It was Christmas Eve, and I had to go to work. Nothing wrong with that, it was only a half day and the Staff Restaurant was serving a special Christmas breakfast (though due to my diet I knew I wasn’t allowed to eat a lot of it) and there wasn’t a lot to do. What annoyed me was that Richard had got the day off and I’d burnt up most of my holiday allowance, but like the little treasure he is, he’d got up early, still brought me my morning cup of tea, and had a long list of stuff to do as we’d got company staying for the next 2 days. The one task I really wanted to do myself was the trip to our Wine Merchants, but as Richard was being such a gentleman and doing all the other bits for me – well, I felt I shouldn’t intrude.
I was therefore puzzled when, upon my return around 2:00pm, desperate for some Christmas cheer as my non-driving colleagues had buggered off down to the pub, I couldn’t find any wine.
“Drunk it all already?” I queried. The invoice for 2 cases had been deposited on a kitchen work surface so I knew he’d been there.
“It’s still in the back of my car, along with the turkey and a couple more bags of shopping,” responded Richard.
“Has my poor little soldier been too busy?” I regretted saying it the moment I opened my mouth. I’d just carted a flipchart stand out of my car and up the stairs to the study. This was in preparation for the family game of Pictionary after Christmas lunch. I’d also made a lot of noise of huffing and puffing in the hope of getting some help which had not materialized, so I was miffed. It seemed like the old story, if you want a job done properly and on time, get a woman to do it. She’ll also make enough noise for you to know when it’s been done.
“Yes, and, err, my shoulder aches a bit.” Richard obligingly rotated his arm and massaged his neck to get the point across.
“Sorry, I didn’t realize. If you give me the keys I’ll bring the stuff in.”
The car boot was far too small for 2 cases of wine, an industrial-sized turkey and 2 bags of shopping – those were in the cabin on the passenger seat and floor. Richard had lifted one case out, but had left it at the back of the garage. He must have then gone to get the rest of the stuff but lifting it back out had proved far too painful. Making no fuss this time, I sorted everything out, put everything away and returned to my post in the kitchen.
“Always happens just before Christmas when you can’t get to the Doctor’s doesn’t it? How do you think you pulled the muscle?” I queried, after making Richard a coffee accompanied by 2 Paracetamol.
Richard chugged them down, made the obligatory ‘ugh’ face and straightened up gingerly.
“It’s not a muscle.” He admitted, “I slept awkwardly last night. When I sat up I got that horrible crack from my spine that I used to get. You know, that one that leaves your ears ringing. My arm has ached all day and I didn’t want to carry anything awkward as I just can’t feel the end of my fingers on the left hand again.”
So that was it. The old injury was back, after all.
As soon as Christmas was over, he braved the post-celebration queues at the doctors and got an appointment for scans and the specialist.
Still desperately in love with archery, Richard attended a couple of shooting sessions at the club, though somewhat pain-killer assisted. The second time Phil had, as promised, set up his own bow for Richard to use.
Richard was thrilled. He got so carried away he kept forgetting to bring the rubber cloth to remove the non-shatter-proof carbon arrows, and was actually running backwards and forwards between the boss and the hall’s end, his brand new quiver (a Christmas present), bumping against his leg as he ran.
I was acting cool. I’d done 2 more sessions than him and had improved a little, though had not managed to capture that wonderful under pressure shot I’d made at the beginners’ sixth lesson. I was, however, still using the club bow, but was grouping more shots than Richard who was when using what he described, as a sports car of bows.
My expression must have shown a level of jealousy as the awful Phil suddenly appeared with a different club bow that he explained he’d set up especially for me. Expecting some kind of joke, I set up and pulled, only to get a stiffer, but somehow more responsive feel. My next 2 shots hit the first arrow, at long last giving me a tight group. The next end did the same and then it was time to pack up and go home. I never did discover what Phil had done. His parting comment was that I should seriously think about now getting my own gear, and that he’d have something for me to try out next week.
