I picked up my lumpy but loved bow, now proudly bearing Richard’s “colours” of a Mercedes badge and walked to the line. I’d picked up that bit from watching A Knight’s Tale last night in an attempt to fire myself up. I’d win, against all the odds! Well, maybe I won’t – gosh I’m so nervous.
Sandwiched between Gaynor and the other Barbara, I set up to draw.
The sound of 20 other arrows – many of them from longbows – flying into the air stopped me dead in my tracks. They didn’t all hit!
Feeling better, I loosed my first shot. It missed.
“That went low,” said the other Barbara quietly.
I lowered my sight, shot and hit.
“Still a bit low.” Barbara was on my case.
“Throw your chest out, love.” Gaynor instructed helpfully with her back to me. “Helps with almost anything you do.” She let off a shot that was rewarded almost simultaneously with the sound of a hit.
I threw out what little chest I still possessed, over did it and started coughing. Straightening up and breathing deeply I felt the air hit the bottom of my lungs – due to my bronchitis a place it hadn’t been since June. I loosed.
“Better, that’s a 7 at 3 o’clock.” Confirmed Barbara.
I’d never expected such incredible help – this was supposed to be a competition!
Becky and the only male archer on our boss, a tall and very polite guy called Ken, were up now. Becky’s shot faltered in the air and fell about 7 yards short. Unfazed, she elegantly nocked another arrow, went into a perfect T-form and loosed again. The arrow kicked slightly on the wind, then seemed to skid under the boss.
Becky’s huge grey eyes widened and looked slightly panicky. She nocked the third arrow, brushed her long, dark hair out of the way with her wrist, drew and clearly aimed much higher than she had done before. The arrow soared into the air, peaked and then dropped onto the boss at a funny angle.
“Y’all right, love.” Said Barbara soothingly as Becky made her way soulfully back to the waiting line. “Barry, can you give us a hand with the girl’s sight?”
Barry dashed over and took the slightly bemused Becky’s bow out of her hand.
“It’s as far down as it can go!” said Barry. “What about moving it ‘round?”
“Can you change where the block is?” suggested Ken.
“I’m surprised you can shoot at all with the pin in that position. Doesn’t it obstruct the arrow?” Someone else had volunteered their services.
“What about your next 3 sighters?” Gaynor tapped me on the shoulder and reminded me. “Ken, you come in with us. Barbara will keep Becky company once they’ve made the changes to the sight.”
Ken and I meekly got into line and fired the next 3. We all hit. My nerves had deserted me as I was too busy listening to all the suggestions made to improve Becky’s chances of making the distance.
Clive the judge wandered over to check out what the hold-up was, agreed that everyone else should finish their sighters and Becky and Barbara take their last shots when the sight had been adjusted. Whilst what sounded like major engineering works took place, I had a chance to borrow Gaynor’s field glasses and try and spot my shots. I thought they were brilliant until I realized that the 3 I thought were mine and in the gold were in fact the other Barbara’s – she’d got orange fletchings like mine.
Finally done, sight now on the inside of the bow, Becky and Barbara lined up alone. At that moment I could only feel for Becky and how brave she was. Out here almost alone, first competition, She was looking lovely and as cool as a cucumber. The first shot winged its way skyward, tipped, then hit.
A collective sigh sounded from our corner of the field.
“Oh, bless, look at her!” Said Gaynor.
“Fantastic!” Smiled Barry happily, still trying to stem the flow of blood from his finger where the screwdriver had slipped.
The next 2 shots both hit, and were also accompanied by oohs and aahs of admiration.
“Brings tears to your eyes – reminds me of my first time!” Gaynor was, indeed, mopping a tear from her eye.
The whistle sounded, and we were off to collect our arrows.
As a matter of habit, I stuck my head down the side behind the boss to see if my arrows were close by.
“And where d’you think you’re going?” Asked Barbara, but laughing at the same time. “We know you missed, which we know is a shame, but you should look at where your hits went and work out what changes you’ve got to make. Your shots went under the boss – they were straight enough – but didn’t have the height. With a bit of luck someone else will bend down and pick them up for you.”
Mumbling apologies, I returned to the front of the boss to see that all but one of my arrows hit low, and that was the one where I’d had a coughing fit before loosing. Perhaps I should try standing up straight as a matter of course?
