This time Richard and I remembered to park at the bottom end of the school and found the shorter way in. it did, however, necessitate a little cross-kerb motoring.
“These kerbs aren’t going to do my car any good!” Muttered Richard.
“I could bring mine if you want”, I offered helpfully, “If you don’t mind the mess, what you call the shoe shop behind my seat and don’t twiddle with all the knobs.”
“You know that I like your little car, but it’s, ouch, my alloys”, we’d just bumped our rear wheels over the ledge, “A bit uncomfortable after a long day at work. Another thing – I know you don’t use it much, but I don’t think you’ve cleaned it for ages as there’s bird poop from last May on the roof.”
“That’s because I can never get a place on the driveway because you’re too busy polishing yours. The last time I tried to do mine at the same time, you accused me of getting water on your car seats.”
Richard loved his cars with a passion unbounded. I called him my little petrol head when I threw him his weekly comic, Autocar, knowing full well that I won’t hear a peep out of him for at least an hour and I could discount getting any help with laying the table that night.
It’s actually his second/third childhood/mid-lift crisis. He argues it’s cheaper to run than a mistress, less demanding and doesn’t cause any jealousy. I wouldn’t be so sure on either of these counts. For a start, Liposuction doesn’t cost as much as the supplies of polish he’s got in the garage and I’m a bit worried about the tenderness with which he addresses “Helga”, the voice on the Sat Nav. What’s she got that I haven’t? Once he let slip that he imagined Helga as a naked blond, reclining lustily on the rear seats.
What is it with you blokes? My boss is nearly as bad with his new Renault and says his on-board computer is – you’ve guessed it – a lightly-clad a French maid called Angelique. His wife informed me that he was a hopeless case and resistance was futile. Reality suddenly dawns when his 2 children are on board and the eldest one projectile vomits on the upholstery. I’ve frequently pointed out to Richard that the fully-clad blond in an upright position on the front seat can read maps, knows when we are driving in a field, sees police cars and speed traps – and can read temporary diversion signs unlike that fantasy tart in the back. He says that Helga doesn’t leave muddy footprints on his freshly-hovered carpets but leaves crumbs in the bed. Oh, please!
O.K., let’s get in to the lesson and forget any negative feelings about Cars, Richard, Helga or Phil – be positive. Once I was inside the gym, I saw that there were people already in, shooting – and hitting the target – frequently – in the middle. That didn’t help me, so already a bit humbled I shuffled in, then for safety made my way towards the far corner where I hoped I’d escape notice. It was occupied by a hump in a large coat, 2 hands extended from the over-sized sleeves whilst grasping a GameBoy.
“Hallo.” I said cheerfully. I was really trying really hard that night. Smile, darn, you, smile! Smile and the world will wonder what you’ve been doing.
The pile of coat emitted a grunt.
“Playing anything good? What level are you at?” God, I must have sounded like an over-enthusiastic school marm. I sat down on the bench alongside the coat. My rather large bum knocked over something that was wedged between the bench and the wall.
3 grunts and something approximating to “Level 4.” came back. An arm appeared from one side and replaced the object I’ve just knocked over without even having to look behind it.
“How did you know that – whatever it was – had fallen over that way without looking?”
“Cos it’s always falling over.” Grunted the coat.
“Might it be an idea to put it somewhere else then, just in case it gets damaged?”
“Nah.” Replied the coat
I’d clearly met one of life’s great communicators.
The most accurate shooter, a slim, dark guy with a nice smile walked back from the line. He put his bow down then nodded in the direction of the coat and then back at me.
“I’m so sorry, but it’s a teenager,” the guy explained. “It sometimes – well actually about 40% of the time – answers to the name of Jonathon. If you really want a response to any of your questions, I’d suggest you should try texting.”
One bleary blue eye and some spiky, black hair emerged from under the coat. “Uh, Dad, errrrrr. But I don’t have a phone.”
“Oh, it has ears and can use them!” Said The Coat’s father.
“Dad? You are guilty of being in charge of said teenager?” I asked.
“Yes, for my sins, and I’ve got another one at home – a girl.”
“They are worse,” I shuddered. Memories of s’not fair came flooding back.
“She’s horrible,” muttered The Coat in agreement.
“Paul, it’s past 7 o’clock!” Liz chipped in. “You did ask me to remind you.”
“Thanks Liz!” Paul directed his attention back to his son. “I’m getting cold now I’ve finished. Can I have my coat back now, please?” He folded his arms and tapped one foot on the ground with a mock impatience.
“Huhh, ‘spose so.” A scraping sound of fabric on wood, wall and person sounded as The Talking Coat shed its skin. The former occupant offered me a sleepy look of half-acceptance, tucked his elbows as far into his sides as he could in an effort to look small, and then returned to his GameBoy.