To Richard, life during January plodded on as slowly dripping tap. He’d been to have X-rays and then the ghastly MRI scan. Anyone who’s had one done will tell you there isn’t much room inside that tube. To a natural-born, natural-blond Essex girl like myself, being stuffed into a tube with bright lights, music and a loud humming noise was the normal route on a high-speed tanning bed to the all-important tan. When you’re a 6’3” bloke, the only tube you ever went near was the London Underground. Richard’s left hand alternated between feeling as if it had knife stuffed in it, then went numb; it was terrifying for him. Now he awaited his visit to the specialist along with results, and the wait seemed to make the pain worse.
Once at the Hospital and awaiting the specialist, Richard was his usual, totally practical and calm self. The Reception area carpet soon developed holes from his pacing solidly for 10 minutes, the seats became threadbare where he’d tossed and turned and became guardians of the copious amounts of change that he had earlier stuffed into his pockets. The standby nurses assembled, looking as if they were ready to administer calming talks followed by the back-up sledge-hammer. I did my wifely duty of holding hands and gazing patiently into Richard’s eyes when required, and hiding behind a copy of The Times and pretending I wasn’t with him when he went off growling and prowling.
At last in the specialist’s room, X-rays and images were stuck on the lighted boards for our perusal.
“You can see the damage on C5 here.” The specialist outlined a grey blob with red pen. “It’s more apparent on C6 as you can see.”
“What does a healthy disc look like?” I hadn’t got a clue what I was looking at, although Richard was nodding sagely. As he’d been through the route before, he’d paid more attention.
“This area,” the specialist pointed out another grey blob which appeared to have more of a space between it and the next grey blob, “shows healthy tissue. The disc hasn’t collapsed and isn’t pushing on the nerve receptors. With two collapsed discs, you’d be in a great deal on pain and there’s an element of risk that if left untreated the nerves will die off. Do you, or more likely, did you play rugby?”
“Yes, I’m big, so I was stuck in at No 3.” Richard confirmed.
The specialist gave a brief shrug of his shoulders. “Well, if you will do these things like enjoying yourself! About a third of the injuries I see like yours are caused in the scrum or by heavy tackles. Now, if I was into knees, mostly likely I’d see footballers.”
“Lucky you,” I quipped.
“You like football?” queried the specialist.
“No, but I quite like footballers’ knees, though I’m more into thighs.” I said earnestly.
Richard glowered at me for being too frivolous.
“So it’s another operation?” Richard’s voice, not surprisingly, took on that panicky quality.
“Oh no, things have moved on since your last operation!” The specialist laughed. “Indeed, I’m surprised that such radical action was taken even though it was a few years ago.”
“I’d lost all feeling in my fingers!” Richard said indignantly, “and something had to be done quickly.”
“I don’t know all the details, but we’re certainly going to explore all other less invasive options – going in again would be the final resort.” The specialist re-assured Richard again.
“So, what do I do?”
“We’ll start off with physiotherapy. That will, hopefully, encourage the discs to re-align. That way the interconnecting tissue and nerves can heal.”
“I had physio before, and it didn’t work!” Richard was in pain, and although desperate not to have an operation, was keen to have a quick fix. Secretly he regarded Physiotherapists as quacks but wasn’t going to say so in here.
“That, too, has moved on in leaps and bounds over the past 10 years!” The specialist was obviously used to frightened patients; operations on the spine by their very nature are scary. “We’ve got a superb clinic here. What it can’t do is any damage. At the very worst it will have no effect – and don’t worry about how long it takes for us to find out! We’ll know if we can continue after the very first session.”
“And if it doesn’t?” Richard was keen to move on.
“If it doesn’t, we then try pain killing or Cortisone injections into the spine. All can be done under local anesthetic, and again, we’ll know from the first session if this will work for you.”
“That easy?” Richard was starting to take this on board and believe he was going to get better.
“The first session isn’t that pleasant as we don’t use anesthetic, we inject directly into your spine and see which bits go numb!”
“I remember that.” I chipped in. “I can still remember accusing the doctor of stealing my feet.” I’d had lower back problems 5 years ago. From the look on both the specialist’s and Richard’s face there’s nothing worse than someone whose been there and done it already.
