That “N” Word

Language is an incredibly powerful thing. Even single words can evoke strong feelings in us. There are words that can make us feel joyful, happy, sad, angry; even disgust and revulsion. However, there is one word that, as a white person, I cannot bring myself to write; let alone utter. It is now, more often than not, referred to as the “N” word.

There is someone, let’s call him Joe, that I’ve known for more than 20 years now, who has recently been subjected to this word. Joe is Black, of African Caribbean descent. So it is highly likely that he is descended from the people who were shipped over there and forced to work as slaves for white people. This period in our history is where the N word originated as a label and derogatory term for Black people.

Joe recently started a new job working in a unit for looked after young people. His charges, through no fault of their own, have some complex psychological issues. Which meant they could be quite challenging at times. They were very skilled at getting under the skin of their carers. In Joe’s case they were occasionally singing a current popular song and using the N word in the lyrics. Now in public Joe was used to occasionally hearing this word. He didn’t like it even when it was used by other black people under the heading of reclaiming the vernacular. So he decided that, as this was a working environment, he would bring it up as an issue with his line manager.

This is the point that everything went pear shaped for him. I think he expected some form of united front from a team of enlightened, educated, socially aware colleagues. Maybe a collective zero tolerance approach coupled with an education programme. Instead he found that the attitude of his line management seemed to be that he should develop a thicker skin. They even set up an informal role play where one of his managers used the N word to his face and then asked him how he was going to handle it. I should make it clear at this point that everyone else in this working environment is white.

What’s sad and bad about this scenario is the lack of recognition that, given that he is the victim in this situation, it’s not his responsibility to do anything about it. Black people have been doing something about it for centuries. Fighting back against white oppression on as many levels as they can. It’s now up to us pink people to begin the process of change within ourselves; to begin to recognise and accept where we might be falling short of the mark.

How many times have I heard someone claim, “I’m not a racist”. A phrase that is almost always followed up with, “but”. Usually uttered by someone who genuinely can’t see the inherent contradiction in that statement.

Even now Joe recognises that there is no malice in the way his managers have attempted to handle the situation. He realises that they are not out and out white supremacists. What they did was crass. Effectively just dismissing it as his problem and dumping it back in his lap.

So Joe now finds himself, having put in a formal grievance, fighting for his job. As he is in his probationary period in the post, they seem to be countering the grievance by questioning his suitability for the role.

From my point of view, I have always taken the position that all of us white folks are racist. It’s just a question of degree. As a child I was introduced to my first black person by an older sibling who had brought him home from college to have dinner with us. I don’t remember batting an eyelid about it. But I do remember the reactions of some of the adults around me. I picked up that they weren’t entirely comfortable around him. I think that somehow that set a seed in me for my own disquiet around some black people. That and a lot of other bits of misinformation picked up later on in life. However I did seem to develop an awareness that this discomfort is not based on anything real; I try to own it and not let it interfere with my own thought processes and behaviour.

I just find it terribly sad that, as white people, we still seem to be stuck in a state of denial about this issue. Maybe it’s a sense of guilt that keeps us from really examining ourselves. But our guilt is of no use at all to someone like Joe. What he needs is for us to recognise and understand his struggle. And then for us to change instead of expecting him to.


The James Dyson Rest Home

A couple of days after my mother’s funeral, I was back at the family home to link up with relatives to help with a little ritual that my Dad wanted to perform. We were all heading up to a local church graveyard where my maternal grandmother was buried. My Dad had decided he wanted to lay a large floral cross on the grave. This was as an alternative to what he had actually planned. It seems that one of my Mother’s wishes, was for her ashes to be scattered on to her Mother’s grave. However, when my Dad asked for permission to do this, he was given a polite refusal. Sadly it was something that the Church didn’t allow.

So, with the flowery tribute duly settled into the boot of my car, we all set off for the churchyard. The whole thing was done with little ceremony and, once the cross was laid in place, my Dad seemed to be in a bit of a hurry to get back home. When we got back most of us settled into the lounge while Dad went off to the kitchen to brew up. It was while he was out of the room that one of my sisters leaned conspiratorially towards me and said, “Of course you know what he did with the ashes don’t you?” “No” I said, “I’ve no idea”. To which she replied, “He sprinkled them in and around the flowers on that cross”.

The look of horror on my face must have been priceless. As my mind started to race over the events of the last hour, my Dad dropping the tribute into the boot, me slamming the lid down, the car rocking as everyone climbed in, the drive there over several speed bumps. I quietly excused myself and slipped out to the Hall cupboard where I knew Mother kept the vacuum cleaner. I was thankful that Mr Dyson had had the foresight to fit his cleaners with quite a long length of mains cable. Opening the boot my fear was confirmed by the sight of a light layer of grey dust in the shape of a cross, gently settled on the floor. I was very grateful for Mr Dyson’s patented twin vortex vacuum action and, the job done, I slipped the cleaner back into the hall cupboard and joined everyone back in the lounge in time for the tea and cakes.

