Prior to my obtaining a new string and carbon arrows, I’d driven various Stortford Archery club members up the wall. I had no intention of sticking to 40 yards – the only thing I could actually hit with any element of reliability and the fact that I’d only managed to hit 60 yards with 1 arrow out of 6 with my aluminium housebricks hadn’t gone any further on endearing myself to my fellow club members.
My total dislike of rain hadn’t stopped me. One grotty, soggy and wet evening in June when there were only 4 of us around (less to irritate) I spent the time pounding away with Phil trying to coach and motivate me. He stood around looking like a bedraggled cat with indigestion and made occasional suggestions on how I could make the distance – mostly consisting of the instruction ‘keep pulling’.
Dear, Sweet Peter complained bitterly that he couldn’t even see as the rain had misted up his glasses (but still hit every time) and John L improved at every attempt, but I couldn’t hit 60 yards. Had there been barn doors the width of the entire field – I just couldn’t get the distance. Both Phil and Peter were gallantly encouraging until eventually even John L and I had to admit that light – and rain – stopped play, but I think we got our entire year’s membership fee value that night. We thanked Phil and Peter for their invaluable one to one coaching, given happily and far beyond the call of duty.
At a later evening session I would shoot and see one of my darling arrows yawn off into the sunset, straight and true, only to appear to stop and ask directions. I could imagine them having their little arrow conversations – their ghastly pink and orange fletchings all of a flutter – with voices like a bunch of Essex girls.
No 5: “’ello, ‘as someone seen a boss ‘round ‘ere somewhere?”
No 2: “Darlin’, we passed the one at ‘fur-ey yards – d’you need me to text ya next time I sees it?”
No 4 (the posh one): “No, no I can’t go on, I’m having a bad fletch day. Oooo, I’m just going to have to stop and put my white stilettos up! Coo-ee – laters?”
No 1: “Yeah, she’ll pick us up on the way to pull out that nasty little goody-goody little-miss-wobbly-nock 3 who’s gone all the way again. Wot a tart!”
No 6: “Yes! Yes! Yes! Oh – where’s it gone? Was that it? Did I miss somefink? The earth moved, but it was all a bit fast. It just raced under me nocking point without so much as an allo darlin’!”
Steve’s hamsters seemed strangely immobile that night – must have been feeling the heat – not even a twitch. He tugged sagely on his beard when I passed him yet another despairing look when I missed for around the 36 th time. Steve had re-appeared after a long absence from shooting, this time clutching a compound, and was a picture of concentration. He also had no issue whatsoever with embedding arrows twice as fat as mine in the boss.
“Have you thought that you are on the very edge of what that equipment can do?” He queried. “You might be a dodgy old archer on most occasions, but you look to me as if you nearly got the message.”
“So what do you suggest?” I was hopeful that the former Nice Gnome was going to utter some words of wisdom. He was, after all, the person who first taught me to shoot.
“Take up Compound?” Steve looked as if he was joking, but I wasn’t sure. “It doesn’t hurt your back so much.” He then looked horribly smug. He’d got his own back for my earlier rounding on him about making my own purchases.
“I’ve spent rather a lot on my Recurve already to go down that route. Anyway, I love my old bow, she reflects my personality. She’s a bit big and lumpy, getting on a bit and I’ll give you that bits fall off of her on occasions. She’ll never win a beauty contest but I’ve got used to her funny little ways!”
“Describing your legs?” Liz laughed as she waltzed past wearing a very floaty dress and a straw hat. Not quite the garb for archery, but she was off on holiday soon and had been to the Sales. She just had to wear one of her new, snazzy numbers. I’d had trouble recognizing her earlier as I’d only ever seen her wearing a green pullover or white polo shirt.
“O.K., clever – just because you’ve got a posh new outfit on and discovered your own legs, have you got any suggestions?” I peered under the brim of her straw hat.
The Catalogue Queen, now on specialist subject, grinned happily back, ripped off her hat, dropped her own bow and started rummaging in her tool box.
“You could give this a try, just for balance.” She handed me a long rod. “You are still plucking the string rather than pulling it back, and your bow isn’t going forward after you’ve taken the shot – this will help you do that.”
