Oh Shoot!

19-05-2019 10:05

Alright… This is the one you’ve been waiting for- The competition, Bangor vs Aberystwyth, a date with destiny…  Who will be victorious in the final battle? Will I claim the title of ‘archer’ or will I set aside the bow for good at the end of this? Will I start making everything up and claiming the Aber team turned out to be a nest of vampires? Read on to find out…

ABER FALLS
Is this The Way To Aberystwyth? | The Aberystwyth Job | Oh Shoot! | Aber Falls

Dear Connor,

 

Robin Hood being one of my favourite Disney films, I’m looking forwards to this. Archery… Yes mate! This will definitely be fun. It will definitely be more fun than that blindfolded, muddy shit where they threw water over us, or the quad biking.

The co-ordinator seats us all on a covered set of benches and ahead are four targets. Behind, visible between the targets, an empty field somewhere in the middle of the Midlands.
‘If you overshoot into that field, you’re going over the hedge to collect the arrow,’ the co-ordinator jokes during his introductory talk. It isn’t a very funny joke. It’s so unfunny I take him seriously.

There is bugger all chance of that happening, however, because this introductory talk is not good. We’re not taught how to shoot, not taught how to stand, not taught how to load. Also, I am a weakling and this bow is way beyond my poundage. The talk, overall, is generally a load of shit that none of us can understand.

We are called up four at a time, there are about twelve of us. I take up the bow, standing directly facing the target, stick the arrow on and limply fire it in the general direction of the target.

It’s a damp squib, landing somewhere between myself and the target. I stand there, disappointed.
I try again.
Another squib.
The next arrow.
Another squib.

The co-ordinator doesn’t even bother to show me where I’m going wrong. It’s like I’m not even here. Other people, being stronger and less weedy than me, are somehow hitting the target, though golds are still in short supply. I sit back down, unhappy with how I’ve done.

There’s only one more chance- We’ve only been given half an hour for this and the co-ordinator spent ten of those minutes pissing around talking bull. I take my three shots and each and every one of them falls short. It’s not the worst I’ve felt this weekend, but it’s the icing on top of a double layered Victoria Shit Cake.

Moving on to the next load of crud, a team building exercise, I decide that I want another go. I want to hit that target. I want to take up the bow again and fire arrow after arrow after arrow and prove to myself that I can do it, that if I really wanted to be I could be an archer.

That thought settles into the back of my mind, briefly emerging once more a few years later.

I look up a local archery club online. It’s all middle aged men, not very good overall, and not the sort of place for a teenager of my nerdiness. The idea of becoming an archer goes to rest again.

Years pass.
History…
Writing…
The first fruits of Morfaverse…

Dreams come and go but those three things stay at the forefront of my mind. I want to do something with history and the best thing I can think of is to become an Archaeologist.

Enter into my life a city between the mountains and the sea, a place I’ll come to call home- Enter, Bangor.

A few days in, I’ve tried and failed to drink a pint of Fosters because it was disgusting, drank wine from a box, which was also disgusting, and walked to B&Q to buy a screwdriver, of the tool sort and not the cocktail. Then comes the Fresher’s fair. I want to do a sport and, having looked at the list, there are two that stand out. One is mountain walking and the other is that old desire to hit the target reasserting itself. I pay twenty five pounds to join the Athletic Union right inside the door and have my photo taken and printed out on a cruddy bit of card. This is my ticket to whatever sport I want to do… Archery?

I look at every single stall in the union building, taking whatever freebies I can. I sign up for both societies I want to join, one of which will lead to my head inside a bin on the induction night, and when I’m done looking through everything on offer in the Time part of the SU I head back through to the curved lounge, looking for Academi, where the sports stalls are hiding. On the way I’m waylaid by two ladies who insist I come to a taster session for something called BEDS. I shrug, say I will, and only a few days later decide that it can’t hurt to actually do what I said I would and go once.

I sign up for a Snowdon Hike with the mountain walking society and next door is Archery…

I’m intimidated. The guy behind the stall is huge, properly huge and hairy. The stall is packed but I can see him showing someone a bow and it looks all sorts of complicated, with all kinds of bells and whistles on it, not the kind of bow I’d imagined shooting at all. The rest of the squad looks a bit weird as well. A moment’s hesitation means I make the mistake of signing up for a canoe taster session and, as a result, end up in Llyn Padarn with my clothes on. I never sign up for archery or continue down the sports road, despite my initial intentions.