Driving home I reflected on what had happened, and allowed myself a small sense of satisfaction at a job quickly and discreetly executed. Until that is, a cold sense of dread swept over me. I hadn’t emptied the cleaner before I used it! I had a real face in palm of hand moment as I imagined my Mother’s ashes, comfortably settled in with the everyday miniscule detritus of the family home. I pictured an assortment of toenails, body hairs, dead insects and arachnids, cobwebs, skin cells and biscuit crumbs that had become the final resting place of at least some small part of my Mother. My Mother, who had always been quite fastidious about the way she looked and dressed. My Mother, who I watched with no small sense of pride, win a glamorous grandmother competition at a local village fete! Was now sitting at the bottom of a clear plastic goblet amongst all the sordid grime of everyday life.

My mental self flagellation at what I had done didn’t last too long though. You see, Mum had a very dark, sometimes macabre sense of humour. So I eventually comforted myself with the thought that she would have seen the funny side of what had happened; and probably have laughed even harder at my intense discomfort about the whole episode.

Six Billion Gods

Okay folks, hold on to your hats. This is likely going to be a rather bumpy ride through a philosophical minefield.

I’ve been thinking some more about, isolation. Yes, I do have a habit of worrying a topic to death. I’ve been wondering if it might be a state that is inescapable for all of us. I’m not thinking here about physical isolation; that’s something we can do something about. In the sense that we can reach out to each other. We can touch, caress and hold each other. We develop language so that we can share our thinking with each other. However, I’ve begun to wonder if that’s as far as it goes. That there might be some element of ourselves that will be forever alone.

I read somewhere, that a new born babe has no sense of anything being separate from itself. I found that idea a bit hard to take on board initially; at least until I’d had a chance to think it through. If one assumes that consciousness begins to develop fairly early on in the womb; then for quite some time there might be no sense of anything other than self. Everything within the parameters of that space will be accepted simply as the limit of one’s self, and therefore the limit of the universe. Then for a time after birth, this state of mind may persist. A state of mind that is omnipotent in the sense that everything from the Mother, the bed sheets and even the light fitting are accepted as not being separate entities or objects.

For a short while this developing mind might have a sense of being God like; at least until it begins to learn the concept of separateness. It’s been suggested that some male infants actually manage to retain this God like sense and carry it into adulthood; but I digress.

Apparently, the human brain begins to develop within three weeks of conception. By the time a child is two years old its brain is already 80 percent grown. The adult brain contains some 86 billion neurons. With the number of connections these neurons can make with each other, it’s said, greater than the number of atoms in the universe. I’ve no idea who counted the atoms.

I’m kind of wondering when, in this process of growing, consciousness might kick in. When might we become conscious of consciousness. Is it something that happens suddenly when enough neurons have developed; and how many would that take? Or is it more of a gradual awakening; a much more gentle process a bit like waking from a very deep sleep?

In some fields of research into artificial intelligence. It’s thought that AI could not be achieved without some form of body. That is a body that possesses a sensory system that can interact and communicate with its environment. If this is the case, then I wonder if a parallel can be drawn with the developing human mind in its early stages of growth? Might it be that consciousness is developed in stages as the various sensory mechanisms begin to make their connections with the brain? What does the embryonic mind make of the first Photons picked up from the first light sensitive cells of the human eye? The first vibrations from the ear, or the first sensations of touch?

What might be the first state that could possibly be labelled as an emotion be? How does the growing mind make sense of the trickle and then, as it continues to grow, the flood of information that it has to deal with? While we could probably rule out telepathy; might the embryonic mind be hard wired via the umbilical cord to the mental processes of the mother. If this is the case, does the foetus share the dreams of it’s mother. Aside from DNA, might the sharing of data in this way contribute to the developing personality.

I feel in some danger here, of tying my own mind in knots. But the whole field of human intelligence fascinates me. That we are gifted with the capacity to create and explore an entire universe within our own heads; as many as we wish. I find it a little sad, and yes more than a little scary that this is a playground that we can never truly share with other people. We attempt it yes, via art, music, writing, but we can never invite someone in to play in the same space. This is where I believe we are forever alone. We are not a hive mind where we can enter each other’s heads and become each other’s thoughts.

Maybe one day our species may be able to overcome this fundamental sense of isolation. The technology may be developed, to enable us to enter each other’s personal mental universe. The question then will be, do we choose to do so; or will the prospect of this be even more frightening than the sense of being alone in our own private space.

Early memories.

