The trouble is, once you’ve won, you just have to carry on doing it.
I didn’t make the Tuesday session following the County Western when the results were announced, but from the encouraging remarks I got on Thursday, my performance must have been deemed as nothing short of miraculous.
In some ways, I was quite glad not to be around as I’m not good at coping with praise from others, and tend to look as if I wished the floor would swallow me up. However, it didn’t stop me from wanting to do it all over again – but with a bigger score. The Club Championships were the following weekend and I’d even booked the last precious day’s holiday I had left off so I could do all the chores, shopping and cleaning, and still take Richard to the re-enactment of Agincourt at Porchester Castle on Saturday.
The weather was perfect, so warm that I’d even debated dragging my shorts out for their final summer outing until I’d spotted the huge bruise on the back my right thigh where I’d fallen off a bench outside the Moorhen pub during a farewell drink and photo. Not wanting to draw attention to the bruise I bunged on the white trousers and congratulated myself on looking cool and very suntanned. I felt good and was definitely in with a chance – this was a handicap championship and I was shooting way out of my novice class. In my mind, nothing was going to stop me now.
Gill, as ever, was chattering away 90 to the dozen – even in the rapidly accelerating temperatures.
“Here you are, Mrs. Captain Gadget! Here’s something even you won’t have in your bag.” She handed over a black yo-yo which had flecks of gold in the plastic. “James gave me this a year ago when I said I couldn’t concentrate. I’ve now got one of my own and he said he doesn’t want it back.”
“Thanks! I haven’t played with a yo-yo for years.” I set up and immediately started the globe on its inevitable route up and down the string.
“Absolutely vital part of archery equipment!” Gill enthused, “couldn’t do without mine now.”
I got lost in playing with the simple toy. The next thing I knew Paul was tapping me on the shoulder.
“Have you put the string on the right way today?” He queried – he knew one it was of my favourite errors.
“String’s right, I haven’t checked the limbs” I stated rather arrogantly, still with yo-yo going up and down.
“But are you going to check, because I’m too busy!” Paul was carefully threading Jonathon’s onto his bow.
“Hummph.” I put James’s yo-yo down and checked. The limbs were, indeed, upside down.
“Oh bugger – oh sorry Peter.” One should not swear at the Club Championships, or indeed during them!
With everyone else ready, I held up the start while I made a pig’s breakfast of taking off the long rod and sight to enable me to get the bow down properly. When I reached out for the end, an injured back muscle grumbled at me, but taking a loop off doesn’t need quite so much effort. Once the limbs were on properly I got Nick to flick the loop over again and David Hawkins screwed in the longrod to save me anymore embarrassment.
“There you go.” He pinged the string just before he handed the bow over to me. “Give it a quick twang when you first set up and that will give you time to see if you’ve got it right.”
The sighters were a disaster. I moved the sight and the next end was a slightly smaller disaster as I scored a whole 3. Whatever I did made no difference and my arrows studiously avoided anything other than the colour black, white or green.
Also, for the first time ever I was becoming irritated by John L’s usual humourous ramblings and groanings, although there was no way he was putting me off. I was doing badly on my own and was committing the unforgivable sin of looking for someone to blame.
“I just don’t understand, Barbara, I’m pulling back as far as I can with these arrows – they’ll come past the handle if I go any further – but they are going long, short, sideways – anywhere but where they should!” John L put his bow down on the rest, then dug down into a pocket and produced a bag of the customary humbugs.
“Try pulling up to your chin, not halfway down the side of your face!” I suggested, “Your hand is in a different place very single time you take a shot – naturally they are going everywhere!”
“But I don’t like doing it that way, it doesn’t feel comfortable! Want a sweetie, little girl?” Usual joke from John, but I wasn’t really up to laughing that day.
“I don’t take sweets off of strange men, and they don’t come any stranger than you!” Usual response, it wasn’t John’s fault that I was having an off day. I made the effort to rally.
