A Shotgun Salad

And so the cakes that starred in my last post were carefully placed into my beloved Garden Trading cake tins and accompanied me around the M25 and up the M40 to the E J Churchill’s Mini-Game Fair, where they became well acquainted with some members of the Shotgun and Chelsea Bun Club and a few others to boot.

The mini fair was great – and incredibly was pulled together with little more than two weeks’ notice, when we all heard the tragic news of the CLA’s cancellation of the Game Fair proper. I was introduced to Rob Fenwick, the MD of E J Churchill, of whom I’d heard previously. Rather more excitingly (no offence to Mr Fenwick) I got to see the infamous Mickey Rouse, the former world sporting champion, trick shooting – but more on that later. We wandered up the track to the clubhouse, to be handed a slurp of The King’s Ginger Liqueur on our way into the showroom – delicious, sweet and strong with a powerful kick of ginger.[i] We paused here and there to peruse a few stalls on our way up, and after having a typically country chat with Scott in the shop about wellies and tweed and that sort of thing, we made our way into the tents to examine the main array stalls. I had another twang of that feeling of ‘belonging’ when one of them men on the Hunter stand waved at me as if he knew me. On closer inspection, he turned out to be Gary, the Hunter rep from William Powell with whom I’d dealt in the past (incidentally, their new catalogue is out soon and new website is in production – very excited!) Knowing someone (and luckily for me, a friendly someone forthcoming enough to wave) my genuine-country friends didn’t made me feel very self-satisfied, not to mention a little bit relieved that he thought I was nice enough to be worth waving to. My subconscious stood there smugly, her tweed flat cap fitted firmly on her head and one hand on her hip saying,

– “See? I do belong here!”

The array of leathery feathery tweedy and altogether undeniably Country goods on offer was wonderful, from candlesticks made out of antlers (they’ve joined the pistachio green mixer on my mental somewhereovertherainbow-maybeoneday wishlist) to tweedy iPhone covers and snuggly coats for your hipflask. Beautiful photos on card and canvas, gorgeous cashmere knitwear well out of my price range, and delicious fruit gin from the wonderfully friendly Nick at Foxdenton Estate, from whom I purchased two bottles of wickedly delectable gin – one raspberry, one damson (and you can really taste the plums!) More cakes in the offing I have no doubt! The prize for the S&CBC Open Shoot on 18th August was proudly on display – a stuffed fox standing on his hind legs, with a just-as-stuffed pheasant under one armleg and gun over the other. My not-quite-determined views on taxidermy aside, this prompted some cheeky giggling with the S&CBC girls as my friend said he that was determined to come along, win the fox, then place it in the road to confuse some unsuspecting driver, later to be stood at the side of the road saying “Hello? Police? I’ve just hit a fox and it was carrying a gun!” Probably not as funny as at it seemed the time, but sufficient giggles ensued to entertain us. Any way, Mr Fox stood proudly on the stand next to the CBC girls: Bettina with her beautiful bracelets (also on my Wishlist, though promoted from ‘somewhereoverhterainbow’ to ‘next pay day’), Kay with her lovely cards, and Lili of Forbes and Maude displaying her tweeds. Possibly unfortunately we were attending the fair on the Friday, which was very much the quieter of the two days from what I’ve heard. However, we had fun wandering around, and and I enjoyed the challenge of trying to eat a cheeseburger complete with onions and ketchup without getting any on my white jeans. My view on white jeans is you should only wear them if you’re prepared for them to get mucky – if you’re going to be precious about it, wear blue ones or something else altogether! However, bright red grease stains wasn’t quite what I had in mind when I thought that as I put them on earlier in the day, so I battled with my burger and came out on top, my trousers surviving the ordeal and thankfully appearing on the other side of lunch ketchup-free. A perfect canvas for the various shades of proper country muckiness they would no doubt accrue throughout the day.

