The Welcoming Gaze of Gazelles

Finally, I have experienced a moment of belonging! But I shall tell you about it properly, try and do it the justice it deserves. Let me set the scene.

My previously mentioned shooting instructor recently asked me whether I might be around and available one Sunday, to help out on a charity shoot being set up by an ex-colleague and very good friend of his. Of course, I said yes. My instructions included when and where to arrive (approximately at least); to dress in ‘smart-casual but country casual’; and to smile, be charming, answer any questions and generally ‘help’ – instructions as wonderfully specific as so much of this world seems to be! So I dutifully rocked up armed with comfy-yet-country boots, fleece waistcoat and tweed skirt, and without a clue as to what I was expected to do.

And what a place to ‘rock up’ to. A central circular bar had been set up in the centre of a vast hall that was the shoot lodge/building/welcome space, with what can only be described as an armoury of spirits, beers, fruit juices, glasses and citrus fruits neatly arranged as though on display under the bar. A casually elegant basket of Danish pastries was wafted in front of my nose, and warily clutching a pain-au-chocolat, I sipped my tea (somewhat stewed in the pot but easily rendered drinkable by the addition of a little milk and plenty of sugar) and looked around. It was extraordinary. Huge wooden beams floated metres above us, a clean and fresh take on ‘country’, with floor-to-ceiling bookshelves set in either side of the fire, over which a mezzanine level had been built around the chimney. The rest of the room had been left open up to the (beautiful) rafters, with huge doors on either side of the room beckoning the daylight inside. Two water buffalo heads looked down sternly from one wall, while a few decapitated gazelles gazed down at us with an altogether more welcoming expression than the angry buffalo. After a few moments spent in my own world (pondering how I’d convert the room into a one-room-house – it’s easily as big as the house I currently live in and a lot lot lighter to boot), The Day Proper began.

My ponytail anchored a James Shouler Shooting baseball cap firmly on my head, (James being the man running the shooting side of the soirée) and so bestowed on me the official role of Staff. There were sporting clay traps set up along one side of a upward-sloping field, and at the top of the little hill sat the flurry – my domain for the day. My job was to sit on the flurry, lounge in the sun with tally counter in hand, back to the cages and the shooters within, and count the missed clays. My old instructor (at this point I feel I should start calling him by name or as simply my friend, but for the sake of anonymity and also for story-telling purposes he will remain My Old Instructor) released the ‘flurry’ of clays over the four cages, spitting clays out at random angles and intervals, in an attempt to mimic a flush of real birds on a game shoot. Scoring and boosting morale for the more amateur shooters was a remarkably easy job, especially on such a beautiful day in such stunning surroundings. The attitude of the competitors was wonderful – as a charity shoot, no-one cared too much about losing (though of course everyone wanted to win) and the day was a huge success with staff and guests alike wearing sunshine-and-daisy smiles throughout. However, I’ve somewhat missed the point – my moment of belonging.

Walking out of the ladies’ alone with cap in hand, soon to be on head, I passed a group of women with perfect hair-dos and elegant (but highly impractical) white aprons, one of whom had so generously wafted temptation under my nose earlier in the form of the pain-au-chocolat . As I stepped onto the terrace, she spotted my cap and whispered to me conspiratorially,

–       ‘I wonder, can you tell us, what exactly is a flurry?!’

She went on to describe how she and the women she was with had sat around committee meetings about this charity shoot, smiling and nodding every time someone mentioned ‘The Flurry’, without the blindest idea what it actually was. I smiled and explained – terribly professionally of course – and joy of joys, they actually understood what I’d said, including my tentative references to game shooting (my experiences of which number to exactly nil).

The shaky sense of ‘I might actually know enough to pretend I belong here’ was reinforced by a fortunately overheard exchange between one of the instructors and one of the women actually shooting on a stand. Gun in hand and appropriately kitted out in tweed skirt and Dubarry boots, she was asked whether she was using a 12 or 20 bore shotgun. She glanced down at the gun she;d been using all morning and replied,

–       ‘I don’t know, the one with the little holes’

demonstrating to me without the tiniest hint of a shadow of a doubt, that I am not the least informed person within the world of shooting.

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