Thursday, 9 December 2010

Day 342-THE DOUBLE UPDATE...An Unpleasant Run-In, Getting The Buzz Back, Club Smithero, Future Darts, Real McCoys, and The Tungsten Mind-Meld

Hours Of Practice-315
Miles Walked On The Oche-268

(I actually started this update way back in September and didn't finish it for reasons I shall shortly explain; so read the first bit which was written way back then, and I shall pick up from where this first entry leaves off here's what I started nearly two months ago...)

Day 254
Hours Of Practice-274
Miles Walked On The Oche-232.9

Hi. Remember me?

Well, the blog is back (thankyou for the enquiries :-)) and before we go any further, a few of you may have noticed something a bit different from the off; no average number of darts to checkout count. I'll explain why later. But first, I'd better bring you up to speed, make my apologies, and explain my absence...

First and foremost, don't worry, Darts Fans. The Straight Shooter and his Arrows Of Outrageous Fortune are as dedicated as ever. Following the Terrific Tungsten Trail To Total Titanic Triumph. Taking the Transatlantic Train ToS iphasdlkhalkjfhafpiudqHIFUGQHFIUBHFucking darts. Whatever, what I'm trying to say is I'm still at it, and still committed with great enthusiasm. I just...lost my way for a little while. Here's what happened.

Shortly after my last blog entry, I entered into a tournament. I honestly can't remember which one it was, and if it was one of the ones on the list I made earlier. I certainly didn't play in the England or Nottingham open, because I haven't entered a tournament since then.

On this occasion, as my brother was going to be joining me lat er that day to come to a friend's birthday do that afternoon, he offered to come along to the tournament too as he was interested to see what a tournament was like. Unfortunately for his girlfriend, she got dragged along did mine.

So I was looking forward to it, having enjoyed the previous events I'd played in (played in 2 others, including the one previously mentioned at the Pint Pot) and when I turned up, this one was...wierd.

From the off, I felt deeply uncomfortable. As a professional musician, I'm used to turning up at venues where I don't know anyone. I'm used to social clubs, and the staggering ignorance that some of the regulars can display when presented with someone they dont recognise (blatant and open staring, cow-like, slack-jawed, punchable expressions) and though I've played a lot of very nice venues, received very warm welcomes and had a real laugh with a lot of the punters, I've been to an equal share of shitholes that are full of dosy fat scum. So I'm used to being stared at. I'm used to having to ignore people's stupidity, and used to having to bite my lip and not ask what the problem is.

But this was just...odd. The place itself seemed nice enough, the barstaff were great, but bloody hell, there was just an ATMOSPHERE. It got even worse when Angela turned up (she'd gone to park the car whilst I'd rushed in to register, and had a nightmare finding a space) as between her bright red hair and my spiky hair, and the fact that she was the only woman in there under 40, the stares got ridiculous. One guy in particular we both clocked; every time I looked up, he was staring at Ange. It got so bad I took to staring at him myself, to let him know he was being seen
(not something I ever normally do) and once he'd caught my eye a few times, he must have known he was rumbled, as he moved to the other side of the room.

When my brother turned up, he noticed as well. Within five minutes of being there, he said "Bloody's a bit..." and gestured in such a small way with his hand that it told me all I needed to know about how he felt. It just was not a nice place to be.

Don't get me wrong. It wasn't ROUGH. I didn't think for one second that there would be any trouble; there wasn't a hint of that. It was just very clear that, despite it being an open tournament and the majority of people not knowing each other, we were somehow different, and they knew it.

For the first time, instead of feeling relaxed and happy, I was deeply uncomfortable.

Anyway, my name was called out, and I went up for my game, where I played against a guy that clearly spent a lot of time in the pub, evident by not only his darting prowess but his immense waistline. I'm not being mean-give the man his dues, he could really play-but he was HUGE. He looked like the Michelin man in a nylon polo shirt. I was genuinely worried by his red face; I thought he was going to keel over at any moment. Regardless, I lost to a better player after an amazing start, in which having family there was, in hindsight, a bit of a hindrance. On my first two trips to the oche I scored a hundred each time, and therein lay my downfall; I was up against a clearly strong opponent, had started in a way that was definitely in my opponents league...and I knew it, and my watching brother knew it, and we both knew the other knew it. I was that busy trying to keep a straight face-and he KNEW I was trying to keep a straight face-that I just went to pieces after that. I got it back in the last two games, but too late. Anyway, no big deal.
But that's when it got more awkward.

As tournament ettiquette states, the losing player waits by that board and scores the next game on it. Again, no problem (I'm getting used to it...) But that's when the next player stepped up, who just happened to be the guy I'd scored for at the previous week's tournament. The guy who'd pissed me off the last time I scored for him...

