Mirande 28 February 2009
I had to make a trip to Barcelona and thought you might be interested
to see a few photos I took on the way. (For heavens sake tell me if
you don't want to receive these mails!)
First though is a picture taken from my front door step early January.
Even in the
South of France we do sometimes have snow. It didn't last long, and it
didn't settle on the roads, but it was pretty while it lasted.
We had a tempest a few weeks ago and were without power for four days
and without phone or Internet for 6 days. Richard - an English
neighbour - had a generator so we shuffled that around our few local
houses and all managed to keep our freezer contents intact. I have a
12v to mains converter that I use while travelling and used that to
power a single bulb and charge up my laptop. Mirande itself still had
power and phone so I could catch up on emails with a quick 10 mile
round trip. Since my main heating is a log fire, heating was no big
problem, and I cook with bottle gas. So, overall, quite inconvenient,
no big deal.
While we were without power I went out and took a photo. This was
taken about 2 miles from home, the mountains are about 40 miles away.
The church around the centre of the picture is the next village to us.
Click on the image for a bigger picture.
Now we get onto animals. Pica has decided she likes to sleep in my van
so I prop the door open. Usually she lies on some blankets in the
middle but this time I caught her resting in full view.
A tiny little frog. He was inside the house, I don't know how he got
Now I've started on the way to Barcelona. It's about 300 miles, I
crossed over the Pyrenees. Most of the photos are not even up to my
regular standard but
they give an idea of the scenery.
Looking to the east.
Click on the picture for a bigger image.
Next is dropping down into Barcelona.
The covered market has recently been rebuilt and this is the rather
snazzy roof. Unfortunately almost no one can see it. I was staying
with Nicolas Schwartz who has an office overlooking the market and his
is one of the few vantage points to see the roof. Nicolas is current
French balloon champion, I knew his Dad years ago, he is a pilot too
and runs a
balloon business in Rio de Janeiro.
I hadn't realised that there were so many narrow alleys in the centre
of Barcelona. It's over 40 years since I was last in Barcelona!
Nicolas lives in the centre, it took me over an hour to cover the last
mile to find his apartment, so tucked away is it in the narrow streets,
lucky also that I have a tiny car or I would never have made it. We
made a super local bar for dinner, in the morning I had a wander around
My reason for being here was a meeting at Igualada 70 miles outside
Barcelona so I left Barcelona late morning for the meeting. The EEC in
their wisdom have decided that there should be a common system of
balloon certification throughout Europe. A thoroughly laudable idea,
in principle, but the EASA (European Aviation Safety Agency)
bureaucrats have totally screwed it up. In the UK for 30 years we have
been running a very simple, safe, and practical control system for
balloon safety. Actually I myself set up the annual inspection part of
the system 30 years ago but that's by the by. In that 30 years we have
not had one single technical problem that was in any way connected to
our annual check of balloons. The cost of running it was almost
nothing, and the inspectors often gave their time to the cause of
safety, so the cost to the balloon owner was also almost nothing,
inspector though you might get the gift of a bottle of wine from the
had one half page piece of paper in which we filled in a few details to
record that the check had been correctly made. The annual check took
maybe an hour and a half, almost all of the time being spent checking
around the balloon to make sure all was safe. The owners liked this
since an expert, and friendly, second pair of eyes, was looking over
their system to search out possible danger. We were running the
best, the safest, the simplest and the cheapest annual check of any
country in the world, it was generally acknowledged as such.
Now we have a a 92 page exposition detailing procedures, some 12
complicated A4 pages requiring completion, and an 11 page guide to
completing these pages. Each of these 12 or so pages needs to be
produced in 3 copies. It is unbelievably stupid, and costly. There is
absolutely no possibility of any improvement in safety, in fact the
exact opposite, since the emphasis now is on the paperwork, which must
be right or it will be rejected by the bean counters at CAA. All this
paperwork is very time consuming, so there is less emphasis on
the real safety check. Plus, due to the high cost, there is bound to
be some people now who will not have their balloon checked and just go
off and fly illegally. We didn't have that problem before. You can't
get less expensive than free.
Overnight we have gone from the very best system in the world to the
Luckily balloon pilots tend to be very responsible people, with a
extreme concern for safety so the
safety reduction will not be so apparent as otherwise it might have
The whole thing is so complex to run, for an inspector, that in
addition to the 11 page guide, we have to have a one to one meeting to
check through the paperwork to ensure that we understand it. That
would normally involve me in a trip to the UK but luckily an inspector
to give me the check was available at Barcelona. Prior to the visit I
filled in a set of forms as a dry run. It took me more than 8 hours
but I still had about a dozen mistakes where I had for example filled
in the incorrect 12 digit approval reference.
After I got back home I sorted out the papers we had been discussing.
The jaggled line of papers down the middle of the photo are papers that
are required to be completed for each balloon this year. Sitting
forlornly, all on it's own, at the left front, is the single small
piece of paper that we used to fill in after each physical
What a waste of time.
I came back from Barcelona without problem, but it was a bit muggy, so
no more photos. Sorry!