Having had 2 female versions of my own that have now emerged from teenage hood as human beings, I realised the folly of my task. Even if I made contact neither of us would actually understand what the other was going on about. As I’m an adult, to Jonathon, aka The Talking Coat, I’d communicate in a system called “unreasonable”, whereas to me he’d come back in a form of Visual Basic consisting of arms gestures, head tosses punctuated by the occasional ‘S’not fair!’ The only way we could get on is for me to regress – something I can do easily – but not while I have to concentrate on learning archery.
“Come along, you are expected to be able to help yourselves, you know!” Liz got all bossy. “Find your bows and put the limbs on.”
No problem for a change, I remembered what bow it was as it carried the same number as my house. Relieved I wasn’t going to get any attention by having to ask a question – thus incur the wrath of the Nasty Gnome, I indulged in what I suspected would become a habit – the Stortford Archery Club rummage.
3 boxes, try the biggest one first, as there’s more in it and bingo, I’d got it first time. I knew how to screw the limbs in as I watched someone last week while desperately trying to look intelligent, but I couldn’t remember which way around they should go.
Steve of the Hamsters spotted the ‘which way now’ look.
“It’s the one with the writing on it that’s the lower limb.” He explained as patiently and sweetly as ever.
That’s all very well, but I have to hold the riser the right way up and around to see which end is the bottom! Never mind, I’d got a 50-50 and I whisked it rapidly past Phil – lest he spotted that I’d done something wrong again and singled me out for the ritual humiliation. I made it to Liz for stringing with the magic thing and she made no comment, so it must have been right. I supposed I should have asked, but it was at times like this all my assertiveness training went out the window.
“You must never – ever – try to string or remove a string without using this!” Liz waggled a warning finger and then produced what looked like a piece of cord with 2 bits of rubber at either end.
“Even when you’ve finished the course, we’d still like to check you’ve got it right. You can seriously damage yourselves and the bows without it. Once you’ve got your own stuff, you can damage that and we won’t mind.” Liz huffed and puffed a bit at her own joke, then smoothed down her bright red hair and gazed up at Richard who was standing just behind me. Like the tart he was, he smiled sweetly back.
I appreciated her concern, getting the string on looked lethal to me anyway. I was the first one to get my bow done but my efforts to escape had failed. Phil collared me then stuck what he said was a sight (looked like a small black bit of ruler with a screw and a piece of red plastic on the end) on my bow.
“You’ll have to adjust this for yourself once you start shooting.” He explained briefly and slightly aloofly, “shouldn’t be a problem, even in your case. You look through the little red stickie-out thing at the side to line up with the boss.”
Do tell me what charm school you attended, I thought. I’ll ensure that others are warned about the product.
Turned loose, I took a look at my fellow shootists.
For a start there was no way I wanted to shoot alongside Richard. We are both competitive – he knows that well, but is buggered if someone in the same house is better than him at something – heck, there’s a whole world out there to beat! So, while I’m learning he’ll try to use his superior size and strength to leave me in the dust. He knows that’s the only way he’ll get past me permanently.
I go in with different tactics. I’m not a natural at anything, usually starting off in something with all the affinity of a sumo wrestler at a roller disco. I just plug away and I’ll get there. I’ll bore the pants off of everyone else while I learn so they’ll lose interest in my progress and then – bang – before they’ve realised, I’m the best! Well, that’s the plan.
However, it’s early days and I couldn’t afford to lose my confidence thus I looked for someone else, avoiding the family doctor as I still couldn’t remember what complaints I saw him with. God forbid that I should be standing, ready to shoot, then suddenly realise that this bloke’s seen me naked. Others could die in addition to me in my embarrassment.
My partner that evening was Bob, whose interests were re-enactments – specifically using the English longbow. I suppose it’s a good excuse to walk around in fancy dress in broad daylight without anyone thinking that you’re strange. He actually looked the part, was big enough to pull one of those huge long bows, and had kited himself up with a huge leather lace-up arm guard. He’d got long hair, tied back, a beard and his whole appearance said that he could easily make the transition into one of those Saxon bowmen the Welsh are always banging on about. I certainly wouldn’t have wanted to meet him on a dark night when he hadn’t eaten.
I started to explain that my motive for learning archery was that I was going to be the oldest gold-medal winning Olympian (the record is held by a 72 year old English lady, so I’ve got a small amount of time to practice) and Bob lost interest. Who could blame him? Methinks my vaulting ambition has o’er leaped itself.
Chats over, we collected our arrows, I’d got the pretty blue ones with the Union Jack on the side, and I picked up my bracer, put my arrows in the floor quiver and got into the groups behind the waiting line.
