The Platinum Ticket by David Beynon

The Platinum Ticket by David Beynon
Shortlisted for The Terry Pratchett Anywhere But Here, Anywhen But Now First Novel Prize

Thursday, 20 November 2014

Embracing Something New - Part 2 (Finally)

What seems like a lifetime ago now, I promised to talk about doing something that I didn’t imagine I’d enjoy.  Like the bullfighting post from a while back, I ended up with a new appreciation that came about simply from jumping at a new experience.

It’s important to repeat my lifelong friend, Ann Swallow’s words at this point:

“You have the chance to do something you've never done before. Put on your best pair of shoes, grin, and go! This applies to just about everything.”

A year or two ago I was introduced to an Irishman and, since he’s Irish, let’s call him…oh, I don’t know…Pat.  Pat is an incredibly likable man.  Smart, witty, funny …and a competitive international shooter.

Pat belongs to an organization called the IPSC (International Practical Shooting Confederation).  Basically competitors run through courses and shoot at targets.  Time, accuracy and gun safety determine winners.

Since the current novel I’m writing has a goodly number of folks with handguns, I thought I’d bend Pat’s ear regarding firearms.

“Have you ever fired a gun?” he asked.

I explained that I grew up on a farm.  I’d fired a .22 rifle often, a neighbour’s 30.06 maybe three times and a shotgun a half dozen times at most.

“Ever fired a handgun?”

I had to admit I hadn’t.

“Would you like to?”

I’ve always been of the opinion that handguns have one use only – killing people.  I’ve never understood the allure of the handgun enthusiast.  Canada lacks the “right to bear arms” thinking (for the most part) of our neighbours to the south, so there’s no Constitutional imperative for me to desire a gun to protect myself from King George III.  Firing a handgun has never even been on my radar as a thing I’d like to do someday, but if I was going to be writing a fair deal about people handling guns and an opportunity presented itself for some firsthand research, I’d be a fool to say no.

About two weeks later we travelled to a nearby rural gun club where Pat is a member.  Throughout the drive, Pat drilled me on safety.  Pat’s guns were each locked in its own separate container.  Each sported a locked trigger guard.  The ammo was in a separate locked box and all of these items were in a wire-reinforced carrying bag that was – you got it – locked.

When we got to the club I was expected yahoos and hillbillies.  The first person I was introduced to was the range captain.  He had long, scruffy hair, two days of beard and horrible, horrible teeth.  He looked just like someone who might wander into your camp while you’re on a white water rafting trip down the Cahulawassee River.  As soon as he spoke, my prejudice fled.  The range captain (Dan, I think) was articulate and businesslike.  As a guest on the range, Pat was responsible for my behaviour and as range captain, he was responsible for my safety.   He watched like an eagle as Pat taught me all of the rules of the range, what the flags meant and what to do when the range light was on.  Only after I was familiar with the rules that would keep me safe and, one hopes, alive, was I permitted to actually enter the shooting range.

There was a long hallway with stalls facing the open-air range.  There were lines painted on the floors and god help you if you cross one line or the other depending on the colour of the light that happens to be on.

Pat took us to a vacant stall three from the end where we waited to be “green-lighted” to enter the range and place our target.  Twenty five yards doesn’t seem like far, but when you’re aiming with a handgun at a torso-sized cut-out of corrugated paperboard (B flute – feels like a 150lb test) it seems a long way indeed.

With our target placed, we waited for a different light, then were allowed to take our place within the stall and begin handling Pat’s guns and ammunition. 
The first thing Pat told me was the gun ALWAYS points down range.

Pat next told me that you must always load your own gun.  This meant that Pat had to teach me how to load the magazine and then he showed me the proper way to insert the clip and chamber the first round.

Lots of rules, many I’ve forgotten but the biggie is this:  ALWAYS assume any gun is loaded with a round chambered and that the safety is off until you know for certain otherwise.

Once I was safe and schooled, we turned to the shootin’.  I shot sitting.  I shot standing.  I shot two-handed and one handed.  Pat let me shoot his 9mm and his .45.  For a guy who has never had any interest in handguns, I sure went through a significant number of Pat’s ammo that afternoon.

When we weren’t shooting, we watched other people shoot.  My favourite guy was a Serbian-Canadian guy with a vintage Lee-Enfield rifle that sounded like a cannon and a black powder rifle that acted like a cannon.  What a treat it was to watch this man prime his rifle and then the blast of flame and the cloud of thick smoke that accompanied each shot.

There was also a young man and his girlfriend with their civilian assault rifles.  After I asked some questions, the man asked if I’d like to hold his rifle.

“As long as you show me how to handle it safely first,” I said. 

Dan, the range captain flashed me a toothy grin.  “Good answer,” he said.

That rifle looks like it ought to be heavy but a lot of the pieces are ceramic or aluminum and the gun is deceptively light.  I tried this gun both standing and sitting and though this target was 50 yards away, I was far, far more accurate with the assault rifle than I was with either handgun.

Pat walked me around the range, showing me the different activities and ranges located on site.  Much to my surprise, I had a lot of fun.

So – am I a gun convert?  Do I want to become a weekend shooting enthusiast?

