A Shot in the Dark

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

In my current hobbled state, my choice of events to have a go at in the near future has become rather limited (to shooting and archery). Looking down the list of shooting events I still have to complete, I remembered a snippet of information I gleaned from the Oxford University Pistol Club (who only shoot air pistols), namely that two of the events are illegal to perform in this country.

As a direct result of the tragedy in Dunblane in 1996, a law was passed the following year making it illegal in the UK to buy or own a handgun. One consequence of the passing of that law was that British Olympic handgun shooting hopefuls had to find somewhere else to train. At the moment, many of the top shooters practice in Zurich.

I recently read this article by the Guardian’s Richard Williams, which suggests that Britain’s shooters should "stop whinging" about the pistol ban. His argument that a pistol is "fashioned for swift use at close quarters and for ease of concealment: for use, in fact, against another human being" is sound enough, but his suggestion for a solution to the problem of the handgun ban for competitive shooters is less so:

"there is nothing, it seems to me, to prevent the pistol-shooters from transferring their attention and their skills to long-barrelled weapons, thus satisfying the requirements of a perfectly sensible law while indulging their own enjoyment of firing bullets at targets."

Perhaps he would see the flaw in his logic if tomorrow the government introduced a law banning the writing of poorly thought-out columns in national newspapers and suggested he transfer his attention to writing novels in order to indulge his enjoyment of typing words on a keyboard.

Despite this jarring simplification, he raises an interesting point in the article. When the Commonwealth Games were held in Manchester, the shooting events took place (albeit under tight security), and when the games come to London, they will do so again.

I’m no expert on how guns work, but I have a basic understanding of the concept – there are two essential components, the gun and the bullet, which, when combined, turn two otherwise relatively harmless pieces of metal into a deadly weapon.

It’s a suggestion I’ve often heard from a friend who shot at school, and I’m rehashing it in its simplest form, but surely if you keep one lot of harmless metal in one location and the other lot of harmless metal in another location, and then ensure that the only time they ever come together is in the strictly controlled environment of a firing range, the problem would be solved. The shooters could practice their shooting without having to go to Switzerland, and the rest of us could sleep at night knowing that we hadn’t left the door open for another Thomas Hamilton to walk through.

I don’t have the time to wait for a change in the law though, so, when I head to Dubai next week with work, I may see if I can get myself over to the Jebel Ali shooting range and have a go at the 25m rapid fire pistol event. There’s a chance they may be able to help me get the skeet shooting out of the way too. I’ll keep you posted.

Knee update – the knee injury is improving and the swelling has pretty much gone down; my limp is now more man-with-stone-in-shoe than Gestapo officer. I have an appointment with the MRI department on Friday at lunchtime. Hopefully then I will learn the true extent of the damage and whether or not I’ll need to have surgery to fix it.

Limping into the New Year

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Once again I’ve left it so long that this post should begin with a litany of apologies, excuses and resolutions to do better in future. Once again, that would be boring to write and more boring still to read, so I’ll save us all the trouble and skip to the latest update from the world of pseudo-Olympic foolishness.

Last weekend saw the publication of an article in the Oxford Times for which I did the interviews back in November while my attention was focused on telling the difference between a foil and a sabre. In all honesty, I’d forgotten to buy the newspaper at any point before Christmas and assumed the article had been published and, as usual, ignored.

This time though, as I was halfway out the front door on my way to the pub on a Friday evening, I got a call from Central News – ITV’s regional news programme. They had seen the article in the paper and wanted an interview the following morning that would feature on the lunchtime bulletin. Much to the detriment of my Friday night, I agreed to meet them (or just ‘him’ as it turned out) at the Iffley Road track at 10AM the next day.

It was cold, and wet, and despite my relative abstinence the night before my head hurt. I ran round the track a couple of times, and up and down the home straight a couple of times, and beside the camera a couple of times, and fairly quickly realised that I’m almost as out of shape as I thought I was.

Random-running-footage secured, we did a quick interview before I scurried off into the murky morning in search of a cup of tea, a copy of the previous day’s Oxford Times, and a video recorder at Jamie and Kate’s house.

The story in the newspaper was the usual cobbling together of words I may at some point have used. Much like hearing a recording of your own voice, seeing your words reported in print is only ever disappointing and slightly confusing. You’re sure they sounded better when you said them.

In a similar vein, my debut on ITV as an “And finally…” story was equally cringe worthy. All the well-structured, concise and important things I had to say went out the window the moment the camera was pointed at me and I mumbled something about the challenge being… challenging.

One thing of interest at the time, and even more so since, that I noticed about the TV pictures was the way I was running. Fortunately, the TV really does add pounds, so my Lycra running tights didn’t look quite as ridiculous on screen as they do in the mirror at home, but my running style did make me wonder if maybe I was carrying an injury I wasn’t aware of. I seemed to be labouring a bit on my right side.

Sure enough, having swum a few times at the start of last week and noticed a slight weakness in my right knee, it finally gave way on Sunday night. The knee clicked as I bent it, as it often does, but this time it also hurt, and when I tried to stand up again, I couldn’t.

To cut what has the potential to be a very long story a lot shorter, it would appear on first inspection by a knee surgeon that my medial meniscus (cartilage on the inside of my knee joint) may have torn. It’s possible I did the bulk of this damage months ago when I crashed my bike, and that since then my cartilage has been waiting like some biological time-bomb to explode at the least glamorous moment it could find.

When I fell off my bike, I did so during a three-minute cycle to the shops mere days after surviving 40km of competitive triathlon cycling without so much as a wobble. This time, my knee made it through the stresses and strains of some heavy-duty lunging while I fenced in November, only to snap like a dry twig when I knelt on the floor to remove the modem plug from its socket.

Under normal circumstances, I’d be clamouring for them to get on with repairing or removing the cartilage as soon as possible so I could get back to training for what I hope will be a summer jam-packed with Olympic endeavour. However, the mitigating factor of a long-planned trip to Florida in three weeks time to play golf has me sitting on the sofa with my leg elevated and iced in the hope that somehow it will get strong enough in the interim to allow me to still go.

The surgeon assures me it should be fine if I rest it between now and then. Once I’ve played golf and come home, he will then either repair or remove the cartilage. That’s all very encouraging, but I’m not sure he appreciates quite how violent my golf swing can be.

For the moment though, I’m going for that option, even if it does mean walking around like Herr Flick for the next few days.