Richard’s face suddenly lost its smile. The loose looked good, but something had really hurt him.
“O.K?” My moodiness departed with the onset of concern.
“Nothing,” said Richard, short and to the point, but he’d rolled his head over in the direction of the left shoulder. He bent and picked up a new arrow from the ground quiver with excessive caution, and seemed to be rewarded by a sharp pain in his left arm as he straightened up. Noting the look on my face he smiled a re-assurance as he nocked the new arrow.
I wasn’t unconvinced. 19 years together and sheer common sense said that something wasn’t right.
The next arrow was wide, mostly because Richard had twisted so I can’t see his face. He walked away from the line, leaving me to fire my last 2.
I was too busy watching him massaging his shoulder and gingerly rotating his head.
“Done?” asked Liz.
I had stood there on my own as everyone else has finished.
“No – yes, I’ll leave it.” I replied distractedly.
Richard had had trouble with his spine 10 years ago when it required a long, risky and complex operation. Up to now it had merely reminded him that he was not as young as he’d like to be, but the way he was currently behaving – however hard he’d been trying to play it down – was horribly similar to prior the repair.
As a typical man, he died when he had a cold. His daughter tended to nod sagely in his nose-blowing direction and uttered the words ‘Man Cold – it’s terminal!’ For 2 solid weeks various boxes of paper tissues would be deposited at strategic corners of the house (within sneezing/stumbling/passing out distance) and my household bill would double with the cost of cold remedies and treats to tempt my little soldier back into normality. All this was for someone whose favourite saying is, ‘you know me, and I don’t like to take anything. I just like to get on with it!’ However, serious afflictions got played down. He doesn’t do sympathy, preferring the ‘get it fixed’ approach, and doesn’t want incoming traffic either.
Up until now, Richard’s biggest area of concern was that he wouldn’t be able to come to the final course night. He’d had such a good time and he’d worried that he’d have to start the course all over again. I was pretty certain that his usual outward-facing personality of resident megastar would ensure his place, and he’d put in some extra work upon entering the gym tonight in chatting up Liz and being extra ‘hale fellow well met’ to Steve and Phil. He needn’t have worried – he’d been re-assured that he certainly wouldn’t have to start again, would be welcomed, and he was unlikely to be a menace to society with a bow in his hand.
My suggestion that perhaps I could also drop the last lesson met with a less enthusiastic response. If Richard was going out, a night out with the girls was calling. Kick off with a really weepy, girlie film, followed by a game of spot the Hugh Grant look alike in the wine bar afterwards – funny how the number increases in line with the amount of glasses of wine consumed!
“Oh, I don’t think so, Barbara. You were having a lot of problems last week getting the bow up the right way.” Liz interjected, looking genuinely concerned as usual.
“Look at it this way,” said Steve, “One extra lesson than Richard, and that will mean you’ll be better than him next time!”
“I’m not happy about the way you pull the arrows out of the boss.” Liz continued, “and you are a long way from pulling all the way back to your chin!”
“You’re always more welcome here without Richard.” Added Steve, “we like having you around.”
Phil coughed violently.
“Most of the time,” said Steve hurriedly, “anyway, we need more lady shooters and someone to do the teas for league matches.”
So that was really why it was necessary to have lady archers around – someone to make the tea?
I suppose that I couldn’t really blame them for the response; as an archer, I was pretty useless. In all fairness (I found this out later) the clubs are strictly controlled on beginners’ classes and whom they can accept. If there are any doubts, the person in question should have further tuition, or be tactfully informed that they should take up knitting – or tea-making.