As well as those S&CBC girls who had stalls at the fair, we ran into a couple of other key actors in the Chelsea Bun Show on Twitter: Jane Macnab, a trickster with a stage name that lulls you into a false sense of security, believing its her real name, until she shatters the illusion by saying ‘Hi, I’m Lucy!’; and Urban Gundog, with bosses in tow. Mrs Macnab had brought along her faithful CBH (Chelsea Bun Husband), Dr Macnab, and Urban had brought along Deputy Boss (another CBH) to accompany him and The Boss. The Macnabs had even brought along Little Miss Macnab, of whom I am very jealous due to the fact that she was treated to both an ice cream and a lovely tweed dress. But to make up for the lack of a tweed dress, Urban[ii] honoured me by christening my white jeans with the proper sort of muck white jeans should pick up. He graciously bestowed upon me the most perfect paw print that I have ever seen – and that’s after years of trying to ink my dog’s paw to get him to ‘sign’ birthday cards, unerringly ending up with a coloured smear in the card and numerous matching smudgy patches on the surrounding floor. I have never seen one so accurate and un-smudged, and was so chuffed that I even took a photo – though for the Boss’ sake I won’t post it, as she didn’t seem as excited about it as I was. But Urban (we’ll stick to stage names here), I thank you!

Stalls done and two bottles of gin the richer, we headed over to watch Mickey Rouse trick shooting. And it was wonderful – both impressive and hilarious. Renowned as an absolutely fantastic clay shooter, we watched in awe as he shot balloons that appeared to be floating way out of range, and in the order of preference we the crowd shouted out to him as the targets drifted further and further up into the sky. He shot clay after clay, all from the hip. He lined up volunteers and had them throw eggs in the air – and then, you guessed it, he shot them. Using a pump action gun meant he had to physically reload between eggs, a feat not to be sniffed at. He carried on by chipping golf balls higher with his shotgun than I’d probably manage with a club and a set of lessons. Using a 10-shot self-loading gun, he fired a shot, then shot the spent cartridge as it was ejected and continued the series until he’d run out of ammo. Last but not least, he more or less prepared a salad with his shotgun. He balanced a tomato on the end of his barrels, flicked it up into the air and shot it barely a metre away from the end of his gun. He then threw up a melon, which was blasted into pieces, and finally and most spectacularly did the same thing with a couple of cabbages. As you can see, it turns out cabbage explode rather marvellously when shot with a  12gauge shotgun:

Cabbages done, and we return to the cakes. I said previously that the verdict on the cakes would come later, and so here it is:

The lavender cakes I was a little disappointed at – the icing was nice, but wasn’t as floral as I would have liked – more experiments needed to make that one work. However, the Chelsea Bun girls seemed to enjoy their cakes, and I was delighted to hear that Kay thought she could taste the lavender – so maybe my taste buds were marred by the intense scent of lavender in our kitchen from the preparation. The delicious blueberries were altogether too scarce – more needed next time!

My mother was very happy with the carrot cakes, as was I. I would even go so far to say that it was one of the best cakes I’ve made in a long, long time and is definitely one I will be trying again in the not-too-distant future (and if you’re lucky, I’ll put my recipe up when I find the time!) But the biggest endorsement for me was when I gave Mickey a carrot cake. He of cabbage-shooting glory turned out to be an acquaintance of one of my friends, and joined us for a cup of tea. After accepting the offer of a cupcake, declared with a mouth full of carroty sponge,

– ‘That’s seriously good cake.’

[i] I’ve been wondering what that would be like in a ginger cake… Or perhaps in the icing… We shall see.

[ii] It turns out this is also a stage name; his real name is Monty. I shall have to keep an eye out for all sorts of espionage at the Chelsea Bun Club it seems.

Time For Tea

The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee has brought to the fore a more patriotic spirit than I’ve ever witnessed in my twenty-three and a bit years of life. Perhaps it’s linked to the Olympics (#London2012) or building on the hype of last year’s Royal Wedding festivities, but I’ve seen more red-white-and-blue than ever before, from bunting on trees to Union Flag manicures. And I’ve found it all rather heart-warming. On International Day at school, surrounded by girls in glittering saris, silky Korean hanboks and intricately embroidered kimonos, I often lamented the lack of an English national dress. The British, in particular the English, truly are in my somewhat limited experience the masters of understatement and not-wanting-to-make-a-fuss, and the general disdain with which much of the population look upon the closest thing I can think of to a national dance – Morris dancing – I thought spoke volumes about our national pride or lack thereof. But the marriage of William and Kate – now Katherine – last year contradicted me, and this year’s Jubilee festivities have solidified that still further. My delving into the world of the countryside has shown me and continues to enlighten me about a new side of British life, and the combination of these two worlds – the city and the country – has led me to the conclusion that British tradition – or rather English tradition, for the Welsh, Scottish and Northern Irish are all proud enough to have and to celebrate their own national dress and traditions – does still exist, if in a slightly subtle form. I may live to change, alter, regret or even deny this assertion, but it’ll do for now.

