“Hello, shot tonight?”
“Arggh, bit.” The Talking Coat, aka Jonathon, managed an eye roll in my direction.
“Any good?” I asked politely.
“Errrh . . .” A hand appeared from a sleeve, and started to scratch at a section of black, spiky hair.
“Don’t bother, he’s got some different arrows!” Paul, his dad, bustled up and smiled in the Coat’s direction. “Thought they would shoot straighter than the others, but it didn’t happen, did it?”
“Hummph, is it time to go yet?” The coat produced another bleary eye.
“What have you got, Easton ACD’s?” I tried to sound as if I knew what I was talking about. Evidently I’d failed as the coat let out a chuckle.
“’Sit’s s’o.k.” Jonathon managed the archetype teenage shrug through the layers of waterproof material.
“He’s not done so well tonight, so you won’t get a straight answer. It’s his fault, he chose ‘em!” Paul beamed towards his charge, and, not unsurprisingly, Jonathon beamed back. They seemed to get on well, despite the strange lines of communication.
“Well, where is it?”
Jonathon handed his dad one of the layers he’d been crouching under. Paul stretched out one hand and hooked under the collar, then rapidly transferred it to the other, shaking the receiving hand with a disgusted gesture.
“Yuk, have you been asleep? You’ve dribbled all down one side of this!” Paul was still laughing. “Let’s get you home before you dribble on someone else.”
Back to the class, I’ve got used to young Matt and his bike, as must everyone else in the group. Last week as I was opening the door, he screamed to a sideways halt about six inches away from my feet, shouting out a cheery hello. This week he hauled his soggy bike and self through the door, dripped onto the floor and came face to face with Steve who told him to park the thing in the cloakroom. Matt was doing his ‘A’ levels and everyone who’d shot with him had got a run-down of how he was doing. Somehow or other Matt had missed out on the traditional teenage “don’t want to talk about it” phase and chattered away as if he’d just discovered the power of speech and was trying to make up for the lost years. He’d even (and I was suitably impressed by this) managed to engage the Talking Coat in conversation for more than 5 seconds.
We were an entire three-quarters of the way back up the hall – seemed a massive distance to me – red plastic markers clearly indicated the waiting line, ground quivers were in place on the shooting line. We’d even got paper targets on the bosses. Steve kicked off the proceedings by taking the opportunity to explain some archery “etiquette” before we started shooting.
Now, in all fairness to Steve who was doing his bit as Chairman of the Club, I was confused about the word etiquette and what it actually entailed. For a start, it’s a French word and for this simple English lady sat somewhat uncomfortably between rules and manners.
You don’t seem to be able to break etiquette despite the fact that its French and bits would fall off it anyway (like my old Citroen), yet you can hurt a lot of people’s feelings unwittingly simply because etiquette is a bit ‘airy fairy’ – and often don’t know until it’s too late. It also smelt very strongly of Golf Club waffle, you know, rules laid down by a bunch of old farts who don’t allow women (good God – we only let them in here to empty the ash trays!) in the bar and tell grown men to tuck their shirts in lest they upset the children and the horses.
Based on previous experience, you’d get informed of the etiquette required after you’ve committed the sin or been admitted to a clique. A good example would have been walking across the grass in front of an important building when you are in a hurry – there’s no sign to tell you that you shouldn’t, but you became aware of a number of black looks. If you were lucky, someone whispered politely in your shell-like. If you were really lucky, they’d walk across the grass to keep you company! However, the usual scenario was that you’d get left out in the cold.
Good manners – all that I’d encountered in archery despite my grouses about chivalry – are where you politely tell someone where they are likely to offend. I hoped this is the lane the Steve’s driving down, or my former view of the Nice Gnome was about to be tarnished.
“When you have finished shooting, you should always check that no-one is at full draw before you leave. If they are, wait until the shot’s finished – that way you won’t interrupt them.” Steve’s face looked stern – the hamster eyebrows arched dramatically. He didn’t even bother to tug on his beard which was normally the signal that he was getting anxious about the reception his talks were receiving. He must have known his stuff.
“This applies when you move onto the shooting line as well.” Steve continued “and you shouldn’t talk on the line, or stand behind someone who’s shooting and talk in a loud voice.”
OOPS. I’ve chattered like a magpie behind someone who’s shooting and Richard burbles away at any opportunity. At least I know now, so taking lack of experience and other extenuating circumstances into account, can I get my sentence of ‘death by etiquette’ (pretty nasty way to go – public flogging, disemboweling and sub-aqua 5 a side flower arranging – all rolled into 1) commuted to life?