Let's flashback a week previous. Same scenario; lost at a tournament to another old pro. No problem. So I stand by the board waiting for the pair of opponents to come over so I can score their match. But then this chap comes up to play-let's call him...Roger-and something's off. I say hello when he turns up to play? Silence. Ok. I get it. That's his game face. Fine. But...BUT...once the game is over, and he's won (he was good, very good) and he and his opponent shake hands. And then without as much as an over the shoulder 'cheers mate', he walks off without a word like I'm not even there.

This got right under my skin.

To me, please and thankyou, even for minor things, are just common courtesy and decency. If you hold a door for someone, they should say a cursory 'Ta'. If you want to get past someone in a bar, you say 'Excuse me'. And if someone stays behind at an event when they've been beaten-when they don't have to and are doing it out of respect for fellow players, especially when half of the people don't even bother-it takes nothing just to say 'Cheers'. So to me, this was straight up rude, and very annoying. His opponent even said a quick thanks, but he still just walked off.

So here I am, at the scoreboard a week later, and as it turns out, I get the same guy. Id already decided the week before that if anyone did it again, I would say a little something if there was no acknowledgement-a sotty 'You're welcome' or something equally expressing light disapproval, bordering on camp-and here was the SAME FELLA. And sure enough...he did it again.

Right, I thought. I'm not having this. The 3 or 4 pints I'd had helped to dull the fact that he was a good 6'4", and I wasn't going to go ape at the guy; I was going to calmly make it clear that it was just rude. So he's at the organiser's table, telling them the result (he'd won again. Like I said, the guy was very good) and I came up behind him and said 'Excuse me, mate.'

-------------------------------------(this is as far as I got in September. From here on in is me taking over here today, on December 9th. I'll finish the story off before I go any further.)

So he turns around, and I say 'I scored for you last week, I don't know if you remember?' And the game face drops, and he holds his hands up and starts to kind of say 'Yeah, yeah I know,' in a way that, in hindsight, might have been apologetic/concilatory, but I'd got my mindset ready for
this and was already pressing forward to quickly to notice.

'You didn't even bother to say just a quick "Ta" then,' I continued, 'And you didn't even bother today. I just want you to know that people don't HAVE to score for you, they do it out of courtesy, and the least you could do is return that courtesy and just say "thanks mate."' All of which sounds good, but unfortunately he'd turned his back on me after I got about as far as "then." He clearly wasn't used to anthing like this, and in a mild panic but still trying to keep his cool he'd turned to the judges table and raised his hands, shaking his head, silently asking why and openly muttering something about 'fucking attitude.' I'd had enough by this point and left, my lot coming with me.

The whole experience left a very, very shitty taste in my mouth. Not just the rude guy, the whole day. The people, the atmosphere...all of it was just deeply unpleasant. Was this what I would have to deal with? Was this the sort of people I would regularly have to endure? I just suddenly lost all enthusiasm, and found myself making excuses not to practice. I always knew I WOULD practice again, but it would always be tomorrow. Darts suddenly felt very bleak and crappy, when before just thinking about the game got me excited.

This went on for a good six weeks. And over time, I mulled over what had actually happened.

The experience with the rude guy was, in fact, me making a mountain out of a molehill. This guy was clearly a good player, so he clearly spent a lot of time at tournaments. And something I realised when I actually thought about it was this; his OPPONENT didn't bother saying thankyou either. Nor did his other opponent the week before. And I came to realise that at tournaments, the majority DON'T bother saying thankyou; thats just the way it's done. Do I think it's rude and crappy? Hell yes. Should I take it personally and complain? Hell no. I'll just do it my way, say thankyou, and if other people are rude, that's just the way they see it done and are doing the same. Doesn't mean I should forget my manners.

And as for the unpleasant atmosphere, well, I think I got a shock. I'd been spoiled before at previous tournaments by the banter and friendly, pleasant atmosphere, and expected more of the same. But here was a serious tournament. People had not only turned up to win, but to psyche each other out. And I hadn't been ready for it. And really, aren't they right? You can enjoy your play, but ultimately, it's a competition. You have to take it seriously to get good. And decided that now I knew better, then I wasn't going to let it bother me. Some tournaments were going to be a nice atmosphere, some were going to be bad, and I would just have to be able to shift my mindset between the two. I'd had a nasty surprise, it had killed my enthusiasm, and when I realised all this I saw that I had a choice. Stop playing, or get on with it. And I sure as hell wasn't going to stop playing. So I picked up my darts and got back on the oche, full of vigour and renewed energy.

