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An axe woman in the family

It comes as something of a shock to discover that one of my nearest and dearest, my own flesh and blood no less, has suddenly developed a sinister side. True, my daughter has never been what is sometimes termed a shrinking violet. By her own admission she is opinionated and does not suffer gladly those she considers fools. But she is also loving and generous, particularly to her dear old dad, who can still fondly visualise her, aged five, in a white smock, with tinsel glittering in her golden locks, as the most angelic of angels clustered around the baby Jesus’s crib in her school nativity play.

Since then, there has been, quite naturally, the occasional icy glare or sullen sulk, but never the remotest sign of the potential assassin I stared at in horror in the short WhatsApp video that she unashamedly sent me. No white smock and tinsel now. This time she was dressed entirely in black: thick-soled, high-laced boots, black jeans and a plain, black sweatshirt. She was positively clad for covert action. And I should know, having worked closely with the king of covert, Andy McNab, hero of the Bravo Two Zero SAS mission. Not, I hasten to add, as a fellow member of “The Regiment” but as co-author of a series of novels with the soldier turned writer.

McNab would have given a barely perceptible (except to a trained eye like mine) nod of approval as my daughter steadied herself for action. She took a perfectly balanced stride forward with a razor-sharp axe gripped in both hands, above and just behind her head. Coming to a rock-steady standstill, she hurled the lethal weapon. It revolved twice in the air before burying itself deep in her target – which fortunately was an actual target. She had split the bull’s-eye. What followed chilled me to the marrow. With cheers ringing out, the axe woman turned towards the camera with a smirk of satisfaction and narrowed eyes that suggested: “You ain’t seen nothing yet.”

Remarkably, though, this was done in the name of “fun”. Axe throwing is, I learn, only one of the new “sporting activities” now on offer. “Junkyard” golf, “Flight Club” darts and, for all I know, other strangely modified sports are also available. Fans, I’m told, consider these “sports” a great night out, while many business bosses reckon them the perfect way for workmates to bond or team-build. Any breaking of the strict safety rules means, of course, instant ejection, and quite right too. But what about the dormant characteristics these adrenaline-pumping activities bring out in the susceptible? What about my daughter?

An uncle did serve periods inside for crimes involving violence

“It wasn’t really my thing, dad,” she told me later when we spoke on the phone. “Mmm,” I replied with an upward inflection, as if to agree. “Yeah, right,” I growled silently. I’d seen the mini movie. That smirk, those eyes. What puzzles me, though, is where this dark side comes from. Admittedly, in her netball team she took no prisoners as a towering goal defence, but it was all, well mostly, within the rules. And those rumours about her retiring from the game before she was banned were nothing but malicious gossip. This woman rose to the top of her profession as an NHS nurse and is now part of the senior leadership team in an NHS charity. These are the caring professions, for goodness sake!

She certainly didn’t inherit any intemperate streak from me. I never once resorted to violence on the sporting field. Indeed, I remember flying down the wing in a Sunday league football match, with a hulk of a full-back repeatedly hacking at my ankles. Rather than retaliate, I actually stopped at the corner flag, picked up the ball and handed it to him, saying: “If you want it so much, you’d better have it.” And I was booked for that. Me!

However, all families have their history, and a generation back an uncle did serve periods inside for crimes involving violence. But he was handy with his fists and claustrophobic, so I prefer to believe the fighting may have been largely down to resisting arrest. We all agreed he really should have taken up boxing. Another uncle also, on occasions, resided at Her Majesty’s pleasure, but never for violence. I recall speaking to him when he was given compassionate leave to attend his mother’s, my grandmother’s, funeral. “How you doing in there, Uncle Jim?” I asked. He smiled. “No worries, Rob,” he said, “I’m numero uno.” Numero uno! That could only have meant he was constantly on his best behaviour and the favourite of the governor. Couldn’t it?

I am indebted to my own cousin, who keenly investigates the family genealogy, and discovered recently that our grandmother had an older brother, previously unknown to us. Somehow finding his way to Australia, Daniel Banks lied about his age and, at sixteen, volunteered for the army to fight in World War I. He was seriously wounded, and on returning to Australia, took to a life of crime. I’ve seen his conviction records and among the considerable list of mainly minor offences is one for “malicious wounding”. The accompanying mugshots show a distinct family resemblance, which is concerning. And it ensures that from now on I will most certainly be keeping a much closer fatherly eye on my daughter.

Robert Rigby is a journalist, author, scriptwriter

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April 2024, Life, This Sporting Life

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