I was far more confident as I’d been practicing my stance in the mirror every night as instructed, and was going to the Gym 3 times a week. My rugby-playing toy-boy had a little bit to do with that – I needed something pretty to look at while I sweated unattractively all over the place.
Richard was still gung-ho, but I knew he hadn’t practiced as much as me. He was also singularly unimpressed by the fact that the clocks went back the previous weekend, thus was starting to indulge in the well-known male pastime of taking root on the sofa. Attempts to move him so we wouldn’t be late for the lesson 3 necessitated the use of a cattle prod. If I was late for anything of Richard’s, he’d sit in the car with the engine running. Using the same tactics, I got my car out and got the heater running. Ten minutes later, Richard catapulted in through the passenger door.
“Thanks, its nice and warm now!” He burbled, “but we might be a bit late now!”
“Hum – didn’t want to hurry you, so thought I’d get out of the way.” That was what Richard always said. I thought he’d take the hint.
“You are sweet, you know how I hate winter!” Clearly hint remained untaken.
But we were definitely late, the gym was surrounded by cars and full of people by the time we got there.
“Come on in!” Liz hustled us, aware of us being the stragglers. “Close the door behind you! You know what to do – find your own bows.” She waved her manicured hands in the direction of the boxes – nowhere near as helpful as she’d been before. With a toss of her hair, she bustled up to one of the juniors and bunged a bracer on his arm. Junior took one look at the bracer, then switched it to the other arm, tagged on the elastic and a toggle fell off.
“Miss!” the junior bleated.
I got the feeling we’d just held everything up.
Phil was prowling up and down in that aloof manner that only the very tall can manage, simultaneously reading out aloud from a list giving us our bow numbers. I remembered mine, Richard had, inevitably, forgotten his – I’d either leased his brain cells for the night, or he was still contemplating hibernation for the winter. Then it was the famous Stortford Archery Club rummage – almost as much fun as last day of Harrod’s Sale and considerably less expensive – to find my bow. Whilst searching I grunted in the direction of the Talking Coat and was rewarded by a return grunt, a wave of one hand and a momentary glimpse of an eyeball. The alien life form had been contacted.
Bow assembled and with string draped over my neck to avoid losing it, I joined the queue for Liz and the magic stringer. Without so much as a by your leave, Phil cleanly pulled the bow from my hand, checked I’d put the limbs on the right way around and held his hand out for the string. He threaded one end on, then put the lower limb under his foot and leaned on the top, tweaking the string into position at the same time.
“I thought you’re not supposed to do that!” I challenged.
“I had my back to you, so you didn’t see me do it.” Phil replied, facial expression unchanging from prowl mode. “You must not attempt this on your own, or you’ll hurt yourself.”
The ‘hurt yourself’ bit was said in a tone that reflected a wish of hope more than helpfulness. However, I was not going to let this rest.
“Is this strung properly?” I accosted the Talking Coat’s father, Paul.
“Who strung it?” He asked, as he inspected each end and twanged the string.
“It’ll be O.K. then, but if you feel brave, you could always take it back to him and insist he did it again. That would really wind him up.” Paul folded his arms as usual, smiled warmly then gestured with a nod of his head towards a corner. “Made contact yet?”
“With The Talking Coat, aka Jonathon? Right, we’ve had a lively discussion on the Theory of Relativity.”
“I doubt it.” Paul slowly shook his head with amusement. “If you did, you were very lucky. I’ve had 2 words, 6 grunts and a dribble over the last 2 hours. May I ask, as you’ve obviously experienced the sub-culture of The Teenager before, how long did yours take to become human again?”
“Actually, I’ve got this theory that the moment they reach those difficult years, you should ferry them off to an island where they can all be awkward together.” Too right I’d been through the hell of teenage-hood.
“Yes, I can see it now!” Paul’s face took on that glazed expression of hope – maybe the light at the end of the tunnel wasn’t the proverbial oncoming juggernaut with brake failure. “Quietest place on earth except for the odd grunt and the sound of teenage fingers texting each other.”
“Mine didn’t actually become human until around 22, and even then I’ve got a few doubts about the youngest one really ever making the transition. Probably took after her father.” I gestured in Richard’s direction. He was doing one of his silly laughs at the time – the type where he half collapses and his shoulders and belly start to jiggle at the same time. It quite adequately illustrated what I meant.
Paul glanced at Richard, and his face dropped. The juggernaut driver in the tunnel had just sprouted a white stick in his cab.
“But it might be different for boys.” I added quickly. Paul had been very kind and had done his best to make me feel welcome that the last thing I wanted to do was upset him.