And then we moved into an unfurnished house.

Yep, me and Angela upped sticks and moved into our own place, finally. A big, two bedroomed, two floor flat in Coventry at a surprisingly good price. This meant that the Dartmate could finally be used for it's purpose-mobile darts-and I could finally construct my dream darts, home cinema, and home bar setup. With a separate oche in the living room with the Eclipse Pro Trainer on it so I didnt have to keep swapping boards. The stuff of fantasy.

Unfortunately, before this could be done, there was shitload of other stuff to do on the house, and even when it was done, I had to gather all the things I would need for my oche setups, and even when THEY were done I had to spend days and days gathering the equipment and installing the home cinema, then finally gathering the materials and building the bar, and then housetraining our new puppies (they've quickly learned to sit BEHIND the oche line.) To put it into context; we only had our housewarming party, when the place was 90% finished, on the 20th of November. And even then the living room was pretty much bare. I only got the pictures etc up on the living room walls yesterday.

All of which means, basically that since the 14th of May, I've only gotten in 110 hours of practice. Thats 110 hours of practice in 126 days. That doesn't sound so bad, but it should be way, WAY more than that on the schedule I set myself.

Still, we are now settled, and so the practice can begin again in earnest, and yes, this blog will start to see regular updates again! One slight change, however, is that after noticing how other projects are suffering-Darts is priority, but I still need to increase my income and have a
couple of ideas to do so that I need to put more hours in on to make a reality, and so I have taken the decision to reduce the target from 4 to 3 hours a day, five days a week. I think that's still a strong amount of hours to get in, and more than is sensible for any human being, but a decision I've had to make with a heavy heart. Since we've moved, our outgoings have not only, obviously, shot through the roof, but in a piece of horrific timing, I've had my friday residency ended and my wages lowered. So I have much more severe financial demands than before, and I have to deal with them, and this needs time. It's not a lack of commitment to the cause, it's a severity of need for my life, unfortunately. Bah. Once it's sorted, back to four hours, man.

But the darts setup..oh baby.

The living room board looks great, but it's the Snakepit Lounge (the name of the darts/cinema/bar room...the kitchen has the pool table in it. I love our home, the poor man's Met Bar, Cllub Smithero. It all sounds expensive, but its not-pool table second hand, for example-and we were living at home for ages so I was able to save up...) oche that really kicks ass. I'll get some photos up soon.

I had a Circumluminator built in america; this is a fancy dart light surround that, as the name suggests, circles the board. It looks great when turned on, and even has 'The Future Of Darts' and 'Club Smithero' on it. I'll be honest, for the money it cost me I'm a bit disappointed with it,
as it's only really good as opposed to amazing (for the price, it needed to be amazing) but people are always thoroughly impressed by it. I have a verysmall flatscreen tv rigged up next to the board, which not only runs a tv feed through from the sky setup in the living room (I like my background shows to practice to) but at the flick of a switch flicks over to the pc I have wired in, controlled by a wireless keyboard that can control the software from anywhere, so I can use my Dartpro and n01 software.

Software which, ladies and gentlemen, is the future of the darts practice.

I've been using n01 for some time, and more recently Dartpro, but well get to that later. It's basically a piece of scoring software, available as a free pc download or as an app for your iphone (if you like to play darts and have a pc or an iphone, GET THIS.) It's great for use when playing
against friends, especially as I''ve downloaded the caller sounds for the home pc; so your score is actually called out, as the scoring is done for you, and the wireless keyboard means no-one is ever in the way. But where it REALLY becomes a vital training aid is when you play against the
virtual opponent that comes with the game.

There are various skill levels to test yourself against, but basically it not only gets you into the mindset of a competition (far, FAR more fun than playing against yourself) but also takes a moment to show you your opponents score going in, dart by dart, so you get more used to the rhythm of a competition. I believe this is something vital to get used to. When you practice by yourself for hours on end, and then have a competitive match where you have to wait double the time you're used to between throws, I believe this is automatically going to throw you off.

Dartpro is a similar program (again, a free download) that, whilst it has no virtual opponent, it vastly more comprehensive stat collecting abilities (meaning you can collect your averages etc over several YEARS etc and have them instantly shown to you in a graph) but more importantly means you can play opponents online. You simply load up Skype, put your webcam facing your board, and set your frames and legs etc up on Dartpro and let it handle your scoring. This is not only awesome, but means I can now play in an online league. I've had 3 defeats, one by the previous champion, and one fairly sound beating, and one game that went right down to the last frame. In all fairness to myself, I've yet to have a game where I haven't been constantly distracted by the dogs, but that's down to a lack of mental toughness and being a dog psychology nerd. (TSST!!)

