The Odysseum: Larry 'Lawnchair' Walters (1949-1993)

Fresh from our third book The Odysseum – meet Larry Walters, the truck-driver who flew away on his own lawn chair.

 flickr/BrandonWalts

flickr/BrandonWalts

What do you do if your life’s ambition – to become a pilot with the US Air Force – gets shot down by poor eyesight? If you’re Larry Walters, you take matters into your own hands. In 1982 the California truck-driver, unperturbed by the stringent recruitment standards of the USAF, decided to take to the air in his own unique way: by attaching a large cluster of weather balloons to a lawn chair.

First, Larry and his girlfriend forged a requisition slip from his employer, Filmfair Studios, enabling them to purchase the 45 8-foot (2.4 m) weather balloons by saying they were to be used in a commercial. They then set about inflating the balloons and attaching them to Larry’s patio chair. He put on a parachute, strapped himself in and took off, carrying with him only the absolute essentials – a pellet gun (to shoot balloons if he went too high), a CB radio, a camera, sandwiches and, most essential
of all, a four-pack of beer.

The plan was to float 30 feet (9 m) above the Mojave Desert for a few hours, then effect a pleasant and gradual descent. To Larry’s horror, however, the chair rose from his yard in San Pedro much faster than expected – he was eventually to reach a maximum altitude of 15,000 feet (4,600 m) – and was soon drifting over Los Angeles and into the primary approach corridor for Long Beach Airport, where he was spotted by several commercial airliners.

By this point, Larry had achieved his primary aim – to fly – but now faced the problem of how not to fly. Floating in LA airspace was not, he knew, going to make him very popular. Initially, though, he was too scared to shoot any of the balloons in case he unbalanced and fell from his madcap contraption. He tried getting in touch with REACT – a citizen’s band radio monitoring organisation. As he put it to them:

‘… the difficulty is, ah, this was an unauthorised balloon launch and, uh, I’m sure my ground crew has alerted the proper authority. But, uh, just call them and tell them I’m okay.’

After 45 minutes of literally hanging around, he eventually plucked up the courage to shoot a few balloons – just before the gun went overboard. Fortunately, the cull, as far as it went, proved sufficient to get him moving in the right direction. The slow descent concluded among power cables, blacking out an entire Long Beach neighbourhood for 20 minutes.

Upon picking him up, the Long Beach Police Department made a decisive statement: ‘We know he broke some part of the Federal Aviation Act, and as soon as we decide which part it is, some type of charge will be filed.’ Walters was eventually charged with ‘operating a civil aircraft within an airport traffic area without establishing and maintaining 2-way communications with the control tower’. He was fined $4,000 – but his pilot’s licence couldn’t be suspended, since he didn’t have one.

Having achieved his dream, Larry spent a short period as a motivational speaker and appeared on both The David Letterman Show and The Late Show. Eventually, however, he went back to a simple life – working for the United States Forest Service and as a security guard. He died in 1993, but will always be remembered as ‘Lawnchair Larry’, inspiring a song, various copycat flights and the 2003 Australian film Danny Deckchair, starring Rhys Ifans.

Larry was by no means the only weather balloon pilot – there have been many cases of people putting thin bits of rubber between themselves and an unpleasant meeting with terra firma. One such case was the Brazilian priest Father Adelir Antônia de Carli, whose 2008 foray into the atmosphere left him both wet and headless.

Seemingly well prepared – he was an experienced skydiver, and he’d trained extensively in survival skills prior to his launch – there was one huge gap in his safety plan, quickly exposed when he caught a breeze and got blown out across the Atlantic. While floating over the ocean, he rang the authorities from his mobile phone to ask someone to explain how his GPS equipment worked. Not long after that he lost contact entirely. A few months later, some of his balloons, along with the lower half
of his body, were found floating in the sea.

On a happier note, Tom Morgan – a member of the Bristol-based League of Adventurists, reached a height of 8,000 feet (2,438 m) in October 2017 by tying 100 helium balloons to a camping chair and flying over the Sahara. He returned to Earth safe, dry and with all parts of his body intact.