I screwed the long rod in, and went to lift my bow. She was right about my bow going forward after the shot – I couldn’t stop it taking chunks out of me then the grass in front. It felt incredibly heavy and thus very uncomfortable. The next shots I made took account of her advice and were hitting – albeit low – but after 3 ends my right shoulder felt as if it was on fire. I didn’t want to be ungracious, but I unscrewed it and returned it too her as soon as it felt decent.
“No good?” She asked.
“Not bad for accuracy, but it feels awful, like I’ve got a ton weight stuck on the end of a stick that I’m trying to lift to shoulder height.”
“It’s the lightest one I’ve got. If you can’t lift that, then I doubt if you’ll want to spend out on a long rod yet.” Once again, Liz was slightly brisk with me. She loved to help, but when what she suggested didn’t work, it meant she was going to have to go back to the drawing board and have a re-think.
That was a pity. I rather fancied having all the sticky-out bits to make my bow look cool. I’d listened to others using them, and their bows made a pleasant thrumming noise when the arrows went off, rather than my great clunk. I’d even got my eye on getting some made up in black and silver. So, I could save my money for a bit longer.
It was another lady who also had issues with the strength required to hit a longer distance who finally convinced me that my attempts to increase my skill before I increased my expenditure on lighter equipment weren’t working.
The glamorous blond Jenni shot at a full 4 pounds lighter than me, but her shots still looked effortless. Tucking my pride firmly away – it’s much easier between us girls – I asked her how she could shoot so well when she had a serious back injury. She was only too ready to help.
“Get rid of that horrible old heavy string – is that Dacron, yah?” Jenni fingered the string on my bow with an element of disgust.
“Get some dental floss to mark the nocking point, those metal indicators add even more weight which you don’t really need. Leave the men to haul weights around if they want, but even someone as big as John doesn’t have those.”
I had a lot of respect for Jenni. She wasn’t a coach, but out of everyone at the club, she appreciated femininity. She also understood the fact that if you look good, or at least think you do, you’ll feel better shooting. Above all, she understood that most ladies do not possess the same strength as the male archers, thus needed to concentrate on cutting back on the effort we’d have to expend when making a shot. She’d been down the same route as me, and was generously prepared to share her experiences with me. I may have wanted to equal the blokes’ efforts, but Jenny was the one with the practicalities.
“And while you’re at it, why not invest in some lightweight arrows? It’s less work for you to shoot. They’ll easily go the 60 yards you want for the County Western .”
I liked the word ‘easily’ – Jenni was very encouraging.
I looked doubtfully down at John T’s massive, butch compound bow which, instead of using a bow stand, was propped up using what looked like one of Jenni’s flimsy pink-fletched arrows. It was like seeing a pair of pink, lacey knickers supporting an iron girder.
“But they look so fragile, don’t you have to handle them carefully? Gill wouldn’t let me remove her arrows from the boss without a special holder.” Earlier experiences of things breaking always made me query their durability, especially if they were going to require, as Jenni put it, investment.
“You don’t want carbon splinters in your hand, that’s all! No, they are not as strong as your aluminium arrows, they don’t bend easily and they break by cracking – but at half the weight and width they can still take a lot of force. If you can cut down the weight you’re shooting, you’ll go the distance. I know you can do it, girl, you can go out and beat those men!” Jenni took a sip from her diet Pepsi, then continued.
“I’m not sure that the equipment you’ve got is really suited to you. I know the riser matches your car in colour, but somehow the bow looks too chunky. But at the very least you can modify it for your needs. You’ve got decent limbs now, but what you need is that little bit of retail therapy to cheer yourself up.”
She was so right, I’d been very ill with a chest infection for well over a month. I’d missed out on my holiday, had dropped so much weight that all my clothes had gone baggy round my bum (usually the last place weight went off of me) and I was still trying to fight off a racking cough. My fitness training had been started again from scratch and my rugby-playing Toyboy training partner used to make me stop and take a breather the moment I started coughing. Oh, how I needed cheering up!
“You’ll end up giving me a bit of competition, girl!” Jenni laughed.