Barbara, Gaynor and Ken’s arrows were all jousting for position around the gold and red. 2 of Becky’s shots had hit the blue at 11 o’clock, the others hugging the black at the bottom of the boss.
“Happy?” Asked Ken.
Becky looked ecstatic, I nodded and was just about to dive behind the boss when Dave appeared with both my arrows.
“I could only find these behind there, and they were just underneath. Is anyone missing anything else?”
Gaynor did a mock self-body search. “That’s a relief, I thought something had just fallen off! No, we’re 100%, thanks!”
Dave shot Gaynor a look as if he didn’t believe that she could possibly be real, handed my arrows over and headed back to the waiting line in double-quick time.
As we walked back for our next shots, Barbara suddenly headed sideways along the line and nabbed an already seated Phil.
“You did say that Becky was one of yours?” Barbara quizzed.
“She’s from Stortford, yes.” Phil confirmed politely and nodded.
“Well, why hadn’t anyone noticed the problems she had with her sight?”
Phil looked confused.
I was enjoying this, someone having a go at Phil! Now was my chance to get my own back on the Nasty Gnome! I stood behind Barbara, not much defense as Barbara was shorter than me. Nevertheless, I found myself grinning from ear to ear.
Phil, however, looked deadly serious and ready to defend his position.
“I don’t believe that she ever asked me. Anyone at Stortford would have helped, but it wasn’t until yesterday that Dave and Becky said they wanted to enter. Neither of them have really shot over 50 yards.” Phil explained.
“The poor love! I thought she was going to burst into tears. But don’t you go worrying ‘bout it, we’ve sorted it out for you.” Barbara informed Phil briskly.
Phil looked confused and blushed terribly. “Is this any way to speak to your Chairman?” He asked.
“Particularly when he’s a Chairman”, responded Barbara happily, “And I know that you’re big enough and ugly enough to listen!”
I was enjoying myself for the first time that day. I thought I’d get my bit in while someone had got him down.
“You don’t know the half of it. He’s really horrible to me, tried to get rid of me loads of times – it’s all because I’m a girlie and can’t lift the bosses on my own! And he whips the beginners if they miss and spend too long searching for their arrows!”
“Oh I know he ‘as his moments, but he’s not really that bad, are you Phil?” Barbara promptly swapped sides.
“Oh, I could be if pushed.” Phil stood up slowly, stopped blushing and directed a horribly sickly, sweet smile at me.
Realizing I’d lost that particular away match, I retreated rapidly to my own position behind the lines.
The whistle sounded, we were off again.
Now, I have a problem simply shooting straight. The person who wrote ‘any idiot can point a stick at a target’ hadn’t met this particular idiot. I was back to climbing the walls again, shaking from head to foot so much that my arms were trembling and the whole boss had merged into a wash of colour behind the sight ring. My attempts to stop shaking made me lock my knees which in turn gave me cramp. It was completely pathetic. My first 3 got lost somewhere in the grass and I couldn’t even put my bow on the stand properly. When it was time to get up again, I nearly missed my slot. Then I couldn’t get the arrow to stay on the rest.
“It’s O.K., we’ll wait with you.” Barbara re-assured me as I took yet another deep breath to calm down. “Count to ten, anything! It doesn’t matter!”
Oh, it does! I want to win something so desperately and prove, most importantly to myself, that I’m not useless. I looked back over Gaynor’s head and saw Paul looking straight at me, as usual, arms folded. He simply cocked his head to one side slightly impatiently as if to say ‘get on with it’. So I did. Good old Paul – likely he’d got a career as a coach. (the coaches exam is on the 9th & 10th April, and less of the old, I’m younger than some and a lot younger than others – Paul)
The shaking continued, mostly because I’d been shaking so much it would take at least 10 minutes to slow down again. But I shot – and hit – the next 3.
“D’you want to do the scores, B’bra?” The other Barbara held out one of the boards with the sheets pinned to it.
“I’m sorry, but I can’t add up and I’d hate to make a mess of someone else’s scores!” I’d reverted to Lucy Learner mode again.
“Can I do it?” piped up Becky, shaming me yet again.
“No, that’s alright. It is a lot to take in first time. I’ll score if Ken will do mine.” Barbara organized all of us.
Becky and I didn’t really have much practice at shouting out scores. Becky would find the middle and count outwards, saying each score with a query note in her voice. I tried very hard not to take too long, but by mistake called one of Barbara’s arrows – same colour fletchings, but curly and with lighter nocks.
