Chapter Ten – County and Western
The Saturday before the Hertfordshire County Western tournament, Stortford held their annual Open National. Gangs of willing (and unwilling, it had been persistently pouring down with rain on the Friday night) helpers had assisted in setting up the equipment, putting up the tents, doing the sign posting and putting in fencing. As a girlie with no experience whatsoever of these dos, my offer of unlimited help resulted in me being put in the tea tent. Stay there, I was informed, you’ll get to meet lots of people and best of all won’t do any damage to yourself or fee-paying archers. If you have trouble counting out the change, pretend you’re foreign.
After 10 minutes in the tent and threading up the electric cable to the boiler, I got in my car and drove home. I wasn’t sulking, I knew my place. No, a combination of nerves about the following day plus the fact that I’d completely mis-diagnosed the weather meant that I’d put on too much clothing and was subject to thermal rushes. The slightest movement on my part left me drenched, thus I had to do something or I probably would have passed out with heat exhaustion.
My return to the car park 10 minutes later, dressed more for the occasion, was greeted by several grumpy comments. I felt that it wasn’t deserved, I just didn’t feel like explaining that I was desperately overheating as I suspected that I would have been told I was at a funny age. I am, but I don’t like to be reminded that my flushes are not ones of the first age of youth.
Ted collared me as I made my way up the slope.
“You know their problem, don’t you?” Asked Ted, white cap set, as usual, at that jaunty angle. As usual, he’d made it his mission to ensure that things were sorted out properly.
“What’s the problem and who are they?” I returned.
“You know, them who thinks they run it!” Ted gave me one of his knowing looks, then winked.
“Oh object of my lust, it must have escaped me. Not a clue, mate.” I responded, and blew him a kiss.
Ted winced at my impetuous behavior.
“Can’t cope with having intelligent women around!” He pronounced roundly.
“What does that have to do with me?” I queried of Ted, “I thought you called me ‘nightlight’ because I wasn’t very bright.”
“Not at all!” Ted pronounced roundly, “You think about things people say to you.”
“It would be rude not to.” I gave a standard response, not knowing where this was going and afraid yet again of upsetting anyone.
“Quite right!” With that, Ted re-set his best white cap on his head, then stomped off.
I never did get to the bottom of that conversation, but I’d had that sinking feeling that I could have lost the will to live had I continued.
Once in the safety of the Tea Tent, I could get down to a serious gas-bag with a fellow conspirator, Gill. Sweet Peter frequently accused me of having the ability to lower the tone of a conversation within 30 seconds, but with Gill around I could cut that time by 50%. We both held an Olympic gold in the individual medley of giggle, scandal and freestyle looking innocent when required.
“I’ll never forget that time you actually managed to put Neil off by talking about someone going away for a dirty weekend!” I chatted away quite happily while I un-wrapped an unidentified baked object.
“I know – wasn’t that great! I’ve known Neil carry on shooting when a steam train went by blowing a whistle, and when a jet came so low over the ground at Stansted, some of us ran for cover. But he couldn’t resist that one.” Gill giggled happily and removed the baked object from my grasp. “Apple Strudel. I think I’d had rather a lot of sherry by the time I folded that one.”
“Yes, but whose dirty weekend?” I don’t give up easily.
“You wouldn’t have known them then, dear.” Gill replied annoyingly, then winked.
“But I know them now?” Let’s solve this by a process of elimination.
“Probably,” Gill replied mysteriously.
“As far as I’m concerned, I thought that everyone around here was whiter than white – goes with GNAS colours!” I couldn’t resist getting that one in. “I’ve always been treated as an archer first, lady archer second.”
“You’re right, it’s usually 2 years before anyone would notice we have bits that wobble.” Gill pronounced as she carefully re-arranged a cherry that had fallen off one of the cakes.
I nodded in agreement, but I still hadn’t got any closer to finding out who Gill was talking about. I was thinking carefully about my next careful question. Usually, I wouldn’t have bothered, but was slightly bored and was having fun chatting. People have their own lives to live and God forbid it’s sometimes difficult to find a friendly soul out there. However, there is this thing about the need to know . . .