“Might be even later for boys,” Jonathon had discovered the power of rational speech when an opportunity presented itself.
“You may well be right there”, I said ruefully as Richard let rip another silly laugh while he shared some silly joke with Phil. “If Richard’s anything to go by, some don’t even make it out of childhood.”
“Can you give me your bow for stringing?” I got no chance to reply, the ever-efficient Liz steamed into our conversation like a big, bossy green steam engine – yes, she was still wearing the gnome uniform, though she could get away with it as it complimented her red hair.
“Liz, you can answer this.” I got the feeling I’d been there before. “How do I know if a bow’s been strung correctly?”
“You check the tops of the limbs,” She explained as she took my bow off of me and pointed to the tops of the limbs.
“They’ve got little groves at the edges where the string touches. The string should be sitting inside these groves, if it’s not, get it re-strung, don’t try to shift the string yourself.” She then looked at me quite sharply.
“I don’t remember doing yours – did you do yours without the stringer?”
I shrugged and raised my hands with a ‘wazzzn’t me’ gesture. It didn’t cut any ice. That grumpy git Phil had got me into trouble.
“You shouldn’t do that, you could seriously hurt yourself – I think I mentioned this last week.” Liz peered over the top of her glasses at me.
“Phil did it,” I confessed, I didn’t hesitate. The pool of nasty, smelly sticky stuff was about to get a visitor.
Liz nodded. “It’ll be all right then.”
No it isn’t; not with me anyway.
The next rummage stop was for my bracer. Liz pointed out that they’ve got some shiny new ones, but I still searched for my old one, thinking of my brief purple patch last week and perhaps that old bracer was a good luck charm. It wasn’t there, so I was stuck with a new one and just like the junior earlier, I managed to pull one of the plastic toggles off at my first attempt. Well, look on the bright side, I’ll have an excuse when I missed. My sight was still on, so at least I wasn’t going to have to mess around with that as well.
“You’ve all been doing so well that the shooting line has been moved back ever so slightly tonight.” Phil informed us frostily. Why didn’t I believe him about the doing so well bit?
“It will make very little difference other than you’ll have to change your sight settings, had you made a note of them from last week,” continued Phil. “You should concentrate on grouping your arrows, rather than trying to get them in the centre of the boss.”
So much for not having to change it. I was sure he did it deliberately, or he’d had a bad day as someone had disturbed his sleep whilst he was hanging upside down in his cave.
Typical – I undid that little thing at the side and the little red tunnel plummeted to the bottom of the scale, then fell off.
“Come here, let me do it!” Paul had gallantly picked up the tunnel and fixed it back on about halfway down the scale.
I looked as suitably pathetic and grateful as only a girlie can.
Richard started laughing.
“Has she broken it already?” He said to Paul.
Paul, who I had previously thought of as being helpful, looked mildly amused. “Not quite yet, but we’re working on it.”
“Who are you to talk about breaking things?” I went into annoyed defense mode.
“I’m big, things get in my way – O.K?”
I’d hit one of Richard’s sore points. It was true, he could break anything. Better than that, he seldom knew how to repair them. The holes in our house walls from various shelving attempts bore witness to that.
S***! On my very first shot, the string caught my arm just above the bracer. It didn’t hurt that much, but it was enough to warn me not to get my arm too straight and to drop my shoulder a little.
That didn’t work either, I got twanged again. Richard always got dreadfully concerned and protective about my ability to hatch bruises without any apparent effort – they just tended to appear and I have to backtrack over how they could be there. He’d never forgiven me for the time when, just after we’d married, I’d had my wisdom teeth removed and looked like I’d done 12 rounds with Bruno. When he’d come to collect me from the hospital, he’d made fun of my appearance, asking the hospital to take me back until I’d looked human again. I’d retaliated when we’d done the shopping the following weekend.
The checkout girl had looked at my battered and bruised face in complete horror and had asked me if I needed help whilst simultaneously throwing the shopping at Richard. Once I’d realized what she’d meant, I’d just sadly shaken my head and replied loudly that it was something we all had to bear. It had taken Richard a further 10 minutes to explain to the girl (and the now assembled queue that had formed behind us) that my bruises were the result of an operation, and that the cruelest thing he’d done was to get ‘Young Frankenstein’ out on video and I’d actually laughed so much that I’d re-split my lip!
Needless to say when I did really injure myself, nothing would happen until a week later, then it blossomed in glorious Technicolor. Knowing his protective reaction, I didn’t want him to say you must stop doing archery as those bruises are so bad. I had to shut up and not do it again, so I bent my arm and I didn’t pull back far enough and still that horrible string was out to get me. It was an ugly sight; my arrows were as far apart as a girl band post split-up, and I was going to have a left arm the colour of a rainbow by next week.