In other news, I've switched darts again. After realising that Phil Taylor's Phase 5 darts were the same 'bullet' shaped barrel as my Harrows Aliens, and that they were a gram lighter (noticing that whilst I like a heavier weight, my darts have a slight tendency to drop just below the
treble 20, and wondered if a lighter weight might help) I thought I'd give them a go. After a stiff drink and a nice lie down once I discovered they were 70 BASTARD QUID, I justified the cost to myself in the usual way ("Ah, it's fuck all in a 5 year plan") They arrived, and I liked 'em,
but was worried that I didn't have a matching spare set (I have about 9 different sets of darts now, but they're really 'guest' darts for when people come over. I believe you shouldn't use different darts when playing; it's vital to stay calibrated to your own) as I like ot have a spare
set in the van along with the Dartmate. You never know...

So anyway, I discovered a company called McCoy's that make, effectively, cheap knock off versions off the Phase 5s for a mere 25 quid, right down to the black finish. The grip looked a little chunkier, but otherwise, they were the same. I liked them so much that I actually preferred them to the Phase 5s (I preferred the thicker grip) so I sold my Phase on the darts forum I use and bought another set of McCoy's as a spare. If you'd
like to see my comparison video of the two sets (as well as my pathetic sales pitch) then visit the below link:

So far, I like 'em. I still have my Harrows should I ever change my mind, but we'll see. And so, to what I said right at the start; why I no longer have my average number of darts to checkout on the blog.

I recently bought a copy of Darts: Beginning To End by George Silberzahn. It's the only comprehensive book I can find that actually attempts to be a full, studied training manual for darts. It's not hard to see why; most people have such individual ways of standing, throwing, and gripping when it comes to the game that you can't really say 'here's the best way to do it' as most people do it individually. BUT, if you're not afraid to listen to advice and decide which to take on board and which to reject, George's is an excellent book as he stresses overall that you have to find your own way. He just waffles a lot. A LOT. And he's american, which is sounds odd to me (to us?) But they do play it, apparently...

Anyway, the thing he makes abundantly clear, over and over, is that you should never, ever, compete with yourself. It leads to negative thought patterns and pressure, and ultimately is a bad idea. He goes to great pains to make this clear, and I find myself agreeing with him. So no more darts to checkout results here, at least not for a while. Maybe this time next year, as a progress check? We'll see.

Something else I've been looking at is darts hypnotherapy.

Ok. I'll give you a minute to compose yourself.

Yes, darts hypnotherapy. As I've stated before in this blog, the weakest facet of my game-and a vital one-is my mental game. I have a fear of victory. It's like once I sense victory within my grasp, I choke for no apparent reason. This needs to be stomped out, needs to be done through
competitive play and mental training. The competitive side is straightforward, but the mental? That's a little harder. And so I turned to the popcorn version of hypnotherapy; iTunes apps. The results were...unproductive. To my rather minimal surprise, there's a gap in the market not
being filled by darts hypnotherapy apps. I have general sporting, mental training apps, and focus developement apps, but no darts apps. I even found a hypnotherapy app, to my utter astonishment, called Improve Your Darts, but it just turned out to be a general sporting app that you could tack your own goals onto, as was utter clear from the minute the voiceover started referring to the goal of the audio as being 'this problem', and sounding so well-bred that he probably would think a dart is always prefixed by the french pronunciation of Object.

Or so I thought, until one day I thought I'd give it a go before bed. As I was starting to drift off to sleep-as I often do with these things, incredibly, being someone who literally has to take drugs to control his sleeping patterns-I heard the word 'darts' come over my headphones! I nearly jumped out of bed! I could barely keep a straight face listening to someone who has clearly never played the game discussing it in his slow....hypnotic....voice.....I listened to it all the way through, then ran downstairs to test it out; and immediately threw two 180s in a row!!

Of course I didn't really, but I've being using it a lot, and as someone who believes in the benefits of hypnotherapy-even if it only works as a placebo-we'll see if any good comes of it.

Well, that's it for now Darts Fans. Again, apologies for the delay-I knew it was long, but none since May? It won't happen again-and thanks for reading. I'll get some photos of the Snakepit Lounge up soon and a new list of competitions for next year. I'll hopefully get another entry up
before Christmas, but just in case I don't, have a great Christmas and a safe new year. And think of me; i'll be at work. And if any of you are on Skype, have a dartboard and a webcam and fancy a game against the Straight Shooting one, let me know; get Dartpro downloaded and I'll see you on the oche.

Stay Hungry,

The Straight Shooter.