THE PERIOD FROM 1950 TO ABOUT1965
Chapter 4. The little puff of air.
During my primary school days, I met older boys who bragged about real guns, guns that shot real lead pellets with powerful springs and a little puff of air. These boys with airguns became my new heroes.
I tentatively broached the subject of gun ownership with my mother, always the softest option. But my father was adamant: he still remembered that rude awakening with the cork gun let alone something that fired lead!
My fortunes changed. My father was the manager of the 'Wyman's newspaper stall' at South Ruislip underground station on the Central line. Many of his customers were American airmen from the nearby USAF base.
At weekends I went with my dad to help open up the shop. After a 5.30 wash, brush up and breakfast of dripping on toast we cycled to the station. As dawn broke and the starlings started chorusing, we took down the bars and shutters and dragged in the big bundles of newspapers. I would then brew up a pot of thick hot tea while Dad cut the string on the papers, counted and folded them and laid them neatly on the counter ready for the early morning rush.
I still find the smell of newsprint evocative of those chilly, damp, carefree mornings. By 6.30 we were prepared and customers hurriedly passed buying tobacco and an early morning read for their train journey. When the rush hour was over I would make another brew of tea which we had with a shared Kit Kat.
I leaned on the counter reading with wide eyes the adverts in the American publication 'Field & Stream magazine'. I mentally converted three dollars into a pound as I worked out how much pocket money I would need to save to buy a Daisy BB gun.
A big affable U.S. airman was talking to my father one morning when he noticed me reading the shooting and fishing magazine. He started telling me of his shooting exploits back in the United States. Naturally as an impressionable eight year old I took it all in and mentally added him to my list of heroes. "It's no use trying to stop that boy shooting" he said to my father "he needs to be taught to shoot safely". With that the smiling American sauntered off to catch his train.
A week went by and once again it was Saturday morning and Dad and I were enjoying our Kitkat. The American came running down the road a little later than usual. Dad held out his paper for the airman to grab as he raced past. "Thanks Stan" he said as he took the paper and threw the coppers onto the counter. As he passed he thrust a brown paper parcel into my hands and addressing my father once more he said, "You've got to start him sometime Stan. " As I listened to his footsteps descending to the platform, a tingle of excitement ran through me. I felt the weight and took in the size and shape of the package, it must be a gun!
The gun was a model 1 Diana not unlike the earlier cork guns except that this had a short removable barrel at the end that took real lead cat slugs and darts. My father took me to 'Tillet & Roy' the sports shop in Ruislip Manor and bought me a metal target holder and a supply of targets and my own personal shooting range was installed in the garage.
I was well and truly cautioned about the dangers of guns and had the impression that any slug not actually fired at the target holder would rocket out of control, ricochet off every hard surface and surely knock someone's eye out! Those warnings obviously made a profound impression because over sixty years on I have never had an accident with a gun.
- Tony Sheppard