This weekend was a little different to normal. A local gun club I’ve joined was upgrading its range and needed a few spare bodies to help out. I don’t have any particular skills in fabrication or carpentry (just basic bodging) so didn’t really know what to expect.
As it turned out, I had one of the most enjoyable and rewarding days for some while. I’m still sore and stiff from lugging stuff about, but there’s nothing like a work day to get to know some of the other guys a bit better.
Judging from the comprehensive drawings that had been produced, a great deal of preparation and planning had gone into this work. Today’s task was to ensure the safest possible conditions for the club’s pistol shooters by installing a new set of baffles.
Even so, there were a few IKEA moments – ones when the blood drains from everyone’s faces because they think they’ve assembled everything back to front. Thankfully, we hadn’t. This structure probably tops half a ton, so not exactly Meccano.
The really nice thing was that, if things did go slightly awry, nobody got rattled or lost their cool. It was all puzzled out by discussion, suggestion, trial and error and (much as I loath buzzwords) teamwork. There was also that kind of blokish banter (sadly not much of it printable) which made the time pass easily.
Firing ranges, by their very nature, need a fair bit of maintenance. Frames get shot to bits, debris needs regular clearing out and equipment has to be checked and periodically replaced. This project is part of an ongoing makeover to enhance safety and security at the range.
After a few hours’ work, the steelwork was safely in place. Supported at each end, bolted in multiple locations and then welded just to be absolutely sure. Now it’s in, it’s not going anywhere.
Members like me with muzzle-loading revolvers and long-barrel pistols and revolvers can now resume their sport. It’s a great little 25-yard indoor range and ideal for gallery load development.
I recently watched 22 July, a Netflix original directed by Paul Greengrass and now on Netflix in the UK. It recounts the events of summer 2011 when right-wing extremist, Anders Behring Breivik detonated a bomb outside the Norwegian government buildings in Oslo, killing eight people. He then made his way to Utøya island, where a youth camp was under way. There, he massacred a further 69 people, mostly teenagers.
The film doesn’t shrink from the unpleasant details of what happened but, even having seen the trailer, it’s still shocking to witness. Due to problems getting emergency response teams out to Utøya quickly, Breivik got a full 90 minutes to roam about, shouting at “the Marxist elite” and picking off whomever he encountered.
In addition to those killed, Breivik also injured over 200 people in Oslo and another 110 on Utøya. It was the deadliest act of aggression on Norwegian soil since World War II.
When interrogated, Breivik claimed to be a member of the Knights Templar and that his “operation” was the first stage in a military coup d’état, intended to rid Norway and Europe of Islam and multiculturalism. The morning of his attacks, he had published a rambling 1500-page manifesto online, detailing his vision for transforming Europe, presumably in his own image.
When he was eventually confronted by police, Breivik calmly laid down his weapons and surrendered. Anders Danielsen Lie plays Breivik. Although Lie may not physically resemble the real-life murderer, he does infuse his depiction with a chilling air of narcissism and quiet superiority. In preparing for the role, Lie said he listened to quite a large volume of the interrogation tapes with Breivik. “Alarmingly normal” was how Lie described him.
Once the emergency services arrive and begin sorting through the carnage, the film picks up the simultaneous threads of Breivik, as he is detained, questioned and indicted and Viljar Hanssen, a 17-year-old high school student who survived multiple gunshot wounds on the island that day.
Viljar’s long road to physical and mental recovery forms a core part of the story. Narrowly surviving five bullets, he eventually appears in court to testify against Breivik. The role of Viljar gets a convincing and intense performance by actor Jonas Strand Gravli; when Viljar does eventually face Breivik in court, you’re almost living it with him.
Another plot thread examines the role of Breivik’s lawyer in the whole affair. Bound by the principle that even the vilest of offenders deserves a proper defence, advocate Geir Lippestad (Jon Øigarden) decides that he will represent Breivik. It’s a costly move, affecting him and his family very deeply. We’re party to the soul-searching behind Lippestad’s decision, but also his tacit disgust at his client.
