Being a Chelsea Bun

As anyone reading this is likely to know, I haven’t written for this blog for really rather a long time. When I used to write more or less regularly, the topic was usually an assortment of shooting tales, recipes and recollections of various country-based faux pas I made as I delved into the country world. I’m hoping I might begin to write again (not even remotely avoiding commitment there) but I can’t promise the subject matter will always stay the same. My life has changed immeasurably since I started writing. For one, the wine world is much less countrified than the shooting world. For another, I’m also ever so slightly more used to the country world, which, though I wouldn’t yet consider myself as ‘belonging’, does thankfully mean I don’t embarrass myself quite so frequently. The downside to that is of course having fewer entertaining things to write about.

As you may or may not have read, I started clay shooting at university. Shortly after I left I started dating my instructor, Sir Pheasant’s Farmer, which as you might imagine meant I kept shooting fairly regularly, but always with him. He taught me, he had the licence, he bought the shells and he owned the guns, including the Beretta with which I learned to shoot. I soon realised I was only shooting with him, and pretty quickly developed a fear that, should the relationship end, I’d lose my hobby as well as my boyfriend. Not long after this minor epiphany I attended my first shoot with the wonderful Shotgun and Chelsea Bun Club. Joining a ladies’ only shooting group seemed a very reliable way to maintain some shotgun action in my life outside my relationship. Lo and behold, around a year later Sir Pheasant’s Farmer and I went our separate ways. In the 18months that followed, I left my job, moved back to my parents’, was diagnosed with HNPP, got a new job in a new industry, moved into a new house, got my own shotgun licence, was promoted, ran my first 10k race and moved house a second time, to name but a selection. And through it all, I have continued to break (and miss) clays, all thanks to one incredible, inspirational lady called Victoria Knowles-Lacks and her marvellous creation, The Shotgun and Chelsea Bun Club.

The Bun Club has introduced me to countless new friends, and we all have two things in common. One: we love to shoot, and two: we’re Women with a capital W. We refuse to leave the guns to the men, and not only that, but damn it if we can we’re going to shoot better and, results regardless, with a cartridge bag-load more panache. As well as a shooting group and a curse on any weight-loss goals, the Chelsea Bun Club is a network of friends. I haven’t met them all yet, some of the women I have met I confess I don’t remember their names, some I may never meet, but all of them are friends. It has also introduced me to personalities in the shooting world, from the unforgettable Robert at Hull Cartridge, to David, the Tom Cruise lookalike from Browning, silver-tongued Peter Glenser who, two years running has had us all in fits of giggles, the marvellous Ed Solomons who within a few days of the 2014 conference may have found me a gun within my budget (the subject of a future post if I’m lucky) and who can forget Miss Sue Flay and her etiquette guide at the 2013 conference? I’ve met female medal-winners from various disciplines, most recently Abbey Burton with her fantastic story and surreal shotgun stock. I have attended two incredible conferences where I’ve learned about everything from the psychological aspects of clay shooting (and how women are better shots psychologically!) to how birds are reared for commercial game shoots.

There is so much more to shooting than people think. It’s social, educational, inspirational and fun, as well as a curse to WeightWatchers and the like with the hampers of sausage rolls, bottles of champagne, hipflasks sloe gin and mountains of cake. And just for you, a gun mounted in your shoulder slows down the world around you. Looking at the world down the barrel of shotgun seems to hit the slow motion button. All that matters is the trigger and the clay. Of course, if you are me – or are stood behind me while I’m shooting – there’s the almost inevitable interruption by the automatic safety. After a (second) call for your target, time begins to slow and stretch, for most targets at least, and you stop thinking. Watching the world in slow motion, instinct takes over, and if you’re lucky, the cue for the world to resume normal speed is a firework of clay fragments in the sky above you. Clay-concentration takes over from everything, pushing Erasmus’ opinions on the nature of war (thank you university) or the quantity of Argentinian wine being sold in UK supermarkets (thank you work) not only to the back of your mind, but out of it entirely for a moment or two. After a shoot, good or bad, it’s as though all the cobwebs have been dusted away and you breathe a little deeper.

I’m certain that any and all members of The Bun Club know what I’m describing, even if shooting gives them a different experience than it gives me. And for anyone who hasn’t shot before, I’d encourage you to come along and give it a go. If it wasn’t for the Bun Club I’d have likely lost one of the best hobbies I’ve ever engaged with, not to mention hundreds of friends, and worse to say I’d have lost it all because of a man. There are Chelsea Bun shoots around the country, and at all of them you can pick up a shotgun and maybe change your perspective on the world around you. You’ll not only meet new people and make new friends, but over time you’ll become part of something bigger, know you have friends, known and unknown, all round the country. If you’re really lucky, you’ll find a new love* and meet a new side of yourself.

