The first time I travelled overseas chasing kites was in 1976; to the US West Coast, where, I had heard, there were shops dedicated to serving a burgeoning adult interest in kite flying (I was 29 by then). There were too; in Portland, San Francisco and Vancouver, where I hung out for days, absorbing as much of their kite culture as I could, and returned to NZ with as many new kites and accessories as I could carry- and inspiration enough to keep me fired up for years.
Elwyn and I had been making and selling kites here in NZ before this- under the Craft Kite Company name, but this was very much a hobby activity, more of a way to justify my interest which at that time was regarded as something we were supposed to grow out of by puberty. I hadn't, and I harboured what seemed like an impossible dream; that one day, kite making could, become our full-time business.
The story gets a little complicated at this point, as it did then rapidly become a full-time business, but I soon found that making the same boring kites every day (mainly small fabric Octopus style), was not as much fun as I expected it to be, so we sold out and I used some of the proceeds to attend the first convention of the American Kitefliers Association at Ocean City Maryland in 1978.
Where I won second prize in the strongest pulling kite category with a 6m PLT box kite, to add to the second prize I'd won as a wee fella in a fancy dress competition- dressed as a snowman.
Anyway, this event was inspirational also, and immediately connected me to the wider world of kite flying. Soon after, the person we'd sold our kite business to died, and it ceased functioning, which pushed us back into the kite business - not that I was resisting much by this stage.
After that first AKA event in the US, invitations to other international kite festivals came in at an ever-increasing rate. By the late '80s there were more events to go to than could reasonably be accepted, and this has continued through to the present.
I've probably been to more than 500 overseas events since 1976- which sounds a lot, but is only an average of just over 12/year, which I've often exceeded.
Frequently, Peter Lynn Kites Ltd, will now have fliers at events on opposite sides of the world at the same time.
Festival flying is, in many ways, the key to this successful business. It's not only the best way to keep in touch with customers and trends; at the same time, flying at kite events supports festival organisers and showcases kites to the world.
But festival flying is neither inexpensive nor easy to do at this level.
It's expensive because there are many times when the only way to not risk kite damage is not to fly- and not flying is exactly what kite events aren't about. I've had events when the kite damage cost has approached $10,000- not often, less than once a year on average, but too often for anyone not in the kite making business unless they have very deep pockets.
There are also very few kitefliers with the necessary skills and passion to get big show kites up-and keep them up- in often adverse conditions, at event after event, year after year. Fortunately, Peter Lynn Kites Ltd (owned now by Craig Hansen and Simon Chisnall, while Elwyn and I have retained ownership pf the Peter Lynn brand name) has 3 such high-level fliers; Craig, Simon, and William White. And they have various competent super-numeries such as Andrew Beattie, Blake Pelton, Malcom Hubbert and Stefan Cook to call in when no-one else is available.
But I'm not counting myself in this muster anymore:
Last year I called in sick at more events than for the previous 40 years and in February this year had an outbreak of Shingles, which triggered PHN https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Postherpetic_neuralgia
, as it does for 30% of people my age. PHN is a chronic debilitating condition that can persist for years, but fortunately, in my case the intensity has been halving roughly every 3 months. I've now been off opioids for some months and it's down to a level of discomfort that's generally bearable.
More of an impediment for flying kites is chronic back pain and two dysfunctional shoulders (fortunately they haven't both been crook at the same time- yet). Basically, these are just "getting too old problems" which I could sidestep by slowing down and doing less.
But bugger that.
I don't lack strength or willingness, and can still fly kites, go kite buggying even, - but only for a day, after which I can't stand up straight, lift anything much, or reach down far enough to pull my socks on - for at least a week.
This is not a level of performance that event organisers or the public deserve.
And I'm not going to be one of those "kite tourists" that I have so often derided in these pages.
Accordingly, I've now put myself on gardening leave, though Elwyn and I will still attend a few events each year so as to keep in touch with our many kite-flying friends.
And I'm really enjoying the gardening- and being able to get into local activities, go to meetings, serve on committees and have time for local friends, family, and 2 delightful Burmese kittens. More actively managing our non-kite businesses is a change from our previous benign neglect, which is also yielding dividends- literally.
My alternative new career as a sawmiller (operating the ex Hoberg family antique German reciprocating sawmill) is, unfortunately, as hard on my back and shoulders as kite flying, so this bit of the plan won't work out so well until I can co-opt a few more helpers for the heavy lifting.
But just in case you think I've gone soft in the head with this talk of gardening, it's not your usual sort of gardening:
In my home plot, I'm planting large antique stationary engines.
Who knows why I'm so taken with these mechanical relics - but I hope that part of the reason at least is that they are a celebration of the industrial revolution, without which most people would still be living lives of the pre-industrial 'nasty brutish and short' variety, with 30% or higher child mortality, and violence aa a daily reality. Nor, if it wasn't for the optimistic spirit of that age and the development of machines, would we now be in any condition to address and solve the challenges of the future.
So far, I have five old engines solidly planted (they weigh 2 to 3 tonnes each), with another two awaiting restoration- which I do in the evenings and when there's no good wind or it's too cold and wet outside.
The oldest I have, a Bessemer "Half Breed", drove a nodding donkey at an oil field in Pennsylvania from the 1880s. About 1900 it was converted from steam (requiring coal and a boiler) to internal combustion using waste gas from the well head. Several of the others have local provenance, while the most recent addition is a 1908 English made 'Victoria', one of only 2 known, retrieved from outback Australia. It has a single cylinder of 12litre swept volume and puts out around 10hp at 250rpm.
Oh, and the 3 months per year I've gained by reducing travelling, also gives me more time to make kites.
But following the theme of my last two newsletters (on cost disease and our tendency to indulge in unproductive activities as we become more affluent), sooner or later I'm going to have to stop playing and get serious again.
PETER LYNN, ASHBURTON, 1 OCT '17