Paul Greengrass shot his film in English but wisely chose an almost entirely Norwegian cast and authentic locations. The movie thus gets its mainstream audience but retains a feel of stark reality. Just a few minor changes were made to the facts to keep the narrative flowing smoothly. The principal cast is excellent, but there really isn’t a wrong note from any of the supporting actors either. 22 July is extremely well put-together. It’s not light entertainment but tells a harrowing story in immersive fashion.
Greengrass is no stranger to this kind of filmmaking. His filmography includes The Bourne Ultimatum and United 93 (the story of the one aircraft on 9/11 that didn’t hit its intended target because the passengers assaulted the terrorists). Peril and how people react to it is clearly a subject Greengrass handles exceedingly well.
I was particularly interested to see this film because I’ve a strong personal connection with Norway. I worked over there briefly and then went back again later as a student of Scandinavian languages. During that time, I lived in Telemark, coincidentally the same county in which Anders Behring Breivik is now incarcerated. It’s been some years since I last visited Norway, but I was pleased to find I could still understand some of the background Norwegian chatter in 22 July.
22 July shows us plenty of Norway, but without calling attention to the fact. Perhaps the most striking vista of all is on Svalbard where Viljar contemplates the future opening up before him, even as his assailant gets banged up in a prison cell. It’s a most effective piece of symbolism for what happened to Norway. A beautiful country that suffered something awful and yet managed to work through it, move on and look to the future without knee-jerking, blamestorming or politicising.
I sincerely hope nothing like the events of 22nd July 2011 ever visits Norway again, but I admire the way the country dealt with it. They didn’t over-regulate law-abiding citizens to try and make people feel safer. They took what practical steps they could but recognised that you can’t legislate for the kind of lunatic who stole 77 lives for his warped notion of freedom.
Personally, I’d have seen Breivik strung up, but that’s just me. The Norwegians are much more measured. They took the long view and were determined to learn from their tragedy and get past it. What’s more, this way, Breivik gets to preach his rubbish to the same four walls for the rest of his days, secure in the knowledge that nobody’s listening.
The makeover I gave my own Taurus has stirred some interest amongst our customers and we are starting to get requests to sort out and smarten up people’s revolvers.
Taurus has been the default long-barrel revolver (LBR) on the UK market for many years; nearly every LBR you’ll see at a range will be one.
Unfortunately, although resembling Smith & Wesson in their aesthetic, the Tauruses don’t have the same fit and finish as a Smith. I’ve come across quite a few that needed attention from brand new; even some that have been laid to one side because they just don’t work properly.
True, these guns have their idiosyncrasies. That horrible cylinder detent and spring that loves to work its way into the mechanism. Rough finishing inside the cylinder axis leading to ejection issues. Overly tight-fitting side-plates. Coarsely finished forcing cones. A closure mechanism that clogs after a couple of dozen rounds. And the nasty rubber grips that sting the web of your hand when firing.
But even at their current prices, the Tauruses are still a fraction of the cost of an actual converted Smith & Wesson, if you can find one at all. Made to work properly and given the love and attention they need, these revolvers can be great shooters.
That’s why I’m rolling out a service aimed specifically at these guns; to make them look and shoot better than when they left the factory.
All sorts of options are available to bring your gun the look and feel that you want. Matching rear extensions and ejector rods, a selection of hardwood or laminated grips, recrowning the muzzle and polishing the forcing cone. And not forgetting, polishing of the whole gun to a mirror shine.
Why not give your Taurus the makeover it deserves?
I’ve not really said anything about this, but the last two years have been particularly trying.
Up until May this year, I had my elderly dad living with me and I have to say it was not easy. Old age brings its own challenges, but there were some complicating factors which made it all especially difficult.
In the end, I got so burned out, I pretty much lost my independence and all my hobbies and interests went on the backburner. That’s an experience I hope never to repeat.
I didn’t completely lose my way as a shooter though. There were one or two guns on the list which I managed to pick up in the meantime, such as this Marlin:
If you’re a cinema goer, you may recall this as being the same model toted by Chris Pratt in the first Jurassic World film. And what a gun it is!
Thankfully, exhausted as I was, I didn’t lose the ability to have a laugh. It’s a valuable way of letting off steam.
Eventually, I had to stop being an impromptu carer or I really was destined for a tinfoil hat. So, very reluctantly, I had to broach the tricky subject of Dad going into full-time care. Damn, that was the hardest conversation of my entire life.
