When I was a young girl I grew up in Yorkshire, England this (in the 80s) was an old fashioned and traditional farmers type place where owning a rifle and playing a lot of cricket was the norm and as a young rapscallion tyke I loved both.
I didn’t link the fact that these rifles were dangerous or even used to kill when I was a young child believe it or not, I thought they were purely for shooting practise targets! I thought they were for tin cans and target sport only and the occasional big old dusty smelling bloke in a tweed jackets and flatcap would use them to cull foxes (which broke my heart) but other than that, perhaps an occasional animal that had a long and painful disease the old farmers would use it to put them out of their misery.
I love the buzz and adrenaline you feel as you pull the trigger
So my dad taught me to use the rifle, at a very young age. And for some reason I was shit hot at at it. I love the buzz and adrenaline you feel as you pull the trigger and it hits its target – you feel beyond powerful. For me the only thing close to this feeling of adrenaline burst would be hardcore sex or a roller-coaster but still it’s not really the same thing.
A highly honed and intense skill
I have terrible hearing problems since I had an illness which affected my hearing at 5 years old so perhaps this is why my eyesight over compensated and I have brilliant long distance vision – for me shooting a rifle is a highly honed and intense skill, the lining up of the cross-hair, the slow, intense feeling of getting it right before you pull so hard and tensely on the trigger, the impact you brace for that almost took out my tiny kid’s shoulder – the anticipation equals nothing else. I also like fishing a lot which is a similar sport in that you have to wait a long time setting up etc and then a short burst of adrenaline and energy and it’s all over. OK. Am kind of seeing the link to it being a bit like sex now…. 😛
So anyway, as a kid as I said I didn’t realise rifle = death, to me you only used it to hit some tin cans but mainly a target and I loved it. When all the other kids in school were asked what they wanted to be when they grow up in class, fireman, vet, etc I always answered sniper. That was until my teacher explained I would actually have to KILL someone to do that job (I thought you just shot a baddie in the ankle to maim them)… yeah. After that enlightening and rather shocking conversation with my teacher, I didn’t want to be a sniper anymore.
Never allowed me to feel that just because I was a girl I could not do stereotypical male things
Luckily for me my dad never allowed me to feel that just because I was a girl I could not do stereotypical male things, like pastimes, sports, jobs, etc etc (everybody else did) but not him. So when I learnt to shoot and then picked it up very fast and actually became better than him at the age of 8 years old I’m not sure if he was perturbed, pissed off or proud! Haha!
My parents bought an old windmill in Yorkshire
My parents bought an old windmill in Yorkshire when I was a tot and that was where I grew up before moving to Leeds later. They wanted to live the ‘Good Life’ so we had a kind of garden / small-holding which they spent all their time doing up and growing stuff and built everything by hand and with not much money. So suffice to say they were very proud of it. One of the things they were most proud of was the large pond they had dug by hand. My dad loved his fish in this pond but every year they would be killed and eaten by some pesky bastard birds (as he would put it).
So one year after trying every other deterrent known to man he finally had enough and got so angry he decided to shoot some of the blighter’s down with his rifle, hoping this would deter them and their greedy flock from ever coming back.
What he didn’t count on was the fact that birds are pretty fucking amazing, clever and fast. After weeks of trying to shoot just one, he got zilch.
I loaded the gun and aimed at the first bird
Every night he would come in for dinner grumbling about it. One Saturday he asked me to join him and being the brave little blighter I was and not wanting to show any signs of weakness (I always had to keep up with the boys, my brothers and all guys for that matter, for my ego alone, even at 8)! I said yes. I loaded the gun and aimed at the first bird that came over the pond hoping to score some fish dinner and fired. I got it. First time.
Had I killed it? Was it dead?!
Watching a big beautiful black crow fall to the ground in front of me from an over-hanging tree was one of the longest moments in my life. It would have been seconds, it felt like hours. It happened in slow motion, I went white – had I killed it??!! Was it dead??!! I ran over grief-stricken and panicked with mania and threw myself to the ground where it was and picked it up, luckily (thank fuck) I had only hit it’s bum and by pure luck my shot had taken its tail off but not actually gone into its body or legs, I literally had just blown its beautiful black tail off. It was fine, well fit enough to fly off at any rate.
