Living in the countryside inevitably brought us into contact with – my younger two boys in particular – guns. There are plenty of guns in use by country folk: clay pigeon shooting, shot guns (to get rid of vermin) and air rifles (for target practice), in particular. And it didn't take long for my younger two to pick up on this from their local school friends. Another (seemingly unrelated, but very much related in this case) countryside activity is bartering.
Bartering is very much alive and kicking in this ancient part of the country, and its link with guns was very much serendipitous as far as my young sons were concerned.
Once they heard about this new and exciting activity from their schoolmates, they continued to badger me for the chance to go out shooting themselves. I was reluctant at first, but the most unusual barter I ever made (well, one of them anyway – but that's another tale) was with a friend of mine who was a local carpenter. He busied himself mostly with repairing and refurbishing old country cottages and told me that he was having difficulty sourcing some old-fashioned, smaller sized internal doors. By coincidence I had just removed half a dozen of these from a part of the building I was having renovated myself. This led to us doing a deal of course: a direct barter of an air rifle for the doors. Well, now, of course, I had no choice but to take my boys out shooting. But that was not good enough for them. No sir! They didn't want to share a rifle – they wanted one each. It just happened that Robbie's 11th birthday was coming up that weekend (David was/is two years younger). And so, being the kind, caring (and responsible) father that I am, I bought Robbie a new rifle (and David became the proud owner of the old one).
But being a gun owner and 'going out shooting' are not to be taken lightly. And so we did go out shooting, but NEVER at live creatures of any sort. No, I took them into the woods and fields and taught them how to aim and shoot properly and accurately at inanimate objects (like old trees and fence posts), so no harm would come to any living creature – but it very nearly did one day! I shot Robbie!
The three of us were standing about 50 feet away from an old fence post. I took Robbie's rifle and I very carefully talked them through how to hold the gun, how to aim and how to fire (without jerking the gun upwards after you had pulled the trigger). I'm a very good shot, if I say so myself – but I wish I hadn't been that near-fateful day! How was I to know that the fence post was so old it was as hard as stone? The pellet hit the post ('good shot Dad') then bounced straight back and hit Robbie straight in the chest! Thank goodness it was a cold winter's day and he was wearing a thick jacket. (And thank goodness even more that it didn't hit him in the face - or the eye even!!) I still shudder to think about that memory from 20 years ago.