Coales' Notes: The balloon goes up

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The Independent Culture
THURSDAY The last month has left me shattered. I have never worked so hard in my life. And the many hours just spent abasing myself before the Leisure Committee have taken it out of me completely. This morning I told Di, Fiona and Iz that, as everything was now on again, I would bow out of festival business for a few days, to be in peak condition for the opening - and leave it all with them, since they seemed to be talking to each other finally.

They insisted I take a balloon out with me, which we're all supposed to do now, to build up the mood for The Project. I declined. They are practically barrage balloons.

But this afternoon, I took a highly conspicuous amble round the city centre with Alan, a balloon straining 6ft above his head - and Dave Curley, attempting to interview him for the Herald about 'the artistic aspect. Because you might say, it just sounds like a lot of balloons'. Alan explained that thousands of balloons, each floating 100ft over the city, 'could be a roof. I like that thing of turning an outdoors into an indoors. If you like, a city into a room.' Curley said: 'Oh, you do?'

'But also, I like that thing with balloons, that you're up there with the balloon. You're on this end of the string. But also you're on the other end of the string.'

Curley said: 'Aha.'

'And also, I like that thing that a balloon is your head.'

Curley said: 'Sorry, let me see if I have this right. You're saying, you feel that a balloon is, in some sense, your own head.' Alan looked at him blankly and said: 'Or not.' Curley thought he'd got enough and left.

Then we just stood there, Alan deep in thought, still holding on to his balloon. Eventually he spoke: 'The thing is, Gordon, this is not what I want. What I want is something else. Because what I want now, ideally, is to join the army.' I said, really? Mightn't he be a bit old? He said: 'Or the TA. Or the Legion. But soldiering - that has to be the next move.'

I asked why. Was it the need for discipline? I could understand that - the life of the contemporary artist, too free, always setting one's own goals. Or was it the need for escape? He made no answer.

I said I could understand that too, because - he may not have noticed - but I had been under strict instructions from Di to keep an eye on him, to make sure he behaved himself when she was down in London.

Another long silence. Then he said: 'No, in fact, I didn't notice. But, on the other hand, nor did you.' I groaned. I said I supposed it hardly mattered now. But who was it then? Fiona? Or Iz? He mumbled: 'Not or.'

Fortunately at that point I did happen to notice, above the market stalls, three more balloons moving purposefully in our direction. I told Alan he had granted me a fascinating insight into his creative crisis, but I really had to be going. I made off as quickly as possible. Looking back from the corner, I saw the four balloons ascending rapidly in close formation.