Two gentlemen got on the train to London with me yesterday. There was nothing suspicious in their outward behaviour but my finely tuned "war on terror" antennae were bristling. Both men's outfits didn't really "fit" with the rest of the trainful of bored-looking commuters and gaggles of women off for a final Primark splurge before the credit crunch really bites.
The men were both bedecked in tweed, from their floppy caps to the plus fours that gave them a touch of Toad of Toad Hall. Both carried long, suspicious-looking, battered leather cases with them that they placed gingerly in the racks above them. They were, of course, a couple of Cotswold "gents" off for a day's shooting.
It was weird, though – you'd think that people would come from London to the Cotswolds for shooting. It turns out that there are a plethora of uber-posh shooting venues dotted around the outskirts of London where, for a tidy sum, you can blast away to your heart's delight in the absolute lap of luxury. It is, however, quite extraordinary that in these paranoid times two men would be allowed to just wander around the place with shotguns. Somehow, thankfully, this particular pastime has so far escaped the clutches of the "terror" police. I think that the law for handguns is a lot tighter but, if you fancy a spree with a shotgun, then this is clearly still very much on the cards.
When I first moved down to the Cotswolds I was thrilled to discover my local gun shop and I literally became a little Trigger Happy. I bought air rifles, air pistols and, most fun of all, paintball guns. For the first year or so here I'd get friends down from London and we'd go traipsing through deep woods in order to find somewhere to blast away at each other with our little balls of paint. Sadly it became a little difficult after a while, because the local gamekeepers were all given a "heads-up" on my illicit activities and there was a rumour that a "shoot on sight" order had been given out. This put the kybosh on my activities and I had to turn to official paintball venues for my fix. I don't really enjoy the more organised aspects of paintballing. Invariably what happens is that you turn up to have a go with some of your mates and you are put up against a local team called something like "Homicidal Maniacs".
These are often people on day release from a young offenders' institution who revel in extreme violence. Twice I've actually had someone put their foot on my chest to hold me down and fire a pellet into my forehead. To make matters worse, whoever works in the factory that makes paintball pellets has an evil sense of humour. The pellets are little balls of paint (containing, primarily, polyethylene glycol, other non-toxic and water-soluble substances, dye and something to do with pigskin, if you really want to know) and they are fired at you from a gas-powered gun at about two-hundred-and-eighty feet-per-second.
They are supposed to explode on impact and cover you with paint but, in my experience, one in 10 are hard as steel, don't explode and really, really hurt. I'm certain that the factory employees throw in the occasional ball-bearing to make the whole thing a bit more "fun". It does actually makes the pastime way more thrilling than it should be as you become so desperate not to be hit by one of the rogue pellets that the adrenaline rockets round your body.
Every weekend, therefore, my local trains are full of Londoners off to the countryside for a spot of paintballing and "gents" off to London for some shooting. This means that, whenever you're on a train, you are probably sitting just yards from an arsenal of shotguns and paintball guns. This must be why trains are rarely the target for terrorist hijackings. Not only are they more difficult to divert ("Take me to Tripoli." "But that will take us three months!" "Don't argue."), there is also a coterie of armed passengers just itching to take on the bad guys. We should pay paintballers to sit on the roofs of trains and pick off graffiti vandals (sorry, artists) with their own medium. The use of shotguns for this might be going a little too far, so they can just keep an eye out for Frenchmen...
Ecclestone wigs out over Spaniards who blacked-up for Hamilton
'Easy' Ashes, Sir Ian? Get your pads on, then
I was listening live to the interview last week between Nicky Campbell and Bernie Ecclestone on Radio 5 Live. There was uproar when he seemingly dismissed accusations that the Spanish crowd had been racist towards Lewis Hamilton. I did actually understand what he was trying to say – that it's a tradition for Spanish fans to dress up in costume and that the family who blacked up, while being wildly insensitive, were not being deliberately racist, or provocative.
Sadly however, when he went on to compare it to Ferrari employees wearing red wigs, it became apparent that this was a man who spends very little time in the real world. I think it would be probably be for the best if Formula One somehow manages to keep Bernie off the airwaves for a while.
Oh God, Sir Ian Botham predicting an "easy" Ashes win. After last week's $20m debacle, lets hope he's planning a comeback himself.Reuse content