But John was right, and his shots were only being worsened in their erratic behaviour by my own. Any hope of staying within the same scoring zone as last week was rapidly being obliterated. For my part, I tried to stay as quiet and as focused as I possibly could in order to not put off Paul – I felt he’d got the short straw being put with me at the far end of the field with no other company. The day was incredibly hot, far hotter than a mid-September day usually was, and everyone seemed to be a little jaded.
I didn’t even have the chance to brighten up my day by trading insults with Phil, who’d buggered off to the SCAS team shoot along with Liz, both representing Hertfordshire in the SCAS championships. One day, I’ll be selected for that, can’t be that difficult I thought – a couple of years – that’s all I’ll need!
As I’d mentioned, I’d got Nick to put the final loop on my bow as I’d pulled a muscle in my back (the big one to the side – latissimus dorsi to be exact ) at the County Western and couldn’t stretch out too far. Whenever I got halfway to full draw, the muscle would remind me it was still there, and was not to be abused. I’d used up most of Boots the Chemist’s supply of Ibulieve the previous week and had thought it was fully recovered until I’d attempted to draw a longbow at the Agincourt re-enactment yesterday. I blamed the muscle for my rotten shots, and was probably right as I never really got to a full and consistent draw.
However, on a beautiful late summer day, gazing at the wonderful, typical English sky of pale blue with white fluffy bits that never seemed to drift over the sun and I got lost in the beauty of the time and place. I saw the bright, primary colours of the bosses, the oak tree at the end of the field, again – that wonderful sky, and I wished with all my heart that Richard could have been there with me to enjoy the experience and maybe take some pictures for viewing in the dark depths of winter. Then I did as I often do when I’m happy and content – I stretched and yawned.
A pain like a knife ripped through my side and knowing that now was not the time to scream – not with a dozen people shooting – I bit my tongue, clamped my jaws together and lowered my arms gingerly. The pain intensified so much that the world turned to purple stars which swam in front of my eyes. I panicked as I thought I was going to pass out, then mercifully the pain ebbed to a dull, red ache then vanished completely. I moved both arms around, and it still didn’t voice any disapproval. I couldn’t believe it.
No-one had noticed those moments of agony. I picked up my bow for the next end, nocked my arrow and drew, properly this time. No pain. I shot and hit the gold. I nocked and drew again, relishing the fact that I could now take a little more time to aim at full draw – and hit the red. Things were looking up, in theory it would be easier at 50 yards, so respectability was in sight.
I nocked, went through my usual set-up ritual and drew. There was an earsplitting crack and I felt something rush past the right side of my face. I glanced at my bow and briefly saw that it looked to be in pieces. The next instant Paul was gazing intently into my eyes with huge concern – which was quite pleasant until I realized what had happened.
“It’s o.k., it didn’t get your face, there’s no damage from where I’m standing. Now, do you feel alright?” No joking from him this time – I’d never seen him look so worried before.
I glanced along the line and saw more worried faces – the noise had, indeed, been colossal and had halted all shooting.
I was more furious than worried and least of all, hurt.
The top one of my lovely new limbs had split, laminate from laminate, along its entire length. As I attempted to hold up my bow, the string and the still attached arrow dangled uselessly from a shred of wood. I’d never seen anything like this before, and bear in mind during the 5 months of my bow ownership I’d already been through 2 risers and 2 sets of limbs which had been defective.
“Lucky it was a Recurve.” Neil Wakelin removed the offending article from my grasp. “Look at that!” He said to David Hawkins, “I’ve never seen one go like that before! You’re lucky, Barbara. Recurves, if they go – at least will break away from you. If that had been a compound, I doubt you’d still be here!” Neil started laughing.
I didn’t see the funny side. It’s easy to laugh when you’re a champion, but I wasn’t.
Everyone else took my breakage as an opportunity to have a drink and a rest in the shade. David stayed bravely out in the sun and helped me take down the shredded bow.