Yesterday I went to my second gathering of the Shotgun and Chelsea Bun Club, and it was just as good as before. Three stands, three pairs of clays per stand and plenty of cake! The highlight was most definitely the wonderful, adrenaline-fueled simulated flush put on by John, Derek and Sid, our lovely instructors. I thought I loved shooting, and my second simulated experience (the first being a 20-bird sequence shot from the grouse butt at RBSS) has cemented what the first confirmed – it takes it to a whole new level. You have no time to think, it feels so much more instinctive and you do get a real adrenaline rush. I shot RBSS’s Classic Handicap with an A Class shot, and was thrilled with my 8 kills out of 20 when he only hit 12! The flush yesterday reminded me of that, and I was delighted when I managed finally to open my barrels and let the ejectors do the work (at the beginning I carefully removed my spent cartridges and looked around mid-flush for the bin to put them in). I reloaded at record-breaking speed – a personal record but still… – mounted the gun and ‘killed’ a clay that had been launched while my gun had been broken. The cherry on the cake was to hear expert instructor John King behind me say “very good shot”, a self-esteem boost if there ever was one. Needless to say I can’t wait for my first game shoot.

Shooting and hunting are, of course, part of British Heritage, dating back to Idon’tknowwhen. Having graduated from and thus left university, I think I am now safe to reference Wikipedia (and will admit a mixed feeling of guilt, rebellion and liberation in doing so) when I say that the first recorded instance of hunting a fox with dogs was in 1534. The relaxation of the law in 1831 meant that shooting was more accessible to the masses. The association of hunting (and I include shooting under that umbrella of a term) and the monarchy help give shooting its terribly British reputation – though, I believe, HRH herself doesn’t shoot, Prince Philip does, and the newest member of the Royal Family, the Duchess of Cambridge, has been photographed shotgun in hand.

A yet more quintessentially British tradition is that of drinking tea. Tea is the lifeblood of the William Powell office, and I’m sure many other offices around the country. I don’t think my mother could function without it – we used to take little sacks of teabags on holiday with us, as she could never find tea good enough abroad. It was presented to the Britons by Asterix in place of the Magic Potion, and, drunk with ‘a drop of milk’ led them to win the battle against the Romans[i]. Despite being grown abroad and only becoming popular in the UK in the 1800s, tea is most definitely an English tradition, particularly when served with cucumber sandwiches and scones – which should be pronounced ‘sconns’ not ‘scoans’ – with clotted cream and jam (my mother and I disagree on the order of application of jam and cream, meaning it was a hot topic of debate around our tea table today… opinions welcome!)

All of the above means that a meeting of the Shotgun and Chelsea Bun Club, guns and teapots at the ready, on the weekend of the Diamond Jubilee celebrations seemed most wonderfully fitting. I successfully managed not only to make a cake for this meet, but not to drop it; I did my bit, arriving with both my orange and hazelnut brownies (loosely based on Leon’s ‘Better Brownie’) and my pride intact. My brownies joined the cakes brought along by the ladies were not only of the same spectacular standard as last time, and to mark the occasion, they were adorned with red, white and blue stars, and union flags both edible and paper. Bunting decorated the lodge, and the beautiful LadiesShooting tea cups, saucers, side plates and teapots stood about proudly, waiting to be filled with hot delicious English Breakfast tea.

I was surprised again yesterday, this time by a spontaneous act of patriotism at a friend’s barbeque in the evening. In my role as sensible driver, I was amused and somewhat impressed when the slightly tiddly group agreed to add a new rule to the drinking game, Ring Of Fire. While the various rules are much argued over, interchanged, debated and tweaked, I’ve not yet actually witnessed the introduction of a new rule – until last night. To mark the celebrations of the Queen’s sixty years of reign, it was agreed that upon drawing a queen from the ring of playing cards on the table, the whole group had to stand and sing the national anthem. And despite their small size, sing they did. Twice before the game was abandoned did the walls of the shared house vibrate with passionate, tipsy renditions of God Save The Queen. I had the forethought to film the second performance, but sadly as it was on someone else’s camera I can’t post it on here. The gusto with which the anthem was belted out perhaps says more about the quantities of G&T and Pimms-and-lemonade consumed, but I believe it also shows that at their heart, even a group of proactive and intelligent students and ex-students with political views ranging from the redest of reds to the bluest of blues, share a love of their country and their monarch – if not the monarchy as an establishment. But I’m not going to dissolve into a debate about the monarchy here; suffice it to say, the enthusiasm and general joining-in-ness was really lovely to see.