“3 teas, one coffee, and what have you got in the way of cold drinks?” A pleasant-looking bloke with a badge that said he was from the Hertford Company of Archers smiled at us as he peered into the tent. “Hello, Gill! Who’s in trouble now?”
“Can’t tell, mustn’t tell! Barbara’s only been a member for a year and only half-way through her corruption schedule, but she’s a fast learner!” Gill chuckled away merrily and responded with a wink. “Got to go now – I should have left hours ago, but there are so many people to see!” She swept up her cardigan and various bags of bits, then bustled importantly out of the tent.
She was back within a minute.
“The very best of luck to you for tomorrow, Barbara!”
So that was it. I never did find out who she was talking about and was left to run the tea tent more or less on my own for the afternoon. I trundled teas and cakes backwards and forwards to the judges, picked up the empties, made tea and cut cakes for the assembled starving troupes and made myself very useful as a waitress. I actually had a great time and yes, I met a large number of people, but not one of them knew me as an archer.
However, I had to make a mistake, and my biggest faux-pas of the day came when I chatted to Peter Sweetman’s lovely wife Elizabeth, a lady with a sense of humour even more wicked than mine, and who was doing her bit as the Lady Paramount for the day.
“That was fun!” She laughed as she settled herself down on a chair in the afternoon sunshine.
“What have you been up to?” I asked as I handed her a cup of tea.
“Not that much fun, Barbara – I’ve just decided on how to award the Lady Paramount’s prizes. Helps pass the time as I don’t shoot and can’t understand half of what Peter’s so proudly going about.”
“What’s a Lady Paramour?” I asked – I hadn’t a clue.
“Mount – though could be more fun! I’m supposed to be, what’s it again, yes, the final arbitrator in any decision – that’s according to the rule book that Peter stuffed under my nose last night.” Said Elizabeth , “But I’m really here today to give out the medals and give congratulatory kisses to the men and the children, but not necessarily in that order. My prize is given to a sort of mid-way score; not someone who’s come last as that would smell ever so slightly of a consolation prize. No, I’ve selected a score halfway between what the winner and the lowest score last year was.”
“But the Lady Paramount can make her own decision as to how the prizes are awarded?” I’d got hold of an idea and a way to create havoc, “you can do whatever you want to on the day?”
“Suppose so – could be fun!” Elizabeth giggled, “what do you suggest?”
“Best legs on the blokes, best shoes for the ladies and whoever used the least amount of swear words for the juniors?”
“What a great idea! I’ll tell the Chairman I’ve changed my mind, and my decision might require physical contact!” Sue wasn’t serious, but she obviously mentioned something to Steve later on. I knew this as I was warned to stay in the tea tent during the presentations lest I start Elizabeth giggling again.
At least it took my mind off of the task in hand the following day.
To unwind further, I watched my favourite silly film that night – A Knight’s tale. I went to sleep dreaming of glory, tournaments, swords, lances but no bows and arrows. I can, however, vaguely recall a rousing chorus from Gill and Paul of ‘She’s blond, she’s p****d, you’ll see her in the lists . . .
“Will you be gone before I get back?” Richard asked from inside his car through the opened window.
“What time will you be back?” How long is a piece of string? I think it’s a good deal longer than my fuse is at the moment.
“’Bout an hour,” responded Richard.
“Kick off – nock off, whatever’s at 1.45, and I’ve got to be there at least ½ hour before so I can sort myself out. No, I’ll probably miss you.”
“Best of luck, then!” Richard started to reverse out, then stopped and leaned out on the window again. “By the way, you look cute in your whites!” With that he swept his black Mercedes off the drive.
Having climbed several hundred walls that morning, I was not happy to be left alone for ½ hour, or to be told I looked cute. I was supposed to look like a lean, mean shooting machine; cute was not what was needed – I don’t do cute – would you tell Serena Williams on her way to the Wimbledon final that she looked cute in whites? In a huff, I put my sunglasses on, the sun went in and I walked into the rear bumper of my car, leaving a dirty great bruise on my shin and thus the need to change from shorts into long trousers. I then stuck my glasses on top of my head so I could see where I was going – I find it helps.
By the time I reached the venue and checked my appearance, cute had definitely been ditched in favour of weird as a lump of hair previously help in place by my glasses was sticking up at the front of my head making me look like an aging punk. As I parked, I felt very envious of other archers arriving who obviously knew each other and sang out various greetings. On my own, I grabbed my meager beginner’s gear, and trudged towards the ground.