My father went into care in May and I was expecting to then launch myself straight back into everything.
Nnneeeegh – wrong! Instead, I sat in a stupor for about two weeks, just slowly recharging my batteries and then, eventually, mulling over what I wanted to do with the business and hobbies.
Small steps first – I spent a few more weeks repairing the house and getting my office and dealership space as I need them.
The various spaces aren’t fully utilised yet, but that is partly deliberate. You always need room to expand and so I’ve built that in.
I feel particularly lucky to have a really nice reloading area. Handloading was another aspect to the shooting hobby which I always enjoyed, but which just died off while I was otherwise occupied. I’ve now started up again and am enjoying getting back into it.
I once asked someone what sort of space was needed for a reloading setup and the droll reply was, “twice as much as you originally planned for!” They were right. Reloading expands to fill the space available and then just overflows everywhere. Space – the final frontier. Have plenty of it, if you can.
45-70 Govt is a new one on me. In the intervening two years, I have acquired two or three guns which I have still yet to fire, one of which is the Marlin 1895SBL shown above. I like straight-walled cartridges; they’re nice and easy to work with.
Trail Boss is the powder for now. The Marlin can take some very stiff loads but I’m working with very modest ones here. This is partly because all the bullets I have are plain cast lead (without gas checks – the copper gaskets you need to have on the base of a lead bullet being drive at more than 1,100 fps). I’m also naturally cautious when starting a new calibre. It’s a good idea not to go crazy and start making powerful loads until you’re sure of what you’re doing.
A visual inspection of all cases after adding powder. Making sure they all actually have powder and that none are under or over-filled.
405gr cast lead bullets; real beasts. The 45-70 can fell a bear so it’s a big old round. The cartridge was originally used in guns like the Springfield trapdoor and other single-shot rifles. It’s a 45-70 because it’s 45 calibre and originally would have had 70 grains of black powder.
Once the visual inspection is complete, I pop an inverted bullet on top of each case. This means I know they are all ready to go and also prevents powder spillage or other accidents if you accidentally nudge the tray.
And there they are, a handful of newly-made 45-70 Govt rounds. Anything going into a tubular magazine needs a nice firm crimp, otherwise the bullets can get forced back into the cases under recoil and then the internal pressure goes up.
I’m looking forward to trying them out. It should be good fun.
So, there we were at Saxmundham, setting up for a wedding display. Superficially a warm, sunny day, but high winds on the beach actually made it feel cold!
There was absolutely no open vehicular access to the beach, so my idea of getting my truck down there and saving everyone the effort of lugging it all down a path and across the flint shingle was for nought.
This show was for a friend, so we really wanted to lay on some spectacle. Hence the predominance of aerial shells, including a 7″ strobe at the end.
I’ve never had the experience of whacking wooden stakes into a stone-laden beach, but it was actually rather easy and they all held well. Somehow, hammering into a large mass of round pebbles has the dual effect of making displacement easy and offering sufficient mass to hold the stake in place.
Pete, the groom, who also owns his own pyrotechnics firm, took time to come down and see us and had his picture taken with the finale shell. The couple also very kindly sent us a crate of Bud for after the display.
Nearing the end of what was a very challenging rig. Foiling over the tubes is a good way to prevent flashover (accidental ignition from one item to another) and keep the weather out. It didn’t rain, but you never know in Britain and especially not by the sea.
Thankfully, the wind had dropped a good bit by this point.
My son said I “looked tired and pissed off” when I sent him this. I was actually tired and in pain, but not at all fed up. Me and my fag are a long, long way from anything flammable in this shot, by the way.
And so, it kicks off. About 10.10 p.m. and after a countdown from the crowd, standing a long way off at the top of the hill/cliff/whatever, but lubricated with enough drink to be heard from where we were, down by the control box.
There were three sites in this display; a common setup in pro displays. This was the centre one. My lens wasn’t wide angle, so I couldn’t capture all three at the same time.
A gorgeous golden mine effect, topped with blue stars and some red ones from another item (possibly from the right-hand site).
Strobe shell finale. One 7″ and two sixes. The photo does not do them justice. They were astonishingly nice.