I was paired that evening with a youngster called Lyndon. He must have been around 14 years old and was already as tall as me. His father brought him to the classes and then would sit to one side, pretending to read a book. When his son was shooting, he watched intently and anyone could see he was actually dying to have a go himself, but didn’t like to say anything. If you caught his glance, he’d retreat rapidly back into his book and fain boredom by yawning randomly.
Lyndon was a great partner to have whilst learning. You could make a real pig’s ear of things and know that Lyndon wouldn’t say a dickie bird to point it out. He was very quiet, exceedingly polite and once he’d got over his initial shyness would chat away happily when walking to and from the boss. His shots were better – as were everyone’s – than mine, but he was also having some problems. Help, however, was on hand. Phil was on our case tonight.
Richard kept on insisting that Phil was a good bloke. I had my reservations thus had so far managed to avoid him. Admittedly I hadn’t exactly endeared myself to him on account of my giggle attack at the first session and my reaction to his ‘chivalry’ explanation the following week. It had all seemed too much for his very serious approach to the sport to have to put up with my sense of humour. Now having him watch me closely made me tetchy, my nerves kicked in and I started to shake. I normally cover a panic attack with laughter. That would not have suited him at all.
I found that shooting in front of him was a bit like having to do a business presentation for Darth Vader. He seemed to lurk in the shadows, breathing heavily and as I was concentrating so hard it was like an all-pervading evil presence. He’d told the 2 of us earlier that he would not interfere unless we asked or he could see us do something silly. 3 ends went by and he was still leaning up against the wall behind us, one foot on the ground, other on the wall and with his arms folded. Other than tutting when I laid my bow down on the ground the wrong way (leaning on the sight tunnel) he hadn’t moved. Any moment though, I feel that Darth was going to swoop, and start muttering something about ‘The Force being weak in you, my child’.
Lyndon was the first to go. Phil had put something over one eye of Lyndon’s glasses, and stuck what looked like an old sock on his bow arm sleeve. The effect, fashion wise, would be considered more Vivian Westwood rather than Ralph Lauren. Lyndon didn’t appear worried as his shooting improved vastly.
I hadn’t escaped the clutch of the dark forces. One more end and Darth Vader pounced, clutching what looks like half an old bra.
“Easy-peezy, that’s what’s causing the problem!” He pointed at a large expanse of baggy sweatshirt, which was designed to cover an equally large expanse of somewhat baggy flesh. “Put this on to keep it out the way!” He backed off rapidly as I did battle with the various straps until I’d got it on.
Right. It wasn’t exactly flattering. In the past I’d made all the various jokes about Superman wearing his underpants over his tights and now I was wearing half a bra over my sweatshirt. I stood balefully glaring at the garment and Richard made the very silly mistake of laughing at me then told me to stop making faces.
I suggested, quite politely but hissing like a cobra, that if I was going to wear one of those things, it was at the very least to have a Gucci label. Richard carried on laughing. Phil must have seen that a fight was just about to break out and rushed in to attempt to defuse the situation.
“Look, I wear one!” He said, gesturing frantically towards a slightly less tatty one he’d hastily pulled on.
Frankly, I thought, that would be the best reason for NOT wearing one. I was just about to point out that he didn’t have the same problems or fill said object the same way I did when I saw the dear, sweet Lyndon waiting for me to take my shots. I stomped off with my bow and muttered something to the effect that perhaps a larger bit of tatty old net would keep all of me out the way.
“At least you don’t have to wear and old sock and an eye patch!” Lyndon said sweetly.
He did have a point.
My shots improved, despite my sulking, the Nasty Gnome was right. My sweat shirt was no longer catching on the string and having the spring scratch against the guard gave me another reference point to know if I was in position for the shot. Having achieved a good group, I walked back to the waiting lines and poked Richard in the stomach to attract his attention. Revenge is a dish best eaten cold.
Funnily enough, the biggest problem I then got was actually removing my arrows from the target. The gym had warmed up, my heavy sweatshirt was proving too warm and I’ve got clammy hands. The arrows slipped when I’m trying to grasp the shaft – I knew I mustn’t twist – so I had to rely on Lyndon removing them.
“No – put one hand against the boss to stop it falling on you, then keep your pulling arm straight and use your body weight, that’ll shift anything!” Steve helpfully instructed me from the far side of the room.
So, my body weight would shift anything?. Well, I’ll show you.
