Pointy things

With Bows On

All this talk of Katniss and Hawkeye and the Green Arrow (or “Arrow” as we’re apparently calling him now)… it’s made me nostalgic.

So much so that I went to the bow cupboard and pulled out my own kit for the first time in… well, ages. I do bang on about longbows, but I’m a recurve archer too – I learned on a recurve, and I still have one. 

It’s been a while since I shot – given that young children and archery fields aren’t the best mix – and it took me longer than it should have to remember which way up the bow limbs were supposed to go, which way up the sight went, which way up the string went, how the flipping bow-stringer works (one of the reasons I switched primarily to longbow was the simplicity of putting the bow up. Recurves are… more demanding. Don’t even start me on compounds: they’re the divas of the archery world, requiring winching and oiling and goodness only knows what. Also, they have training wheels on them. That’s not proper archery, is it?) but finally, after much swearing and head-scratching, here’s my recurve:

Being a medievalist through-and-through, my bows have all had names. It’s the done thing in medieval literature, so it was natural I applied it to my own arsenal. The bow in the pictures above is Mordred. With a draw weight of 32lbs, he’s heavier than my first bow: a lightweight recurve which only needed something like 25lbs of pull to bring her to full draw. She was a lady, delicate and dainty. She behaved.

Guinevere, spring 2006

With marvellous disregard for any Arthurian literature I’ve ever read, I nicknamed her Guinevere.

The heavier draw weight meant I could move up to longer targets – but that was when I started to fall in love with longbows.

Shooting longbow is a completely different experience to recurve. You don’t have any of the aids a modern bow uses (I stopped with a basic pin sight, and an arrow rest with a button that pushed the arrow into a better position, but you can put stabiliser bars, weights… all kinds of kit onto the limbs of a bow to improve your shooting) and it’s incredibly disorientating when you switch from having an arrow rest and a sight… to having to balance the arrow on the edge of your hand and sight by eye.

Longbow shooting is also fast: because you don’t have a sight, there’s nothing to adjust – you look down the shaft of the arrow, place it on a marker that you think will guide your aim… and you shoot.

Every tournament begins with a round of 6 arrows called “sighters” which don’t count towards scoring: they’re used to help calibrate sights, or in the case of longbows, to find a marker.

God help you if your perfect marker is a tree branch: you wouldn’t believe how much they move…

Longbow archers tend to be more sociable at a shoot: with no sights, and wooden arrows which are more likely to be affected by wind, they spend the majority of it picking arrows out of the ground. As their kit is quick to put up, they spend a lot of time hanging around, particularly when there are also compound archers (who take a lot longer to shoot) involves. It might be just my experience, but many of them are incredibly knowledgeable when it comes to the history of archery and the longbow in particular.

The longbow archers at my old club were also apocalyptically sweary: I think they took pride in channelling the spirit of Agincourt… as well they should be. Getting to shoot the longbow over in France, on part of the Agincourt battlefield, was pretty special, and something I won’t forget in a hurry.

And archery does seem to be having a bit of a moment: between Katniss and the launch of the CW’s new Green Arrow vehicle, Arrow – not to mention Hawkeye, hopefully there’ll be a whole new batch of baby archers stepping up to the line soon…

I hope so.


Generation Kill

I don’t watch an awful lot of television these days – with one or two honourable exceptions, I tend to wait for big shows to make it onto dvd and blast my way through an entire series in a couple of weekends. I put it down to having an incredibly short attention sp… what was I saying?

Anyway. My latest discovery is twofold.

Firstly, that somewhere along the line, I’ve become quite a fan of modern war films.

This is something of a surprise to me–because however much I waffle on about guns–or write about them–I’m very aware of the fact that this is in a fantasy context. If you dropped a gun in my lap, I’d probably back away…. extremely…. carefully. Because I’m not crazy. (Although yes, I have handled a few. And discharged them. Insert usual disclaimers about proper environment, qualified supervision etc etc etc). Real guns scare the living bejeesus out of me, as well they should. So. To get back to my point: wasn’t expecting to discover I actually enjoy war films.

This leads me on to the second part of my discovery: Generation Kill.

Based on the book by Rolling Stone writer Evan Wright, who was embedded with the 1st Reconnaissance Battalion of the US Marines in Iraq during the 2003 invasion, the series went out on HBO a few years ago (and before Alexander Skarsgard became better known for ripping hearts out instead of shooting people through them…)

It’s occasionally uncomfortable to watch: made all the more so when you remember that although it’s been filtered by two media, this is a real story with real events and–most importantly–real people. It doesn’t help that after a while, you find yourself increasingly remembering “Catch-22“…

On the other hand, it’s funny as hell: dark and snappy and with dialogue that’s pin-sharp (and apocalyptically sweary) and I absolutely love it.

Get some.

The Girls’ Guide to Surviving the Apocalypse

I mentioned briefly before that I’ve been recruited by the amazing Adele, who runs Un:Bound (when she’s not kicking seven bells out of her kickboxing training buddies or generally taking over the world…) as one of the Apocalypse Girls.

We do cheery things like discuss how to survive an undead apocalypse, how to fight zombies, where you should shelter when the Bomb drops, what weapon goes best with a clutch bag, fashion for Fall / nuclear winter…. all those things you always wanted to know but were afraid to ask.

Well, now you can ask us.

This week on the Guide, it’s movie week. So as well as talking about how to grow your own food (provided it’s not brains), we’re posting some of our favourite apocalypse movies.

I’ve just posted two of mine: The Core and The Day After Tomorrow, so if you head on over to the blog, you can join in and tell us what you think of these particular apocalypses. Apocalypsi. Apocalypso.


Terry Pratchett & the Sword Made of Stars

The winner of this week’s “Ohmigodthat’sincrediblycool” award is none other than Sir Terry Pratchett–who, on gaining his knighthood, went off and made a sword. Out of stars.

Alright, meteorites. And some other stuff.

But still… Made. A. Sword.

Isn’t it shiny?

The author, 62, who has sold about 65 million copies of his books, which include the Discworld series, said: “Most of my life I’ve been producing stuff which is intangible and so it’s amazing the achievement you feel when you have made something which is really real.”

I think my favourite part of this story is not that he’s thrown a few bits of meteorite in there (although I do love the suggestion he’s got hundreds of them cluttering up the house, rather like we have dust bunnies at Morgan Towers) but that he smelted the ore himself in a lo-fi kiln, the way it would have been done in the days it was believed swords had souls.

I don’t know about all the others, but I’m pretty certain that sword has soul to spare.