“Judge!” Barbara raised her hand and Clive made his way over.
“What can I do for you ladies? Whatever it is, t’will be a pleasure!” He said sweetly.
Ken felt distinctly out of it, so he coughed for some acknowledgement.
“And Ken,” added Clive hastily.
“B’bra’s called incorrectly, and I’ve written it down.”
Clive took the board from Barbara, and turned towards me. “O.K., Barbara – Williams, can you call your score out again please?”
Oh, well, there were only four of them, so it was a little bit easier. “That’s 7, 7, 5 & 3, ahem, ahem.”
“There isn’t space for me to write that! Shall we settle for miss, miss?” Clive chided, but very nicely.
“Miss, miss but very quietly?” I whispered.
“As quietly as you want, Barbara!” laughed Clive.
This time Nick appeared from behind the boss with my arrows. “Can’t you roll on something dirty, you’re still damaging my eyes with those whites!”
“You can come over and get filthy with me, love!” shouted someone from a nearby boss. He looked like one of the guys who’d waved to the Lady Paramount earlier on.
The lady with the bells looked scandalized. “Really!”
“So here it is, Merry Christmas!” Sang some other voices.
Lady with bells started laughing and withdrew, tinkling all the way.
The next end passed pretty uneventfully. Everyone hit – after a fashion as 2 of mine were hanging right on the edge in the one zone. The lovely Becky was out-pointing me. Despite the fact that her arrows were hanging around in the sky, they were all scoring. Somehow, however, it didn’t matter. It was a lovely sunny day, everyone was cheerful and pleasant company – so what if I came last?
Then disaster struck.
“You didn’t intend the stand to get away, did you?” Chuckled Barbara, handing me her glasses when I looked puzzled.
One of my arrows had gone low and was clean through the widest part of the wooden stand, literally pinning a leg to the ground. I marveled how fast and hard the arrow must have been going to do that, but it came out cleanly and showed no signs of its traumatic experience.
The trauma came to light at the next end – the same arrow when shot hit with a crack and rebounded. I wasn’t certain about what had happened and didn’t have the knowledge or confidence to raise my bow and record a bouncer – by that time I’d relaxed and didn’t care.
I found the other 5 in the boss, but couldn’t locate the bouncer. Then Phil walked over with my arrow, broken right in the middle, and just about holding together on one side.
“Right, thanks.” I took it back sadly.
“Not much you do with that, love.” said Barbara. “You can re-use the point and the nock, maybe even save the fletchings if you can get them off cleanly.”
“Now I know why you have to buy 12.” I was strangely upset. Phil actually noticed and tried to cheer me up as we walked back to the line.
“Everyone gets breakages.” He said kindly, “You just get more than most and that’s because you try so hard! It happened to me when I first started. A riser went on me, that was how I was able to upgrade so quickly.”
“Yes, but only another 11 to break, then I can go home!”
“Actually it’s another 6, which would mean you wouldn’t have a set.” Phil said patiently. “Don’t give up now, please! And – you should have declared a bouncer – you could regret those lost points.”
I knew I’d get told off for something.
The tide then turned in my favour.
The sun went in behind a series of big, black clouds, and as always happens towards the end of the summer in this country, the wind got up. The flag on our boss, which had started the afternoon at a drunken angle anyway, fell over. Becky’s arrows were getting blown everywhere as uncharitable as it may seem for me to have noticed, I made the most of the advantage and hit 2 golds in one end.
At the next end, Gaynor suddenly raised her bow. The long rod had detached itself and her last shot had made a horrible juddering sound.
“Anyone got a grub screw? It’s fallen off and I’ve got no chance of finding it in this grass.” She shouted.
It had the desired effect. The shooting archers instructed other non-shooting partners to go through their tackle boxes, and in no time Gaynor had a selection to choose from. The only problem was that she hadn’t shouted for a screwdriver as well, so that had to be found.
The other Barbara and I waited as we were part of the same wave, and I was fascinated by Gaynor’s technical competence and the amazing support she was getting from fellow competitors. I also saw that someone else, clearly an accomplished archer, could get problems. The key was the ability to yell stop, ask for help and then carry on.
“Ready now?” Gaynor smiled at the 2 of us.