Today I celebrated the Jubilee by enjoying afternoon tea with my family, watching the slightly damp pageant on the River Thames, followed by the Diamond Jubilee special “entertainment extravaganza”, all with yet more tea, homemade elderflower champagne, cordial and Lemon Shrub (more on those to follow in a later post) and plenty more cake. I spent last Friday baking a variety of cakes: the aforementioned orange brownies with toasted hazelnuts; wholemeal scones; a lemon drizzle cake with a hint of ginger (could have done with a bigger hint in my opinion but a nice moist loaf nonetheless); and the best Victoria sponge I’ve made to date, consisting of two wholemeal sponges that actually deigned to rise rather well, sandwiched together with only-slightly sweetened cream (a hat-tip here to the ex-colleague who introduced me to this) raspberry jam and fresh raspberries, and topped with more cream and a fresh-fruit Union Flag, inspired by yesterday’s winner of the S&CBC rosette for Best Cake. The plan was for leftovers to be vacuumed up by my friends on Tuesday after a street party here in Twickenham, but I fear the half a lemon drizzle loaf and two wholemeal scones that are left may not quite fill us up. Luckily I still have some elderflower champagne and more potent lemon shrub left over, which should hopefully distract my guests.

Shooting, barbeques, mini-flags, friends, family, copious amounts of tea and cake, pretty red-white-and-blue napkins and plenty of patriotic spirit have made the Jubilee weekend rather wonderful so far. This is history in the making, and we are living through it. We are celebrating only the second monarch ever ever ever  to celebrate a Diamond Jubilee. (The feminist in me wishes to point out that both of the monarchs to achieve this were women. Long Live the Queen indeed.) If HRH lasts another four years – and I can think of no reason to doubt her – we will have cause to celebrate the longest reigning monarch in British history; truly something to celebrate. I’d better get planning those cakes.

[i] I still think Marcus Ginandtonicus should have played a key role in ‘Asterix in Britain’, if only due to the fabulousness of his name!

Shotguns and Chelsea Buns

Last week I encountered a chain of bad luck. One due to my own clumsiness, one actually due to sheer bad luck, and all of which culminated in me bombarding my few Twitter followers with tweet after tweet after tweet last Saturday morning, every single one of them moaning about the traffic jam I was sat in for an hour and a half. There were four key factors that led up to this moment:

  • First, last autumn a girl I was working with wrote an article about her experience on a grouse moor for a new website, ladies-shooting.com.
  • Second, I started this blog.
  • Third, a couple of months ago I was embarrassed by my mother’s proficiency and persuaded by work to rediscover my Twitter account – which I duly linked to the blog, rechristening it @TheFirstFrost – and started ‘tweeting’.
  • Fourthly and finally, due to a diagnosis of bilateral carpal tunnel syndrome, I have recently found myself living back in Greater London – temporarily I might add – and thus with a slight lack of anything even vaguely country to write about.

These circumstances all combined to stick me in the worst traffic jam I’ve yet experienced as a driver. I shall explain.

A friend at work encouraged, persuaded and bribed us all to ‘follow’ @William_Powell on Twitter. So that evening, I logged onto my dormant, near extinct Twitter account and did just that. Embarrassed by the fact that my mother was more social-medialy active than I was, and armed with a brand new shiny phone and my brand new shiny blog to talk about and shamelessly promote, I decided to pay attention to my neglected Twitter account. I promptly set about hunting for people to stalk – I mean ‘follow’. Amongst my victims were my colleagues, including the girl mentioned above who wrote the piece about the grouse moor. Sheep that I am, I also set about following people they were following, picking out anyone who seemed familiar, interesting or with an interesting name. Being a lady (or woman at least) who likes shooting, I opted to follow owner of the website she wrote for, @ladies-shooting. Little did I know it would bring me one step closer to that awful traffic jam.

City-bound as I was (and still am for that matter) I’ve had to actively hunt out things to write about, and so I derived my first benefit from Twitter. @ladies-shooting kept tweeting to the world about a clay shoot happening one weekend with the Shotgun and Chelsea Bun Club. I looked into it, and discovered that it is a ladies-only shooting club, where everything you require is provided, from guns to tuition, good company to cake, and I swiftly signed up.