“Nervous?” Paul and The Coat were disembarking. I was so pleased to see them – pathetically so. I don’t think I’ll ever be as pleased to see the pair of them again.
“Yes.” I gasped gratefully, then gulped back a sob.
“Good, so you should be.” Paul barked back. “It’s a good sign – struth!”
Phil’s car just missed us as he swept into a space just in front of where the 3 of us intended to walk.
“Look, it’s your favourite nasty gnome!” Jonathon suddenly started laughing, then stopped almost as rapidly when he saw Phil’s son James pointing and laughing just as enthusiastically back at us. I thought he was pointing at my hair.
“Bet they don’t think I look cute!” I was still muttering abut Richard’s comment.
“Are you serious?” Queried Paul, “Where the hell did that one come from?” He started giggling.
“Thought you’d guess – it was Richard, this morning. He buggered off to Home base – which is unusual as his version of do-it-yourself is getting the yellow pages out of the cupboard without instructions – and his parting shot was that I looked cut in my whites.”
“Did he say it from the safety of his car?” asked Paul.
“Correct. Yeah, I think you’re right – it was a wind up.” I said, philosophically.
“Spec Savers,” said The Coat, gravely.
“Wot?” I asked in Coatease speak.
“Spec Savers, should have been to.” Repeated the Coat
“Thanks, I’ll call you when I next need cheering up.”
“What did I say? I was agreeing with you! She’s even worse than my sister – women!” The Coat did an exaggerated I don’t understand shrug.
Paul wisely ditched this conversation and carried on towards a table where there looked to be people who were running the show, i.e. well known mathematic theorem. People + paper + highlighter pens = officials.
“Good afternoon! Who are you with?” The guy at the table queried.
“I think I’m with me, I’m on my own.” I didn’t understand the question and it was my first time after all.
“No, what club are you with?” The guy re-phrased the question.
“She’s one of mine.” Phil materialized behind me and inevitably, took over.
The guy then beamed at me. “Are you the girl from Stortford?”
“I don’t think I have the suntan for Brazil .” This was going to be a long day.
“No, this isn’t a girl!” Phil crossly denied. “This is Barbara.”
“So Barbara’s aren’t girls?” I remonstrated with Phil. “So is that where I’ve been going wrong all this time, or have you missed some rather obvious features?”
“No, yes, possibly – Becky’s the girl from Stortford. She and Dave decided at the Open yesterday that they wanted to shoot, but they hadn’t entered. I rang through and warned the organizers that any people they didn’t know and were unregistered may be from our club.” Phil explained patiently.
Phil’s momentary attention in my direction was suddenly diverted into an outbreak of pride.
“My, you have grown!” The lady at the table was checking in and simultaneously checking out Phil’s son James.
“Why, the last time I saw you, you were only this high!” She held out her arm to a level which would have indicated her last sighting was when James was 7.
James squirmed and looked suitably uncomfortable as only a teenaged boy can when he’s trying to look cool but can’t manage it with maiden aunts clacking around him like mother hens. He seemed worried that at any moment one of them was going to ask for a big, sloppy wet kiss. From the way his eyes were shifting, it was easy to see that James was already assessing likely exit points in that case of dire emergency.
“Yes, he’s 18 this year, aren’t you James?” Phil beamed with pride.
James blushed desperately with the attention he was getting and bunged on his sunglasses.
“Come on then, with me, this way!” Phil went in front of me and was waving his arm around like a tour guide to make us hurry up.
“God, it’s like being back at camp!” Paul enthused as he looked along the line of tents in the waiting area. “Next thing you’ll know we’ll be having a touch on the ging-gang-goolies.”
Phil gave Paul the Buzzard look, then halted to peer into the entrance of a tent situated towards the end of the waiting line.
“Here we are! Barbara, meet Barbara! She’s a first timer and one of Stortford’s!” Phil made the introduction.
A lively-looking lady leapt out of her chair and went to shake my hand – both of which were full of equipment. In my rush to be polite, I dropped the lot.