The night didn’t start well. I’d got the hump, having had a long, tiring and totally useless day at work. Turned my computer on as usual, read the jokes that Security had sent me overnight, then went off to the first of many meetings. Upon my return the CPU emitted horrible grinding noises from under the desk and my screen went blue. The No-flammin’-help-at-all-desk did the usual have you turned it off/on/tipped gin in the works routine, turned up to look and told me I’d broken it. They spent the rest of day replacing the hard drive and the 3 programs I had installed, whilst muttering things about introducing viruses from unauthorized packages. It rained and my hair went frizzy after getting wet and getting stuffed under a hard construction hat. The guys at work hadn’t helped the mood by bursting into a chorus of “YMCA” when I walked into a meeting still wearing building site protective clothing. So, I’m worn out, look as if I’ve been dragged through a hedge backwards, not enjoyed it, and I’ve still got that stupid song running through my head.
Oh look, here comes my handy blame receptacle, better known as The Husband. After 10 minutes of my non-stop, industrial strength grousing he’d got the hump as well. We assembled our bows in stony silence, and then I put on the much detested chest guard.
“I don’t need one of those – built like a racing snake I am!” Richard made an attempt at humour.
“A constrictor that’s just swallowed 3 medium-sized water buffalo, one of whom was pregnant with sextuplets?” I responded as Richard hit very stony ground, and then went to prod him in the tummy. Richard responded by covering his stomach with his arms, and moved backwards doing the best Mohammed Ali shuffle that he could manage until he crunched into a bench.
Phil didn’t look as if he approved of our infantile squirmishes. Giving the two of us a ‘goodness’-sake-you–should-know-better-at-your-age’ glare, he smoothed down his ruffled buzzard feathers and prepared to address the group.
“Tonight we are going to show you how to keep your scores. This is in preparation for competitions and establishing your handicaps. Keeping scores will also give you an idea of how you are progressing. Once you have you own bow, you’ll establish settings for different distances, marking them on your sight or writing them down. You are allowed 6 shots that do not score. These are called ‘sighters’, and are designed to allow you to assess the conditions – say, if it’s windy, raining, downhill, in the middle of the Serengeti.” Phil continued. “Once you’ve made these shots – and that’s tonight – and made any adjustments you need to your sight, the rest all count. There are different methods of scoring according to which round you shoot, but we’ll start with something easy. Looking at the target starting from the centre, and ignore that little ring with a cross in the middle, score 10, then when outside the next line but still in the gold, score 9.”
I got worried. I’m a rotten shot, and having to deal with numbers that are not on a price tag will seriously tax my one active brain cell.
“Going out from the gold, you’ll see that all the other colours have 2 rings. So on red, the inner of the 2 rings scores 8, the outer scores 7. You score by pointing at the arrows and calling out the scores in pairs of 3 – on no account should you touch your own or any one else’s arrow.” Phil performed his infamous bad-tempered buzzard look. The group dutifully withered under the glare.
“Don’t worry, I’ll help you tonight.” Liz arrived by my side, bless her, so it cuts my worries down a little.
However, I still had the hump and Richard and we had to shoot together.
“This is quite cozy!” Face to face, lefty Richard looked down on me and shuffled closer. The Curse of The Lefty, it would be back time and time again in various guises to haunt me.
Now, I’m one of those people who likes to have plenty of my own space. Having a hulking great lump peering down on me – or at least seeming to – makes me nervous. I can’t line up properly and I can’t look up into the ceiling/sky to concentrate. With Richard it proved difficult as every time I looked up, he simply smiled back with that ‘hello, whatever it is I’m supposed to have done wrong but don’t know what it is, I’m sorry’ look.
Later on when I shot, I discovered that having any left-hander facing me would knock my score down; backing on to me had the reverse effect, especially in the cold as it kept my back warm. I could pretend it was Brad Pitt, thus would continue reversing until there was a complaint.
So here we are, first time of scoring and I’ve got Richard. I know no one ever tells you that life is fair, but I did join archery to unwind and enjoy myself. Already instinctively seeking out the better shooting position, I moved around to Richard’s back, then shoved him down the line by sticking my bow and elbow in his ribs.