“Three musketeers, one ‘n all!” Laughed Barbara.
Almost in formation we took up our place on the line after everyone else had retired and shot – hitting every one! For an encore, we retired smartly in formation.
“Bravo!” Said Ken, “Made a lovely sight, ladies, if you don’t mine me saying.”
“Can I have the tall blond one in the middle’s phone number?” Shouted that voice again.
“Who is that?” I asked Gaynor, “You seem to know every one here.”
“Not in the biblical sense, I assure you. Steve’s lovely, always there, laughing and joking – a really nice bloke – most of the time!”
“Men – can’t live with ‘em, can’t shoot ‘em!” I rumbled out one of my old battle cries.
“You can in this game, B’bra. Trouble is, the buggers tend to run away then zig zag just as you get lined up!”
The wind continued to rise, and strangely enough so did my scores. I then got over enthusiastic and called the wrong scores again.
“Judge!” Yelled Barbara
“Not you again! What have you done this time?” Clive bustled cheerfully over.
“Sorry. I called the other Barbara’s arrow and then touched the end.” I tired to look suitably humble. Trouble was, I’d actually got a higher score than Barbara this end as she’d suddenly decided that blue was her favourite colour.
“Call out your scores again, please.”
This time Gaynor fixed me with a beady grin, pointed at the end of my arrows and mouthed the scores to me. It helped, 2 were line cutters which I would not have, out of inexperience, have moved into a higher score were prompted to me.
“Well done!” Clive winked at me and handed the board back to Barbara after he’d initialed the scores.
I was so thrilled with my score, I went to help pull the arrows out, rather than stand about looking like a spare Ford gearbox in a Vauxhall factory.
“Don’t move any closer, stop right where you are!” Barbara barked out a command.
“Sorry, I’m only trying to help!” I froze.
“Now remove what is hopefully just the nock end of your arrow from around my kidney area.” Barbara was wedged up against the boss and glaring balefully over her shoulder.
“Shit!” It was at times like this that I realized just how dangerous the sport could be. How could I have ever gone to do something so stupid? Indeed, the nock end of the spare arrow in my quiver had caught in Barbara’s belt, but she could feel the tip pushing in her back. I carefully removed the offending item and backed away looking sheepish and muttering apologies as I went.
For the next end, as penance, I volunteered to do the scoring which was one way of staying out of trouble. I’d brought my calculator with me – preferring to have people laugh at my inability to add up in my head but to get the sums right.
“Good idea, love,” said Barbara as I sat down to do the scores.
“That’s not what they say at my club.” I replied. “I just get laughed at, and the board swiftly taken away from me before I do any damage.”
“You do whatever you are happiest with, ignore anyone else, you concentrate on getting it right.” Barbara was so supportive.
My next end was glorious. 3 golds and the rest were in the red. I announced my scores with a flourish.
“Hmm. Better watch this one!” Said Gaynor.
“Cut her string!” replied Barbara.
That was the biggest compliment anyone could possibly have given me. Up until then, the only reason for keeping an eye on me would have been to have a laugh.
Then, just when I’d got my mark, the whistle sounded and they unsportingly announced that they were going to move the target!
“I don’t believe it!” I ranted to Nick.
“It’s coming closer, so should make life easier.” soothed Nick in return. “Well. It will for me. When I shoot, I think I’m doing quite well, then I take a look at what everyone else has done and change my mind!”
“Need any support, ladies?” Barry from the next boss arrived.
“No, I think Marks and Spencer are doing the job O.K. at the moment.” Gaynor stated simply, pinging a strap at strategically the right moment. “Ouch, must remember not to do that too often.”
On cue, Becky and I removed the ropes from the ground, Gaynor picked up the number at the base, and Barbara pushed the boss and stand gently onto the waiting Ken. He gallantly walked forward with the whole lot on his back, looking like an enormous upside down tortoise.
Once on the next marked line, we had to wait for the judge to confirm that the stand was correctly re-positioned before sticking the stakes in the ground.
Gaynor tried to straighten up our drunken flag. It fell out.
Once sorted out, it was time for a short break and the frantic run to the ladies. Waiting in the cue, being horribly vain I checked my appearance and immediately wished I hadn’t bothered. I instantly wished that the queue were a little shorter so I didn’t have to be accosted by my own appearance for too long. The chunk of hair sticking up had got even worse as I’d been facing into the wind for over an hour.