Chester, some years later…
A picture from atop Eastgate.
A man walking down the centre of the street.
An idea…
A murder mystery…

What about that old urban legend? What if that man was Welsh and somebody tried to get away with his murder? Logistics, complex trigonometry, scouring ebay for archery supplies, working out that it can’t be gotten away with, that the myth is a myth… The desire to hit the target rises again and it bubbles away beneath the surface as I’m writing the book.

Brexit happens.

The publishing industry unanimously poo-poos all my work. Because of Brexit they start to close in on themselves, shutting out the outsiders like me.

Hope fades with each passing day.
I’m going to give it another year, then maybe go into teaching…
I won’t get that year.
I’m not going to survive a year.
I make the decision…
I’m going back. I’m going home, back to Bangor.

I can’t have what I once had though… I can’t be the ghost at the feast of my old societies, so what to do? Then I see it, on the SU website, and the desire to hit the target returns once again…

All day the song that has been going through my head is not the song that, every once in a while, goes through me head when I’m shooting. Usually I have a little voice warbling the chorus from Defying Gravity in there, but since this morning, getting louder and louder there’s been something else…

I am not throwing away my… shot

I am not throwing away my… shot

I’m just like my country, I’m young scrappy and hungry

 and I am not throwing away my… shot

As we head down to the ‘sports cage,’ which is not really a cage of any kind, merely a school gymn type building, the song is reaching a ridiculous volume. Can anyone else hear this? Am I going mad?

Yes… But don’t tell anyone.

The entrance is down a flight of steps, into a dingy alley sort of thing and then through a door on the upper level. Along the corridor are windows where spectators can stand and watch the events taking place in the hall below, but I’ll forget about these when I’m down below. Thank God because I don’t need the added pressure…

I am not throwing away my… shot

I am not throwing away my… shot

Down a flight of stairs, into the hall itself. Zara, meanwhile, attempts to master the lift, which resembles a dumb waiter for the disabled. She takes a while to join us, failing to realise that it isn’t even turned on. For a second I imagine the machine has gone the wrong way and Zara, as her in-built parachute deploys two hundred feet up in the sky, is currently getting a spectacular view of the West Wales coastline.

This hall is huge, huge and blue. On the far wall that ‘Short Aber’ logo from outside is there and opposite is a new one, a bilingual logo saying ‘Tim Aber Team.’ The targets are being set up, and they’re pretty swish for a few bits of wood and rubber, almost new from the looks of them. Aberystwyth, it appears, take their sports incredibly seriously and they must pump a fair bit of money into them- Whilst the archery funding in Bangor is barely more than three satsumas and a lemon drizzle cake, from the look of things Aber must get given a whole lot more. That scares me. I know there are some good archers beside me, but I get the feeling that our opponents will be in a whole other league.

Behind a row of the school gymn benches that ubiquitous to all sport’s halls we prepare for destiny. From my bag I take my battered, hole in the soles Converse, and replace my boots. The only reason I use the Converse is because they are fantastically comfortable for shooting in, even if they are falling apart. Stardust is prepared, his limbs screwed in and… I don’t know how to string it. As I fiddle with the string, trying to work out which end is which, thinking that I should really have looked this up, Jodie throws me a bow stringer. That would help, if I knew which end was which.
‘The big loop goes on the top,’ Abbey helpfully tells me, when I ask. Then Jodie shows me how to use the bow stringer, which isn’t that difficult but still not as straightforward as it ought to be. I’m a bit nervous of breaking the bow limbs, it seems.
‘Stand on it James,’ Jodie barks. ‘Step on it!’ I do so and whilst this useless showing himself up for the noob he is twit pulls up the bow Jodie slides the string into place.

Stardust is ready for destiny…

I am not throwing away my… shot…

I am not throwing away my… shot…

‘James… Do you want your arrows?’ James says, handing me a holding tube. I take it from him and immediately the bottom falls out, arrows cascading to the floor. Everyone saw that, and it is embarrassing, but fortunately the arrows are still in good shape.

Now to brick it for a bit, seated on the bench, looking for my target number- I am number six, though if anybody asks I am not a number, I am a free man. Worryingly, they’ve put me on a target with three Aber students, Arren, Mark, and Sam, so I’ll be all alone out there, more or less. Mark will be shooting next to me, whilst Arren and Sam will use the same in target in an a-b rotation. My co-archers are not pure evil, hardly the spawn of Satan, hardly demon vampires with capes and monocles, but I expect that they’re not going to give me an easy ride. This is, after all, a competition.