“Try to hold it here,” he gestured towards the dovetailed end, “you don’t need to get any splinters in you as well! Where did you get it?”
“ Oxford , I got those limbs in June, along with the riser.” I fumed. “At the time it seemed like a good deal as I’d got a second-hand, re-sprayed riser that alternatively held onto, or spat out its Scorpia limbs. They did a straight replacement with a new riser and upgraded for free to Win & Win limbs. Everything’s new. I haven’t left the bow up for too long, in the car in the heat, or even left the case in the sunshine when storing the stuff. I really don’t know what I’ve done wrong, but the way it’s going at the moment I feel that there’s nothing that I’m not going to break.”
“There’s no reason why you shouldn’t take it back, just be careful, let’s put some tape around that to hold it while it’s in your case.” David could see that I was getting close to losing it.
“Look, if you are worried about going back again, would you like me to have word with them? I know the owner and I can tell him that I was there when the thing blew, and that it was nothing to do with you at all – and it certainly wasn’t.”
I was immediately torn between pride – look mate I can fight my own battles – and for once accepting an offer of help from someone who clearly was in a position to help me. Archery, however, was starting to teach me how to behave like a lady.
“Would you, David? That’s so kind of you – I really would appreciate all the help I can get on this as I really don’t want to start all over again and buy something else. It’s getting a bit expensive.” The girlie side had won. I wrote down all the details for David, then returned sadly to my case full of broken bow. I must have looked particularly pathetic.
“Barbara,” Peter Sweetman said kindly, “Would you like to come with me and get a club bow so you can carry on shooting? We’ll get your old club arrows out as the wooden risers won’t stand your new carbons!”
“No, no, I couldn’t possibly! There’s nothing in the store that shoots 30lbs and I’ve already missed one end.” I was still angry with my own bow, and could only envisage shooting with my own stuff. I also remembered that it took us 20 minutes just to get the lock off when setting up, and I didn’t want to hold up the competition.
“Are you sure? I’d carry on shooting with you for anything I missed so you wouldn’t be on your own.” Peter re-assured me in his usual gallant and gentlemanly fashion.
“No, thanks, I’m still a bit upset.” I grumbled.
The moment I said that I regretted it.
If I’d had half the skill I thought, or had half an ounce of courage, I’d have shot on, club bow or not. Knowing the club members as I did, any attempt would have been appreciated, and I would have got the biggest round of applause of anyone at the end of the day for my score. With the gift of hindsight, I’d have won the handicap trophy as I’d scored so poorly throughout the summer.
But I didn’t have that extra something, I was no Michael Schumacher of the archery world, and I wanted to win properly – with my own gear and with no sympathy. You only get these sort of opportunities once and I’d just blown mine.
I was still so angry I didn’t want to go home yet. It was still a beautiful afternoon, and I wanted to see how everyone else was doing. I would have probably wrapped my car around a lamp-post, thus had to wait until the feeling subsided. So I wandered up and down the field with Paul, acting as his scorer. Only one person to keep tags on, and a good archer as well meant very little work. I then wandered over to Jonathon and settled a minor dispute at the junior boss.
Jonathon, Chester and Neil didn’t stand on ceremony when calling out scores – as youngsters they hadn’t yet had the ‘be polite and see if your fellow competitors agreed’ pounded into them. A pretty heated dispute had erupted regarding some potentially dodgy line-cutter calls. Add to that, little Neil, although he hadn’t shot that long, was leading Jonathon.
I may find teenagers difficult, but there’s one thing I love about teenage boys. At times of stress they will listen to someone the same age as their mother telling them what they should do, and actually do it. Try the same trick while they are chilled out and you’ll fail, they’ll storm off and chuck things around for an hour. I simply used common sense, pretended I found their posturing funny (although Chester Hawkins came around halfway through my talk and actually seemed to think the same) and settled the dispute by scoring that end for them. I didn’t hear a peep out of them the rest of the afternoon.