“I very much doubt that. If the arrows can go further, I’ve worked out that they can go further in the wrong direction as well”, I said ruefully.
The last thing I ever wanted to do was get into competition with Jenni. She was my chum and had looked after me when everything went wrong at the very first club Sunday I’d attended. The only person I wanted to knock off his perch was Phil and I got that sinking feeling that it was still a good few years off yet.
I booked a day off, took 2 hours to make my purchases on the hottest day of the year then still insisted on testing for a further 3 hours. The shop was amazingly helpful, even more so when I found out that the owner’s wife used to show Afghan Hounds and I’d judged a dog show for them – at Fennes Estate – 25 years ago. I asked for more advice and they added a long rod, saying that this was the only gadget I’d really benefit from in my current stage of development. What they did show me was how to remove the weights, so I was far better balanced. They even put up with my moaning that the rod was the wrong colour, and that I wanted silver and black to go with my own colour scheme.
I drove home extra carefully as my newly fletched arrows were still drying and I had to prop them up, half in and out of the cavernous rear seat pocket that’s a feature of the Ford KA. Last time I looked in there, a bloke calling himself Lucan told me I was, if questioned, not to say anything,.
I hid the bill from Richard. In retrospect two hundred-ish was a tiny expenditure for the amount of pleasure I was about to get out of going the full distance, but you try justifying what looks like a set of narrow black things to a non-archer, especially when he’s hot and bothered, the NTL man hasn’t finished the cable installation and his van is still belching oil all over the driveway. It simply won’t work. As it was, he couldn’t even understand my enthusiasm in the purchases. Before long, my bow was going to be worth more than my car, something Richard would never be able to grasp!
For the carbon’s maiden voyage at the club, I wasn’t going to say anything about my new purchases; let them speak, hopefully, for themselves. I put the kit together quietly, not with the usual flourish to show that I’d got new toys, and got away without anyone noticing.
It was one of those evenings that make archery worth-while. Warm, the slightest of breezes and a spectacular sunset promising another beautiful day to follow. I warmed up on the 30 yard boss with only young Seb to keep me company. He was far too busy hitting the gold with nearly every shot he made on a club bow, and was only too happy for me to pull them after he’d shouted out his own, very high scores.
I was actually getting high on the incredible power, speed and thump these new arrows made when they hit. I nearly let a ‘whey-hey-missus’ exclamation every time I hit, but held off as that would simply have consolidated my status as the Club weirdo.
If my last aluminium arrows were female, always taking their time chatting and asking directions to the boss, then by the same token I’d just purchased a set of blokes. They don’t ask questions, they floor the accelerator on the premise that the right route will magically appear. When they hit, they made a big noise about it; when they missed, they didn’t want to confess they’d made a mistake, and would burrow under the grass and hide. Being a lady, I’d lovingly and carefully remove them, taking care not to ruffle their egos, then clean off the inevitably mud they’d located – despite the fact it hadn’t rained for well over a month!
Then, all of a sudden, it had happened. I lined up with the grown-ups at 60 yards with all the seriousness of Jonny Wilkinson taking his first penalty kick in a key match. The sight was set 1 inch higher than the mark I’d made with one of my rare, wind-assisted aluminium hits. Nocking my shiny, smart new black and orange carbons onto my new super-sleek fastflite string, I let rip.
“Where-d-it-go?” I asked Paul who’d been standing behind me, obviously realizing he was just about to witness archery history.
“Somewhere near the dustbin.” Sighed Paul patiently.
“But that’s on the other side of the field!” I was chuffed with pride to think that one of my puny girlie shots could get this far.
“Take up clout, if all you want is distance!” It was a hot evening, Paul had been working all day and his sense of humour seemed to have temporarily deserted him.
I moved the sight up again, nocked the next arrow, took aim and let rip again. This time I was rewarded by the formerly unfamiliar sound of the paper tear before the arrow embedded itself in the boss.
“Low.” Said Paul.
“What do mean, it hit, didn’t it?” I was quite irate.
“You asked – it went in the black – low.”
“Hello! I’m not at home to Mr. Grumpy tonight!”
