Isn’t it strange how some events can haunt you for the rest of your life? I have three such incidents that I think about every week.
The first involved a ‘real’ bow and arrow. A friend let me fire his new birthday present when I was about ten years of age. I shot it straight up in the air. There were five or six of my young brothers and neighbours standing in a circle around me and we all watched the arrow with its deadly brass tip reach its zenith, then turn and come back to us.
I felt, more than saw the two-foot long arrow flash inches before my face and it stuck in the ground between my feet. If there had been a breeze or anyone had moved, it is likely that one of us would have died that day. Our little band quickly broke up and none of us ever mentioned it again. The thought of that shot still sends shudders through me.
The second, was when I was about fourteen. I received a Raleigh racing bike with five speeds and drop handlebars for my birthday. I raced against myself in all my free time and even started riding the bike on the main roads. However, one afternoon, while riding down a quiet, narrow street on my way to the park, I turned right towards the middle of the road (I’m British) without looking over my shoulder.
A big, black car flew screaming past me. Its left wing mirror brushed my right hand sending me into a parked car, which kept me upright, and its right wing mirror hit a series of parked cars on the right-hand side of the road, causing it to shatter into debris. The driver didn’t even stop. The accident was my fault, but he had been speeding in a built-up area.
The very next day, I had wing mirrors fitted – not very aerodynamic, but a lot safer.
The third event concerned an air pistol. I had always wanted one, so for the Christmas after my sixteenth birthday, my parents gave me a Webley Senior Mark I .22 and a tin of five hundred pellets. I lifted my bedroom window up despite the cold and the deep snowdrift and looked for a target. Everything in our back garden was under snow except the cherry tree at the bottom about seventy-five yards away and sitting on a branch singing was a blackbird. It was unobscurred by leaves, which had already fallen, but it looked the size of a match-head.
I placed my first pellet in the barrel, cocked it, aimed and fired. I saw the bird fall, but I didn’t know whether I had hit it or it had spotted some food and fluttered down to feed. I raced out to check.
There in the snow surrounded by an ever-growing patch of red was the blackbird. It was looking up at me and blinking, probably wondering what had just happened to it. I didn’t know what to do, so I heaped snow on top of it and hoped that it would soon freeze or bleed to death, but I was no longer proud of my first ever shot, however remarkable it had been.
I am now sixty-two, still have the pistol, but I have never killed anything with it since except garden slugs and snails. In fact, the sight of that bleeding blackbird affected me even more deeply than that. About ten years ago, my wife asked me to go and choose four teak trees from her uncle’s woods to use as pillars for a grass-roofed kitchen in the garden, but I couldn’t condemn any of the trees to death. She had to do it herself.
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Podcast: The Blackbird