Then the lovely James sauntered over, removed his shades and the very silly hat he’d been wearing all day. I noted bitterly that his hair hadn’t gone flat and lifeless as mine would have done if I’d so much as waved a baseball cap at it. He once again batted his impossibly long, black eyelashes at me and gazed sweetly with those huge brown eyes into mine.
“Oh, poor, poor Barbara! Always happens to you, doesn’t it?” James’s voice was almost as deep and brown as his eyes.
I was mesmorised, lost somewhere pleasant I’d visited in my youth. Struggling back to 49 years of due wear and tear, I made the most of it, as at my age nice-looking young men don’t gaze into my eyes unless they want money and/or I remind them of their granny. I gazed back with a silly smile on my face.
“Dad will have a laugh when he hears about this.” James dumped himself neatly into the nasty, smelly stuff.
“Sod your Dad and bugger off!” Mentioning Phil was like a red rag to a bull at that particular moment. True to my birth sign, Taurus the bull, I lost it at a moment of pressure. I muttered some other choice works and shoved my way past James.
James stood his ground and laughed.
The anger subsided as we cleared up the field, nothing like a bit of hard physical effort to get rid of anger though I did pick up one of the bosses on my own – much to Peter’s horror. It was then into the gym to set up for tea and the presentations. As Nick tried to shoo out a magpie that looked to have been in the room for a week – it was that dusty – shock took over from the anger.
Why did Paul look so worried and say my face wasn’t marked? What if I’d got the only Recurve that exploded inwards? Why have I deliberately placed myself in the position where I could have been at best scarred for life, blinded or even dead? I started to shake.
I left the club championship just before tea was served as I just couldn’t cope with it anymore. I needed to go home and cry off the shock. I don’t think I said goodbye to anyone, just walked out. I must have seemed very rude, but I’m afraid there are times when self preservation takes over manners, and frankly I didn’t really care what anyone else thought anymore. Once home, I quickly consumed 2 ice-cold cans of Stella (on the grounds that it was so hot) and my nerves steadied.
The following day I felt something was missing. After tossing and turning all night with various bad dreams I made up my mind that was going to give up archery, I’d had enough.
Richard was unusually sympathetic – unexpected as he was no longer an archer. When I’d recited my story (leaving out the bit about being scared witless) instead of the dismissive ‘it’s only archery and what are we having for dinner’, he’d cuddled me and told me everything would be alright. I couldn’t for the life of me see how.
Driving to work on a back road, I saw an Audi TT horribly positioned in a ditch. The owner was out the car, no damage to him, but looking dazed. Normally on safety grounds I wouldn’t stop, but the expression of disbelief his face reminded me of Richard’s when he’d had an accident in his 2-week old pride and joy – another Audi TT. I slowed to a halt.
“Hi – um, silly question as I think I know the answer already, but are you O.K?” I asked through my wound-down window.
The guy shook his head sadly. “No, really, thanks for stopping. Everyone else has just looked at my car and laughed. I suppose it’s the penalty of having something nice, you are never supposed to do anything wrong.”
“So, no injuries to self, but don’t want to hear those dreaded words ‘as long as you’re alright, the car doesn’t matter, it’s only a piece of metal,’ am I right?”
“You must be a fellow petrol head!” The guy laughed, but shuddered a little from shock.
“It’s only by proxy, I’m driving a KA – right?” I responded, “But my husband’s got one of those.”
I recognized shock, so I did the usual bit, asking if he needed any help, was o.k., all the normal stuff you’d do to take someone’s mind off of what had just happened. He said he’d already called the breakdown company. The accident evidently had happened because he’d swerved to miss one of the hundreds of kamikaze pheasants in the area. Pheasant had escaped unscathed, Audi had not.
Then I knew what I was missing.
