Matthew Parris Matthew Parris

How a balloon flight over the Pyrenees cured my mother’s fear of flying

How a balloon flight over the Pyrenees cured my mother's fear of flying

What, for her 77th birthday, do you give a woman who has everything? I do not mean that my mother is rich or lives in luxury, but that though we, her six children, have all our lives been the recipients of birthday gifts lovingly chosen by her – she never fails to think of something useful or touching – it has never been easy to think, when her own birthday comes around, of what you can give someone who has all the possessions she wants.

She and my father live in a house they love in the Catalan Pyrenees. They are comfortably off. My mother is only fitfully interested in clothes, does not wear hats and has never carried a handbag. She loves books, but her taste is particular, and though last year I knew that Claire Tomalin’s biography of Pepys, The Unequalled Self, would be a successful present, no book came obviously to mind this year.

My brother Mark had brought her a beautiful blue dress (which did delight her), John and Roger were away, and Deborah, Belinda and I racked our brains. Chocolate? She can never have enough, but a 77th birthday calls for something more memorable. She likes the idea of perfume but, as with another favourite, big fluffy towels, she already has enough. And apart from skin creams, she has never been much into cosmetics.

‘Would Terry like ballooning?’ her son-in-law Manel had asked me a month or so before her birthday. We were in a balloon at the time – or rather in a basket suspended underneath one. It had been my secretary Eileen’s long-held ambition to go ballooning, so Manel and Deborah had arranged it for us, at a town called Olot, inland from the Costa Brava. It was shortly after dawn (balloonists rise early, while the morning air is still).

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