“The final thing is that, unless you are a natural-born poseur” (for some reason I got one of those looks from Steve as I fluffed my hair) “and like being out on the line on your own, you should return the compliment to your fellow archers. If you find you have finished, but there is one other person still shooting, you should remain on the line with them.”
That did make sense. No way would I want to be left out there on my own – what if my hair hadn’t been freshly-washed that evening? What if those shoes really didn’t go with those trousers which were – speak it in whispers – a tad too short and showed a sock as you walked?
However, I felt it essential that I made an addition to Stortford Archery Club’s etiquette. I wish to add that ‘If any lady should, by accident, be left on the line in splendid isolation, then polite applause should be offered as a comment upon her faultless choice of shooting accessories.’
Now, stuff that up your GNAS & FITAs!
“Thank you for listening, everyone!” Steve enthused at the group, did a little sideways shuffle, combed through the beard with his fingers and exited stage left.
Phil resumed, centre stage.
“You’ll have noticed that you have paper targets on the bosses tonight. Up to now, you’ve all been hitting the target, in the centre. We don’t want that to change tonight, but if you aim to hit the gold your results will most likely go downhill.”
Was Phil unwell? Had he magically mellowed? Had the hat pin I’d viciously stuffed in Phil/Andy the boar last week hit the mark? He was no longer talking to us as if we were a safety hazard. He’d also lost the look of a bad-tempered buzzard that had recently had a close brush with a white Ford Transit Van.
“It does not matter where your arrows go,” continued Phil, “provided they hit the boss and they are grouped as closely together as possible. Remember, there are no prizes on offer at the moment, so forget there’s a face on the boss.”
Not possible. As Richard would say, it’s the Blue Teddy Bear Syndrome. You tell someone NOT to think of a blue teddy bear – what are you thinking about now?
The soggy Matt the Chat and I were paired that night. We sagely discussed the merits of having Lazer guidance for our arrows. I realised that my sight will be set incorrectly, so Matt suggested I try what he thought would be about right – at 36. It worked! We started to enjoy ourselves and probably relaxed and chatted too much. However, I still had difficultly extracting and holding my arrows correctly as my hands had got clammy. Add to that I was approaching from the left-hand side and as I’m right-handed can’t pull anything out without impaling myself. Somehow Matt was easier to ask for help; he spared my blushes and pulled the lot. Steve walked over when he saw Matt reaching up for an arrow at the very top edge of the boss.
“I wouldn’t try pulling a high one like that.” He said quietly to Matt. “You didn’t put your hand against the boss and the whole thing -as it’s not fastened to the ground – could have fallen on you.”
“That was my arrow, and Matt was helping – I couldn’t reach!” I leapt, probably somewhat unnecessarily, to Matt’s defense, but I didn’t want anyone in trouble on my account.
“It’s for your own safety, we don’t want anyone injured.” Steve looked confused and Matt grinned. It must have been like bringing your mother to school to beat up the teacher.
Having done my bit for civil liberty, I strutted importantly back to the line.
“I think you’ll want this!” Liz waved my bow at me.
Matt was unfazed by any of this, but I’d been put off so my next end looked as if my arrows had expressed artistic differences. The edges were determined to hang onto my arrows (I found out the problem was that it was a new boss) and were not going to let me safely extract them. Help arrived in the form of Neil who removed the offenders. I was deeply embarrassed that anyone as good as him would see how awful I was, and barely got out a muttered thank you. I tried another shot and the arrow fell off the bow onto the floor.
“Try sliding your hand down the string until your index finger is almost touching the arrow,” suggested Neil, “I used to make the same mistake!”
Bet you didn’t, you are just trying to make me feel better I thought as I gushed enthusiastic thanks. Everyone had been so kind, I was still making a complete bodge of it, and being totally ungracious about any help that was on offer.
Other experienced archers, waiting for the beginners’ group to finish, had populated the hall. Some have already set up their brightly coloured bows that are sitting on a wide range of wooden and metal stands. I mentally mark that’s something else I’ll have to get. It beats propping them up against the wall where they slide unceremoniously down towards the floor the moment your back’s turned or laying them on the floor to trip Phil up – or is that an advantage? Also means I’ll know which is mine. Could be useful.
I was off balance – again – I couldn’t even pull the string back any more, the handle was uncomfortable and the arrow was too high. Someone taped me gently on the shoulder
“Can I have that back, and I believe you’ve got it upside down!” Richard laughed and handed me my own bow.
The whistle sounded and we removed our arrows for the final time. As I walked back, a glamorous blond lady smiled at me.
