It was one of those days where there was no need to dither about which site to go to. Malvern it was, and half the country had decided the same. We were soon scrabbling for change for the parking meter - £4.40, now! - and striding up the hill.
It was much windier than expected, and there was plenty of time for banter about who'd see whom in the bomb-out field. As I prepared my kit on the lee side of the hill, two lads asked me: "Excuse me - what sort of time will you be taking off? " I explained that I didn't know, but suggested that we walk to the windward side and see if anyone was about to go. Wesley Murch promptly demonstrated a perfect launch ("His day job's a cage fighter, so he doesn't scare easily, " I told them), and many more soon followed.
My own launch was a bit ragged, but the Phantom tends to forgive sloppy technique. The wind had dropped, so that the band just above launch was quite crowded, and working the broken thermals wasn't easy. But soon I found myself in a climb with a gaggle of six or seven, all the time wondering whether we were too low to go over the back - until I took a peek at my Oudie and saw that we were at 3,500 feet! So the journey had definitely begun.
West of the hill, the thermals were plentiful but a bit ill-defined and weak, so that the gaggle would spread out and then recoalesce. If I'd had a radio I might have suggested that we get a move one, but as it was I resisted the temptation to go on the charge on my own. We were so indecisive that the next gaggle caught us up, increasing the need for caution while circling, but also adding to the number of thermals markers - I think Viv Fouracre and Peggy Williams were among them. Ben Friedland pushed ahead on his own, but was soon caught up.
It was bitterly cold; at one point I managed to pull a pair of heat packs out of my cockpit and rip one open, but found I couldn't get it past the wristband of my mittens, so stuck it down my collar instead.
Eventually, without really intending it, I also found myself on my own. Past the lakes I got low and had to struggle, while Rich Miller landed below. After losing a couple of climbs at two-thousand-and-something, I finally got up again, and glided towards Kington, where I saw David Mckenzie land on the school playing field. Ben was climbing beyond the town, but it was now half past three; looking ahead into the Welsh hills, I saw the prospect of maybe another possible 15k bringing with it a couple of extra retrieve hours. So I landed with Jerry at the school, with Ben also deciding to call it a day. The teachers were a bit disconcerted at the risk to their pupils posed by four flying strangers, but since there weren't actually any children in sight they were soon placated.
With four of us a taxi was a no-brainer; a call to Kington Taxis produced a comfortable minibus, whose driver pointed out to us the former homes of Mike Oldfield and Ellie Goulding, as well as the current home of the SAS. Ben was dropped at Hereford, and the rest of us arrived back at Kettle Sings at a civilised time, only £15 each poorer and very pleased with ourselves.