“No marital strife on the lines, please!” Steve arrives to act as mediator. “Barbara, you move back to face Richard, then you’ll have more room and won’t – no that’s not kind – bang him on the head with your bow while nocking the arrow. You’ll also be able to see what each other are doing.”
I do not accept defeat that easily. I grumbled at Steve so he ensured he stayed back from me, other than to utter the odd comment about waving my hand around under my chin.
I’m determined to do well, out-point Richard and point-out the error of his ways before he did the same to me. However, he’s better at everything than me, so how was I going to do it? Both of us despise cheating, but there had to be a way for me to bend the rules; let’s play advantage!
So, archery is a gallant sport? A lady is held in high regard? Am I not married to an incurable romantic? O.K. then – let’s use a little female subterfuge.
The smile’s a good beginning especially from a standing start, as I hadn’t graced him with one that evening. Follow on with a ‘hey I could be interested after all look’, then fiddle with your hair.
“Oh what a shame! That would have been a wonderful shot if it had hit the boss, Richard!” I said huskily.
“Oh, something wrong? Gosh, you do get itches in the most awkward places, and this guard’s not helping!” I performed contortions that David Blane would envy, but on areas he doesn’t possess.
“Oh dear, that shot was well out, the netting never stood a chance!”
Richard looked bemused. “If you’re going to scratch, can you do it somewhere else? I don’t want your fleas jumping on me.”
“Hallo! It’s a bow, I think you’ll find? You know you look gorgeous when you’re angry? Yeah, I never found that laughing helped me lock my hand under my chin either.” I even went girlie and let Richard pull all my arrows and retrieve his from the netting. I then leaned up against the boss and attempted to look decorative. And just to keep him on his toes and not let him think he was winning either game, I smiled at someone else at random and got Phil who looked totally bemused.
Shame really, but Richard never stood a chance. Once I’d got the leading edge, I don’t let go. I was shooting better than I’d done before, although admittedly that wasn’t very difficult. Perhaps all I needed was a challenge. Richard didn’t notice that his “free” shots had gone, so he didn’t make any adjustments to his sight.
Life must be tough when you’re a mere bloke.
However, my lovely Richard, as always saw the joke and we both relaxed. Liz helped with the scoring, and although it took time to call out the shots, we’d got to grips with the process.
That was when Richard’s smile went.
He wouldn’t give up, but the sparkle had rubbed off of the evening. When the final whistle went he didn’t do his usual act of looking up and doing his ‘please, one more go?’ routine, and almost raced to get his bow taken down. He’s not, however, so injured that he doesn’t engage Michael of longbow fame in deep conversation, and I was left like a hairy gooseberry again.
“Ignore the fact that it’s a re-cycled telephone directory binder.” Phil had handed me a small blue folder. “One between the two of you. It’ll give you lots of information about the club, what we do, and the shooting diary and although it’s not likely to be either that relevant or interesting at this stage, the rules. Please take a look, then bring it back with you next week – can you manage that all right?”
“Bog off.” I said simply.
Phil looked at me with a surprised expression on his face and almost smiled.
“Good! You’re getting the hang of this now,” said Phil as he complied with the request.
Richard was still on his social rounds, so to pass the time until he got back, I sat down on one of the benches and watched the others shoot, fantasizing about when I’d be able to put the string on the right way around.
Liz was great; she was using that compound she showed us a few weeks ago. She shot as if she had a grudge against the target and was imagining her worst enemy pinned up there. Three shots fired off, quite rapidly, and then she turned around with a wildly enthusiastic ‘gotcha!’ expression on her face. The red hair and wild look gave her the appearance of a modern-day Boudica.
The Talking Coat’s dad, Paul, had put in an appearance. Standing ramrod straight – something he can do easily as there’s not an ounce of spare flesh anywhere – he looked deadly serious when taking a shot. He rather ruined the effect by his string hand pulling a section of his cheek back, so one half of his face took on a rather strange, enforced grin. He was very accurate, but highly self-critical as he kept shaking his head whenever he judged he’s made a bad shot.