The shooting sports in Britain are facing yet another random assault by officialdom. Based on no actual evidence at all, there are moves afoot to ban 50 cal rifles out of “fears for public safety” and MARS/lever-release rifles on the grounds that they are “rapid fire”. Unfortunately, the draft “Offensive Weapons Bill” is sufficiently vague in its wording to make future arbitrary bans quite easy.
If you shoot, be it shotguns, rifles or in any other discipline in the UK, you should write to your MP as soon as possible, before the Bill gets it Second Reading and voice your concerns. Please, I urge you, be polite, rational and succint. Make reference to the NRA’s letter to the Home Office and the government’s own assurances that changes to existing gun laws must be evidence-based. Many MPs are in agreement with us that this law is illiberal and a step backwards. We do have friends in parliament; we just need to remind them we need their help with this Bill.
Incidentally, this is not a uniquely British phenomenon. Other nations who share our outlook on sensibly regulated shooting have adopted this mindset. Canada is currently undergoing similar trials with the passage of Bill C71 through its Parliament. Over there, the Liberal government has rubbished the previous Conservative government’s policy of common-sense firearms regulation and, again on no real grounds at all, decided to introduce a welter of paperwork, making sports shooting much more difficult for the law-abiding.
It’s over to us, the law-abiding shooters. We are the most closely regulated bunch of sportsmen out there and we need to become much more vocal or we will just go on losing more and more shooting disciplines.
I’m truly delighted to announce that JDR GUNS has been offered the chance to deal in goods from Highland Outdoors, the UK’s wholesaler of Howa, Rossi, Webley & Scott and Lithgow rifles, Sig Sauer and Nikko Stirling optics, Sierra and Nosler projectiles, Aimsport and Sonic suppressors and myriad other brands.
It might not seem much. Retailers get trade accounts with wholesalers every day of the week all over the world but, same as when we were accepted by Raytrade (wholesalers of Marlin, Remington, Barnes and much else besides), this opens up a whole new world of opportunity to bring quality goods to our customers and I am very pumped about it all. It means I can take the business in new directions which weren’t possible a year ago. It also means there’s one more name on the map supplying this range of shooting goods in the UK.
I won’t be adding every single item available to us on the JDR GUNS website, so please remember that we can now offer:
Howa rifles, combos, rifle actions and accessories
Webley & Scott rifles, shotguns and air guns
GRS rifle stocks
Aimsport and Sonic sound moderators
Nikko Stirling optics
Sig Sauer optics
Sierra and Nosler projectiles
Buffalo River cabinets
Buffalo River knives and accessories
Incidentally, we’ve just installed a large Buffalo River gun safe and I can vouch for them being well worth the candle.
We’re based in west Norfolk, near Fakenham and customers can visit by appointment.
I’ve just spent a very interesting few days with a professional fireworks company down in Oxfordshire, Illusion Fireworks.
I’ve been doing fireworks displays with various people on and off for quite a few years but, compared to some of the seasoned pros at Illusion, I’m really just a rookie and there was a massive amount to learn. So, I went down to Wallingford to attend Illusion’s company training day and then help out on the display.
It was a boiling hot weekend; almost ideal weather conditions for pyrotechnics. On the Saturday, we split into two groups with the more experienced people learning about the electronic firing system and the newer people like me going through the basics of how to rig and de-rig the Illusion way.
We learned all about fusing and tools and equipment we would need. We also got to see what happens when fireworks malfunction and the rigourous measures that are in place to ensure everybody is safe should anything go wrong.
In the evening, we had an absolutely fantastic meal at Anokhi Indian Restaurant in Wallingford. It was, quite simply, the best Indian food I’ve ever tasted and the hospitality was superb. I’m hoping we’ll go there many more times in the future as a group.
Illusion is a member of BPA, the British Pyrotechnists’ Association and provides displays all over the country. Like I said, I’ve worked with a few in the past but Illusion’s standards are incredibly high and its director, Karl Mitchell-Shead, puts heart and soul into his work designing truly memorable displays.
It might not seem like it, standing in the audience, but professional fireworks displays take an awful lot of preparation and even for relatively small shows, the crew will normally be on site for most of the afternoon prior.