“Now we’re going to do something completely different from last time.” Steve of the little twinkly smile was with me again this evening. “Remember my telling you that you could forget to bring your thumb and little finger to this lesson?” Steve did one of his little sideways shuffles, smiled sweetly and put both hands together as if praying that I might have remembered.
“Dooh?” I hadn’t.
“This time,” he said, “You put your index finger above the nocking point, and your other 2 fingers below the point, lose your little finger. This means your fingers are either side of the arrow. You need to do this because you have a sight fitted. Instead of looking at the end of the arrow, you’ll need to look through the sight.”
I was the first of my group to the line. I placed my arrow on the rest.
“It also helps if you make certain that the arrow is correctly nocked onto the string.” Steve remarked diplomatically as my arrow dropped daintily to the floor.
I tried to pull it back towards me using the end of my bow, knowing that I mustn’t cross the line before the whistle.
“You haven’t actually made the shot,” explained Steve, “So in a competition you’d be allowed to shoot another, then pick that one up when everyone else has finished and it’s safe.
“You mean that I was doing it right?” I asked.
“Yes, but you didn’t have an extra arrow to fire and could luckily reach with your bow without crossing the line.” Steve said. “You’ll usually shoot 3 when inside, 6 outside and keep a spare in your quiver in case you get a bouncer.”
Setting up correctly this time, the first one went singing over the top of the boss.
“Do I need to adjust my sight?” I asked.
“No, the reason why that happened was that your hand wasn’t anchored under your chin.” Steve explained patiently.
O.K., try again. The shot veered to the right. I’m unimpressed, and my third shot similarly veered to the right and crunched against the other arrow. I slouched back behind the waiting line to wait for Bob to take his 3.
The whistle sounded and off we went to collect our arrows and debate the shots. All of Bob’s are on the target, quite widely spaced apart. My two shots which actually hit appeared to me doing the mating dance of the greater crested grebe.
“That would be a nice group if you’d got a third in the area!” Said Steve, happily.
Now I’d got to get my arrows out of the target. Eager to get on, I somehow managed to lever myself between Bob’s arrows and my own on the far right.
“Are you attempting to maim yourself, or this is a new line in body piercing?” Phil, ever eager to prove I was doing something wrong, helpfully appeared for a raid.
Lamely I eased myself back out again, Bob made a dive for his – all in straight, then Phil extracted mine with a great flourish.
“Archery should be perceived as a gallant, courteous sport.” Phil said as he handed me the 2 arrows. “No, not like that, Matt!” He’d somehow spotted another deviant even though his back was turned to the offender.
“As a lady,” He looked down imperiously at me from his great height. “If you have difficulties, all you need to do is flutter your eyelashes, ask nicely and you’ll get help.”
“Oh really?” As a test drive, I did a theatrical eyelash flutter at Phil.
My own charm school had clearly misdirected me on the art of fluttering. Phil was un-impressed – I suspected that was because I haven’t taken him seriously. He harrumphed in apparent disgust and hurtled away to the other side of the hall.
Steve arrived back from behind the boss with the other arrow. “Not too happy, and want to do it all yourself, then?” Steve laughed at me again, tipped his head to one side and rubbed his hands together in a slightly anxious gesture.
“Nope!” I said sulkily.
In truth, I had got an issue, but don’t want to say anything at that time as it appeared I’d just upset Phil and I didn’t want to continue by upsetting anyone else. Is this where you can compete on an equal basis, and yet you can duck out when something’s too big/strong? O.K., I accept that there are things I’d never have the strength to do, but I’d like to be given the opportunity to fail, rather than be treated as a piece of china. Let me struggle for a while, step in if I look as if I’m going to damage someone else – I’m not too worried about myself – and please don’t laugh at my attempts.
In theory, Phil’s explanation should have cemented the romantic ideal of archery in my head, but it failed miserably.
Now, I like having doors held open for me, being looked after and told I look lovely – especially when looking lovely takes a very long time to do at my age. Gentlemen, feel free to throw your cloaks over puddles so I don’t get my feet wet and we’ll worry about the dry-cleaning bill later! Conversely I like to do my bit, and I’ll cope, thank you. Whilst chivalry might be charming – I’m married to an avid practitioner of such – when met in sport I find it bewildering. How can I compete and win if the competition is being gallant? I can’t cope with it, and thus I end up being unintentionally rude.
I returned to the line and my shots were consistently inconsistent. I then caught just above the arm guard with the string. That’s going to be a nice bruise in the morning, but I resisted the urge to swear, look at the damage or roll around in agony. Richard, of course, doesn’t have those sorts of problems. Every time I came back to the waiting line he was there, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, full of how well he was doing. I watched him for a while and other than (and I’m being nasty because I’m jealous) the fact that years of my excellent cooking are truly apparent in profile, he made it look quite easy.
