Spectator: She shoots, she scores

Lucy Baring has learnt to understand football, but shooting still baffles her.

As I now live in a household of boys, out-numbered three to one, I’m struck by how very different it is: quiet, slow, rather relaxing. Nobody talks much they’re too busy watching football or reading about it in the sports pages.

I’ve never been to a football match. It still rankles that, when one of my brothers was taken to his first match in 1972, I was sent to see Peter Pan with the promise that a boy would fly. But I could see the strings, felt somehow short-changed and have been fairly sour about the game ever since.

It turns out I’ve been wrong all these years and that football, however you view the ridiculous sums of money involved, is about honour, conduct, respect and statistics. Thus, when I ring my brother to ask about that first match, he replies: ‘West Ham v Liverpool, Bobby Moore was captain, Steve Heighway scored for Liverpool. 2–0.’

This total recall seems to be standard for a football fan. I’ve learnt that the way Adam Lal-lana left Southampton is not acceptable, but the way Ricky Lambert left is. I understand that it was difficult for Frank Lampard to score against Chelsea a few weeks ago. I wouldn’t call myself a fan, but I care a lot more than I used to.

I can’t pretend to have developed an interest in guns, however. Alf is following his older brother on the trajectory from nerf guns to BB warfare. His arsenal includes a gas-powered revolver that shoots a plastic pellet that can bruise you painfully. I know this because he and his brother sometimes shoot each other in the back, for fun, and show me the wounds.

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Any tea invitation is accompanied by ‘bring your gun’ and, after the last of these encounters —described as ‘epic’ on the way home the highlight seemed to have been being cornered in a shed, peppered with smoke bombs.

This, Anna and I agree, is not our idea of fun. I realise that shooting a 20-bore is a little different, but I was still surprised that, when Zam proposed a shooting lesson for her and Alfie, she said yes. I turned to her in the car on our way to the shooting school to ask why she wanted to do it. ‘I don’t,’ she replied. ‘I was being polite.’

We wondered, girl to girl, if shooting instructors might, like swimming and riding teachers—of whom we have admittedly limited experience—be terrifying and bossy.

We couldn’t have been more wrong, as the smiling man who greeted us went on to prove. ‘It’s all about having a go,’ he explained, gently repositioning Alfie’s feet. ‘Think of it like any sport: hand/eye co-ordination, a natural reaction, just as when someone throws you a ball and you instinctively catch it.’ Anna stared at him. ‘Genetically,’ she said, ‘that’s not how it works with us.’ ‘And,’ he replied, ‘you need to make sure your eyes work together.’ This was turning into Anna’s worst nightmare.

Alfie went first, full of confidence on account of handling pump-action BB shotguns in his bedroom on a regular basis. Anna then took the gun and smoked the clays straight out of the sky, including a left and right that had the instructor cheering. When she went on to shoot a clay pretending to be a rabbit (which had just defeated her father), her eyes took on the shining glint of a convert.

She’d like more lessons and she’d love to shoot a pheasant. She would not, however, want to attend a paintball party—which is where I’ve just dropped Alfie: ‘God, no. It might hurt.’ Quite. We both remember the time Will persuaded us to let him shoot us with his Christmas BB rifle. Even with cushions strapped on for protection, we still yelled in pain until he gave up in disgust.

I may be excited by the recent 8–0 victory of Southampton over Sunderland and Anna might love shooting, but there remain some things we’ll never understand.

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