Frankly, they all looked good to me.
Neil did his heron-by-the-fishpond act, every inch a champion with a highly clinical approach and as usual grinning broadly whenever he finished an end with the sheer delight of what he did so well. Melanie appeared to echo his accuracy in a quarter of the time, but also shared in his joy of a job done to a standard of excellence most of us can only dream of.
Then there was the dashing Michael, armed, or occasionally from where some of the shots went, left-footed with his longbow. Any miss was clearly noted by Michael by a loud groan but his bow made such a wonderful noise, so who really cared where the arrows went?
None of them appeared in the slightest bit worried about my close surveillance. Liz actually commented about her shots to me when she came back from the line and Paul, easy-going, chatty and approachable, seemed happy to answer my endless questions, despite the odd disapproving grunt from the Coat who wanted to go home.
Phil lined up. I’d not seen him shoot before, probably because he was either coaching or too busy irritating someone. He certainly took his time once on the line – wonder if he takes that long to do everything? Like Paul, he’s tall and quite lean apart from the inevitable counter-balance belly (something of a feature with male archers) thus it was easy to see what went on structurally during a shot. As he drew, his left shoulder blade appeared to rotate, rise and almost dislocate before his hand finally anchored under his chin. Then, the very slightest of wobbles before he loosed and the shot took off like a rocket.
I watched him closely for another end, and, as much as he rubbed me up the wrong way (and vice versa) I could see why he was qualified to tell me that I’m an idiot. In reality, it was the way I wanted to shoot, girlie or not. If there was ever a defining moment in my archery lessons, this was it; the total effect was one of elegance and power and like it or not, I’d found my role model.
I didn’t want to be rude or to give the wrong impression, but I was captivated and could have sat and watched him for hours.
Richard interrupted my train of thought as he eased himself slowly down onto the bench beside me, mindful of his back pain.
“That bow must cost a fortune!” Richard’s first observations, inevitably, involved toys.
It was my turn to look pained. Richard had disturbed a rare state of blond woman in deep thought.
“I get the feeling that no matter how good the toys are, you have to learn how to use them first! He’s obviously had years of practice and must have spent even longer choosing his tools of the trade.” Not really my own words of wisdom, I might have sounded intelligent for a minute. Maybe I read it in the book that Liz lent me last week.
“Perhaps,” uncharitably I didn’t actually believe this would be true for a moment, “if you ask him really nicely, he’ll let you have a go one day. You’re both cack-handed and roughly the same size.”
“Of course you can!” said Phil from his place, still on the line.
Oh bugger! Phil had been listening, so he must have ears like a bat and had probably been aware of my wide-eyed admiration of his shooting which would have inflated his ego even further. He loosed his last shot then placed his sinister-looking bow on the ground in front of us, resting on one of the sticking-out sideways appendages.
“I should get the beginners course over, then you, Richard, can use this for one evening.” He gestured a tad too grandly for my liking over his bow. “It should give you an idea of what you want to buy later.”
Richard, absolutely thrilled, got carefully to his feet, and thanked him enthusiastically. I felt as left out as The Coat had earlier, so I pouted and tried to look petulant.
“I should be able to sort out something lighter for you as well.” Phil added rather hastily.
Richard and Phil then regressed into yet another boys and toys discussion, which my feeble attempts to say thank you and trying to get my bit in failed to split up. Evidently my right-handed version of the Okie-Cokie 2000 would be smaller and cheaper, easier to obtain and thus didn’t require an in-depth discussion. I was also in a weaker position as both of them could converse happily over the top of my head and no matter how hard I tried to get in on the conversation I got ignored.
I hoped, somewhat selfishly, that Richard’s back pain was nothing as I hated doing things on my own having got used to him seemingly always being there. Archery, even after just 5 weeks (and one of those being a long-distance grouch) wouldn’t be the same. My mind glossed over how bad it was for him last time – neither of us would want to go through that again. Watching him enthusiastically discussing what he was going to do next made me smile. Surely, If it hurt that much, he wouldn’t be bounding around so much with the idea of having a play with someone else’s toys, would he?
