Some years ago I bought the old git an air rifle. Not that either of us are into killing squirrels, rabbits or pigeons, it was more of a recreational nod at his past, since being a Northern lad his community thought nothing of leaving the mill and wandering the moors to bag their dinner.
“Where’s t’lad”? aunty Amy would ask.
‘Ah, he’s out back shooting tripe for tea.”
That kind of thing.
I was working with a floor manager who was as splendid then as he is now. We called ourselves the ‘Carrot Throwers Anonymous’; he would chuck food at my outstretched hand, from carrots to turnips, tomatoes to scones, and without looking I would, nine times out of ten, catch the moving produce. His aim was true, I trusted him, so as the PA counted us down into the live show, his accurate bowling and my superior catching set the tone for our relationship on the studio floor – with his floor managing and my hosting that show ran like clockwork.
So when I wanted to buy the ‘oosbind a gun for his birthday it was to my trusty floor manager that I turned. He had been in the military knew everything were was to know about fire arms; where to buy them, what kind of weapon would suit an aging actor, how to wrap and deliver the said piece to our cottage in East Sussex, and how to keep it under wraps. He had been in the SAS so there was no problem with keeping all classified information secret.
He arrived, under cover of darkness, with a canvas bag, silently crept to the garage, dumped the rifle in the boot of my car, then ate dinner with us. The old git had no idea what we had done.
Yesterday the old git turned even older than he was last year. We had seven people in the garden to celebrate the passing of yet another year. An illustrator, a yoga teacher, a gardener, a writer, a would-be-acupuncturist, the ageing cowboy and me.
Corks popped, glasses filled. Plates stacked and food set out. Not one moment passed that we didn’t all show our gratitude. In times such as these seven people eating good food in a safe garden is something to be treasured.
Potato salad, herb salad, stir-fried green beens and courgettes from the vegetable patch, white rice with cardomen, cumin with a wee spoonful of coconut oil, tomato and tarragon salad, and the left over curries from Sunday night. We helped ourselves and seven of us settled round the table in the garden. You know when the food is good when there’s more chomping than chatting. I made a cafetière of coffee and we sucked on gluten/Vegan/dairy free chocolate that was so unctuous the conversation stopped altogether. The gardener had brought home made vegan truffles with a portion of homemade vegan Turkish delight. My gums stuck together in ecstasy.
A bunch of Red Admirals landed on the Buddlia, which made up for the cabbage whites that have turned my kale and cabbages into lacework, in fact there’s a whole load of butterflies settling on the table here in the front garden. As the sun went down more alcoholic tincture was poured.
The gardener went home and the illustrator and writer disappeared after an altercation with the tiddley would-be-acupuncturist and the very, merry birthday boy. Which left me, the yoga teach, the would-be-acupuncturist and the ageing actor sitting in the dusky garden. I suggested that the air rifle made an appearance.
So out came the pellets, up went the tripod and down on his knee went the would-be-acu-unturist. He steadied himself, took aim at the cow-bell hanging high on the old white plastic chopping board, at the end of the garden behind the apple trees and next to the fence.
The air still as he took aim and PING – a bulls-eye.
The birthday boy took aim. Normally a crack shot, he missed. Too much Gammel Dansk.
The yoga teacher took aim, and even though her arm was shaking, she still managed to hit the chopping board. The four of us stood in silence just to make sure we hadn’t shot dead the neighbour behind the fence. He was fine.
It was my turn. The target was out of sight for me. I couln’t see through one eye and my pellet landed in the fir tree next to the green house. Mercifully the neighbour was still in tact.
Round two and the would-be-acupuncturist scored another balls-eye. PING. The yoga teacher scored a bulls-eye. PING. The birthday cowboy scored a bulls-eye PING, that cow-bell hadn’t seen as much action since it came off the neck of the Simmental bull from the farm next door.
And then it was turn – they had adjusted the tripod to my height. I closed one eye, then the other, and finally found the target in my sights. I aimed, and to my shame I released a lady trump, rather like a Champagne cork popping. My embarrassment so total that the rest of the shooting party started to laugh which didn’t help my digestion or aim. I tried to remain still but the vegan feast was determined to repeat itself.
I fired, knowing that my distress would be rewarded with a PING and a round of applause.
What a load of bollox. Annie Oakley would be turning in her grave. I could not control my unsteady hand, or anything else for that matter. The gun was wrestled out of my hands by the would-be-acupuncturist and the unforgiving ‘oosbind. I was told, in no uncertain terms, that my place was most definitely at the kitchen range not out on the rifle range, since my range was utterly pathetic.
This fiasco continued over another five rounds.PING. PING. PING. MISS. PING. PING. PING. MISS.
In 1976 my ‘oosbind fell in love with me in Crickhowell whilst playing darts. He said my concentration face was beautiful. I scored a double top. Forty four years later I scored nul point, my face but a gurning mess, and I scored a double bottom.
The gun was put away for another eight years, the yoga teacher and would-be-acupuncturist went home. The writer and illustrator went to bed whilst I sat next to the birthday boy, on the settee, and we watched two episodes of Coronation Street.
The neighbour slept peacefully in his bed, whilst I had a quick dabble of Bach on the piano, the old git may be able shoot straight he couldn’t play a Prelude or Fugue if it bit him on the arse. Each to his own eh?
Sorry – for the sake of gender politics – each to THEIR own.