 

The Shotgun and Chelsea Bun Club

 

 

*Your hobby, not your instructor…Or at least not always.

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Pies and Prejudice

Fabulous Fortnight Part 3

 And so we come to the end of the life-changing fortnight. Though the life-changing bit had actually already happened, a long-awaited diagnosis and new career, the (hopefully annual) Shotgun and Chelsea Bun Club Competition and scrummy BBQ social topped off the fortnight perfectly.

As with every meet of the Bun Club, there would be baked offerings of all sorts from members. After the success of my tiramisu at the Hen Party, I decided to make tiramisu cupcakes. The sponge, idea of how to fill them and the base for the icing were all borrowed from the wonderful Hummingbird Bakery, but the recipe for the actual icing and filling were my own doing. By digging out the middle of each cake, slicing it, soaking it in a sinfully boozy coffee-amaretto mixture and layering with creamy filling and grated dark chocolate, I hoped to create a mini-tiramisu in each pretty cupcake case. I topped them off with an amaretto-mascarpone icing with just a hint of coffee, and with a final a sprinkle of cocoa they were ready for the competition. I gently popped them into cake tins – they had to go into three separate tins; no chance of layering these cakes without smushing the icing.

Before the S&CBC competition, I drove over to Barbury Shooting School in Swindon with my old instructor and shot the 100-bird challenge. I was pretty happy with how I shot I have to say – a one or two sloppy mistakes from lack of practice (and concentration), and towards the end some very frustrating misses as my HNPP-sore hands refused to do what my brain told them to. But I came out with a not-embarrassing score, especially compared to the ladies who had shot before me, so I’m pretty content. More practice required I think. Once I get settled in my new job (insert squeak of excitement here) my plan is to find a local shooting ground and get trigger-pulling.

Shooting a 100-bird competition the day before my Proper Competition with the Chelsea Buns was perhaps not a great move for my chances on the day, fun as it was. I turned up with a stiff back, still-sore hands, sore legs to boot and a slightly tender shoulder; not the best state to start a competition. Again, my kills I did shoot well, with only one really chippy break – I actually thought I’d missed it but spectators and the scorer thankfully disagreed. Some misses were good – as long as I know where I missed it, I can correct it. You actually learn more from a miss than from a break, as long as you’re concentrating. But more frustrating/sloppy mistakes meant I lost any chance I had of winning fairly early on. Nonetheless, I was thrilled to finish the competition by straighting the final stand – always nice to go out on a high.

I volunteered to score for the afternoon’s open shoot, and while juggling clipboard, ear defenders, pen and plate stacked high by the generous BBQ man, I traipsed around the stands again to watch people who actually knew how to shoot – and shoot well – have a go at it. Once we got back to the clubhouse, I was both disappointed and thrilled to find that all sixteen of my tiramisu cupcakes had been eaten. Good news as it meant they obviously liked them, slightly sad that I hadn’t had one – but this was quickly appeased when I remembered that I had hidden four in the car in case of some late-arriving friends. And after stuffing my face with cake, decided that they were really rather tasty even if I do say so myself. Luckily for me, my arrogance was justified when Chief Chelsea Bun Victoria announced that they had won Best Cake. So I am now the proud possessor of a pink rosette for my cupcakes. Hurrah!

Earlier in the week, after finding out I’d got the job, I went out for (of course gin-based) celebrations with a friend. He jokingly commented that the exclusion of men from the Shotgun and Chelsea Bun Club was quite sexist, that they needed an ‘Emilio Pankhurst‘ to protest on their behalf. Though I know he was joking, it still was a little thought provoking. Another male friend from university, keen on both baking and shooting, has commented before enquiring about whether he could join. And the answer is, in general, no. The social this weekend was an exception, when the menfolk were not only welcomed but even invited to shoot. Nevertheless in general it is an exclusively female club; no Y-chromosomes allowed.

Does this make us sexist? I guess in some ways the answer is yes by definition: men are not allowed to join most shoots, in virtue solely of their being male. But the club is actually helping to redress the balance in the world of what is a predominantly male-dominated sport. Most shooting grounds will find that their client base is much more blue than pink, and guns are designed and shaped for the average male build – otherwise they’d have far higher combs and there would be no need for gadgets such as Jones stock adjusters (a life-saver for any woman with breasts above a B-cup) or comb raisers to let us dainty females keep our heads straight on the stock and thus shoot straight even if blessed with the highest of sky-high cheekbones.