My lower back is starting to ache, and I check the time. Only 7.30! I’m beginning to feel tired and am losing concentration, wishing it were over. Then it happens. 3 good arrows grouped and centered. I’m no longer tired; I can’t wait to get back to do it again. I forget modesty. I shout across to Richard, very ladylike! Now I’m standing in line with all the bosses, I make a judgment that my shots are the best of anyone’s this end. Steve is particularly encouraging, and I even extract Bob’s and my arrows cleanly. If I could bottle this feeling, I’d make a fortune.
The whistle sounded, it’s the end of the session. Phil did his sheepdog act and herded us into a group.
“This time you have homework!” He announced. I knew I was right about the maths teacher bit. “I want you all (glower towards me) to do at least (glower right) 10 minutes (glower left) each night. Stand in front of a mirror and mime practice shots, even down to the detail of putting the arrow on the string if you want. This is worth it (glowering look forward again) and we’ll know if you haven’t done it!”
Was there some sort of Archery Policeman Gnome, resplendent in bottle green clothing, who slipped through the keyhole each evening? Did the little rat-bag take a note that No 31, Huffington Place muttered what Gnomes could go and do with their homework which might require A & E attention at a later date? Well, I was gullible enough as a child to believe in the Tooth Fairy, so I supposed I’d better give it a go. It was, after all, supposed to help us.
In the safety of my own home, I tried. It was ghastly! How I’d ever had the nerve to think Richard’s tummy spoiled the profile? By the time I reached the bathroom mirror I wasn’t wearing a lot which in theory would allow me to see clearly what I was doing wrong. However, it was completely demotivating; I couldn’t even take the ravages of time, fair wear and tear and the fact that my suntan had faded as an excuse. Steaming up the mirror for a bit of soft focus couldn’t change the fact that I desperately needed to diet, and the elegance of archery was likely to elude me until I did so. I tried facing the mirror, I tried sideways. By far the best angle was with me facing the door so I couldn’t see! I yanked a toweling robe off the back of the bathroom door then stormed out of the bathroom just missing an advancing Richard.
Exercising the well-known female right to get stroppy without giving an excuse, I pulled the robe tighter around me and muttered an approximation of yes. No it ********** wasn’t, I though. Next stop the Gym.
Fitness diary 1
I made an appointment with the Company’s fitness trainer. I told her that I wanted to get fit for archery, and that I might need to concentrate on the muscle groups associated with the sport. Rosie (such an innocuous name for a personal sadist) turned up with loads of reference books plus photocopied articles entitled with such things as ‘Strong, sexy chest for Christmas’.
There’s an idea, send Brad to my room ready scrubbed and I’ll get round to him later. Then there was ‘No ifs, just butts – get a Kylie in 6 months’. Richard would love that, it was likely I’d be relegated to the garden shed, but at least it would be with Brad. I noted that all these copies were laminated. When I asked why the plastic coating Rosie explained that they could be wiped down when I got sweat on them. Yuk.
She asked me to mime a practice shot and hold. I got weighed (looked even worse in kilos) and then did flexibility and cardio tests. Leaving me to die noisily on the stair master, she sank gracefully to the floor and started scrawling notes. 10 minutes later my programme was produced.
She said I was to concentrate on core strength working on stamina and posture, which would strengthen my back, broaden my shoulders and hopefully lift all the bits that gravity had pulled earthwards. The cost was that while I was doing all this, I should try to lose up to 2.1/2 stone! Then, and only then, could I even start to consider myself something resembling a fit person, and that was only supplying the framework to pull the bow.
Well, I had asked. All I really want is to not look stupid when shooting and to give myself confidence. I took another practice shot in the gym mirror and realised that it looks even worse in Lycra. I staggered sweatily through reception on my way to the showers and a young guy from Engineering stopped and asked me what I’m in training for. My reply of archery got a positive response and he asked if I’d like a training partner a couple of days a week as he was trying to put in the extra training hours he needed to make the local rugby team, but found training too boring without company. I was thrilled, not only had I got something concrete to aim for, but I’ve got myself a new Toy Boy for Christmas!
Richard found it hilarious. He pointed out that I’d find training with a Rugby player far too difficult, and how did I think it was going to help my archery? I retorted that it was part of my company objectives and personal development plan to network with others that I’d be unlikely to come across in my normal working day. Besides, he was a nice bloke (Richard gave me that one as he thought anyone who played Rugby was O.K.) and was young enough for me to adopt him. Richard ruled out any kind of jealousy when he discovered the guy played at scrum half, measured 5’5” and even I would tower over him. His parting comment was that the guy would be able to view my double-chins in comfort . . .