Richard suddenly looked hopeful. “It worked for you,” He spun around in his chair and gazed sweetly into my eyes, “you’re as strong as an ox now!”
“Thanks, Darling. When Stansted want that extra runway laid and the A120 finished, remind me to apply. I’ll deal with you later.”
“Oh, yes please!” Richard laughed.
“Not advisable with your bad back.” The specialist cautioned.
Back in Reception, Richard got an appointment with the Physio the following week and felt so re-assured that he spent 10 minutes chatting up the Receptionists. He then spent another 10 minutes chatting up a pretty New Zealand nurse who’d originally recognised me from when I’d been in with my back problem. His excuse for his abominable display of flirting was that they’d remember him in future and be helpful. It had absolutely nothing to do with the fact that she had huge blue eyes, long blond hair and fulfilled one of his fantasies as she was taller that him . . .
“I’ve got something for you this week.” Phil greeted me ominously and turned to the eager-looking Richard. “Not your turn today, here are the keys to the store. Now, off you go and get your bow, and get some of the other bits just in case some of the others turn up.” Funny, that was how he usually talked to me.
Richard took the keys, but looked down enviously at the case Phil had just opened.
“It’s alright, it’s not as nice as mine!” Phil re-assured Richard briskly.
Richard instantly looked relieved, but still looked on – he wasn’t going to miss out on anything.
“It’s a Win & Win?” I asked, immediately grabbing hold of the riser and trying to work out how you screwed the limbs in. It didn’t own any bolts so I was completely at a loss.
“No it’s not, and you’ll need this to make it work properly!” Phil grabbed it back. “It’s got Win & Win limbs, the riser’s by Cartel. Look, they slot in like this – quite easily. I’d also be happier if you used this just in case you drop it.” Phil slipped something resembling a dead mouse onto my thumb, around the riser’s handle, then onto my index finger.
“Whose bow is it?”
“James’s, but he doesn’t really know I’ve got it.” Phil replied mysteriously. “You can go now.”
Richard was still hanging around to have a look at someone else’s toys. Begrudgingly, he sloped off towards the door, dragging his feet like a small boy who’s been told to do the washing up before he can go out and play football with his chums.
“James who?” I was still none the wiser.
“You must have met James, my son. He remembers you, if only for the fact that you walked into him three times in as many seconds.” Phil replied as he put the string on, yet again without the magic stringer.
The penny dropped – the young guy who I’d met at the 6 th lesson. No wonder he’d looked vaguely familiar!
“I know the riser’s a girlie pink colour, but that should make you feel more at home when you make girlie shots.”
I made the customary horrible face at Phil, and he ignored me as usual.
In reality, it was very kind of him to bring in something decent for me to have a go on, but I felt jittery. Not only did the owner not know it was out, it appeared that I was likely to drop it. I seemed to be fastened to the thing so I couldn’t escape without removing most of the skin on my thumb, and then I’d been informed that I’d inflicted grievously bodily harm on the owner without knowing it.
After Richard’s glowing account of using Phil’s bow, I was expecting the same thing. But the 2 of us just didn’t gel. After 2 mediocre ends I started to get shots more or less on the right target face, but at the cost of a bruise where the riser’s handle rested on the fleshy part of my hand. I was now in a quandary. What I would have loved was to get my old club bow back – especially that one which Phil had given me to play with at the end of the last session, but I didn’t want to appear ungrateful.
“Huh?” The Coat materialized to accompany me to collect my arrows.
“Nah!” I was getting the hang of the language.
“Still better than last week when you put the string on the wrong way!” The Coat was getting quite bolshie.
“The string was the right way on, it was the limbs that were upside down!” I replied. It was a variation of the bad musician’s favorite repost. I did play all the right notes, it’s just that they weren’t necessarily in the right order.
“That was the second time!” The Coat laughed with me.
I pulled one arrow free and stuffed it at him to hold as I needed to retrieve the other 2 from the very top of the boss.
“Do you realize, I’ve never yet managed to put my own bow together on my own? Every time I get told it’s wrong and someone arrives to put it right.” I justified the number of cock-ups I’d made to The Coat as I knew he’d understand. “I need time to practice and get it right.”