Words: Jen Rowe

The Odysseum is available to pre-order via Amazon.

Introducing our Third Book: The Odysseum

The Odysseum explores fascinating stories behind some of the world’s most extraordinary and unexpected journeys. Expect adventures with stowaways, astronauts, psychedelic pilgrims, prisoners of war and the artist who created the world’s biggest treasure hunt.

Brought to you by Ernest editor Jo Tinsley and co-author David Bramwell, The Odysseum is the final edition in our trilogy of wonder and eccentricity.

Discover why artist Grayson Perry took his teddy bear on a trip to Bavaria and what horrors befell film-maker Werner Herzog when he attempted to drag a 320-ton steamboat over a hill through impenetrable jungle. Learn about attempted voyages to the centre of the earth and accidental journeys into storm clouds, and follow Dadaist filmmaker Andrew Kötting as he takes a 12-foot inflatable ‘deadad’ on a trip around the globe.

Restlessly exploring the psychology of what it means to embark upon a journey, The Odysseum is a celebration of human imagination, motivation and resolve – from micro-journeys around a prison cell to the story of how Einstein’s brain and the corpses of Gram Parsons and Eva Peron embarked on remarkable trips beyond the grave.

The Odysseum is on available to order on Amazon.

Pie glossary

From throwaway crusts to royal banquet centrepieces, our beloved pie has a weird and wonderful history stowed away behind its pantry door. 

  Illustration by Sue Gent

Illustration by Sue Gent

Cow heel (Cumbria and Lancashire)
The fatty cartilage around a cow’s heel was used to make a sticky and sweet gravy in a pie.

Swan (Nottinghamshire) 
The finest pieces of swan meat, stewed with sugar and spices and served in a Budby pie.

Lambs tail (Cotswolds and Kent) 
After docking the tails from lambs, the wool would be removed, the tails joined and stewed with root veg. Two dozen tails would be required for a pie. 

Sparrow brains
In a courageous tart these were mixed with sweet potatoes and fruit.The name likely refers to the rumoured aphrodisiac qualities of the dish. 

Rook
When young rooks were ‘cleared’ in spring, the breast and legs would be simmered in milk before being baked in a pie.The rest of the bird was too bitter for eating.

Larks
Recommended by Mrs Beeton to be served as an entree, these birds would be baked whole in a pie, bones and all. 

Intestines (Cornwall) 
The appetising sounding muggety pie contained cow entrails, boiled, sliced and mixed with cream and parsley.

Testicles
You could be forgiven for not knowing that ‘stones’ referred to testicles in the 18h century. Blanched and sliced, they were the main ingredient of a lambstone pie, mixed with artichokes and sweetbreads.

Piglests (Cornwall)
Or to be more specific, prematurely born piglets, the main ingredient of a tiddago pie.

Udder
Boiled and sliced with tongue and mixed with raisins, an udder pie was apparently tasty hot or cold.

Words: Steph Wetherell; thelocavore.co.uk

This featured in issue 7 of Ernest Journal, on sale now.

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Venison jerky

Using time-honoured techniques adopted by cultures around the world, Jake and Amie of Jake's Cured Meats are your guides to making the perfect hiking snack.

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You’ve been tracking your prey for hours, then finally you get the shot. You lock it in your sights, take a couple of deep breaths, squeeze the trigger: crack! The animal drops, silence. A moment of reflection, respect for the beast. You remove the entrails, leave for the birds. The inescapable symbiosis of life and death. The march back home begins; the glow of embers awaits you. Skin, butcher, roast, eat. Hunger satisfied, you deal with the remaining meat; rub it with salt and hang it in the fireplace. The smoke flows around the meat, transforming it into a perfectly preserved meaty jewel. 