A voluptuous blond swept out of one of the cubicles, stood in front of the mirror and carefully re-arranged her flowing blond locks.
“How you doing, Kim? Old man trailing in your wake as usual?” another immaculate blond lady queried. She applied lipstick and managed to make sense – not that easy – at the same time.
“Hello Jeanne!” A tall, elegant and willowy brunette joined in the conversation. “Coping with the wind alright?”
“Whose wind would that be, Sandra?!” returned Jeanne in one of those grumpy, yet not actually really grumpy voices. “I don’t think we’ve got over that delicious walnut cake at yesterday’s Open yet.”
I felt very envious that I wasn’t part of the circuit yet, and other than Becky, didn’t have any ladies to chat to. They were all fired up with their own performances and – probably luckily as I was now way past my best – didn’t notice Terrified of Bishop’s Stortford in their midst. I carefully applied more lipstick, ruffled my hair into what could only be described as the just-got-out-of-bed look, and left their happy conversation to find some old chums.
I ran into The Coat.
“Uh?” I queried.
“Uh.” Returned The Coat, stressing the point with a downward hand motion. “Oo?”
“Nah.” I shook my head.
“That 8 year old girl at the Open could shoot better than you!” The Coat suddenly discovered the power of speech when it came to execute an insult.
“That 8 year old is likely to be a megastar. She was better than you are already! Anyway, I bet that I can out-point you today!” Bugger – that was rash of me. Why did I ever say that?
“From what I could see, you are doing really well.” Paul appeared from around the side of the building.
“I’ve missed several shots, and I’ve broken one arrow.” I went for some sympathy.
“So has everyone else at some time!” No sympathy from Paul.
“What about you?” I diverted momentarily from being completely self-obsessed.
“Let’s say, I’m quietly confident.” Paul looked rather smug. “Peter’s doing really well, and James – no, not the Lambo – Longbow James is ahead at the moment, so Stortford should come away with some medals.”
“But not from me.” I said gloomily.
“Never know, the boss is in closer now, so you’ve got more of a chance.” said Paul.
Once back at the line, I zipped the ringpull off a can of Red Bull.
“You can not believe how much I’ve been looking forward to this!” I smiled up at Gaynor from my seat and stretched my legs out in the remnants of the afternoon sunshine.
“That, my dear, is a banned substance!” said Gaynor.
“You’re joking! It’s only the same as having a cup of coffee. Besides, it’s the only drink I’ve got with me and I don’t believe this is a record status event.” Something I’d remembered when Peter had been talking about not having record status yesterday.
Barbara joined the discussion.
“If you’ve had several cups of coffee this morning, that drink would push you over the limit. Archery is an Olympic sport, and is governed by the same rules that any competing athlete has to observe. You can check it out on the Olympic website.”
“I don’t drink coffee!” I protested. I suddenly had visions of people arriving and asking for urine and blood samples, then being thrown out in disgrace before I’d even started.
“Just warning you,” said Gaynor, pleasantly.
“So – and I’m thinking about the downhill skier who lost his medal because he’d used a cold cure – you can’t take anything if you’re competing?”
“To be safe, no; I’d advise anyone in the squad that if they feel ill, they should go to bed and get over it – but don’t take anything, not even company unless they’re prepared to catch it.” Gaynor clearly knew what she was going on about.
“What about anti-biotics and things like the steroid injections I’ve had?”
I got seriously worried, over the past 3 months, my goodness I’d been prescribed drugs I’d never ever heard of before, and all of their boxes contained notes about side effects. At the time, as long as it worked, I swallowed it. The last thing to cross my mind at the time was ‘I can’t have that, it will compromise my Olympic career.’ Presumably if you had a long-running illness and had to take medication you wouldn’t be allowed to compete even as recreation?
“Well, it would be O.K. if you declared it prior to any testing, and had a doctor’s certificate.” Gaynor was really in full swing.
“How do you know all this?” I went on the offensive as I was now upset.
“I’ve been involved with coaching for many years.” Gaynor stated simply with all the authority of someone who’d clearly done a heck of a lot more than they’d originally let on and knew their stuff.
I got so upset, I gulped down one can, then swiftly opened another out of habit and went to sulk behind Barbara’s tent. A swift glance down the lines and I saw that most people were enjoying tea, coffee, cokes and myriad types of drinks. I was puzzled.