“And we need time to be warned to run away before you practice!” The Coat observed as he handed me my arrow back. “That’s bent, by the way.”
“How d’you know?” I held it up and tried to spin it around like I’d seen Neil Wakelin do with his arrows. It fell off my finger and onto the floor, but The Coat had already been fully trained in the art of archery chivalry and picked it up for me.
“I used that set at the last indoor championships – you can see the numbers that Dad wrote on for me and as you’re using 1,2 3 and 4 you must have seen them when you took them out the box. Number 3 is slightly bent.”
“And that was the one I got in the gold, the other 2 straight ones went high!” I observed.
“Why have you got James’s bow?” The Coat queried.
“Because it’s a girlie colour?” I queried. Let’s get obtuse to a teenager in the name of adult liberation.
“James isn’t a girlie.” The Coat answered seriously
“With a name like James I would think it would be unlikely.” I nodded sagely.
“He sometimes has girlie hair and wears funny hats, but, hey, he’s a teenager!” With that, The Coat sloped of in the direction of the corner and security.
The words pot and kettle came to mind.
“How are you doing?” Phil asked later.
I ruefully rubbed the sore area of my hand, and at first said fine, but by the end of the session plucked up the courage and admitted that it hurt. I even tried to be helpful and take the bow down but couldn’t remove the limbs and left the button in the riser so Phil couldn’t close the case lid. All in all, not a runaway success, and I’d still not covered myself in glory in moaning about my hand.
“Not for you then?” Phil was philosophical (nice pun) about my failure.
“Well, I don’t want to appear ungrateful, but it’s not exactly comfortable.” I tried to look tough, knowledgeable and intelligent all at the same time which in my case is impossible.
“At least you now know that simply having a decent bow is not necessarily going to help you shoot better. Think more about if the weight was too much for you to pull and did it feel more positive, even if most of your arrows didn’t hit – at all!” Phil’s run of reasonable inevitably ran out after a minute of my company.
After Richard’s first visit to the Physio, he was told that archery was a definite no-go area. Although the body usually took on a relatively natural angle when drawing, because his discs were damaged, Richard was using an un-natural twisted position to compensate for his lack of mobility. Every time he did this, more nerve endings could be damaged. He was told, categorically, that shooting was out for at least a year – possibly for ever.
He was distinctly grumpy. As well as being in pain, he had something that he’d started to enjoy and look forward to each week taken away. It also knocked on the head our equipment buying session, and somehow every weekend we were busy doing something else. My suggestions that I badly needed my own equipment no longer held the remotest level of interest for Richard. Even the mention that his mate Phil said I should move on – though I think it was to another town after another pathetic display of ‘what target’ – didn’t wash. Weekends were always so busy for Richard and I – so much was going on so I had to find the time on my own. The desperate need to sort myself out manifested itself sooner than I had expected.
One of the weeks on my own with no other beginners coming in before me, club bows and arrows hadn’t been put out. I’d always insisted I could do things on my own so now was my opportunity. It was a filthy night of thin, driving drizzle when a got in (late – I had chores to do) at 7.00. Saying my hellos, I got the keys from Liz and armed with my own puny torch went out into the night to get my stuff.
Locks and I get on as well as frogs and lawnmowers.
If I have a choice of 2 keys, I’ll pick the wrong one. Give me 6 keys, 2 padlocks, a heavy swing door, the now pouring rain and a torch that I have to clamp between my legs as I needed both hands, well – I’ll open it – eventually.
However, by the time I got inside I’d have been operating on swear power for 10 minutes, thus was rather highly strung. Added stress came from my failure to get the sack barrow’s step locked into position. I decided that I should take all the arrows down, but should find my own bow whilst up here as I can’t carry anything else. I turned the store light on, and it cast a rather eerie glow.
Imagination took over. The drizzle had turned to rain which thrummed on the tin roof and I picked up sounds of voices from the nearby hall which somehow seemed to be just outside my door. I knocked over a container which must have had some bits and pieces in it, couldn’t see where it fell and ever so often there was a plopping sound as something small hit the wooden floor. I’d have liked, very much indeed, to go home but that would have necessitated me showing I couldn’t manage when the time came to hand the keys back. In this situation, I didn’t get girlie or tearful, I just got angry, defensive and very, very jumpy. I’d learnt judo as a child, got as far as brown belt, so would have no problem whatsoever with defending myself should the need arise.