I was actually making progress despite my back aching and my right shoulder killing me. I’d also got that silly smile back on my face that said I was enjoying myself. God, I must be some sort of pervert.
When the session finished, Richard and I did the usual social rounds, and ended up dismantling bows whilst chatting to the lovely Liz.
“When the time comes for Barbi to buy me my own bow”, Richard paused to see if I was listening to his committing me to buy something else for him. “Where do we go? I don’t think I’ve ever seen one, though I don’t doubt it’s on the internet.”
Liz beamed, Richard had hit her favourite subject.
“Just you wait there a minute!” She dived into her own kit and emerged triumphantly clutching some extremely dog-eared publications.
“This one’s for 2000”, she explained, “but give or take a few discontinued items – like Yamaha – they’ve got metric threads so don’t be tempted – the info is still valid.”
She thumbed through to what must have been a favourite section – it was even more mangled than the issue Richard was clutching – and produced a bewildering table.
“This shows what arrows you should use, they have to take your draw length and poundage into account, though you’d be best to go to Tony at Perris. He’d measure you up properly and you can try everything out. I’d come with you and help, of course!” Liz beamed from ear to ear with the idea of helping kit someone up from scratch.
Richard had already migrated to the planet Gadgetland and had grabbed another catalogue, but was already tutting over the prices.
“£250 for a handle, and that’s without the limbs or any of the other bits! I thought you said this was an inexpensive sport.”
I’d lost it. I was totally transfixed and in distinct danger of staring rudely. That guy over there wasn’t breathing – he couldn’t be! If it was just as if he were set in stone. Perhaps Charlie Dimmock could make him into a water feature? Could double as a burglar deterrent – climb over the back wall and – struth – there’s a bloke aiming straight at me!
At the far side of the gym froze – stood would have been the wrong word – a sandy-haired version of Gary Rhodes. With no movement or apparent effort an arrow seared towards the boss upon which were 3 small target faces. He removed another arrow from his quiver and threaded it fastidiously onto the bow. Raising and drawing, this momentarily seemed to require a huge effort, the small, purple bow flexed into shape. The shooter resumed his frozen stance, almost like a heron in the fishpond (back to the water feature again) ready to spear any fish daft enough to come too close. His string hand didn’t appear to be into contact with the string as I’d been taught, but whatever he was doing worked and another arrow sped into the dead centre of one of the three faces.
Once finished, it was as if all the effort of standing still seemed to produce a reaction. The shooter became highly animated, rubbed his short, sandy hair on the top of his head rapidly backwards and forwards and beamed at everyone around. He moved rapidly away from the shooting line, nodding and smiling with that certain knowledge of his being the best.
I remembered, yet again, to close my mouth to avoid fly catching. I must have appeared rude to anyone else who’d seen me. Richard pulled me back from my home on the Planet Stupid.
“Wow, bit good, isn’t he?” Here we have Richard Williams, Mastermind contestant; specialist subject, stating the bleedin’ obvious.
“I think that’s a bit of an understatement!” I lowered my voice as the guy walked towards us. I didn’t want to add loud to my image of rude and stupid. “What is that he’s shooting?”
“That’s our Neil,” Liz said, as proudly as a mother who’s just seen her son win a major trophy at the school sports day, “and that’s a Compound bow he’s using – I’ve got one of those if you want to take a closer look. Neil’s working towards qualifying to represent England in the Indoor World Championships in France next year. That’s his wife, Melanie, over there, I’ll introduce you when they’ve finished.”
After collecting his arrows, Neil lined up for another shot. Off it went, blindingly quick, another gold but not dead centre this time. He shook his head ruefully and set up for the next.
Melanie joined him at the same boss, took up her position and using a similar-looking bow loosed off some equally sweet shots. She, too, made it look incredibly easy. I was so impressed, I was dumbstruck.
“Are they difficult to shoot?” asked Richard.
“It’s not so much difficult as different. You’ve got – see them? Cams at the top and bottom of the bow. This allows you to pull much heavier weights, but you only have to hold the weight at the earlier stage of the draw.”
“I know this sounds a bit daft, but I don’t like the look of them as much as the normal bows.” I’d applied female logic, crossed with years of working with engineers. It’s the old adage ‘If it looks right, it’ll go right.’ Looking at Neil, there was no doubt whatever that a compound was a highly efficient shooting machine, much more so than its recurve brother. However, it just didn’t look anything like a real bow to my untutored eye.