I vowed then and there never ever to shoot at a living thing again
I was still shaken and heart-broken though, I vowed then and there to never ever shoot at a living thing again. It crushed me. My dad was annoyed, so annoyed, haha (I will never forget it), that I had managed to hit a bird on my first go and I was just a little scruffy, wisp of a girl.
No girls have ever entered in the history of the competition
Years later when I was 12 we went to a holiday camp in Yorkshire (as Yorkshire people are tight our family ‘holidays’ were always hiking, camping and youth hostelling in Yorkshire itself – no expense spared) and there was a rifle competition going on there between 50 lads all around the 15 – 16 age. I was so excited, I ran over, “can I enter?! can I enter”?! I asked the leaders. “What? You’re a girl! No girls are allowed to enter. No girls have ever entered in the history of the competition”!
I looked at these idiotic men perplexed and before giving up tried to reason with them with their own argument and idiocy, they tried to swipe me away but I said, “I’m a 12 year old girl, if no girl has ever entered before then what difference does it make if I do? I mean what difference will it make to the competition at all if a 12 year old girl enters? I’m 12 and a girl, so the boys won’t have any competition they won’t care”?
Girls can’t shoot! They all shouted at me
I nagged and nagged with this argument until they shrugged and gave up. I was allowed to enter!!
I was a little bit intimidated by the other boys who not only were older than me by some years but also towered above me as I was always and still am very petite for my age. As soon as several of them found out I was entering of course I got the usual barrage of abuse and piss taking.
“Girls can’t shoot”!! They all shouted at me. I got this shouted at me from afar and even some brave idiots came up to my face to say it to me directly as opposed to shouting it from afar like wimps.
But I had fun and shot at the target and that was all I cared about.
When the shooting was over we all sat on a muddy field, grass stains seeping into our jeans as me and 50 other lads sat patiently waiting for the winners to be announced. This part of the competition I wasn’t bothered about at all, in fact I tried to get out of it but my dad made me sit and see the results as he always believed you had to see things through till the end, sigh, boring!
The main reason I hated waiting to hear results from competitions (in any capacity) was because I never ever in a million years believe I am worthy of winning any, so unless my mates are there and they have a chance of winning something I will and have always avoided these boring and what seem to me like pointless time wasting exercises.
I looked up and saw everybody looking at me
I had tried to leg it a few times till eventually my dad forced me to stay seated for the results so I was off in my own little world, day-dreaming, looking into the distance thinking of playing with my friends and the frogs when I got home. I was trying to kill the boredom as results of a rifle competition between 50 boys that you don’t know, in a part of Yorkshire you’ve never been to before and never gone back since, was really not entertaining.
Because I was so away with the fairies when it got to the end of the results, when they were announcing the the final result of the winner of the whole competition – of course I wasn’t listening at all.
I staggered up to the podium
In the far distance of my mind I could hear, “Gemma Speht… Gemma Speht… can anybody see the young girl Gemma”?! I looked up and saw EVERYBODY looking at me… and a huge cheer erupted. I stood up in a daze not sure what was going on, no, wait.. you can’t be serious?! I won??!! I won the whole flipping thing??!
Not even just the top 10 – I WON ?? I staggered up to the podium completely in a daze with mud all over me looking a mess as usual and people cheered and chuckled. A load of old disgruntled blokes and some very happy smiling well to-do ladies shook my hand and I walked towards the announcement guy and he handed me a shield – I’d won the whole bloody thing.
I turned on the podium and looked out at the sea of faces and something took over me, like an anger and defiance and I shouted into the microphone with the shield in one hand and my hand on my hip and I swung my hip and said in an annoying mocking voice of the boys earlier – “SO GIRL’S CAN’T SHOOT EH??!!”
Everybody erupted with laughter at my audacity and I could see my parents clapping with glee and in that moment I never felt so fucking great in my life about defeating people’s preconceptions about girl’s and sexism. I literally skipped off that podium with my fist in the air and then casually sauntered past all those boys to my family with the biggest ‘fuck you’ grin on my face ever.