I didn’t hear the footsteps, just the door creaking open.
In a nano second, I’d armed myself with a heavy wooden riser, took a wide and stable stance and was ready to take a swing at whatever came around the door.
“Do you need any help in there?”
******* ****!. I pulled back just in time, and stood with the riser dangling harmlessly by my side.
“We were getting worried about you.” Phil’s bored voice indicated exactly the opposite.
“No, no, I’m fine!” I protested, trying to prevent my voice from rising too high.
The hell I am! I’ve got sopping wet, broken 5 finger nails, just had the living daylights terrified out of me and I’m a sad git as I’m actually pleased to see you.
“I was just getting my bow out.” I said in a small but dignified voice.
“Well, you could be a little more public spirited, and bring the whole lot down for the others who’ve just turned up. You’ll need the sack barrow.” Phil simply kicked the frame and the step dropped into place. “Now, you take the arrows and this case, I’ll bring all the rest.”
I could swear I could smell burning martyr.
“Thanks Phil!” Those words were honest, came from the heart. Momentarily, I was relieved that I hadn’t splattered bits of him around the storeroom.
“Hum, get on with it.”
Come the end of the evening when we came to put all the stuff back again, Phil was pinned at the back of the store by the trolley.
“Don’t leave me in here, let me get out.” He started to climb over the trolley but was hampered by some stuff on the floor – this was pre John T’s new tidy store regime.
Inevitably, I was the first to try and shut door on him.
“Still running the ‘Kill Phil’ committee?” Queried Michael, hastily moving to the side as Phil came hurtling over the trolley and out the door.
“Funnily enough I had my chance to dispatch him earlier today and didn’t finish the job.” I responded, “mind you, the speed he came out of there, I get the feeling that I can’t have been the first to attempt to shut him in.”
“I’m pretty certain Gill was the last one to attempt that – or was it Liz when she first tried to hit him with the gas cylinder?” Michael mulled.
“How long do you think anyone could survive in there in these temperatures without food?” Matt the Chat had to add his bit.
“No worries about water, the stores got a hole at the far end, and there are a few old tea bags down the back from the last Open.” Chipped in John Tait.
“Will someone stop chatting and hold the light so I can lock up properly, please?” Steve piped up grumpily as he was having just as much trouble with putting the padlocks back on as I had removing them. “When are we going to get some new, rust-proof ones?”
However the seed of a thought had been planted. . .
That night I dreamt that I was walking up to the store with Matt the Chat to get some stuff out of the store. Nice, bright moonlit night, Matt as usual nattering on incessantly about the stars – Orion’s belt, Posh Spice’s boob job and how he was going to become a fighter pilot.
The locks gave me no problem, so Matt and I swung the heavy, twin locked door open and jumped into the store to get the sack barrow. As usual, it was stuck behind the big trolley so we had to shift that out the way before we could do anything.
Matt grabbed the trolley’s handle, and pulled it out the door. I shouted at him to be careful as it was heavy but he didn’t seem to have any problems other than a big thump when he first started to pull. He launched into his next phase of non-stop nattering, then suddenly stopped; his usually animated face took on a look of extreme horror, all heightened by the eerie pale, grey light. His gaze was fixed on something behind me and somehow, I didn’t want to look, but as in all dreams, you have to. I twisted slowly around.
Phil lay where the big trolley had been, shot by what looked to be 3 Redline 2016s. It must have been one of his legs we ran over when we first moved the trolley. Matt’s horrified look was replaced with one of curiosity as he shone his touch over the wound.
“Can’t blame you for this one”, he said calmly
“Why not?” I was intrigued by Matt’s judgment.
“Far too accurate for you – no, this was done by someone with a lot of experience!”
“Add good eyesight, and one hell of a grudge from where that’s embedded”, I giggled. “Compound or Recurve?”
