Donald MacInnes: The real skill is in emulating those who came before

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The Independent Online

I often wonder which of our abilities are inherited from previous generations and which originate with us. I have never scaled my family tree, so can really only go by those skills I can remember in my parents and grandparents.

Both my mother and father were creative – my Dad played the bagpipes in the Strathclyde Police band who were, at the time, World Champions and my Mum was a pianist and sang in stage musicals. While I don't play any instrument as well as my parents, I was in bands throughout my teens and 20s and have written music for the odd TV show, so I suppose the lineage is evident (if a little diluted by my ham-fisted noodling).

Then again, while they both wrote stories and poetry, they never saw their names in print. Nor did their parents. So, does that negate the theory? Maybe not. My Grandpa, after whom I am named, was a prize-winning marksman and even made it into the fabled "King's 100" in 1949 at Bisley, the home of British shooting. This was a gathering of the finest shots in the Empire and the faded picture of him standing alongside his 99 fellow snipers hangs in our flat.

I can't imagine, as he stood there, he could envisage his grandson gazing at his face through the telescope of time over 60 years later, but I do. And his glow still colours my life. When I was 20, I was at a fairground in Glasgow and stopped at the shooting stall. I paid 50p, loaded my air rifle and took aim at a paper target 20yds away.

I went on to pepper the bullseye so much that the target pretty much fell apart. But when the man handed me the ruined square of paper, instead of feeling pleased, I recall just gazing at it blankly, not feeling I had achieved much – I had just gone along with the inevitable, I suppose, like a young kangaroo discovering his bounce.

Whether or not my Grandpa was himself just the next in line to inherit his skill, I don't know. But it was his illustrious past that made me stop at that stall, wondering how far my apple had fallen from the tree. Had I known nothing about him, I would probably have walked past and made for the dodgems. But I'm very glad I didn't.