Summertime magic – kites, balloons and Roger

Bristol Balloon Fiesta
From the Balloonists’ enclosure, Ashton Court, Bristol

These summer days feel all too precious – sandals are still the norm, an extra layer of clothing is still not required and there’s that niggling worry that it isn’t going to last very long. A Bristol August is invariably about a return to play and many childhood delights. At the Balloon fiesta, the crowds poured into Ashton Court Estate through all it’s many enormous archways. Traffic clogged the roads. It’s normally a quick whiz across the Suspension Bridge but for this weekend it became a convoluted detour of many miles to get there and back. The grounds that are normally fairly serene and green were an unrecognisable mass of fast food vans, cars, people and giant balloons of all shapes. When these super-sized blobs ascend, they are truly the prettiest sight in the skies – going strong since Victorian times. We were lucky enough to be allowed into the ballonists’ enclosure. Seeing the silken sheaths on the grass being inflated, then fired up and begin to float upwards, it was way too tempting to become a stowaway and go for a ride. Instead, we sat back and watched the Nightglow – stationary balloons lit up in sync to music. There wasn’t much synchronisation but in the darkness, the balloons looked like magic lanterns and created enough wonderment to remember for a long time.

Nightglow, Bristol Balloon Fiesta
Nightglow, Bristol Balloon Fiesta

Two weeks on, it’s now the weekend of the Kite Festival – this time it’s on our doorstep. The Downs near where we live had two rows of portakabins (portable toilets) yesterday in readiness for the onslaught of kite-flyers and I saw them setting up as I cycled past. The day that started off in beautiful heat ended with a dramatic thunderstorm of monsoon proportions.

Kite Festival, Bristol
Let’s go fly a kite…Kite Festival, the Downs, Bristol

The more I try to experience the seasons here, I find that there’s so much resting on summer in particular – it seems to bear the responsibility of delivering warmth, joy and lightness of spirit and invariably, it is a disappointment to find that there are limits to the happiness we can experience during this season. In the book, Federer and Me (a story of obsession), William Skidelsky takes us through a personal journey of his obsession with Roger Federer, who has for many years been the main character each summer. For the already converted like me, reading a book like this was a wonderful opportunity to revel in hours of bliss – from the intricate details of at least twenty variations of his forehand grip to the author’s honest declaration of loathing Rafael Nadal (an entire chapter is devoted to this).

Roger's genius
The Genius at play

Skidelsky, an amateur tennis player of high standard, speaks of what it means to watch Roger play up close – people come to see if his magic is still intact, to see him glide, float and evoke a lost period of grace and elegance. But when Skidelsky gets the opportunity to watch him play from the second row at the O2 against Djokovic, he watches Roger return an almost impossible forehand. At that point he says, Roger is quite the savage beast and sends it back – he’s just a master at appearing effortless. The book also has a personal account of the author’s own struggle with depression and quotes from the famous David Foster Wallace (who later committed suicide) article in the New York Times about Federer as a religious experience. I realised that Federer does seem to inspire and appeal to those who tend to see the bleakness in life. The book ends with the 2014 Wimbledon Final – a poignant match that was to be repeated next year with the same result. There’s a lot more joy to be derived from this book – a must-read for Federa fans.

So summer as Kate Atkinson in Life After Life says is like a whisper (I paraphrase) – a faint memory. More on this book next time…

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