The day before the shoot saw disaster number one. I set about making a ginger cake to take along, a very simple but very lovely, until-now failsafe recipe, requiring plenty of sticky ingredients – I finished off a tin of golden syrup in the making, which my dog very much enjoyed cleaning out.

However, one foolish and distracting phone call mid-bake meant that I forgot to add the key ingredient of my ginger cake: the ginger. After two minutes in the oven, I remembered, whipped the mostly-uncooked mixture out of the oven, and grated in my stem ginger, stirring it as little as possible before returning it to the oven. Sadly my last-ditch effort to gingify the cake meant that it sank in the middle, quite drastically; the Titanic of cakes if you will. Ever the optimist, I decided that I would cut the cake into squares, ice it, and no one would ever know of my ginger omission and its results. I released the sides of the springy cake tin, inverted it onto a plate, and removed the base of the tin. I then placed a cooling rack on the exposed bottom of the cake, and with one hand on the rack, one on the plate, set to turn it right way up onto the rack to cool. At this point my carpal tunnel kicked in: I dropped the lot. Half the cake slid off the plate onto the floor (much to the dog’s delight) and the rest smashed onto the counter. The cake was, even for the eternal optimist, ruined.

Not to be deterred, I reminded myself that there was nothing about Saturday’s shoot saying that you had to bring a cake, simply that you could if you wished. Next morning, I set off in plenty of time to drive to the Oxfordshire Shooting School to join the Shotgun and Chelsea Bun Club for the first time, sadly empty handed but armed with my ear defenders. Traffic caused by an accident earlier in the day caused everyone on the M40 to be diverted off at my junction down the A40, the road that I needed to drive down; and so we reach my traffic jam. I sat and crawled along, occasionally lifting my foot from the clutch as I reached the dizzying heights of 8mph, only to be shown a sea of red ahead of me as all cars hit their breaks and we ground yet again to a halt. I spent longer in that traffic jam than the entire journey should have taken. And so I tweeted my little heart out, simply as a means to keep myself amused. I also encountered a traffic sign that I don’t recollect specifically seeing before, and perhaps it was the petrol fumes, but it greatly amused me, surrounded as I was by stationary vehicles:

None of us had much need to be wary of tractors; unless one planned to drive over us all and crush us into real traffic jam (tasty and spreadable, with absolutely no pips!)

Luckily for me, I wasn’t the only one delayed, and when I finally made it to the Shooting School I was just in time to join a group on their first peg, and managed a decent score of 20/30 across all three targets. There was plenty of cake provided by luckier (or simply more organised) members of the group and we stood and sat around, chatting away drinking tea from beautiful china cups with matching saucers. All in all, it was well worth the wait, though I will aim to arrive on time next time.

For any women out there wanted to get involved in shooting, I highly recommend the club as an in. I knew no one at all when I arrived, but had a thoroughly lovely morning. The range of members is wonderful – there are people from a very country background kitted out in Dubarry’s and tweed, and people like me who really really aren’t. There’s also a fantastic variety of ability – you would not be alone as a complete beginner, and the instructors are prepared for that; but there were also a couple of experienced game shots that were both educational and a delight to watch. As I watched one of the women shooting one of the more challenging driven targets off a tower, she seemed to shoot in slow motion; she made it look elegant and easy, and there never was a better reminder that you have so much more time than you think you do from the moment you call for your target to the moment when you pull the trigger.

Shotgun and Chelsea Bun Club has achieved something noteworthy (aside from there being tea and cake provided at every get together); they’ve managed to create a group serious about shooting without shying away from the feminine. Everything from the scorecards to the tea sets used at the end was oriented to women. And watching the lady I described above shoot demonstrated that it is possible to be a phenomenal game shot and be ladylike with it; as with all things, it simply takes practice. I very much look forward to the next shoot, on the 2nd June in Barbury near Swindon, and hopefully I can arrive with baked-offerings next time – if I can manage to bake a cake without dropping it or forgetting any ingredients.

Casualty of the Clay Ground

Arriving at a competition at the West Midlands Shooting Ground, I was nervous; the competition was in February and I had barely fired a gun since the previous May (and those shots I had fired were on a beginners’ day I joined my family on – hardly challenging targets). I met the rest of the people I was shooting with on the parking site provided by the ground, where the torrential rain I’d driven through to get there, combined with the muddy field, illustrated fairly effectively why so many people in this world drive four-by-fours. (Note to self: I must stop ridiculing my friends for driving Chelsea Tractors.)

