When you’re sixteen, you have expenses. You’re sick of your mother buying clothes, and you can’t wait ten months for your birthday to get that record you like. You need money. You need a job.
Desperate for cash, I got a job in a supermarket. Friday evenings and all day Saturday filling shelves and roaming the car parks of Reading for trolleys. I had a name tag. I kept getting trapped in the lift with mad old grannies. It was hell.
It was something of a relief when my brother found us both jobs with a local gun club, paying twice as much as the supermarket did. There would be no more mind-numbing boredom, sneezing your guts up stacking washing powder in front of disinterested and thankless customers. Instead, we would working for the “Country Set”. They had guns.
First thing of a Sunday morning, Paul would pick us and a couple of other teen idiots up in his Volvo, and drive us up to the Berkshire Downs. Our task was simple. We had to load the clay pigeons into the traps, and when the heavily armed Yuppie in the Barbour jacket and flat cap shouted “PULL!” we had to fire it off. Then they’d shoot at us.
We were supposedly in hides, behind an embankment and free from danger. But that was as nothing to some luntic with a gun who thought this was a good way to relax after a hard week in the City. They shot at anything and everything, except the clays, which were often collected up unscathed and reused.
A typical day for the proles at the gun club
A popular practical joke was firing off somebody’s packed lunch, which would end up fifty yards away, blown to pieces, lead and cheese sandwiches all over the shop. One of the lads took off one of his shoes to get a stone out of his sock. The next thing he knew, it was flying through the Berkshire countryside, perforated. It was like The Somme, only with marginally fewer Germans. Something had to be done.
It was at that time that our house was converted from oil-powered central heating to gas. We had a huge oil tank in the garden that was surplus to requirements. Paul took it off our hands, cut a big hole in the side, clean it out and bingo - a brand new bullet-proof hide.
First we had to get it there. It was a long, exhausting operation that involved taking down our garden fence and sliding the great big hunk of metal into a trailer, which was only *just* big enough. The Volvo was huge, yet it still struggled to pull the weight of the tank down the road.
We headed for the motorway, the quickest way to get to the Gun Club. The car moaned and groaned all the way, but Paul managed to get a decent whack out of it, something rather more than the 50mph limit you’re supposed to obey when you’ve got a trailer that size.
Heading down the hill towards Newbury, there was a sudden clunk and the car lurched forwards. Paul managed, somehow, not to panic and kept the vehicle under control. Which was more than can be said for the trailer. As Paul slowly braked, and the fishtailing car started going in a straight line again, we looked out of the window, open-mouthed, as the trailer overtook us on the inside, picking up speed as it lurched down the hill.
Other cars swerved out of the way as the two-wheeled horror roared past them, sparks showering everywhere as the tow bar scraped against the ground. At the bottom of the hill, as the road swerved away to the right, the trailer and our precious oil tank decided to go straight on, the towbar crashing into the kerbstone, sending the whole works spinning arse-over-tit into the undergrowth. And as if governed by the rules of cliche, one wheel emerged from the crumpled ruin.
“Well”, said Paul, ever the master of the understatement, “That’s something you don’t see everyday.”
The next week, we went back for the trailer and the oil tank, which amazingly, was still in one piece. We arrived at the Gun Club to the ironic cheers and a twenty-gun salute from the Yuppies. A bit of sharp work with a blow torch got the front off the tank, and soon it was in place as a luxury hide for the cannon-fodder - us.
It was brilliant. It had chairs and everything. There was even an intercom system, so they could shout “PULL!” without one of us risking death by stick our heads over the stop to say “Pardon?”. And the best bit of all was that the gun-crazy loons could shoot at us all they liked. We were finally bullet-proof.
But some things never change. Giles decided he was getting a bit hot, so he took his coat off. Before he knew it, it had been bundled up and fired out straight into the firing line. It glided out into the cool Berkshire morning like a big, gangly bird, struggling to keep itself in the air. A dozen twelve bore shotguns trained their muzzles on it and blew it to pieces.
Giles could take it no more. He’d already seen his lovingly prepared lunch receive a lead garnish and he stormed out of the hide to face his tormentors.
“You fucking, fucking, fucking bastards! That coat cost me a fucking fortune!”
He was red with rage.
There was an audible click as a gun was cocked, and distant voices.
“No Jeremy, you’re not allowed to shoot the paid help. It’s not the done thing.”
“Oh go on old chap, did you hear what he called me? He called me a fucking bastard.”
“Now you come to mention it...”
There was a tense stand-off. It was a showdown at high noon, only in green wellies. Giles dived for the cover of the hide as two barrels of red-hot lead shot clanged against the side of the oil tank.
We cowered in terror. This was war.
“You’re all bastaaaards!”
There’s no arguing with a BMW-driving Yuppie with a gun. We went on strike for danger money.
We made a vow. The first rule of Gun Club is not to talk about Gun Club. Whoops.