Before refrigeration, food preservation was key to survival. This was often achieved by drying, which allowed a single kill to last for months, providing a powerful protein punch. From the ancient Egyptians to the Native Americans, many cultures developed their own methods for drying meat. This allowed pioneers and adventurers to push ever deeper into uncharted territory. When Captain Scott set off for the South Pole he took with him pemmican – a mixture of dried meat, fat and berries. 

Curing meat is still something of a black art. The complex flavour changes that take place during the curing process is still not fully understood. Good hygiene is essential and always buy the best quality meat you can. This recipe is for venison jerky but you can use any kind of lean meat; beef, lamb or turkey, for example.

Ingredients

500g venison haunch
4 tbsp soy sauce
4 tbsp Worcester sauce
2 tbsp honey
4 tsp smoked paprika
2 tsp chilli flakes
2 tsp sea salt
1/2 orange zest and juice

Method

1. Pop the venison in the freezer for 45 mins to 1 hour. You don’t want to freeze it, just to firm it up slightly.

2. With a sharp knife slice the venison into thin strips.

3. Whisk together the remaining ingredients in a bowl, then add the venison strips. Cover and leave overnight to marinade in the fridge.

4. Once the meat has finished marinating, preheat the oven to 80C.

5. Lay the meat on a baking rack or something that will allow the air to circulate around the meat.

6. Bake for 3-4 hours or until the meat becomes dry and chewy, then remove from the oven and allow to cool.

7. Pack into an airtight container and store in a dry, cool place ready for your next adventure.

Words by Jake and Amie, who make cured meat snacks in the Brecon Beacons; jakescuredmeats.co.uk. 

Metheglin: the king's brew

Courtier, privateer, diplomat, swordsman, theologian, alchemist and incurable romantic, Sir Kenelm Digby was the sort of character you simply couldn’t make up. Oddly enough though, these days Digby is most revered among home brewers... 

  Image by Jesse Wild

Image by Jesse Wild

Sir Kenelm Digby  (1603-1665) was a noted foodie, and he kept extensive notebooks of recipes encountered both in London and on his travels. These were published after his death by an enterprising steward under the title The Closet of Sir Kenelm Digby Knight Opened (1669).

Among dishes with fantastic names like “a good quaking bag pudding” or “pease of the seedy buds of tulips”, there are no less than 115 different booze recipes, mainly for metheglin – or flavoured mead.  Kenelm got this brew from “Master Webbe, who maketh the King’s Meathe”. I’ve scaled it down considerably (Webbe’s recipe makes 300 bottles, but eight is probably enough to start with), and switched most of the fresh ingredients for dry ones. It’s strong and sweet, with a rather medicinal flavour.

1. Bring 10 litres of water to the boil. Add 5g of dried hops (I used East Kent Goldings) and boil for half an hour. Putting your ingredients in muslin bags will save you straining them off later.

2. Remove the hops, and stir in 1.6kg of honey. Boil for an hour, skimming occasionally.

3. Add 5g dried rose petals; 2 teaspoons each of dried rosemary, thyme and marjoram; 1 teaspoon of mint; 5g fresh ginger ; a stick of cinnamon and 4 tablespoons of oloroso (sweet) sherry. Webbe liked it with cloves and mace too, but “the King did not care for them”.

4. Boil for half an hour, then strain off the liquid into a sterilised fermenter and let it cool. If you want to check the specific gravity with a hydrometer (or an egg), it should be around 1075.

5. Whisk vigorously, then pitch half a teaspoon of yeast nutrient and 2 teaspoons of wine yeast. By the next day it should be fizzing nicely.

6. Leave it to ferment out and clear (mine took a few weeks), then siphon it off into sterilised wine bottles (corks rather than screw tops). Kenelm reckoned it would be ready to drink in a month or two, but it will keep much longer. 

Joly-Braime-profile-pic.jpg

Joly Braime is a writer and home brewer. He spends his leisure time tramping the moors or filling his coal shed with homemade alcohol.
 

jolybraime.co.uk

 

 

 

 


To learn more about Sir Kenelm Digby, pick up a copy of issue 7, on sale now.

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