“Don’t try to analyse it, just kill it,” hissed the Lancastrian dwarf. I was standing in a field in deepest Wales holding a shotgun. The ‘bird’ flew away from me and – bang, bang – I missed it with both barrels.
I didn’t enjoy clay pigeon shooting much because I was no good at it. This was annoying and confusing because I tend to take naturally to sporty things and in the past had shot rifles competently. My first clay of the day was a hit but I knew it was more luck than judgement; I couldn’t get the feel of the thing. The consolation was that I wasn’t quite the worst in the group. That’s men for you. Of course we all know that beneath the veneer of bonhomie lies a brutish competitiveness, but what saves us (I hope and believe) is the deeper layer of solidarity under that.
We’d come miles in a horrible mini-bus from Port Talbot, relying for navigation first on an inadequate, scale-less print-off map and then on the boom of gunshot. The range – unsignposted, off-road – turned out to be a wide bowl of scrubland topped with a cluster of knackered portacabins.
We got out the bus to look about and a bow-legged old dwarf scuttled up the hill to greet us. He was armed. I initially took him to be some sort of halfwit club mascot; he bantered crudely from the off and was dressed in a battered parody of sportin’ gear: waxed cap and jacket, tweedy somethings and welly-boots. But he was Lancastrian not Welsh and it gradually emerged that he was the owner. “This gun bought the place,” he said later, without boastfulness.
He gave us the tour. The largest and least knackered portacabin contained a tea urn, a couple of chairs and a great number of shooting trophies. Its walls were decorated with pictures of the dwarf holding those trophies, or similar ones. A second portacabin was the Gents’ lavatory (indescribable). Such were the amenities.
The dwarf turned out to be an excellent coach. Like the best schoolteachers he instinctively knew which members of the group could be the targets for gentle piss-taking and which could not. He surreptitiously made sure that every man hit at least a couple of clays, even if it meant virtually pointing the gun for him. We grew to worship him. During a lull he entertained us with trickshots – starting with the gun hanging down by his side and blasting the clays one-handed. He never missed.
So how, I wondered, does he combat the tedium of his own excellence? What is the satisfaction in destroying clay discs, and where do you go next? I was just starting to get the hang of it by the end, when we were shooting doubles, right and left. It seemed I was thinking too much, aiming too carefully. “Don’t analyse it, just kill it,” explained the dwarf. I missed again. He grabbed the gun from me and demonstrated by jabbing it vigorously at an imaginary enemy. “Like you’re poking it with a sword.” He handed back the gun. “Kill it! Kill it!” he hissed. I killed it, and then I killed the other bird too. Bang bang. It felt deeply, weirdly good.
At the end we all trooped off to use the Gents’. The sudden queue was such that we asked about using the Ladies’ too. “Sorry lads,” said the dwarf. “It’s all locked up for now.”
I looked again at the third and most knackered portacabin. It was obviously long disused; there weren’t even any steps to its door. Ladies didn’t come here much, apparently.