“I thought you said earlier that you were missing Phil, so I thought I’d make up for it.” Paul returned.
“I’m not missing him that much, and you’re normally better company.”
The next one similarly hit with that ripping sound so I lowered the sight a tinch. The fourth hit a little less noisily, the 5 th much the same then the 6 th made no noise at all. Having invested so much on arrows, I ignored all the etiquette I’d been told and trouped off smartly to find the missing 2. Sure enough, there was the dustbin shot, embedded in the long grass at well over 100 yards, but to my dismay I couldn’t find my other missing orange and black arrow. Making the usual polite gesture that I needed help to locate 1, my chums dutifully abandoned their gear, and started searching. We wandered around for 5 minutes or so until Jonathon trotted up, minus coat but all spiky hair and hands in pockets.
“Nice new arrows!” He said as he looked at the spare in my quiver. “I wish Dad would get me some. At the last tournament, I was the only person using aluminiums.” He said as he shuffled his feet gently through the grass, looking for the glimpse of orange and black fletching.
“Wish I could keep ‘em! At this rate, my matched set of twelve will only last 7 ends. Anyway, you won the last tournament, so what are you worried about? Your trouble is that as fast as anything is bought for you, you’ll grow out of it.” I said ruefully. I could have sworn that Jonathan sprouted in front of my eyes, and was already towering over me.
I looked back up the field to see Paul and Sweet Peter waving frantically at me and the rest of the searchers, most of whom were already back over the waiting line.
“Looks as if I’d better wait until the end as they seem desperate to carry on shooting,” I said rather hopelessly.
Jonathon and I walked swiftly back to the boss.
“Do you want to score?” Asked Peter. “You said you wanted the practice before the County Western .”
I stood in from of the boss and screwed my eyes up to make it look as if I knew what I was doing. “O.K., that’s 9, 5, 5, – 3, 1 and miss.”
“That is 6 arrows.” Stated Paul quietly.
Peter peered at me through the top half of his bi-focals.
“So?” I queried, then suddenly realized Peter’s face had taken on a broad grin. Paul started laughing and the ‘orrible Jonathon had retreated to a respectable distance before he started laughing in the manner of a donkey braying with stomach-ache.
My last lovely arrow had hit that sweet spot, right in the middle, worn thinner by more expert shooters and those infernal compounds – thus no noise.
“I’m so sorry, everyone! It was here all the time!”
“Flammin’ women, shouldn’t be let out alone!” Muttered Ted. “Give a woman something to do, and she’ll make a mess of it, then she’ll ask a man to put it right as she can’t manage.” He didn’t mean it, and he knew he wasn’t going to get away with that statement.
“Oh, Eddie, Barbara always looks for my arrows, and that lot on the same boss could have been a bit more decent and told her she’d hit gold. You ignore him, darling – well done!” Cath, as usual, was generous in her praise of me and her admonishment of Ted, who groaned with mock discomfort.
“Ganging up on me now, are you? Man doesn’t stand a chance with 2 women having a go at him. There was a time when women knew their place, at home in the kitchen looking after a man!”
“Your place tonight will be the spare room and no biscuit with your bedtime drink if you carry on like that any more.” Laughed Cath.
“Hummph,” muttered Ted from under his cap.
Well, I hit the next 6 out of 6 and did it again for good measure. They weren’t exactly grouping – Paul pointed this out but I ignored him as I wanted to enjoy the evening. I then decided to get cocky and moved to 80 yards.
All 6 missed. I didn’t try 80 again that evening as I felt it was unfair to ask everyone to stomp around to find my arrows yet again. However, I packed up quietly with a big smirk on my face. I’d hit 60 at last.
“And who’s had an early Christmas present?” Phil, back from his holiday with his sarcasm fully refreshed, calmly removed my arrows from the boss a week later, then walked off examining them.
“Trust you’ve got 12?” He said, half over his shoulder.
“Of course, and they weren’t a present, I bought them for myself!”
Along with the long rod, the new string and a big chunk of self-respect that had enabled me to actually shoot alongside you without quaking at the thought. I held my hand out for my arrows but Phil was not ready to part with them. He’d already set off for the line and was annoyingly twilling them about over his shoulder.