Parking up safely in front of the Audi, I got out and opened up the tailgate, then pulled out my bow case. Audi driver looked on puzzled – I suppose it must have looked as if I was removing a tool case which in his situation would have been a fat lot of good.
I had been so disgusted the night before I hadn’t – for the first time ever – even bothered to take the case out of my car. I now wanted to convince myself that the feeling I’d just had was right. I undid the zip and lifted the first layer of arrows. Resting right on the top of the shredded limb sat the yo-yo. Just for a moment something at the back of my throat caught. I carefully lifted the toy out, closed my hand around it, and turned around to sit on the bumper of my car. Opening my hand I gazed at the yo-yo – not seeing that, but seeing all the people I’d met, shared my time with and had befriended over the past 10 months. Archery hadn’t been with me for long but had evidently left its mark. I wasn’t unhappy because I hadn’t won – I’d actually insulted myself thinking that as I’m not that shallow.
My unhappiness stemmed from the fact that I’d been ready to walk away and, worst of all, give up on something I was growing to love dearly. I realized at that moment that as I’d grown older, I’d lost the passion; I’d lost the ability to get excited, hurt, scared, worried or even look forward to something.
Archery had given all of that back to me.
When Richard had his accident, by far the worse damage was that he’d lost something that he’d saved up for, counted the minutes – nay seconds – until delivery, and had enjoyed from the moment he’d taken the decision to buy one. The vehicle was off the road for 3 months, awaiting parts – one of the penalties of having the latest model and a rarity to boot. A great love of his life had been taken away.
Crazily, I was missing my bow, the very thing that just had to be fixed to give me back the passion. I knew I was right because the moment I thought it, the empty feeling went away and unlike Richard, I had the opportunity to put the situation right immediately.
My manager is a really nice bloke, really, really nice! Completely honestly (I’d run out of holiday by this time) I told him what had happened, what I needed to do, and the time off I required to do it in. Beats groveling and not telling the truth and this was a bit of bloke thing – I was even referring to my bow as “she” as if it were a machine.
I then had to ring the shop and tell them that, for the 4 th time, something had broken. I was, quite frankly, expecting a fight this time and despite all my training in the art of how to complain constructively – something I do for a living – was dreading the call.
“Hello, is that Oxford Archery?” The person had answered with the name, I was too wound up to listen so wanted to confirm and get over the fact that they’d got No 1 bad-tempered customer on the line.
“Yes it is, how can I help you?”
“I’m Barbara Williams, you may remember me, I’ve been back to your shop 3 times already!”
“Yes, hello Barbara, I do remember your problems being mentioned. What’s it this time?”
What a relief, that saved me from having to go over the entire background. The statement ‘this time’ however wasn’t that welcome.
“Those Win & Win limbs you supplied me with have just split. I haven’t done anything I shouldn’t, I haven’t left them in the car or the fridge, driven over them, thrown them at next door’s cat – well, I’ve loved them to death, but they’ve broken.” I was in full flight by now, and had printed out the consumer rights white paper. “Now, I know that you won’t take a hit on this as they are guaranteed by the manufacturer!” Liz told me that, another little gem I’d remembered. “All I want is something that I can shoot with! I was standing there, halfway through the club championships, and the top one went nearly taking half my face with it. I don’t necessarily want my money back – I just want something that works!” I was really passionate by now; ready for the fight to commence.
“Of course, Barbara, that’s the very least we can do as you’ve had so much trouble.”
“What? Don’t you have to speak to the owner and get his approval? The last time I’d had to wait for a couple of hours until he’d re-appeared.”
“No, all I ask is that you bring it back so we can see what’s happened and yes, indeed, send it back to Win & Win. Their guarantee system is, indeed, superb.”
“No hanging around for the manager/owner?”
“I am the manager, and I’ll hang around for you. When are you coming over? I would very much like to talk to you as you’ve had such a bad experience.”
“Now? It’ll take me about 45 minutes at this time of day.”
“Now’s fine, I’ll have the kettle on.”