“As I said, it’s different!” Liz sounded quite cross with my observation. “When you pull a recurve the weight doesn’t really change much from start to finish. With a compound, Neil will pull through 65lbs, then drop off to almost nothing. It’s faster, more accurate and you can hold at full draw for much longer which gives you time to aim.” Liz handed Richard a compound. “Draw this, then let it down slowly but don’t let go whatever you do!”
Richard momentarily appeared to hit a brick wall on pulling back the string, then smiled as the weight appeared to drop away. “Hey, I like this!”
“Watch out as you come down, you’ll feel the weight again!” Liz looked almost relieved as she removed the bow from Richard’s grasp.
Neil may have shown no awareness of being watched earlier, but must have heard his name mentioned and strolled over. “Hello!” he beamed from behind John-Lennon style glasses, then ran his hand over his hair yet again rather absent mindedly. “Can I answer any questions for you?”
I’m none too good in the presence of any form of greatness and managed a talking coat level response, i.e. a grunt. Neil smiled, but looked a bit puzzled so I looked for help. Richard, naturally, executed a better formal intro, introduced the two of us and fired off some intelligent questions.
Both questions and answers went straight over the top of my head, it was all a bit technical for me. I’d just about plucked up courage to ask just how he managed to stand so still when I got distracted by none other than the Nasty Gnome himself.
“Are you happy with what you’ve learnt so far?” He displayed, as far as I was concerned, some highly uncharacteristic care.
“I’ll improve, anything new takes me a long time, but I’ll plod uphill and get there.” I replied somewhat briskly.
“I asked you if you were happy with what you’d done so far. No one would ever be expected to master archery in 3 weeks!” Phil shook his head in the manner of a parent dealing with a very obstinate child.
I didn’t really have an answer for him. How can you look someone in the eye and give an honest answer when;
a) You’re in awe/scared of them
b) Meeting them eye to eye gives you stiff neck
c) You are having a wonderful time but have to concentrate so hard that any comments you make come out gobbledygook.
“Come on, woman, put that man down immediately and come and get my dinner!” Richard rolled up to rescue me from my confusion and threw an arm round my shoulder.
“I’m sorry, Phil, is she bothering you? If she is, just say so and I’ll take her off the red meat, because she can get a bit frisky!”
Phil blinked rapidly. The words frisky and beginner were evidently oxymorons.
“As if! Phil and I were discussing my slow yet inevitable rise to Olympic stardom.” I said indignantly. “The accent, regrettably, is on the slow bit.”
“It will come!” Phil swept his own bow imperiously off the ground. “Often,” he said quietly and pleasantly, “It’s simply a question of confidence. The club used to have 2 superb lady archers, both who went onto much higher things. There’s no reason you shouldn’t attempt to follow them.”
It was my turn to blink rapidly.
“It’s just your case, Richard seems to have borrowed your confidence and any ability for the duration of the first 3 lessons.” He pronounced with a broad smile at Richard, but successfully removing any shred of confidence I had left.
Richard roared his head off at Phil’s joke.
Somehow I briefly lost my sense of humour.
Back home, I found a soft toy – a stuffed wild boar of all things would that I’d bought myself on a visit to the Lake District . I’d taken a shine to it as it had reminded me of one of my managers – a guy called Andy – who was possibly the most irritating person in the known universe. I used to stick pins in it when I’d had a bad day.
I re-christened him Phil.
Can’t wait until I get my own arrows . . .
Fitness diary 2
The trainer at work recommended some circuit training which absolutely killed me. I asked her the following day if I was supposed to feel 2 days later as if I’d just walked into a brick wall and had no energy at all. She just laughed and said that I was lucky to get hit that late – my rugby player after his first session fainted when he had his after session shower – so at least I’d got home without having to call for an on site first-aider!
Lucky indeed. The first-aider in charge of that site area was known to all as ‘Satan’s Little Helper’ on account of the damage and havoc he’d wreaked. It was common knowledge that if you saw him go off clutching the little green box, you’d follow at a discrete distance until you found his target, then called Security to alert them that further assistance would be required.
So, despite being told I was o.k. my right shoulder and collar bone hurt, and my back refused to straighten, leaving me sway-backed when I took a shot in the mirror. I did, however, take on the advice regarding a chest guard. The baggy sweatshirts got dumped in favour of something a bit tighter which matched my ever-so-slightly leaner frame.
I moaned to Richard that I looked like a tart wearing tops that were too tight for me. Typically, he just smiled then carried on addressing his conversation to my chest. Well, if you don’t want me to look, don’t wear it was his response when I complained.
Using a catalogue Liz suggested, I ordered my own black chest guard – an improvement on the tatty white net. Armani were working on my design but it won’t be available until next autumn.