That meant I was supposed to run after him but sod that, I’d got considerably shorter legs – and with my quiver bumping around, it was not very dignified – and I’d probably start coughing anyway. As Sting says in his song, ‘An Englishman in New York ‘, a gentleman may walk, but never run. In my own personal song – A Lady Archer in Bishop’s Stortford – a lady doesn’t run after bad-tempered buzzards.
Back at the line I finally managed to retrieve my arrows.
“Find it any easier?” He asked, at last being constructive.
“Certainly!” I huffed.
I wasn’t going to let on that in his absence I’d uttered the words ‘Phil who?’ when I’d got a whole 2 out of 6 in the gold.
“Well, as you can now shoot 60, you can shoot in the County Western . I trust you’ve entered?”
“Phil, you know I have. I’ve been setting up for it for the past 6 weeks! Typical bloody man, you don’t listen.” I wrung my hands in frustration.
“Sorry, I wasn’t listening. “ Phil did one of his rare smiles that he relied upon when he needed to dig himself out of a hole.
“Good job you didn’t run out of barn doors before you got these. Now you should move your sight to outside the bow, you don’t need it inside and upside down to get distance anymore. You’ll then have the sight’s weight in the right place to match the long rod. It does mean your current sight marks will be out.”
“That’s typical!” I flared at Phil. “I thought you were supposed to help, not throw me more problems. I’m not going to get this done tonight as it’s already getting dark.”
“It’s up to you. As I have said before, and this time it was you who chose not to listen, you don’t have to worry. No one will be watching and waiting for you to fail, and no one ever wins their first competition – it’s not expected, so don’t expect it from yourself and put too much pressure on. I’m simply saying that you’ll be better balanced with the sight outside.”
Phil adopted that ‘I actually don’t give a dam what you think or feel, I’m always right’ expression which strangely reminded me of Richard.
It was at this stage that I realized I was married to the older vintage of this infamous model Grumpy Git MKII turbo – they don’t make them like that any more, and you can’t get the parts – which in some ways is a pity. I was thus very used to this style of response. Playing along with the motivational talks and ideas of Grumpy Git MKI (the naturally aspirated version) could be quite entertaining and helped to pass the time on winter Sundays. I find It’s a helpful device as it makes them feel wanted and useful.
Hands on hips, I returned the customary look with my own of ‘sod off, I’ll prove you wrong’ and mentally marked off to do so. When I do this back to Richard, he thinks that his method of motivation is working, and looks smug. Phil at this stage was registering a cross between bored and smug which indicated he was, indeed, a slightly newer version but had not yet learnt the full rules of engagement.
Big mistake, Phil; youth and enthusiasm is no match for age and cunning, especially when perfected by a female.
After 30 seconds’ worth of glowering, Phil sloping off whistling, so now was the time to act and do something constructive. I’d made my point, was prepared to take the risk so I unscrewed the sight and turned it around.
Inevitably and perversely female, I had anticipated the switch back (but I liked making a noise about it) thus I’d worked on a spreadsheet to reverse the settings. It should have been easy, but my sight didn’t start at zero, and Neil had moved the block twice. I’d moved it back once, then lost my own bearings and one of the sight’s grub screws. The sight marks would be theoretical, but it was still better than nothing. I set up for 50 yards and in the gloom of the descending evening, shot and hit with 3. It was too dark to see where they’d gone until I got right up to the boss and saw 3 low arrows and 3 just beyond the boss where they’d fallen short, then skidded on the short, dry grass. I never got to the 60 in time.
Never mind, I’ve got next Thursday I thought, but next Thursday didn’t happen. As a special surprise Richard had booked tickets for the two of us to see “We Will Rock You”. How could I refuse these, but nonetheless felt worried that all my hard work was just about to come to nothing.
Well, if push came to shove, I’d ignore Phil and switch my sight back inside. I didn’t understand this ‘balance’ stuff, all I wanted to do was pull my arrows out of a boss, not the grass when I shot in front of strangers. Anyway – no one wins at their first competition.