Sunday, 14 April 2013

Missiles, various

The Bonfiglioli ABC (continued)

A: Arms, skill at

On bookjackets and elsewhere, Kyril Bonfiglioli, Author of After You With the Pistol and Don't Point That Thing at Me, was wont to describe himself as "a fair shot with most weapons."   Not true.  Or rather, not true enough.
     How many people do you know, outside of circuses and Wild West shows, who could pick up a hunting knife (mine) and hurl this unfamiliar and unspecialized missile at a half-open door (also mine) and hit it edge-on (note that, edge-on) from across a 14 foot room (yes, mine) with minimal hefting and zero preparation?
     'What,' I asked, as I wrestled the knife out of my wounded door, 'am I supposed to say to the Quartermaster when he inspects the billets?'
     I should have worried!   His wife's book, The Mortdecai ABC, tells, very matter-of-factly, of many knife-marks in their kitchen door in Oxford.  "I stood against the door and he threw.  He was a handy thrower and liked to be trusted to aim without hurt."
     Another story in Margaret's book has him pistol-shooting a sixpence from between a friend's finger and thumb.  A sixpence, youngsters, was about the size of today's 5p piece.  (Sorry, it was a Frenchman, not a friend, who was holding the coin.  It may or may not have made a difference.)
     Undoubtedly the man had skill but even more important was his supreme confidence in his own ability.
     One evening we were practising on the indoor rifle range.  The rifles used there were of 0.22 inch calibre.  They may have looked no more than one step up from fairground pellet guns but they could be extremely accurate.  Under Bonfig's meticulous coaching, I lit a Swan Vesta at 25 yards range and with the second shot I put it out.  Nowadays I couldn't even see a match at half that distance.
     Sometimes when I tell this story, and you may guess it has had many a telling, I am heard to add ". . . without breaking the match."  Now and in print I cannot swear that the match survived both shots but the essential elements are true - lit with the first shot, blown out or possibly broken, with the second.  Yet never before or since have I been much good with targets less than barn door size.
     That was the measure of the man's inspirational effect and coaching skill.
     A couple of years ago, a Christopher Fowler wrote an otherwise glowing piece in The Independent  about Bonfig and his novels.  I didn't find it on the net till much later but Margaret tells me this sentence brought a sharp response from her at the time.  He wrote:  "Other seeming biographical information about Bonfiglioli - that he was an expert swordsman, a good shot and a teetotaller, for example - is entirely wrong."
     These eyewitness accounts from Margaret and myself quite clearly show that it was Mr Fowler who was entirely wrong.  I even have the knife still, tarnished, battered and missing its brass finger-guard, broken off in my first clumsy attempts to emulate the master's accuracy.
     As to Bonfig's swordsmanship, you'll have to wait for my next post on 21st April.
     On the question of drink,  no one, least of all Bonfig, would ever have suggested that he was teetotal.  He could hardly claim that, then die of cirrhosis, could he?  Perhaps Mr Fowler, hurrying towards an approaching deadline, failed to read carefully the typical Bonfiglioli avowal, beloved of blurb-writers, that he was "abstemious in all things except drink, food, tobacco and talking." 

Next letter in The Bonfiglioli ABC:

B: Bangs, loud.   Balls, crystal.   Brighton?