The silence of the lands

It was probably today, but it might have been Friday. Either way it was a long time ago and Easter. I realised years ago that there was something wrong with my hearing. I’d get things wrong, not understand what people said they’d said, be accused of not listening when in fact I was listening as best I could. But the day like today, the day I’m thinking of at Easter all that time ago, it was the silence that was the loudest thing.

It wasn’t a religious experience, or maybe it was. Back in that Easter long ago I’d gone to my school with my friend Phil. We kept two Enterprise dinghies in winter storage under the parquet floor of the solid municipal 1930s assembly room in what had been the old Girls School before the co-ed revolution. The only reason Phil and I were there was to paint the boats for the new season. It took most of the day, a lot longer than we thought it would, to sand them down in a world when 17-year-olds didn’t have power sanders. But then, we didn’t have the right colour paint either, or not the colour we’d thought we were buying.

We spent all that time working on those boats and talking about the girls we knew and our plans, our huge teenage plans, although mostly those involved the desperate difficulty of finding a venue and then possibly less difficult, removing the clothing from those same girls rather than anything more long-term advantageous or profound. I remember that day a lot though, and I remember the silence we had as well, just working together on something we wanted to do, as well as the talk about the other thing we wanted to do. We got the boats painted, at least.

I had a brilliant Easter this year. Walking around Norwich on Friday, exploring Beccles on Saturday, then trying to find breakfast on Sunday, finding the Common Room in Framlingham closed, finding we didn’t want breakfast at The Crown, driving to Aldeburgh and fish and chips there, then realising I’d left my scarf in Framlingham and having to drive all the way back there, then a glass of wine at the Easton White Horse, then a junk shop where I bought a tyre iron and on to Seckford Hall, a secret place we found where for the price of a pot of tea you can pretend Enid Blyton will be along any minute now and you really do live in the style of Downton Abbey every day. It was good in the end, but a bit unsettling and 8 hours is a long time to spend going out for breakfast. It was gone six by the time we got back, the day the clocks sprang forward. Best beloved went to make a headstart on her accounts, I went shooting.

It was ok, considering the light was going and I was having to re-focus the scope to get a clear sight-picture every few shots by the last target, which was this one, a decent card apart from the one stupid flyer.

The range I shoot at is walking distance from where I live, so that’s what I did, walk there. I left the target rest in the boot of my car and just took my best rifle and a bag of ear defenders, ammunition, my sighting target, a pen and a bronze caliper to measure the size of the group of ten shots.

Then I walked back, gone seven in the evening, the few birds singing, the air still. But what I noticed most was the silence as I walked along the lane, the same sound I’d heard that other Easter, at the other end of the span of my life.

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A possible isn’t good enough

When I was a boy I used to shoot at the local rifle club every Thursday. I tried, but I wasn’t much good. I couldn’t see very well, the light was appallingly bad with a lot of glare, we had to lie on kapok mats impregnated with sweat every Thursday since the Boar War, which since you ask was a lot of Thursdays, thanks. I got eczema on my fingers from the lubricant on the bullets and the dust and fumes in that unventilated underground range made my chest feel funny most of the next day.

I shot around 94/100, usually. I was just about good enough to go to Bisley when I was fifteen, and I qualified as an adult marksman, so I can’t have been that bad, but shooting is always about being better.

This was last Friday’s target. Where I live, I’m lucky enough to have a range literally within walking distance, so after work, I put my best gun in its bag, grabbed my shooting bag with its ear defenders and sighting target and a screwdriver just in case, and walked down the hill, along the lane, and across the little bridge over the headwaters of the Deben to the old range. Maybe it started off as a quarry, I don’t know, but I do know that during the war, it was used by the tanks stationed at Glemham Hall to sight in their machine guns, trundling and squeaking and clanking their way down what’s still called Tank Road. It accounts for the sign that’s on the bridge now, saying “No Track Laying Vehicles. The local Home Guard used it for practising when they weren’t doing that.

The Hostile Coast

About a decade ago the local airfield opened the first and so far as I know the only museum to the Auxiliary Home Guard, the real suicide squad, whose job in case of invasion was to go to ground for two weeks and then slaughter as many Germans as they could, along with a select list of people who might be useful to an invading Nazi force. We’re not even ten miles from Shingle Street. This was a hostile coast.

Back in the now, though, or anyway, last Friday, I shot my first ever possible. It was with my lovely HW 77, not the 97 I wrote on the target, the first gun I ever bought new last September. First time out I shot a ten-shot group in 11mm, something I’ve never been able to do since. That’s why my possible 100 out of 100 wasn’t good enough.

As you can see from the picture, the hole at the top right was a snatched shot where I jerked the trigger. It cut the line between the nine and the ten, so it counts as a ten, but that’s not the problem—although obviously, it’s one of them. The big problem is the size of the group—twenty-two millimetres.

It’s not showing off. Ok, it’s a possible. Ok, it’s 100 out of 100. And yes, I was using a rest, thanks. It’s the size of the group. It’s double the spread of the first group I ever shot with this rifle. And I don’t know why. It’s almost as if it’s my shooting that’s at fault, and that can’t be right.

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