“Hello, and how’s Barbara?” The dear, Sweet Peter had arrived just at the right moment.
“I’m enjoying my banned substance, according to everyone else!” I waved my can of drink, expecting Peter to re-coil in horror and tell me to put it down immediately.
“I was expecting a Gin and tonic?” Peter queried. “Doesn’t help with your shooting, but the shots would most likely feel better.”
“I hear you’re covering yourself in glory today.” I changed the subject rapidly as my drug-taking didn’t seem to hold any interest for Peter.
“Doing, well, quite nicely, thanks. I’m quietly confident.” It was that phrase again. He smiled in the sunshine. “What about you?”
“Hopeless. I just started to pull myself together and they go and move the bosses. Now I’m told I’m likely to get banned because I’m cheating by drinking caffeine.”
Peter blinked at me in disbelief. “I haven’t seen any drugs testing taking place today, or any day if I’m honest. Possibly caffeine, if you overdo it, would be seen as abuse, but I can’t see that it would pull your performance from the dust into glory!”
“So my performance is dusty?” I glanced down at my white trouser legs and saw they were, indeed, coated in a layer of red dust. I brushed them down with an exaggerated motion, stamped my feet and caused a small, red dust devil. I was starting to not care, thus getting my sense of humour back.
Peter, as usual, looked mildly amused at my antics.
“Can’t say I’ve noticed. I’m way down on the other side and, I’ll say it again, although you think everyone is watching, they are all far too busy concentrating on their own performance.”
“So my Gucci quiver has gone un-noticed?”
“What Gucci quiver?” Peter said, then gave me one of those ‘never mind, she’s a blond’ indulgent looks.
“It has then – QED.”
“Oh – I see!” said Peter – which clearly he didn’t.
We’re off again, and I no longer cared in the slightest. At any moment the men in their clean white coats were going to carry me off and remove most of my blood for testing. Let’s go down in a blaze of glory. It’s got quieter, people are either getting tired or now realizing that there’s not much more time left to score.
I’m no longer missing, everything is counting and I feel that at least what is to be my only tournament will not result in total disgrace. Then I called a score wrong.
Clive toddled over.
“I’m insatiable, or so I’m told.” I couldn’t resist being silly, Clive had such a wicked twinkle in his eye and immediately saw the joke and started laughing. I re-called my scores, as did Ken who’d also made a bog-up.
“Sorry Clive, I didn’t mean to make you work so hard, especially on your birthday! I’ve called you over so often you must be getting the wrong idea about me.” I chatted away as I made my way back to the line.
“And you can forget any wrong ideas as that’s my boyfriend!” Immaculate blonde lady who I seemed to remember was called Jeanne hissed in my ear, then eased away laughing.
“Damn fine taste you’ve got too, madam, if I might make so bold!” If in doubt, dig an even bigger hole. If it’s deep enough, no one can see you or hear you scream.
On the penultimate half dozen, my shots started to drop.
“Do you think I should lower my sight?” I quizzed Gaynor. She was an expert after all, so I might as well get as much out of this as I could.
“No, you’re getting tired, that’s all. This is a long round to start off with. Just stand up straight, hold your head proud, pull your tummy in, stick your Chest out and stuff your bum wherever you can find a gap!” She advised me briskly.
Ken gave her a look of astonishment then started giggling.
“I don’t think that would work for me, don’t have the same equipment.” He said, still chuckling.
“Same principle, just jiggle your bits around differently.” Gaynor was totally unfazed.
In the dying sun, I made my best shots of the day. Then it was all over. I dived back to my chair to do the scores, triple checked on the calculator.
“Sign here, B’bra!” The other Barbara put my score sheet under my nose. “Not going to check?”
“No – thanks so much for your scoring – I’m too tired, I wouldn’t get the same total twice, I trust you and it’s just not a good enough score to bother with anyway.”
“I wouldn’t be so sure of that. A novice score of over 500 is pretty good, especially if this is your first tournament. I’d say you’re a natural as you’ve taken to it so well. Just remember to stand up straight, the rest will follow over the years.” Gaynor said as she scanned the sheet.