The gun I’d learned to shoot with had kindly been sent down for me to use by my old instructor, and one of the boys in the sporting agency at work had equally as kindly loaned me a loader’s bag for the weekend to lug around our squad’s ammo for the day (I also tucked a bag of soft liquorice in amongst the cartridges – the people doing the shooting need ammunition as well as their guns). Gun slip slung over one shoulder and a somewhat heavier fully-laden loader’s bag over the other, I trudged off with the rest of the group to sign in and find our starting peg. The last time I’d shot with these girls I’d somewhat taken on the role of amateur instructress – I used to listen carefully in every coaching session in order to try and help the other girls in competitions, where instructors are strictly forbidden but helping your teammates fortunately is not. I’m also lucky enough to often be able to see the shot, so was able not only to help the girls with their bad habits (one girl always seems to close the wrong eye when following the clay) but able to tell them how far above, below, in front or behind they are on most shots, helping them recognise the problem to solve it with the next pair. Better a late break than none at all.

Having not shot with them, or at all, since May, I was uncertain as to whether I’d remember any of this, but was happy to find myself more comfortable in my old role than I’d anticipated, until the scorer called my name and I realised I actually had to fire the gun myself. I decided at this point that instructors have a far easier job of it than they let on – they can take credit for any good shots, as they instructed the shooter, but don’t have to take responsibility for missed clays, as they can always claim that their instructee didn’t listen.

I pulled my gun from its slip, stepped into the cage, practiced mounting my gun once in my shoulder, and called for my target,

–       Pull.

It was gratifying to learn at that moment that once ingrained, the ability to shoot doesn’t leave you; I hit 7 of my first 8 targets. You may become rusty, out of practice, and after 40 or so clays I must admit my arms ached from the weight of the Beretta I was shooting, and my performance had worsened. I’ll also employ the excuse that I’ve been experiencing some trouble with my hands recently, and between every peg was strapping my right wrist up in a splint, removing it only to shoot.

This disability remained my excuse du jour, though the reason for my waning number of breaks was probably just that I was out of practice. For one of these reasons, or perhaps a combination of the two, during the second half of the day my arms and wrists ached from the weight of the gun, my shots were sloppier, and more clays shattered on impact as they hit the ground than as a result of my firing at them.

Despite this, and though frustrated from the knowledge that I’d missed some easy targets later in the day, I was very satisfied at my performance during the first half. In total, I actually scored more than the previous year, by a great big one whole clay. But mostly, it showed me that, under any circumstances, rain or shine, on a good streak or bad, and even when in pain, I love shooting, and don’t ever want to give it up.

Yesterday that was reinforced, as I went out for a little shoot with the new gunman from work at the local clay ground. He brought two of his guns and I tried both – first, a side by side, and it was the first time I’d ever shot with one. It is peculiar to shooting with one, when you’ve only experienced an over-and-under. The picture you see at the end of your nose is entirely different, though I think I could have got used to it had I been able to see over the barrels. However, the combination of a short, low stock, and much heavier cartridges than I’m used to (28g vs the 21g I’m more accustomed to) meant that it kicked like an angry donkey, and after the first peg he generously loaned me  an over-and-under instead– 12b a semi-automatic Beretta, which provided a much more familiar picture. However, despite this advantage (or lack of disadvantage), a stock a little short for me, and too low a comb to boot, meant that I spent two hours being beaten around the face with an ill-fitting stock and was just a little tender in the jaw this morning. But I’d go straight back out and do it all again tomorrow, bruises and all. While I missed a huge percentage of my clays, I was somewhat mollified when the gentleman buttoning the compact for us said to me at the end that it was obvious I could shoot, but would perform better with a more tailored gun and cartridge combination. I stress at this point that if you’re interested in shooting at all, make sure your gun fits.