I suspect it initially stems back not to discrimination of women, but to the hunter/gatherer instincts of the human race. Hunting is, as I’ve said before, embedded deep within human nature. It makes sense that we can still find satisfaction in it, even now in our grandesuperskinnyicedfrappemochaccino times. Our base instincts haven’t evolved as quickly as our taste in coffee. Back before the advent of Starbucks and even further back, if there ever was such a time, the male of the species did much of the hunting, while females were bogged down with all the child-bearing malarkey. But now in our modern, post-Starbucks world where women have proven their ability to multi-task, taking care of themselves as well as bearing offspring, why shouldn’t we be given the opportunity to shoot too? The ladies-only Shotgun and Chelsea Bun Club goes some way to help redress the balance – not by excluding men, but by giving women a chance to ‘catch up’; to shoot in the company of other women and build their confidence without fear of either embarrassment or being snappily told to stop talking. It gives some inexperienced ladies a chance to learn how to hold a gun properly, and realise that they can actually break targets. And those that can already smash a clay nine times out of ten can simply practise doing so in good, girly company with plenty of tea and cake. The club would never do anything other than encourage a lady gun to go out shooting with male friends and companions in between and even sometimes straight after the ladies-only shoots, nor would it discourage men from shooting (or possibly to start a male-version of the club, for those baking-mad guns out there – The Shotgun and Homemade Pie Club perhaps?) So Emilio Pankhurst can step down, the club is not sexist. From where I’m sat, it exists simply to promote good girly fun, enjoyment of a fabulous sport and of course, practice practice practice.

Proof: a man shooting at the S&CBC Competition, taken by Kay Thompson

The weekend’s competition was a huge success. The ladies-only beginners’ and novice categories gave the girls a chance to experience a proper CPSA competition format without the pressure of shooting amid a crowd of experienced male guns. The afternoon let the Chelsea Bun HABs[i] have a go too, with the open shoot there for anyone to compete in. The BBQ on site provided more than enough tasty burgers, proper sausages and crunchy coleslaw. The bar issued numerous drinks as the clock stuck Pimms O’Clock and a couple of hours later Gin O’Clock, and the clubhouse gave home to the traditional S&CBC tea and cake, complete with tea sets and beautiful cake stands made by Victoria herself.

Having built up an appetite so large that even a BBQ and an award-winning cupcake couldn’t satisfy it, the cherry on the cake that was my fabulous fortnight was dinner at the famous pie pub in Deddington, Oxfordshire. My chicken, ham and leek pie appeared with a cloud of puff pastry rising out above my pie dish like a flaky sky-scraper, hiding a scrumptious filling that went perfectly with my glass of Chardonnay (I need to get to grips with some of this wine stuff now, if I’m going to be working ‘in the industry’) And it was a Proper Pie, with pastry lining the pie dish as well as adorning the top. As if one wasn’t enough, I ordered the apple and cinnamon pie for dessert. It arrived and took my breath away – along with my confidence in finishing it. It was the same size as my main, with the same tower of flaky pastry this time drizzled with maple syrup and dusted with icing sugar. With deliciously creamy vanilla ice cream hidden inside the pastry of all places, it was heavenly. And finished completely – only one step off licking out the dish.

A truly fabulous fortnight, and just in case anyone involved is reading this, I’d like to thank those involved: the Lancastrian Chelsea Bun for her recipe; Dad for enjoying his chips and friands, for making that Kichen-Day a success and for the celebratory bubbles after getting the job (and Mum for celebrating with me); NeuroDoctor for finding an answer to The Mystery Of The Numb Hand/Knee/Leg/Feet; Mr and Mrs Newly Wed and their wedding elves for the most wonderful First Wedding I could have been invited to; my interviewers for agreeing to give me a chance (sucking up even before day one – brownie points??); a certain someone up in York for putting me onto the job in the first place and for recommending me, and her fiancé for helping confirm the address for her thank-you flowers; the Chelsea Buns for enjoying my cakes enough to give me the rosette – my first ‘award’ for baking! – and Chief Chelsea Bun Victoria for organising such a splendid event, and for creating such an incredibly inclusive, friendly, not-at-all-sexist and encouraging club. A joy to be a part of it, not least because of all the cake.


[i] Husbands and Boyfriends

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.