“Thanks for doing my score, Barbara.” This time the thanks were to me from Becky. “I’m so tired, I’m glad this is all over. I never realized how tiring it could get.” She and Dave entwined and walked happily off together in the direction of the bar. It was at times like this that I really missed Richard. It was all over – bar the shouting – and it would have been nice for him to be there, compare notes, argue about whose score was really the best and to support each other. It would have also been nice for him to drive home and for me have that well-earned drink.
“Don’t know why you’re sounding depressed.” Barbara remonstrated at me, “I’ve been shooting all season and this one,” she winked at Gaynor, “has just turned up and pipped my score! How long since you shot?”
“Oh, I keep my hand in, but I’ve not been in a competition for 3 months!” Gaynor winked back.
“Well?” Phil appeared from nowhere to spoil the fun. “From the noise coming from your boss, you’ve had a good time.”
“I suppose so, but I’m still waiting to be disqualified for Red Bull abuse.”
“I beg your pardon?” Phil wrinkled his nose at me.
“It’s a banned substance, I’ve drunk 2 so I’m over the limit.”
“Hmm.” Phil, as usual, looked disgusted/confused and left it at that.
Feeling deflated, I helped pack up the club’s and my own equipment, bunged my bits in the car, phoned Richard to give him a progress report (what? It’s at least another hour to go?) and made my way back to hear the results.
There were people all over the field, scratching around in the grass, some on their hands and knees and others with metal detectors. All were looking for one lost longbow arrow.
“Everyone, stand shoulder to shoulder!” barked a voice. “Walk slowly in a line and that way we can cover every inch of the field. So we did. At least it gave me time to catch up with the others.
“What did you score?” I asked The Coat who was having a giggling fit after seeing the state of Sweet Peter’s grassy knees.
“More than you,” was the rather defiant answer.
“Put a Mars Bar on it?” I asked.
“£10, you don’t eat Mars Bars – you don’t seem to eat anything – but you’d have a £10 on you.”
I got nervous. “Go on then, what did you get?”
“Is my son being rude and causing you a problem?” Paul jumped into the line alongside me. “Oh, sorry, did I just tread on something?” He bent, but to the dismay of the lined up masses who’d suddenly straightened up thinking that the arrow had been found and were dying to get to the bar, he only picked up a screwed up sweet wrapper. He lobbed it at Jonathon.
“Well, not really, I don’t think Jonathon would ever be deliberately rude.”
From behind his father’s back, Jonathon made a gesture that proved exactly the opposite.
“It’s not polite to ask other people what they’ve scored, Jonathon!” chided Paul.
“Wasn’t me who asked first,” muttered Jonathon, “S’not fair!”
“Well, carry on upsetting Barbara, then.” Paul looked over the top of his glasses at me. “I’ll join in! I did very well today, as a matter of fact, higher score than yesterday. Jonathon did well again, as usual, though he did let his concentration slip in the middle.”
Jonathon rolled his eyes skywards with that ‘why is everyone on my back’ look.
“What about the others?” I asked.
“I think Peter will win his class, he’s getting better and better lately. James will get something in the longbow, Nick would be very close to taking his class and he was on the last beginner’s group – 2 after you!
“In Jonathon’s words, that’s not fair, I’ve been ill. What about ‘Ole Grumpy and James? Every time I looked to see how the latter was doing, he was sitting down nursing a bottle of orange juice.”
“Yeah, I think he fell asleep. ‘Ol Grumpy’s a bit quiet today as well, though he’s always competitive, but he was rather busy being Chairman. I think he’s now shot off to change into a clean shirt in case he gets a kiss off of the Lady Paramount.”
“That’s very sweet and considerate of him, but has the Lady P really considered this carefully and had all her jabs?” I couldn’t resist it.
“I really don’t know why you two don’t get on, you’re both horrible!” Paul started laughing.
We never did find that arrow. The light was fading, then there was a doubt expressed that it had been lost in the first place. I was about to get myself a drink then saw Paul waving me in. It was time for the prizes.
Those who knew the form grabbed chairs. I didn’t, so ended up standing at the back of the room with Paul and Jonathon like a bunch of teenagers who didn’t really want to be seen to get involved. Phil did his Chairman bit and welcomed everyone all over again, then re-introduced the Lady Paramount, Denise Owen. She looked ravishing as she’d changed into a pale blue, floaty dress. No wonder he’d changed his shirt, faithless tart. I suddenly felt grubby and dowdy in my dusty whites and started sniffing towards one armpit.
“What’s up with you?” Paul looked at me suspiciously.