My requirements are not particularly complicated, but are uncommon – surprisingly as a woman, I need a long stock, thanks to the long arms I was graced with by my mother’s genetics; and as far more women will find, I require a comb raiser (or two) on the stock. This is because women have a tendency towards longer necks and higher cheekbones than most men, and the measurements of shotguns were originally tailored to a gentleman’s build. The comb height in particular is important – if I rest my head properly on the stock of the semi-auto I was shooting with yesterday, or for that matter the side by side I tried, not to mention most of the guns in the showroom at work, I cannot see over the barrels. This makes things tricky when the target I’m aiming at is the other end of them. By lifting your head from the stock, you leave your cheek vulnerable to recoil, resulting in a fair walloping from the stock with every cartridge fired, and the flinching that ensues will often distort your shot and cause you to miss the target. My two tips for today therefore, are first to make sure, if possible, that your gun fits you to some degree at least; and second, if you cannot arrange the first, try to ensure that you can at least see your target over the barrels of your gun.

Feet at Five Past Two

Continued from below.

Eventually, I joined the shooting club. And eventuallier, after many socials and almost as many hangovers, I actually attended a session and got to fire a gun. It HURT. The club was new, and the guidance from other members on how to hold a gun was well-meant but a touch inaccurate – at a cost of nine shots (and sadly far fewer broken clays), I became the owner a rather magnificent Mulberry bruise on my shoulder, with the accompanying agonising ache included completely gratis.

Third year started and long story short a local instructor with more than a little experience in instructing women agreed to coach us for free. The idea of a semi-proper gun fit and proper tuition was wonderful, and I started attending regularly. For the first time, I learned how to mount the gun and how to stand (feet at five past two; 12 o’clock is where you’ll break your target) and I fell swiftly head over heels in love. The combination of intense concentration and natural instinct provides a steady satisfaction and an adrenaline rush all at once – a heady combination if there ever was one. All this is performed with a beautiful, often handcrafted shotgun, with intricate engravings and a gorgeous walnut stock. I love all things mechanical and all things wooden (no double entendre intended). I don’t know how a beautiful, natural, intricately grained, softly rounded and smoothed piece of wood can’t ignite a spark of pleasure in a person.[1] I like knowing how things work and the logical processes behind them, the effects of forces in nature and the workings of science and mathematically-rich mechanics that make things happen – and the gun-and-cartridge combination is a perfect example of it. And in me, all of the above combined to a love of shooting.

Through speaking to the instructor and learning about the shooting world, I came to realise that the Fellowes/Archers lifestyle DOES exist. Real people live and breathe it. The sloe gin and champagne, the cigars and hipflasks, tweed caps and drinks before dinner. Admittedly I also realised that it is tougher and harder than the Aldridges’ 15minutes a day quite conveys. The hours are long. Chickens, horses and dogs, not to mention livestock, require constant care and attention – they don’t care if you’re tired, sick, if it’s Christmas or if you’re in the mood for nothing but a private pity party under your duvet. They need walking, feeding, tending, grooming and general dedicated attention. The solitude of harvest sounds to me both wonderful meditative and soul-destroyingly lonely. You’re at the mercy of the weather for most of your working day, and funnily enough the animals (and crops) don’t care about the weather either – bad weather, hot cold wet or overly dry, simply increases the workload. In fact, farming life in general seems very suited to the mediocre grey English day that I’ve grown to look upon with disdain. But even in gentle England we have some extremes of weather – or extreme enough to cause extra work and discomfort.

But it also seems to promise something more; please forgive me in advance for the slightly purple prose here. It appears to promise a chance to spend much of your time outdoors, in one of the most gently beautiful countries in the world, a landscape full of subtle intricacies and delicate beauty (this particularly appeals right now as I currently work in an office with no windows, and at this time of year often barely see daylight). Fresh air, and hard work that makes you tired – a good, fulfilling sort of tired, a tired from being up and about from 6am, working hard, moving around, not from sitting at a desk all day. And though I’m sure not everyone living the ‘country life’ is lucky enough, it seems from my outsider’s perspective that there’s an abundance of good, proper food and drink. Country pubs serve vastly better food than city pubs. All of it appeals to me, and I sometimes wonder now whether I might even one day be happy as a housewife in that sort of life (something I’ve always very strongly objected to); a busy one with a proper homemade home. Or maybe I could just work from home… Or just enjoy my weekends. However it ends up, my adventure of leaving city life began with the shooting of a gun, an education complete with silly little faux pas and many demonstrations of my sheer naivety to accompany it (and I’m sure more to follow,) and my plan is to document those embarrassing/ funny/ educational moments here.

[1] The love of nice bits of wood is I’m sure is also at least partly genetic; as evidence I’d like to site the living room furniture at my parents’ house. Photographs to follow.