Bristol 1995

Officially, it was the 10th Bristol International Kite Festival, but to those that had been before, it was recognised as Avril Baker's festival. She has earned a reputation for putting together one of the best festivals on the circuit. 1995 was no exception. The press had been primed and treated to a private photo-session a few days in advance. A special issue of the local paper had been printed, bookings made with international kite fliers, local dignitaries, TV personalities. The stage was set for a successful event.

When the morning came, my heart sank. After one of the hottest, driest summers on record, it chose the morning of the kite festival to rain. It wasn't merely wet, but the rain came down vertically - a sign of a complete lack of wind. We trudged out to the field and wondered what to do. We needn't have worried - when the official start time came, the clouds parted, the rain stopped, the sun started to peek out and the wind began to pick up.

The fliers began to come out and practice their craft. Dave Britian had come all the way from the USA and never seemed to stop working to entertain the crowd. He flew a beautiful Randy Tom applique'd Rev I through a dog-stake, balancing the kite on his head or catching it in his mouth. Later, Dave pulled out a Rev II, with a hook attached to the spar, to play mischeif with the crowd. He would spy out someone wearing a base-ball cap, fly silently up behind them and snatch their hat into the air, then tease them by depositing the cap somewhere high, out of reach.

Also playing with Revolutions were the Decorators, who were celebrating their 100th festival, flying a new set of kites built by Martin Lester. They had a numbered set of 100 T-shirts, which were given to people considered worthy of the honour. They brought to the festival not only their impecable precision team flying, but also a sense of fun as they played with the big show kites, trying to block the vents in a vain attempt to cause them to deflate.

Bristol is, of course, the home town of Martin Lester, the well known purveyor of body parts. He was flying a huge torso which he had christened Neil. In celebration of his work, there was a fly-in of his kites, with a show of all sorts of custom variations of his legs and torsos.

Peter Lynn was also putting on a show of big soft kites. There were two of his well known octopii, Sushi the dolphin (do you eat dolphin as sushi?), Phreddie the Phrog, and Rosie, the long, snake-like animal of dubious heritage. It is usually Peter who manages to take out a kite or two at a festival, but this time, it was my turn. I discussed flying the octopus in the same sky as Malcolm Goodman's huge Chinese dragon stack. There was no real danger of a clash, because the octopus flies low and the stack flies at an impressively high angle. The kites didn't see it this way. The octopus went up, the dragon went down and they crashed to the ground in a sickening tangle.

It wasn't only the big names that had the big kites. John Turner came to Bristol last year and saw a 2m diameter spiked Bol. He was impressed and decided to make one for himself. He came back this year with a beautiful 15m diameter version. Not only was it well made, but he impressed me by his competence in flying it, single handed, launching it with a slick ease, without the usual trouble of it folding in and flapping.

The weekend wasn't all for big, over-powering kites, there was plenty to entertain the children too. Someone left a set of fat inflatable tails streaming into the public area, and the kids had fun playing with them as they snaked around. TV personality Noel Edmonds and his clowning companion Mr Blobby fooled around with Martin Lester's kites to the amusement of all.

Noel Edmonds was there with a purpose. He has organised a charity sponsored by Rover cars and Transax called Airbourne, which gives helicopter rides to underprivelaged children. They had a fleet of about 4 helicopters, which spent all day ferrying children around. I believe that they provided around 350 free flights.

For many of us, the child who stole the show was Axl Ferraro. At the tender age of two, he was flying a 4' flexifoil. His flying wasn't yet to competition standard, but he was certainly well practiced at flipping it the right way up after a crash.

The Air Gallery displayed kites painted by artists from different countries, but whilst this was a premeditated effort to place art in the sky, there were other fliers flying art because this is what they always do. Three fliers stood out for me in particular. First was Janneke, with her peaceful patchwork Happi Coats and their dancing rope tails. Scott Skinner was also flying Happi Coats, with the most subtle of detailed of log cabin patchwork. Finally, Arista from Australia was flying an applique'd work which rivaled the detail and flow of the brushwork of the painters.

As if this wasn't enough, after dinner and the auction, we were treated to a performance of night flying, with deltas, Revs and rokakkus illuminated against the black sky, followed by a spectacular professional firework display. This year was the 10th festival at Bristol and a credit to Avril and Martin's hard work. I'm looking forward to next year already.