Once home, Richard chattered on endlessly about when he’d get to have a go on Phil’s bow, what decisions it would enable him to take regarding his own kit and how much – wait for it – it was going to cost me!
“I thought he said that we’d be better off looking at something secondhand? You know, at our stage having something new with all the latest bells and whistles wouldn’t necessarily be the right thing to do.” Female economy and common sense tried to prevail. I was also still at the stage where clothes took priority over archery equipment.
“I think that would be alright for you, but as left-handed bows are less likely to be available – so Phil said – I’d have to start off maybe even ordering a special?” Richard, even worse at the ‘don’t do cheap’ angle than me, protested. “I think a shopping trip is called for – lunch on the way perhaps?”
“Right, and whose credit card gets to dance the fandango – just before Christmas?”
“You asked me what I wanted last week!” Richard replied, then reverted to his obligatory, pathetic annual speech. “It’s tough having your birthday on Christmas Day, you only get one set of presents!”
“I think I’m listening to a recording. You have never – ever – have had to work on your birthday!” I responded with an element of jealousy.
“I get lousy Easters.” Richard’s lower lip started to wobble.
“Let me tell you now, the only Messiah in this house is on CD and composed by Handel.”
“I take you out on your birthday.” Richard protested.
“I’d take you out for yours, only I’m busy cooking for the assembled starving sections of the Munsters and the Adams family that make up our families.”
“I pay.” Says Richard ‘show me the money’ Williams.
“So do I at Sainsbury’s, and I cook . . .“
“I do the washing up!”
“Close – I thought the dishwasher was called Bosch, and who bought that! So, what about me getting my bow, and that’s my Christmas present from you?” I said. Let’s get back to bows – don’t allow the Christmas discussion to get too far, or we’ll get onto verboten subjects like my father, his mother and how I demolished an entire bottle of sherry (and it wasn’t even a good brand) whilst cooking for them 2 years ago.
“Do they do secondhand in the shop?” Richard started to smile as he knew he’d just lit the touchpaper.
“So I’m only worth secondhand?” I, too, can be perverse if the occasion requires.
“Phil said it would be a good idea!”
Oh dear, here comes the Phil thing again . . .
“Sod what Phil said. If we are taking advice into account, Liz said that people with bad backs might find that a compound was more up their street.”
“I haven’t got a bad back.” Richard was on the verge of going strong and silent on me again. The quivering lip became a stiff upper.
“Hello, I wasn’t born yesterday!” I protested.
“I know that, I buy you flowers every birthday, and I’ve been in the shop so often they don’t even need to ask what address to send them to anymore. By the way, did you know that your bum wobbles when you shoot?”
“Don’t change the subject. Anyway, I’m a girl, girls wobble, does what it says on the packet; though I daresay that it can’t possibly wobble as much as your belly!”
Richard had no answer to that, so game, set and match to me.
The bow was forgotten when the next edition of Autocar arrived. The new SLK’s picture was deposited for my delectation and delight at every opportunity. So I bought him one for his birthday – battery controlled.
Fitness diary 3
So far, so good. The painkillers seemed to knock Richard’s problem on the head, though I’m doing any lifting that’s required, and he’s seeing the quack next week just in case.
Wish they’d got a dieting pill that was just as effective as the painkillers for me. I’m 10 pounds lighter but permanently hungry. I’m also finding that exercise is difficult as I run out of energy so quickly. One Monday, My Toy-boy dived out in the middle of the session and came back with a bar of chocolate for me. He said I looked tired and hungry and that I shouldn’t push myself too hard at my age.
By way of response (once I’d got my breath back) I told him that the next time he went for a shower, I’d phone for Satan’s Little Helper and say he’d passed out again.
Point taken, he said, then stood and ate the chocolate bar in front of me.