“Watch out!” A younger and even livelier-looking lady was trying to erect a large umbrella with guy ropes over her chair. I’d just missed her right foot.
“I’m so sorry, it’s my first time, I haven’t got a clue what I’m doing and I hope I didn’t hurt you!” I gabbled out excuses.
“No, you missed, but just watch it!” She chided. “I’m Gaynor, nice to meet you – other Barbara – that’s going to bloody confusing when we score – can you change your name?”
“I doubt if there will be any confusion, mine will all miss.” I said, sounding like a suicidal Eeyore out of Winnie the Pooh.
“Have you finished upsetting everyone?” Phil interrupted my wallowing in self-pity.
“Just started, Phil, I’m not in full swing yet and I haven’t got around to you yet.” I replied.
“Barbara ‘ill be fine, we’ll look after her, won’t we, Barry? Meet my husband. It’s our anniversary tomorrow and to celebrate I’m taking dog t’ vets’.”
“As long as it’s not Barry you’re taking to the vets’.” said Gaynor.
“No, took him years ago, didn’t ‘ppreciate it though.” Barbara laughed.
“Oo-oo, Joe!” Gaynor shouted and waved towards a rather attractive young man walking towards boss number 1. “Give us one of those wiggles, lovely!”
Joe blushed to the roots of his hair, but obliged with a Mick Jagger style walk for a few yards, accompanied by some whoops from Gaynor.
“Thanks love, you’ve just made 3 happy women very old!” Gaynor shouted.
Well, it made me laugh and it very much set the tone for the rest of the afternoon.
I retired behind Barbara’s Pop-a-bivy and Gaynor’s umbrella, sat on my sickly pink coloured folding chair and put my bow together. For a change, neither the string nor the limbs were the wrong way around despite my nerves and my shaking from head to foot. Once erected, I went to put bow and stand closer to the waiting line.
“Hello, Nick, nice to see you!” I enthused as another friendly face put in an appearance.
“If I’d known, I’d have worn extra sunglasses. You’re a bit white today, aren’t you?” Nick Whitehead screwed up his eyes as he looked at me. “New set of whites?”
“One has to try.” I responded. “You’ve made the effort as well.”
“Yes, but I don’t look like an advert for washing powder.” said Nick as he put his stuff down to set up on boss number 1.
“You say the nicest things. While we’re on the subject, silly question but, err – I don’t look, well, cute, do I?” Nick was one of the most transparently honest people around. As he was on the subject of clothing, I thought I’d get this thing that was preying on my mind out of the way.
“Cute, no, bit white, yeah!” Nick continued to screw his eyes up as he looked at me. “Why?”
“Just something Richard said before I came out.”
Nick’s eyes suddenly widened with panic.
“It’s all uphill, and take a look at the length of that grass!”
I suddenly found myself staring in the direction of the far try-line as if expecting to see majestic herds of grazing wildebeest emerging from beneath waving fronds.
“I wonder how going uphill affects our sight-marks?” mused Nick.
There it was; another doubt in my mind had been sown. I raced off to find Paul. I didn’t want to ask anyone on my boss as I’d seem to be an even bigger plonker not knowing a rudimentary thing like what to do if shooting uphill.
“Wot?” Paul was also starting to experience some nerves. “O.K, What have you got set for 60 at the moment?”
My face must have shown that I was going to reach the ‘I’m-upset-boo-hoo’ finishing post before he’d even left the starting blocks
“I haven’t really got a mark for 60 as I’ve changed to sight to sit outside my bow.” I said pathetically.
“Why did you do that just before a tournament?” Paul looked at me and shook his head as if he didn’t believe anyone could be that stupid.
Take it from me Paul, you met the person who can.
“Someone very tall, ears like a bat and who’s standing not very far away from you at the moment told me to do it.” Let’s blame Phil again, always there, always listening and big enough for the bullets to bounce off. Luckily, he was busy gas-bagging to someone else when his name was mentioned, thus only registered a ‘someone’s-talking-about-me-not-to-me’ look.
“Do you always do whatever Phil tells you to do?”
“More or less, yes. He told me to.” I said reflectively.
“Gosh, you’re trusting! So, if he told you to think things out for yourself?”
“Basically, that would mean bugger off.” I was, however, starting to get the message.