A Ford KA suddenly evolved into the fastest, most nimble vehicle on the roads today – believe me, she can fly. I made it in 35 minutes and still don’t know how. This bloke called Button keeps ringing me up asking me for the secret.
A fair-haired gentleman smiled a welcome from behind the counter of Oxfords.
“Hello, you must be Barbara. I’m so sorry to hear about all the problems you’ve been having.” He had a soft Scottish accent. That removed a large amount of wind from my over-inflated sails.
“It is getting beyond a joke.” I rallied, “I worked out that I’ve done 400 miles just trying to sort this out.” I swung the case onto the counter and sent some special-offer longbow shafts scattering across the floor. The guy who sold me the original bow must have heard the noise, and stuck his head out of a rear door, took one look at me and retreated rapidly.
I unzipped my case with such a flourish that the end chain came off in my hand.
“This is the problem!” I extracted the limb, unwrapped the cloth I’d earlier placed around it to prevent any further splintering since it was taped up, and hoisted it triumphantly into the air. It obligingly split the tape and dangled pathetically.
“Good grief! I have never seen one go like that before!” The manager carefully removed the limb from my hand. As he did so, a piece of wood detached itself and landed on the counter. “It’s not so much a case of sending this back – more a case of sticking it in the museum.”
“I haven’t mistreated it!” I thought I’d cover myself.
“I don’t doubt you. To do this intentionally or carelessly would take years of maltreatment. No, you’ve just been very unlucky and got a rogue set of limbs. Of course, no question, we’ll replace them.”
With that, he vanished into the back of the shop. 5 minutes went by and I suspected the worse. He re-appeared.
“I’m sorry, Barbara, we don’t have any more of this size in stock.”
“So how long will it be until you do?” I bit my lip.
“It would be in two, perhaps 3 weeks. The other shops haven’t got them either. I’m sorry to have kept you waiting but I took the opportunity to phone through to them and check. I will refund in full if you don’t want to deal with us again – that would be quite understandable.” He wrung his hands together and looked apologetic.
“Look, I just want to be able to shoot again – today if possible. Is that so difficult to do? What do I have to do to get something done and something that works?” Richard’s training in how to resolve a situation was starting to be put to good use..
“I can get you longer limbs at 2 lbs heavier, same brand. I can also do you carbon limbs, same length but 4 lbs heavier, more expensive, but I’d obviously take your limbs at full retail against them, and we can talk about a further discount.”
“That’s if I can handle that weight.” I could smell a bargain, but didn’t want something where I couldn’t even pull the weight.
“Oh, I think you could. You look, if you don’t mind me saying, as if you exercise – you are not a small girl.”
I made a snorting noise of disapproval.
“Sorry, you look more athletic than most of my customers.” The manager frantically qualified his last comment.
“I’ll try both.” I growled, pulling myself up to a full 6′ 2” in my work heels, “I work out.”
The owner looked relieved, and dived out the back of the shop again to re-emerge with my fantasy limbs – I always wanted a set of matt black limbs as I thought they looked so cool.
I ignored the basic ones, and immediately fitted the carbons. You know what it’s like, you really want something but you’ve heard and read all the warnings. The word ‘over-bowed’ along with horror stories of torn ligaments kept popping into my mind, so I steeled myself for disappointment and a very sore shoulder.
It didn’t happen; the little darlings flexed easily and positively. Collaring the manager we dived outside to shoot for real. I couldn’t believe it. For my standards, the power of those things went right off the scale.
“Nice, aren’t they?” The owner grinned at my apparent delight, also knowing that not only had he turned an unhappy customer into one that was likely to make another purchase.
“Fabulous! I can’t believe how positive they are.”
“You do realize that those arrows are not exactly matched to that weight?” The manager pointed out.