“I just wondered if I was a bit niffy by now.”
“I wouldn’t be standing with you if you were. Anyway, why are you worried? You said you shot badly so you’re not going to have to go up and get anything. Just stand there and keep your arms close down by your side, and please don’t wave to anyone.” Paul could be so brutally honest.
But there was always that thin line of hope, especially after what the other Barbara had said.
“I got just over 500, and Barbara said that wasn’t bad!” I moaned.
From the look on Jonathon’s and Paul’s faces, I’d just dropped a large nuclear device.
“Wot?” They both said in unison.
It was a bit loud and several people had turned around to see if a fight was about to break out. Jonathon made his ‘well, it’s only the adults’ gestures and they all turned around to face the front again.
Phil, just for a change, didn’t give me the ‘oh no, not you making trouble again’ look. For some reason the sheet of paper he’d just glanced at had made him smile.
“That’s great, where did that come from?” Paul was genuinely pleased.
“Ahem,” Phil at the front cleared his throat – outside the club he couldn’t really use his normal tactic of throwing something at us so we’d stop talking.
“Results, and as always, it’s the ladies first. Ladies Novice Recurve, Barbara Williams , Stortford Archery Club with 506, 90 hits 15 golds.”
Terrified of Bishop’s Stortford suddenly became Stunned of Bishop’s Stortford. I stumbled through the chairs, grabbed my medal and babbled something totally incoherent at the lovely Lady P. As I turned to walk back I heard what I never thought would happen.
“Very well done, Barbara”, said Phil sweetly.
I was so stumped that I nearly turned around to give Phil a big kiss, but no, dignity at all times – please.
I made my way back to my corner of the room so I could gloat to Paul.
“No, listen!” Paul shushed me as I was just about to whisper something in his ear.
It was well worth listening. My score was enough to beat the unclassified, 3rd class and 1st class archers. Not enough to win outright as a 2nd class had got a full 50 more than me, so Phil was right, you don’t win on your first outing, but I’d come remarkably close. I was also thrilled to see my new chum Gaynor had scored the highest points and although classified as Bowman and not seen as part of the main trophy hunt got a terrific round of applause.
I was so tired now that I started sliding down the wall.
“What’s up with you now?” asked Paul.
“Gentlemens’ Recurve, 2nd Class, 744, 96 hits, 45 golds, Paul Mitchell, Stortford Archery Club.”
Paul got up to get his medal, grinning from ear to ear and inevitably taking the opportunity to give the Lady P a kiss as he’d moaned earlier that Phil had got one before him.
Stortford really covered themselves in glory that day. Sweet Peter won the overall men’s recurve trophy, Jonathon won a chocolate bar as he’d already progressed to Bowman status, and two of Stortford’s people even won the sillier prizes like worst white and best black.
Paul and I tried to get out the door at the end of the prize giving, but Ol’ Grumpy got us going under the wire. Peter failed to escape a grumping as well.
“Out of the three of you, I can expect an article for Insight? Someone could manage that, surely?” Phil was back on form and forever on the lookout for items.
I was strangely emboldened by my victory.
“Not from me you won’t, sunbeam! You get quite enough from me with Lucy Learner – in fact you moaned about the chapters being too long so I’m not about to do anything else at the moment!”
Back in the car I phoned Richard.
“How did you do?” He asked.
“I won – my class – but nevertheless I won and they’re telling me it was a very good score!”
“Well done – what’s for dinner?” Richard’s thoughts immediately turned to his important matters.
“Well, I don’t think I’m going to get back in time to cook the chicken – we would not get to eat until 10.00 and I know you won’t be happy about that.” I suddenly realized how late it was, and how hungry I was – goodness knows about the permanently ravenous Richard.
“Don’t be silly, I’ll order a take-out! You don’t want to start cooking at this time of night – what do you want?”
I ordered exactly the same as I’d had the night before – mostly because I’d written down it the night before and there would be no chance of me getting 3 portions of lamb Vindaloo and a Bombay duck.
A quarter of a mile from home, I saw Richard going in the opposite direction to collect the meal, so at least I had time to get in, change and crazily sob my heart out on my own with relief.
The moment the meal was over, I fell asleep in the chair. Somehow I woke up the following morning in bed with that hollow feeling that it was all over.
I’d re-discovered my competitive streak and I just had to do it again . . .