I was on my own for this, so work it out. If it’s uphill, the gold will be higher than usual. Higher means that it would need more elevation, thus would actually be slightly further away, thus lower your sight. At any rate, as my markings were theoretical, what had I got to lose?
Paul had taken my moment of concentration to get back to putting The Coat’s bow together. Still feeling nervous, I looked for someone else with a familiar face to re-assure me.
“Hello James, how are you doing?”
James gazed up at me with soft brown eyes framed by thick black eyelashes that, infuriatingly, only blokes ever seem to get. Takes me seven tonnes of mascara to get like that – not fair! I realized why the maiden aunt figure on the table earlier had paid him so much attention.
“I do beg your pardon?” James was very polite, but had inherited his father’s aloof qualities. Pair this off with a teenaged spaced approach and you’d got a creature you could never actually read nor understand.
“Are you O.K? You seem very quiet, I just wondered.” I was babbling. I’d never enquired regarding James’s health before, so really it was no wonder he looked puzzled.
“Right,” he nodded slowly and smiled. “Good night!”
“’Right – ‘bye then!” like father, like son, he was politely telling me to bog off elsewhere.
“No, I had a good night last night, enjoyed myself – right?” James elaborated.
“I thought you were saying goodbye.”
“Why would I want to do that?” James signed, gave up on me and lapsed back into his former studying the ground mode, whilst rolling a bottle of Orangina between his hands.
I retreated back to my chair.
Relief! Becky and Dave had arrived. Now I had familiar company and on the same boss as me. I felt better.
Both of them looked even more lost than I did. I raced over to greet the 2 but they got intercepted by Phil.
“Hello – let me introduce you!” He swept both of them of towards the other competitors. This wasn’t the Phil that I knew, whilst he was a pillar (close) of society with beginners’ training, once you’d done your 6 weeks he left you alone (so there is a god), so why was he doing this?
Becky and Dave got back from their rounds and started setting up. I was always a bit envious of the 2 of them – they never seemed to get the string the wrong way around, bought their gear as soon as they’d completed the course and Dave appeared to be able to hit 50 the first time he’d ever tried.
Becky, for the first time even, voiced a doubt.
“Don’t they look a long way away!” She raised an elegant hand to shield her eyes from the sun as she looked in the direction of Nick’s wildebeest. “I’ve never shot this far before!”
And here was I fretting about having my sight outside the bow.
A whistle sounded.
“Hello everyone, come over here!” Phil was standing in the middle of the field, waving us all over. I suddenly got this feeling of déjà vu. It was the start of the beginners’ session all over again and I felt the giggles rising.
“Why’s he there?” I hissed at Paul.
“He’s the Chairman, there’s no escape from the clutches of ‘Ol Grumpy!” Paul hissed back from under his hand.
“Shush!” Hissed a tall blond lady, clad from head to foot in green but easily drowning my feeble voice out with the tinkling bells she had pinned to her quiver.
“Blimey, I thought I just heard Rudolf clank by. Is it Christmas already?” A voice, suspiciously like Gaynor’s sounded from behind me.
Phil must have heard it, and thought it was me as I was subjected to the look. I went and hid behind Paul.
“No good looking for help from me!” Paul dodged to one side.
“Shush!!” said the entire assembly.
“Welcome, everyone, to the Hertfordshire Archery Association’s County Western ! Allow me to introduce our Lady Paramount for today, Denise Owen.” Phil announced, at last smiling happily.
A pretty, dark lady gave the massed archers a shy wave. A bunch of not so shy male archers wearing the same Club badge as Denise waved back.
“Your judge for today is Clive Hayward. We’re lucky to have him here today as it’s his birthday!”
“Happy birth-day, dear Cl-ive!” chorused a load of voices.
A gentleman of more advancing years, complete with the official bottle green blazer and with that definite mischievous twinkle in his eyes stepped forward.
“Good afternoon, Ladies and gentlemen! The round is a Western, 6 arrows per end. The first wave shoots 3, then retires for the second wave. Do not score for yourself, and if you score incorrectly, call for me. I should not have to remind you, but please turn off your mobile phones or as they might say, set your phasers to stun. Sighters will be in,” he glanced at his watch, “4 minutes. Ladies and gentlemen, good shooting!”