No, but I’ve come a long way to understanding those that are and do.  

My pistol target from the range.  It's easy to spot the 9mm shots from the .45s.

Saturday, 30 August 2014


A short while ago a podcast of my story, The Lighthouse Keeper's Wife, went live at the Pseudopod website.  The text is wonderfully read by Wilson Fowlie and I'm very pleased with the result.  Please follow this link to enjoy.

There's been a lot going on.  There's some news and I need to write part two of my last post about moving out of one's comfort zone and that's all coming when I'm less busy.  For now, go and listen to the podcast.  It's fun!

Monday, 14 July 2014

Embracing something new - Part 1

My lifelong friend, Ann Swallow recently gave this bit of advice to another friend on the facebook:

“You have the chance to do something you've never done before. Put on your best pair of shoes, grin, and go! This applies to just about everything.”

It’s sparkling advice from a sparkling person whose opinion I deeply respect.  I had such an opportunity this past weekend, but there’s a bit of back story we need to visit first.

Back before the turn of the century (so pleased I was born at I time I can use that phase) – around ’92 or ’93, I travelled with a friend for a weeklong getaway to sunny Acapulco.  It started with severe sunburn (self-inflicted and the result of astounding stupidity on the part of two people who should have known better).  In fact, there were so many opportunities for the pair of us to contend for the Darwin Awards that week that I almost have to believe that luck is a true power in the universe.  This story involves death and near death, but not for the two of us.

Dave (always best to travel with someone who shares your first name.  Makes it easy on those you meet.) and I got chatting with a pair of concierges who worked at the hotel (I believe their names were Hector and Luis).  It was late morning on our third day down there.  Nursing our two day old sunburns, we hadn’t planned on spending too much time on the beach and were looking for suggestions.

“How about the bullfights?”

How about the bullfights, indeed.

Both Dave and I grew up on farms.  Both of us had a realistic view of large animals, a respect for their size and a farmer’s gut reaction against inflicting harm on an animal.  Both of our new Mexican friends nodded enthusiastically and told us how much we would enjoy an afternoon of drinking cerveza and watching the Novilleros – the novice bullfighters slated to perform in the ring that afternoon.  Like I say, Ann’s philosophy is very much my own, so – believing it would be an afternoon that I would hate – we agreed to go.

Shortly after lunch, we climbed into a bus with a few American and German tourists from the hotel.  The bus driver began to tell us about the importance of bullfighting in Spanish culture generally and Acapulco specifically.  He told us about how it is as much an art as a sport and that if a bullfighter fails to deliver a swift and successful killing stroke with his sword, that bullfighter may face a hefty fine from the City of Acapulco for cruelty to animals.  He also told us that in the past the meat from the vanquished bulls was given to the orphanages.  “But today?” he said and rubbed his index and middle fingers against his thumb.  “Too expensive.  Now the meat is sold at market.”

How much of the driver’s tale is true and how much is theatre?  I don’t know and I don’t want to know.  I’ve never fact checked his claims and I never will because his story readied me for my afternoon at the bullring. 

When we arrived, we tried to seat ourselves among the Mexicans who were out for an afternoon of entertainment.  I’d had enough of Americans, Germans and Dutch at the hotel.  We settled in among a few families but an American family sat next to us.  It was just as well.  I was interested to see how a pair of middleclass teenagers reacted to Mexico’s favourite bloodsport.

As it turned out, not very well.

The afternoon began with colour, fanfare, lots of beer, music, laughter a number of friendly pats on the back from Mexicans who were more than happy to share their sport with us.  An older gent worked with all the English he had to encourage us in our appreciation of bullfighting.

The afternoon wore on and novice after novice faced the young bulls.  Some showed skill and were rewarded by cheers.  Some were not so skilled and gained the contempt of the crowd. 

“Toro!  Toro!  Toro!”

Once the crowd starts cheering for the bull you’re done, son.  If I remember correctly, that particular novice ended up being gored high on the thigh by the bull to the thunderous delight of the assembled crowd.

Sometime during the afternoon I came to the realization that bullfighting isn’t about watching the bull die – it’s about the real chance that you might get to watch a person die.  And this isn’t just about bullfighting.  Car racing isn’t about running around in perfect ovals forever and ever.  Car racing is about the crashes and the chance that someone might die.  Alpine skiing, too.  Football.  Boxing.  Even diving.  Anything with that element that something can at anytime go terribly wrong and injury and death are only a small misstep away.

As I rode the bus back to the hotel with the Dutchmen, the Germans and the Americans and their traumatized teens, I realized I kind of enjoyed my afternoon at the bullfights.  It’s not something that I think I’ll ever do again, but because I had been prepared for it by Acapulco natives and I sat among the Mexican crowd, I think I could see how compelling the sport could be.  Later that night, Dave and I happened upon the nightclub where those Novilleros were spending their evening and drank each of them under the table with their libation of choice.  That might also be a factor in my enjoyment of the day.

There have been other experiences that I was either hesitant to take part in or felt from the start that it was something I would neither understand nor enjoy.  I had just such an experiential opportunity a few weeks ago and I relate that next time…