prepared. The wind began to swing through 90 degrees, back to the previous days direction, requiring much shifting of anchors and changing of kites, and then the rain set in. The kites were well anchored but careering about the sky as the wind strengthened, gusting to 30+ mph at times. Eventually the sun came out drying off the large kites sufficiently to allow some serious ripstop wrestling to get them down and into their bags and boxes. Then it was back to low-level displays for the rest of the day.

The 12th Suffolk kite festival had everything in place for a superb event, both for flyers and the public, but sometimes you do need that bit of luck with the weather. We headed off home with some very damp kites, conscious that Martin and his club members then had the task of taking down the marquees, rolling up miles of arena marking line and removal of hundreds of bumble pins, no matter what the wind and rain did. Sometimes flying is the easy bit. Thanks to Martin Corrie and everyone that contributed to making the festival happen, but please pay your dues to the weather gods before next year!

By Hugh Blowers of the Beccles Bunch