Archery has one great thing going for it…it’s an open sport, where beginners can often mix with Olympic level archers at competitions. It also attracts a mix of characters with very different backgrounds. So sit back and let me introduce you to what we might call polar opposites…the hillbilly and the moderately wealthy urbanite……..
The hillbilly screeches to a stop in a cloud of dust. Chained to the back of his flatbed truck is a World War Two vintage ammunition box. That’s his tackle box, by the way. The rolled-up and suspiciously stained tarpaulin will become his bivouac for the day. The blackened pots and pans…well, you know what they’re going to be used for, just not what’s going to go in them come the lunch break.
The bivouac pitched, the hillbilly unlocks his ammunition box. He lifts out the riser – actually, it’s a small girder hammered into shape in his backyard forge. The bow limbs look interesting – a novel use for former railway sleepers, in this case. He’s still using the chippings from the carving of the bow limbs for his camp fires. The weight in hand is capable of snapping off your arm at the shoulder if you made the life-threatening error of trying to lift the assembled bow. He’d tested the draw weight by using a small crane to lift the string – or rather, steel cord – with the bow anchored to the ground by three-foot long metal pins. It is, to use British understatement, a rather mean weapon.
Then there are the arrows. In the rack they look menacing – dull black steel tubing, black fletchings, blood red nocks, and gleaming steel points. In the bow they look positively psychopathic – a bit like their owner, in fact.
In passing, we should mention his quiver – the racoon that provided the skin and fur for it thankfully never knew what hit it when it made the ultimate sacrifice. What also appears to be a racoon on the hillbilly’s head is his own hair, providing some cover to the sagittal crest, but not the brow ridge. Yes, those remnant Neanderthal genes we Homo sapiens are supposed to possess are definitely expressing themselves in this boy.
Then there’s the subject of the finger tab. The finger tab is for pussies. Get used to it. And a couple of other things for his target colleagues to ponder. Never – never – question one of the hillbilly’s arrows in the target, because it is a fundamental error, possibly terminal. See the knife hanging from his quiver belt? It makes Crocodile Dundee’s look like a tooth pick. Held against your throat, it makes your bowels go all runny. But if you do make the suicidal decision to query one of his arrows, do not look for a tournament judge to adjudicate. These are careful, introspective men and women, and they will be nowhere to be found. Actually, they will all be behind the women’s targets looking for lost arrows with the focus and concentration of mediaeval scribes, inspecting every blade of grass while your vision reduces through pink, to red, to black as the hillbilly’s huge fist closes around your throat.
At the main break do not think about making small talk with the hillbilly. He will not respond, and you won’t actually see him for a time because, bow in hand, he will be in some local woods killing lunch before cooking it over those wood chippings I mentioned earlier.
Minutes after our hillbilly’s arrival, the moderately wealthy urbanite whispers into view in his Lexus hybrid – white, of course. He parks a few vehicles away from our Neanderthal cousin, and the door opens to the fading notes of Sting’s An Englishman in New York from the in-car entertainment system.
Our moderately wealthy urbanite – let’s call him Urb, for short – is a bit of a legal alien, in that he is completely dressed for golf, not archery. Ralph Lauren v-neck, Ian Poulter slacks, Stubert Darren Clarke golf shoes – all white, all custom-made, almost as white as his teeth. And all in an invisible cloud of Michel Germain aftershave.
He is slumming it for the day among the archers because his golf game isn’t going too well, and he has need of a different audience. Why archery? Well, in his world of high-level business meetings – something vaguely to do with promotions and marketing in the music industry – dropping archery into the conversation gives him that useful edge of English eccentricity. Let’s face it, everyone plays golf. But you don’t often meet an archer – not in his environment. It appeals to the anthropologist in him, mixing with this tribe of archers. Golf has been homogenised to the nth degree – no one plays with hickory clubs and gutties these days in a modern golf tournament. But at any archery tournament you can easily spot a longbow archer, usually wearing dark green and a Robin Hood hat with a feather. Unlike the recurve archers like him, they were usually relaxed and smiling. Urb – when his mood was down – took a private delight in treading on a longbow archer’s point of aim mark on the way to the targets.
Archery was really a sophisticated form of darts in Urb’s mind. He’d actually love to play darts but mixing with the beer bellies, the blondes and the bling in some vast drinking hall is a stretch too far for this man.
So today it is archery. Tooled leather bow box, top of the range Hoyt and the latest Easton carbon arrows. All absolutely pristine. He looks good, no doubt about it. He also looks the business on the shooting line, bending to look through his scope with practised ease, using a good technique, exuding studied indifference. His scoring is crap, of course, but then, being a subtle communicator, he lets it be known that a last-minute business trip, jet lag, a new technique he’s trying out with his coach – well, you had to have a dip before finding your form again. He drops this casually into the conversation. The bottom line is, he is a bullshitter. But this is bullshit filtered through a silver-coated sieve.
He even attracts a small following of the more impressionable dumbos shooting that day, all basking in the reflection from his whites (and his teeth.) Do you need to check the shooting rules? His smart phone appears as if by magic in his hand, his fingers already working the appropriate app. And of course the scoring app is in constant use through the tournament. Call a judge to adjudicate on a line-cutter? Urb could just as quickly call in his lawyer via his legal app.
His acolytes also gladly take offerings from his Harrods hamper, which opens out into a mini-banquet at the lunch break. Quails eggs, anyone? His tent – or rather, his temporary abode – almost demands its own postcode and satnav reference. It is a cold day, so he has a portable, top of the range heater – relying on batteries today but also a small and effective wind turbine when the breeze is up.
So, Urb is the centre of attention, in contrast to the spatial and audible gulf surrounding our hillbilly.
At the tournament’s end, the hillbilly screeches off, spitting stones from his rear wheels. Some of the stones create a rather noticeable tattoo of scratch marks on the rear of the Lexus hybrid as the flatbed truck roars past. A microsecond after the last stone pings off the white paintwork, Urb’s smart phone appears in his hand, his fingers already working the lawyer app.