We were told this was going to be a half Portsmouth round, thirty shots in groups of three, but as the competition begins its announced we’re doing the full hog, a whole sixty, double the chances to make a fool of myself.

Alright… I can do it… I’ve got to do it… Got to prove myself.

Are you ready for this, archer?

You’re up… First six arrows  are sightings…

I am not throwing away my… shot…

It’s terrible. The first arrow goes wide, and then the second does likewise. The third hits the board, but not in the target. I can do so much better than that. Back to the bench to wait and watch as Arren and Sam take their shots.

Alex, meanwhile, is getting to know his fellow longbow archer and Stef is reckoning she did poorly, like me. She did better than me, I can see. She didn’t miss the target twice like I did. There is no sense of competition in the air, no sense of battling an enemy, no rivalry. It’s just a bunch of guys and gals having an early evening’s shooting session. It’s so calm that I might be able to enjoy myself a bit more if I wasn’t metaphorically soiling my underwear.

Don’t be shocked when your history book mentions me

I will lay down my life if it sets us free…

The second sighting shot is like the first, utterly awful. I start to think that I’m not ready, that this is going to be one utterly terrible, utterly embarrassing shoot. I’m not worthy of calling myself an archer, not worthy of even holding Stardust, let alone firing him. It doesn’t help that the other three on my target are super good and far better than I can ever hope to be. They’re showing me up for the amateur try hard that I am. I am fucking useless…

Alright… They were only the sights… They don’t count. We can do better. Just remember how to shoot; Back straight… Torso perpendicular to the target… Head high… Arrow with the coloured fletch towards you… Three fingers… Pull back with the shoulder, not the arm…

It’s time to take a shot…

It doesn’t work. It’s a miss, but it is near the target…

COME ON… YOU CAN DO THIS!!!

Try again. There’s a thud, a papery thud that is distinct from the bonk of an arrow hitting bare rubber. It’s in… I can’t see where, but it’s in. Again… Come on James!
Another papery thud.
Boom!
Keep this up and you won’t be a total embarrassment.

I follow Arren, Sam and Mark up to the target for the scoring. Arren, who is in charge of the sheet, looks at me, silently asking for my score. I point my arrows out, they’re all in a line at least, but I make a faux pas by indicating the arrows, not the numbers. As it’s my first competition my co-archers let me off.

I am not throwing away my… shot,

I am not throwing away my… shot

Alright… This is possible… Next shot? The order is reversed so once Arren and Sam are done Mark and I step up to the line again.

Back straight, head high, shoulder not the arm…

I am not throwing away my… shot

There’s a couple of papery thuds and a total miss, maybe not a total write off, I think… Although it is. It’s three absolute misses and so totally bad I’m back, momentarily, in that place where I think I’m not good enough. Deep breath… It’s early days.

Mark pulls a pack of Jaffa cakes from his equipment bag, watching the shooting going on. He offers one to Arren, who has just finished his shot, and then offers one to myself. What are you up to? You’re supposed to be the enemy, why are you offering me Jaffa cakes? Well alright.

Mark, Arren and Sam, after the next couple of shots, start giving me a few shooting tips. I need to hold my shot for a second longer, apparently. That was one of my earlier shooting problems, and if these three are to be believed, it’s come back. I wonder at first why they’re helping me. Like, if I do badly, then it’s better for you, surely?

No… Archery is nothing like that, as evidenced by what’s going on around me. Stef is chatting away to her shooting partner, Alex and his fellow longbowman are swapping tips, Mark is offering Jaffa cakes around and there’s still not an ounce of competitiveness anywhere in the room. Nobody is all that bothered about winning, the only competitiveness is with our own heads.

Oh am I talking too loud?

Sometimes I get over excited

Shoot off at the mouth

I never had a group of friends before

I promise that I’ll make you all proud…

Now, in my head, as well as feeling the pressure that was already there, I don’t want to look like I haven’t paid attention to what I’ve just been told. I don’t want to look like the noob that I am.

Back to the line… The music in my head as loud as ever.

I imagine death so much it feels more like a memory

When’s it gonna get me?

In my sleep, seven feet ahead of me?

Ready the bow.

If I see it coming do I run or do I let it be?

Is it like a beat without a melody?

Draw… Hold… Fire…

See I never thought I’d live past twenty…

Where I come from some get half as many…

THUD!

Ask anybody why we livin’ fast and we laugh, reach for a flask…

Draw… Hold… Fire…

We have to make this moment last, that’s plenty…

THUD!