“Who knows?” Matt sniggered, then pinged the end of the arrow. “Guess he knows which end is pointy now!”
“No that’s unkind, Matt, but I’ll give you that it is funny. I suppose we’d better check if he’s still alive.” I knelt down and grabbed Phil’s wrist. “There’s a pulse!”
“Then it can’t be Phil lying there – he’s not human, so no pulse!” Paul Mitchell magically appeared.
“Hello, can you hear us! Two groans for yes, one for no!” Matt shouted happily towards Phil’s prone body. “Anyone know how to do the Kiss of Life?”
“I am a certificated first aider, but we’re talking about Phil, here – not frogs and princes,” Paul reminded.
“More like gnomes and toadstools.” The Coat added as he appeared through the solid rear wall, apparently seated on one of the gym’s benches with his GameBoy clutched in both hands.
“So – kiss a gnome – it’ll turn into a toadstool?” I queried.
“It would be a very poisonous one in this case,” said The Coat.
“He started out as a rather poisonous Gnome.” Said Matt.
“Positively dripping venom!”, added The Coat.
“Yes, you’re right, don’t want to take risks with our health. Now, who do you think ‘dun it?” Paul folded his arms and stuck his head on one side as he mused. He glanced in the direction of the wound, unwound an arm, pinged the arrows and winced. “Ouch – that doesn’t look like much fun! Can’t have been you – far too accurate, that’s a really nice group, and the arrows are too long and heavy for a girlie!”
“But what if we’re dealing with a clever murderer, someone who wanted to lay the blame elsewhere?” Matt went off into Sherlock Holmes mode.
“I could have done it at point blank range.” I said indignantly.
Phil let out a groan.
“I suppose we should call an ambulance – at least we’ll be able to say we’ve done our best.” I said, not wishing to appear totally heartless.
“But if he recovers, he’ll be able to identify who shot him”, said Matt, “Do we want that?”
“Recognition or recovery?” queried Paul.
“Good point,” said Matt
“Oh, guys, how could you? He didn’t leave me all alone when I couldn’t get my stuff out of here on my own!” Strangely, I was pleading Phil’s case, but then, it was just a dream.
“Well, you can stay in here with him if you feel that strongly!” Paul promptly vanished, just like the white rabbit in Alice in Wonderland.
“Toadstools to you, too!” said The Coat indignantly, his bench backed up with a sound like a badly used gear-box and he vanished through the back wall.
“You might as well finish the job!” Matt closed the door rapidly and I was left, in the dark, rain now thrumming on the roof and everything was the same as when I was in there before – except . . .
In the dark a hand closed around my ankle.
“Your limbs are on the wrong way up.” Stated Phil in a voice that indicated he’d fully recovered.
Phil/Andy hit the dressing table contents at the far end of the bedroom and one of his glass eyes fell out.
“Whassat?” Richard was dragging himself into consciousness.
“Nothing darling, I’ve just killed Phil.”
The slightest rumble of a snore indicated that this hadn’t registered with Richard.
“Oh dear, one of his tusks has come off!”
Needless to say, I have never been up to the store on my own again and luckily I have never dreamt about archery.
To avoid having to experience the inside of the store in the dark again, I took on an element of animal cunning. I’d check with the other beginners to see if they were planning to turn up the following week and would time my arrival with theirs.
It worked quite well until the week I found out I was going to be the only one so I drove in straight from work to arrive at St Mary’s before set-up at 6:00pm.
Phil was already in the gym, moving the goalposts left by the last football game. I had to swallow my pride and be polite to him. I asked – ever so nicely – if I could help him load the club bows on the trolley and explained that I’d then need go home to see Richard as he’d been away for a couple of days, and I’d come back to shoot later.
Phil was frightfully nice back to me – almost human when met on a one to one basis – and he said not to worry, he’d bring the stuff down for me – all I had to do was ask, it was that simple.
I was so stunned that I made a complete cock-up of shooting when I came back that evening. I was totally stupefied when Phil suggested that I’d progressed so well it was essential I now got my own kit or I could easily become disheartened.
He was so effusive that I began to wonder if he’d had the same dream and knew where those arrows had been buried. . .