“Hello!” She said over a steaming cup of coffee. “I hope you are enjoying yourself, though your smile’s faded a bit towards the end, it can be very tiring.” She was so sweetly sympathetic.
“Oh thank you, I’m having a great time, despite the ‘orrible shots.” Yep, I’ve apologised yet again.
“No, no!” She laughed, “It takes a long time, and you’re doing fine. I’m Jenni – if you need anything, just ask me, I’ll help you if I can.” She looked at me very hard.
“I still think you look a bit tired. John, perhaps you could help this poor, tired lady take her bow down?”
What appeared to be a huge, golden bear of a guy with a lovely, kind smile arose from his comfortable seat and meticulously removed a bowstringer from his own kit box. He took the bow off of me, meticulously took it apart then re-presented it to me in pieces.
“Now wrap the string – gently – around the limbs to keep them together. That way they don’t get separated when it’s in the box with the others.” John advised in an exotic accent that I later found out was Zimbabwean.
I did as I was told, then toddled off to Liz to show her how clever I’ve been, then stopped and thought. It’s funny how, even when you are an adult – but being taught something – you revert to a child’s approach of ‘look at what I’ve done now, mum!’ It also struck me that I hadn’t been very polite and had forgotten to thank John and Jenni for their help.
“Put it in the box, don’t just stand there!” Liz chided and interrupted my train of thought. I must have been standing still for longer than I thought.
I completed the task, and remembering my manners, I walked quietly back to thank the helpful couple. I had to wait a little while as they were both up and shooting. Jenni, having discarded her heavy coat wore the most gorgeous shade of what I think of as candy floss pink; her bow was a gleaming bright, metallic pink. I was even more impressed with her colour co-ordination as she wrote notes at the target using a pen with a pink feather duster on the end. Even her arrow fletchings were pink – what a smart lady!
My mind moved onto important matters. What will my colours be? I’ve always loved red, but it’s such a devil to match, and it always manages to attach itself to a something white in the washing machine. How about blue to match a summer sky or grey to match my eyes? What about black, very slimming and flattering, but hot in summer? The real certainty is that I wouldn’t choose Gnome Green, but I got the feeling that it was a requirement of the sport as our Coaches were always trundling around in it.
My mission in life suddenly hit me. It was to bring Chanel, style and high heels to the shooting lines! Perhaps I wouldn’t be remembered for the quality of my shooting, but more for my rising and falling necklines/hemlines/designer labels. To steal that wonderful line from the film “Pirates of the Caribbean ” when Captain Jack Sparrow’s ability as a pirate is queried;
“You’re not a very good (Pirate) Archer.”
“No, but you remember me!”
“This is yours, it should fit – do not lose it.” My dreams of stardom were rudely interrupted by Phil who handed me a small piece of grey leather with 2 holes in it.
He repeated this brief speech and handover to the rest of the group while I was trying to work out what he’d given me.
“No, over your index and middle finger, shiny side out,” advised Liz. She then grabbed my hand in apparent frustration that I still couldn’t work it out.
“No, like this,” she threaded my index and middle finger miraculously through the holes. “It protects your fingers, and speeds up the ‘loose’ when you release the bow string.”
“Got any bigger left-hand ones?”
I didn’t even have to look up to know that Phil had reached Richard of largesse and bar sinister fitting difficulties. O.K. everyone, drop everything you are doing! Large, left-handed husband can’t get anything to fit him! Comb every corner of the universe, no one can go home until we find it . . .
Needless to say the problem was resolved; he’s not quite so precious and rare as he’d like to be – except of course to me.
Back in the car; Richard carefully put his new finger tab in the glove compartment, but stopped me as I went to put mine in as well.
“No, don’t do that, we’ll get muddled up that way.” Richard said rather bossily. Clearly there was a contagious virus in archery circles – perhaps the killer gnomicousgrumpicus?
“Hello – I think we’re in a sport where size matters. This,” I waved my apparently meager bit of grey leather in front of his nose, “is half the size of yours – I don’t know why you don’t just put yours on the floor and it can double as a car floor mat.”
“Just put it somewhere else that’s safe – I don’t want to grab the wrong one and have to come back.”
“I’ll wear these next week.” I stuffed it in one of my cargo trouser pockets.
“As long as you don’t forget when you wash them.” Richard said loftily.
So I did. I only found out when I was ironing the pockets. The tab was still wet so I panicked and tried to iron it to dry it out quickly. Unfortunately I chose to press the shinny side, most of which came away on the iron and made a horrible smell.
Thank goodness for Quicks mail order.