Scratch that, this is not a moment, it’s the movement,

where all the hungriest brothers with something to prove went…

Draw… Hold… Fire…

Foes oppose us, we take an honest stand,

We roll like Moses, claimin’ our promised land…

THUD!

The score, a four a three and a two, isn’t all that fantastic. But there are three arrows in the target. That’s my first full score this competition, and if I can do that I can do anything… I can pull this back from the brink. Mark and I are up first for the next shot, and all I have to do is repeat that last one. Keep repeating it, I’ll crack my high score…

Draw… Hold… Fire…

And? If we win our independence,

 Is that a guarantee of freedom for our descendants?

Thud, Thud, bonk!…

Damn, one miss… But an eight and a five. It’s higher than the last shot.

How is everybody else doing? They’re enjoying themselves… My co-archers are doing exceptionally well, making me look positively rubbish by comparison. Mark does offer me another Jaffa cake, however. Alex and Stef appear to be having fun. Zara is looking quietly comfortable if a little lonely in her parking spot up the other end of the line. James keeps bouncing his arrows and having to have his shots monitored by the referee.

Back to the line.

Or will the blood we shed begin an endless cycle of vengeance and death with no defendants?

Draw… Hold… Fire… THUD!

I know the action in the street is exciting

But Jesus between all the bleedin’ and fightin’

I’ve been readin’ and writing

Draw… Hold… Fire… THUD!

We need to handle our financial situation.

Draw…

Are we a nation of states?

Hold…

What’s the state of our nation?

Fire…

 

Up to the target for the scoring.

One four…

I’m past patiently waitin’

I’m passionately smashing every expectation

Every action’s an act of creation

 

TWO NINES!

 

I’M LAUGHING IN THE FACE OF CASUALTIES AND SORROW,

FOR THE FIRST TIME I’M THINKING PAST TOMORROW!

 

You can do it James! But those two nines make me a bit cocky. With the next shot I squib twice, pulling with my arm instead of the shoulder. I can feel it happen, and each time I think ‘shoulder’ my arm pulls back instead. The only arrow in the target is a pathetic two. I can feel the crushing disappointment. I can feel the burning, mocking eyes of my co-archers as I reel of my score. My brain tells me to do better. I’m determined to obey, to concentrate. The music grows louder.

And I am not throwing away my… shot

I am not throwing away my… shot

The next shot is a repeat, though the score is higher, at an eight. The music grows louder.

Rise up… When you’re living on your knees you rise up…

I’m hit by three arrows that miss the target face completely, or my target face anyway. One of them embeds itself in the red amidst the neighbouring arrows. Sam tries to joke that it’s not a miss, and I get confused.

‘Does that count?’ I ask, concerned. No it doesn’t, just as I thought.

I am not throwing away my shot…

I can’t do any worse… I’ve got to get better. I’ve got to do better.

Rise up…

Draw… Hold… Fire…
Thud, Thud, bonk…
Three, One, miss….
DO BETTER.

When you’re living on your knees you rise up…

Thud, bonk, bonk…
Only an eight, but a higher score. Three in the target… You can do that can’t you? I am determined to do better.

My arm is starting to ache because the turnaround is so fast. I’m used to waiting ages between shots, but I won’t complain. I am, for all the misses and all the poor scores, still enjoying myself. I’m high on adrenaline. Stardust is settling into my grip, starting to feel like an extension of my arm when I go up to shoot. That’s a good thing. The music in my head is now at a near unbearable volume. That’s not a good thing. I keep going over my shooting technique in my head, remembering it every time I go up to the line…
Draw… Hold… Fire…
Draw… Hold… Fire…
Draw… Hold… Fire…

I am not throwing away my… shot

ThudThud… bonk.
One miss, but I’ll settle with the six and a three.

James is still bouncing his arrows and the benches are pretty much the same as before. I’ve no idea how other people are doing, besides what I can see, and nobody is talking about the shooting. It’s just life and general chat and a few conversations about different shooting styles. It’s nothing like a competition at all. If this were football we’d be hurling insults at each other. If it were rugby we’d be pissing in the other team’s water cooler. If this were cheerleading we’d be talking about Marina and her penchant for autoerotic asphyxiation.

My next shot, however, is again terrible. Two misses. Damn, damn, double damn!

Bring it back James… Bring it…

Rise up, when you’re living on your knees you rise up

Draw… Hold… Fire…

Better, way better… But still one miss.

There’s some debate about the eight though. It’s so close to the line that it might be a seven. I initially go for a seven but Mark points out that it’s on the line, meaning it’s an eight. There’s some close inspection, how close is it? Do we need the ref to judge? Eventually it’s concluded that it’s on the line because there’s no blue visible under the arrow. I’ll take it. One point extra is one point extra.

