In which we somehow manage to avoid shooting each other full of holes

In Retreat, the next suburb down the line from where Joan lives in Plumstead, there’s a sports club. We’d passed it before and noticed that it advertised beginners’ archery sessions every Saturday. Sheryl and I both love archery. We’re not exactly beginners, having shot a few times before, but we’re close enough that I wasn’t going to argue the distinction. We had tried to go the week before, and had got there half an hour early, only to find out that we were too late and all the spaces were full for that week. This time we made sure to get there an hour early to get our spots.

It was a fifteen-minute minibus-taxi ride down the Main Road to Retreat. I’ll spare my loyal readers another rant about how we were told that the minibus taxis are far too dangerous and how white people shouldn’t ride them - you can take it as read that they’re perfectly fine (with a few caveats). See my previous rants on the subject of buses and trains if you need a refresher.

The archery club is amazingly well-equipped. I was expecting some ancient one-piece fibreglass bows and bent arrows with torn fletching, but the bows were new and the arrows were in good condition. The club’s dues must be high, because the fee for non-members for coaching and equipment rental was a measly R50 each (about CAD$6.25). I can’t see how they could have such nice equipment charging such a pittance.

The old man who was handing out the equipment was a bit strange. I don’t think he saw very well, and I think he thought I was female. He tried two or three different arm-guards and was perplexed each time when they were too small to fit around my arm, and he issued me with a bow with an 18-pound draw. I can and have shot with a 50-pound draw, and I could have chosen to see an 18-pound bow as an insult, but I wasn’t going to worry about it. The buttes were only 12 meters away in any case, so 18, 50 or 500, it hardly mattered - the arrow was going to get to the target. I just rolled my eyes and took my girly bow away, putting the arm-guard discreetly in my pocket - the old guy never did give me one that was big enough.

The coach, I’m afraid to say, was one of the most annoying people I’ve ever met in my life. Not actively offensive or irritating, just awkward, weird and socially inept. He spoke in a constant flustered mumble and we were never quite sure if he was talking to us or talking to himself. His approach was fine, though. He gave us the initial “don’t fool around” lecture and described the mechanics and the procedure, then went through the six of us individually to work with our stance and position. When he got to me, though, his annoying nature came to the fore. He fluttered around me while I held the shooting stance, jerking his hands here and there trying to make corrections but never actually touching anything or finishing a sentence. He couldn’t quite figure out my face, he said. Shooting position has the fingers holding the string of the drawn bow just under the chin, while the string itself just grazes the cheek. Your face is the wrong shape for archery, you don’t have the classical archer’s face, he said. He just couldn’t figure out how I ought to position my hands and the string. He seemed really quite confused by it all and I got the feeling that the challenge was all too much for him and he was ready to write me off as a hopeless case before I even shot an arrow. I was doing a slow burn the whole time. My face is the wrong shape? I was about to rearrange his for him. Sheryl, too, was ready to kill him for an entirely different set of reasons. But I kept telling myself that I was paying for the coaching and should shut up and learn from him, even if it had been cheap.

It took him 45 minutes of the two-hour session to finally shut up and let us shoot some arrows. By that time we were ready to shoot him, naturally, but we controlled ourselves. It was us, an Australian guy and his Capetonian friend who was only there to show willing, and a married couple. She was nice and friendly, he was pompous and opinionated and said he’d prefer to be shooting his assault rifle. She told him something like not in front of the foreigners, dear and in a brief lapse of tact I said that it was okay, I’d learned to ignore the South African obsession with firearms.

We shot pretty well, I think. I’m very rusty, it’s been a lot of years since I shot a bow, and even longer for Sheryl. And it was incredibly windy that day, in true Cape Town style. But we shot for an hour and a half, getting steadily better each round. My best round was 26 points of a possible 30 (three arrows, ten points for each bulls-eye). We both had a lot of fun and we’re going to go again next week, which will be even better because we get to skip the coaching and start shooting right away.


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Chris Liberty - Dispatches from a Gentleman Adventurer
Being the internal dialog of a vagabond who chased his own tail across five continents for 4 years and 2 days from May 2008 to May 2012, in search of something that never really became clear.
This travelogue comprises 16,426 photographs and 402,515 words in 307 dispatches written from 335 places in 52 countries on 6 continents around the world.
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