In the best of traditions, rookies usually get handed the mundane jobs to do. So, I pre-empted this by volunteering to rake up dry grass on the firing site. This meant we didn’t end up taking bags of grass home with our firework debris.
The evening display was at Dorney Court, a popular venue for couples getting married. This particular evening, we were putting on a demo night so that they could see one of our pyromusicals and hopefully book up both at Dorney Court and with Illusion.
I was fortunate enough to get pretty much a ringside seat. I and another chap were asked to keep an eye on the dry grass so that the lawn didn’t get singed. Thus, we sat relatively close to the action, at a safe distance but out of sight of the crowd.
One thing I can say after that weekend is that I must have got two years’ worth of exercise in about three days! There is an awful lot of lugging about of equipment, hammering in stakes, fusing, running wires and cleaning up to be done. But it’s all worth it at the end when you hear the “oohs” and “aahs” from the crowd.
For most of my life, I’ve been a keen collector and appreciator of film soundtrack music.
There was this slow dawning, as I went into my mid-teens that, while other kids were following the charts and raving about David Bowie, Hot Chocolate and the Bay City Rollers (I know), I had my head in the scores to Thunderball , Close Encounters, Earthquake and The Good, The Bad and the Ugly.
Don’t get me wrong; I liked the popular hits too. I liked all sorts of bands, but they were something entirely apart from the film scores. Incidentally, I’ve been a big ELO fan for most of my life. Jeff Lynne’s work has been a bright spot for me over the years; but that’s the subject of another post.
Something that used to bug the hell out of me was the way soundtrack LPs (yeah, back in the days when vinyl reigned) often seemed to use cues that didn’t sound the way they had at the cinema. I later learned that scores were often re-recorded for an LP release. This allowed them to iron out any bugs or perhaps to fatten up the arrangements and make them “more listenable”. At this point, there was still some snootiness amongst musos about the validity of film music.
I was lucky enough to be around when some of the greatest names in film music history were working their magic. I’d find myself reading that fine print they put on movie posters, to see who’d done the score. If it was James Bond, it would most often be John Barry. If it was a disaster film, John Williams (the American composer, not the Australian guitarist). If it was sci-fi, then Jerry Goldsmith. Films about WWII always sounded great if Ron Goodwin had done them (Where EaglesDare anyone?). And Hitchcock was always best when backed by Bernard Herrmann (check out North by Northwest!).
It wasn’t until the 1990s that filmmakers realised there was an audience out there who wanted to hear exactly what they’d heard on the big screen and not some mocked-up version of it. There was also a burgeoning realisation that film music was a good thing in and of itself; that it had a valid place in musical history and was something people wanted to hear.
The soundtrack market exploded and I was in heaven. All of a sudden, there were re-releases of film scores going back into the 1950s and 60s. Gone were the CD releases which just carried the limited selection of the vinyl release. A CD could hold twice as much material, so in most cases you could get every single cue from a film in there.
I still collect soundtracks, but am quite selective about which ones. Contemporary films seem to be pervaded by generic-sounding cues which you could transfer from one film to another and never know the difference. This is because the turnaround time is much shorter now and it’s harder for composers to catch and express that original sound which travels with the audience as they leave the cinema.
For me that’s the hook. A film needs its own special sound and you can’t achieve that by just vomiting off-the-peg musical cliches all over it. John Barry always used to build his work around two or three themes and you’d get fragments of them woven into the whole film. It made the story cohesive and provided an emotional ground upon which to stand and view the images before you.
There are those who still put out work with strong themes; themes you can hum and remember. Michael Giaccino’s work on Jurassic World was something else. Not only did he work in John Williams’ themes from the Jurassic Park series, he added stirring motifs of his own and produced something wonderful in the process.
Another superb modern film composer is Alexandre Desplat (Girl with a Pearl Earring, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows I and II and Zero Dark Thirty). Desplat is probably one of my modern favourites. He never turns in anything shoddy or without merit.
The list of available film composers is massive now. There are university courses in scoring for film and it has almost become institutionalised as an art form. For me though, the names which really shine are the ones whose style you can recognise and who counterpoint the action or tell you something about what’s going on inside a character’s head without flagging it up too obviously. It’s a delicate balance and not everyone can do it. That’s what separates the men from the boys in film composition.