Mum blames my dad. He was in the army and had grown up with a fascination for things that go bang. He allowed me an air rifle from around the age of 5 or 6, I don't remember a time when I didn't have one.
I played with various break barrel air rifles in the garden until I left home and with them I taught myself how to shoot. Black powder muskets also had a great influence but one never expected accuracy from those smoothbore beauties, unless you are my dad, he and his Brown Bess rarely missed. Unlike now, I wouldn't have been able to tell you what I was doing in any depth as to how I was able to hit the mark I wanted with the rifle in my hands.
Repetition is key, doing things over and over again until you achieve the result you desire is how I learnt. Investigate, explore, play. Enjoying what you are doing enables you to continue doing it without becoming bored. It's not immediately apparent just how complicated shooting a rifle accurately is, however, over the last fourteen years I have perfected a coaching method, used by hundreds of beginners, that I know works.
I grew up the son of a boarding house master in the grounds of a pacifist school. Life's sense of humour has always tickled me. My sister was offered shooting just as much as I was but her bent was collecting and cleaning skulls of dead animals. She built an incredible collection. To me, the bizarre is normal, through divine design not choice, has my world, with me at its centre, been different, other, me.
I didn't grow up on an estate with friends. A doctors negligence meant I lost the sight of my right eye when I was 12 months old which discounted football as a favoured sport. Any sport requiring me to judge distance took a while for me to get the hang of. I was always a bit crap at those team games. I was a chubby kid too and my mum Indian. If other kids wanted to rip a fat, half blind, half cast kid to pieces it wasn't difficult. When I think on the sports I enjoy, swimming, cycling, shooting, I think it's fair to say I like my isolation.
I don't consider any of those parts of me a weakness. They are what make me and I'm proud to be different. I mention them because I was aware of it when I was very young and I wouldn't want it any other way. I like a challenge, although I like being the challenge more.
One day dad taught my sister and I how to shoot. I don't remember it although I do remember using our very first air rifle with dad in charge, vaguely. Dad was content to let me shoot alone when I was a bit older. To be honest, now I'm a dad I can't wait till my boys can entertain themselves for hours outside too. For me firearms safety just seems natural common sense, those basic survival rules surrounding potentially lethal equipment boil down to one phrase for me, don't be a dick. I don't think dad explained it in exactly such terms but I think he'd agree and everything he taught me then is still relevant today.
Dad made a portable backstop which allowed me to set up a range inside and out. My little .177 Diana wasn't powerful so a few metres was all I'd need. As I got bigger and I progressed onto bigger rifles so I would shoot mostly outside. I would grab a rug to lie on and not enjoy the scratch and tickle of the lawn against uncovered shins. Worse still were spiders or ants that found their way onto you. But then there was the smell of the soil and the wind in the trees. The delicately soft petals of daisys and dandelions, the lush green of the many garden weeds. The sun watching me all day long as I intimately watched the earth beneath me. The lawn's contours lay under me as my knees and elbows became red and sore as I emptied another tin of pellets, the essence of oil close to my nose. My most vivid memories of that garden are from ground level. The rose bushes hid me from prying eyes and the low walls kept any stray shots contained. Trees seemed even taller and curvature of the ground even greater. I love a different perspective, it broadens your perception.
I'm sure dad left me to it when he knew I was safe to be alone. What a privilege that was. When you look at health and safety today and the restrictions on activities kids can do I'm grateful my childhood was when it was. I was given a responsibility and, for the best part, I didn't abuse it. I valued what I had. It could be taken away from me. My rifle was a means to another frame of mind whether I realised it or not back then. I kept coming back to it because I became to feel as one with a rifle.