Going back up to the line I hold Stardust close, as though this is going to help. Come on mate… Just you and I, defying gravity…

The music reaches a crescendo.

Rise Up

It’s time to take a shot…

ThudThudThud

Rise Up…

It’s time to take  a shot…

ThudThudThud

Six arrows in the target with no misses… A total of twenty seven points. Two shots to go.

Rise up… Rise Up…

It’s time to take a shot…

There’s one miss on the next shot, but that’s alright. So long as the last one goes alright. I’ve got two nines this competition. The majority of my shots have been hitting the target.

Are you ready for this, archer?
Do or die…
You and Stardust…
Once more unto the breech…

It’s time to take a shot…

To the line…

It’s time to take a shot… time to take a shot…

Bonk… It’s a miss… Come on James…

It’s time to take a shot… time to take a shot

Better. It hits… There’s a thud.
The last one… Gotta get this in the centre.
Go on James…

And I am not throwing away my…

Draw…

not throwing away my…

Hold…

SHOT!

 

A sense of relief washes over me as the bolt flies right into the target. It’s not a gold, or even a red, but it’ll do- It’s a seven.

I lower Stardust for what, unfortunately, will be the last time. He’s done me proud today. I’ll never shoot with him again, and I kind of know it as I lower him. I’ll place him into Anthony’s care when we get back to Bangor and at the next shooting session I’ll end up using Richard. After that it’s Rhyddian all the way, Rhyddian being a bad boy shooter all of my very own… And yeah, I kind of did have to name him after the killer in D.S Proctor. Why write a book involving an archery assassin if you’re not going to name your own bow after the killer?

As I’m sat behind the benches, taking him down and packing him away, Arren comes over with the score sheet, asking me to sign my name. It’s not my high score, but its close enough to satisfy me- 153.

Looking through it later on, comparing to my training scores, I’ll discover that individually this is, in fact, my best Portsmouth round in terms of shot for shot. I’ve had similar numbers misses, I’ve had better hits and more golds… But on a shot for shot basis, in terms of the overall numbers and the consistency, this is the best. I’m proud of myself.

As for the others… Will won the men’s barebow category, with Arren and Mark in second and third place. Other Will gets a podium finish for the Men’s recurve. Alex trumped his fellow longbowman, though there’s no hard feelings between them. Stef did far better than she thought, getting a podium place for the women’s barebow. Sam gets the first. Amber comes second in the women’s recurve, so nearly beating the first place… And she would have done, were it not for an old shoulder injury flaring up right at the end. Brea also gets a recurve podium finish.  When all is said and done however, when the podium finishes are turned into points to see who was the better squad, though I feel that just the podium finishers getting points cheapens the efforts of those of us (on both sides) who didn’t do so well, Aber are the victors. They triumph twelve to seven.

As we leave, Brea taps Amber on the shoulder.

‘Erm, why does the Aber captain have fangs?’ she asks.

‘I’m proud of you, man,’ Alex says to me, as we sit down back on the coach, where the cheerleaders are waiting for us. ‘You’ve done really well,’ he says to me. That means a lot, especially coming from him. I’m glad I made my old sensei proud.

As the coach pulls out the cheerleaders begin to sing.
Aberystwyth’s a shit…hole.
Aberystwyth’s a shit… hole.
Aberystwyth’s a shit… hole.

I don’t mind, for the moment. Though by the time we reach Bangor and they eventually stop joining in with every song on the radio I’ll want to start another archery competition, this time with moving targets.

As we hit the dark countryside of Ceredigion a thought enters my mind.
‘Your Grandad was there tonight, James.’ Was he? Was he really? I never knew him, but I like to imagine that, if he was there, he’s given me a nod of approval.

I suppose, as well, also, that I can now call myself an archer.

The next day…

I’m in a seminar. I shouldn’t be on my tablet, scrolling through Facebook, but I am because I’m a bit bored and I can’t remember what last week’s guest lecture was about so I can’t really join in with the discussion. I happen to see a post… Coach numbers and seats for Saturday’s Varsity day.
Wait… Why is my name there?
I suddenly have a brainwave, one that means I’m not challenging this…

To be concluded, blud…
James

NEXT TIME:

‘Alright… Who gave them a fucking vuvuzela?’

Photograph: Anthony McGee/BUAC/Bangor Athletic Union

‘My Shot’ lyrics written by Lin Manuel Miranda 

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