“These arrows,” I pointed out – I was happier, but not so carried away that I was going to spend even more money, “Were purchased last month, and not from you! I was allowed to spend 3 hours testing with them, and I can clearly remember the shop commenting that they were, in fact, for the next weight up. I’m not about to buy anything else off you!”
The manger backed down rapidly, so we settled on a price for the limbs, and I think both of us came out of that negotiation happy. Even so, I had to do that test of taking the bow down to ensure that the limbs were neither too tight nor rattled – twice.
“I’m not leaving this shop until I’m certain.” I muttered as I hauled mightily at one of the limbs which parted sweetly from the riser.
“I’m not letting you leave the shop until I’m certain either”, said the manager. “And the ones with the writing on them go at the bottom, Barbara.”
Tomorrow, Tuesday, was the first opportunity I got to test them. The astonished faces when I rolled up, all smiles as if nothing had ever gone wrong, and assembled my bow – said it all.
It shot superbly and I spent the evening revising my sight marks – all upwards.
“Are you alright now? James said you were rather upset and he thought you might give up.” Phil queried.
“I’m O.K., but I swore at James and was rather rude to him, poor kid. I’m sorry – I’ll apologize personally when I see him.”
“If you swore at James, I’ve no doubt he deserved it,” said Phil reasonably.
“Silly thing really, but it was seeing this yo-yo that reminded me of how much fun I’ve had; I couldn’t give up even if I tried.” I raised the toy.
“Oh yes, I remember that one – he gave it to Gill!” Phil took it off of me and examined it. “He’s got one with flashing lights in it now, but I’m pleased to see that this has got a good home – it must have helped a lot of people. You should use it whenever you’re feeling you are losing concentration, it takes your mind off the job just long enough.”
“They are a bit flash for a mere beginner!” I changed the subject as I thought the conversation was getting a bit too serious, and pointed at my beautiful new limbs.
“Not really, and I don’t believe you were ever ‘mere’ – do you? Anyway, that’s how I got to have far more expensive kits than I could have originally afforded. My riser cracked a couple of times, I had some limb troubles when one was badly bent. Every time I was offered the chance of an upgrade I took it.”
I looked around guiltily then giggled, “I hope no-one’s watching. I can’t afford to be seen talking nicely to you until after chapter six comes out in Insight. You’re still supposed to be The Nasty Gnome, and you’ve got an image to maintain.”
“I think I can manage that for a few more months. Well, I didn’t want to mention this, perhaps I shouldn’t yet.” Phil shuffled his feet and gave me a look I was going to know well in the future. It was similar to one of Richard’s when he wanted me to do something difficult, but had thought of a way of packaging it up pleasantly so I wouldn’t notice. “There’s a league match on Sunday, it’s away and it’s our last attempt to get off of the bottom of the county table for 2003. I’d like you, if you have the time, to be in the team.”
I was staggered.
“Err, I don’t know if Richard will let me out this weekend. I’ve already done 2 Sundays on the trot.”
“I’m sure Richard is very proud of you, and you only need to talk to him nicely.” Phil made it sound so easy.
Strangely enough, it was. The following Saturday when Richard and I were out shopping we spotted Phil over by the trees near Waitrose. When hailed, he obligingly regailed Richard with tales of how good I was, and how I needed encouragement and how I should get as much practice as possible. Richard went home with a big smile on his face and the feeling that he was apparently living with the next Olympic champion. Needless to say, I got to compete in the league match.
We won, not much help from me as Phil’s, Peter’s, Paul’s and Liz’s scores were magnificent, but mine was just enough to swing the balance. I had a fantastic time and was horribly pleased with myself, and was equally horrible to Phil – much to our Club’s and the opposing side’s amusement. Phil was right, his reputation as Nasty Gnome was not going to be easily fractured.
So – I was on the winning team, but I discovered later that it was only by virtue of my being available at the time – no-one else from Stortford could get there. So what, for a time I had what’s known as the halo effect, and thought I’d been selected on merit! I was on the team and all I had to do now was improve and stay there.