I’ve been doing a lot of work on early memories just recently. Quite literally just trying to remember as far back as I can. I’ve always been amazed at how some people can do this. They seem to be able to recall all sorts of events and experiences. Even, in some cases, sensations, like smells and tastes. They also seem to be able to go quite a long way back. It’s not uncommon to come across someone who can remember being held at their mother’s breast, and recall the sensation of being comforted. For me though, I struggle to get back any earlier than about five or six years of age. I seem to have two fairly strong recollections; one of sitting on the floor playing with a wind up Penguin, which just waddled along when set in motion. The other memory seems to be rather more traumatic. I’m in the lounge of my grandparents house playing a game. I seem to be wearing the cosy off the teapot on my head, pulled down over my eyes. I think I’m playing at being a ghost; obviously a blind ghost as I can’t see where I’m going. I’m stumbling around the room with my arms outstretched and making ghostly, Whoo! noises. My progress is arrested, and the game ended, when I trip over the fender in front of the open fire and plunge my hands into the coals. However, at the same moment I feel myself being snatched back out of danger by an adult who must have seen what was happening and was quick enough off the mark to prevent any lasting harm. To this day this memory, if that’s what it is, is still very clear; apart from the identity of my rescuer. The other things that make me question the validity of the memory, are the facts that I have no visible scarring, and that no one else has any recollection of the event at all.

These are the only memories I have that seem to have fairly clear visual imagery. (and yes, I do realise that I just stated that I had my eyes covered in one example, but strangely, I do have some visual images in that memory) Anything else I might try to recall from that period, seems to consist of things sensed or vaguely felt. One of the strongest sensations I seem to consistently come up against, when exploring these early years, is isolation. Since I don’t seem to have any facts at my disposal, I’ve begun to speculate as to how I might have developed this sensation, that I was somehow alone, at such a young age.

In particular, I’ve begun thinking about the attitudes to child rearing in the post Second World War years. I’m guessing there weren’t many text books around at that time. So mothers tended to pick up their learning from their own mothers and grandmothers. Hand me down information passed on from generation to generation. A lot of it was good tried and tested stuff I’m sure. A fair bit of it though, was probably based on folklore and social mythology. One bit of information that I picked up in later childhood though, was the idea that one shouldn’t automatically pick up a crying baby. I used to hear the words, “oh leave him/her be, they’ll cry themselves to sleep”. Or even, “you’ll spoil that child if you pick it up every time it cries”.

Now, my own mother was not a cruel woman. But I think she had become rather hardened to life. Her own childhood was far from ideal and her first marriage was pretty dysfunctional. This coupled with the fact that she already had five children by the time I came along, may have made her rather tired of the whole business of child rearing. So I don’t remember her being motherly or affectionate. I don’t remember being held or cuddled. I think that children were seen as more of a practical issue than an emotional one. We were fed, watered and clothed and occasionally entertained, but that was it. That particular generation didn’t see that the needs of a child might go beyond simple practicalities.

My own sense is that at some point when I was very small, I must have been in some distress and, for whatever reason, no one came to see what the problem might be. This went on for long enough and possibly often enough, that I simply ended up believing that I was on my own. Now, the upside of this was that I learned to be very self reliant. I learned to amuse myself, to think through things, to use my imagination. The downside was, that I somehow became disconnected. That is, I didn’t see myself as part of any group. I remained an outsider on the edge looking in, not just mentally and emotionally but more often than not physically too, as even in the classroom I positioned myself down the side and towards the back. I hated being the centre of attention. I had real anxiety if, for example, a teacher singled me out for any reason. Even in my adult life I would studiously avoid any situation that might place me front and centre.

Now being on the periphery of things also had other benefits. As from this position I could take in a lot more detail from whatever was going on at the centre of any action. I became a bit of a people watcher; studying the dynamics of a group or even a crowd. Depending on the intensity of whatever was happening, I could drift around the edge and barely register with people. Curiously this skill I developed, has occasionally placed me in the centre of a group activity, as there have been times in my life Where I’ve been required to lead or supervise a group. One can imagine my discomfort in such situations.

Working in this way, starting with an early memory and then scanning forward on the timeline of my life, seems to be proving pretty fruitful. I’m gaining more insights into the things that have shaped my personality over time and, to some extent, gaining clues as to how I might benefit from these insights in present time and the future.

Getting it right

I’m sitting on the sofa tapping into my iPad. When my wife’s 5 year old grandson decides to sit next to me while playing a game on his own device. This isn’t something that happens very often. He got up from where he was originally sitting, crossed the room and sat right up against me.

Anyone who chooses to read my blog will pick up that the relationship I had with my Dad was far from ideal. What physical contact we had, had little to do with closeness and affection. Such sentiment with children wasn’t even thought about let alone viewed as necessary for a healthy sense of well being. So I grew up rather undernourished in respect of my emotionality.

When I met my wife, some 20 years ago now, she already had a grown up family consisting of 2 daughters and a son; all of them in their early 20’s. I figured at that time that I wouldn’t have to confront the possibility of children being around very much. Which was something of a relief to me; as I didn’t feel that I had the emotional wherewithal to relate in an appropriate way with small humans. The reader will no doubt have realised at this point, that the one thing I hadn’t factored into my thinking was the arrival of grandchildren.

I’ve never wanted children myself, so it’s been something of an adjustment for me getting used to the reality of them being around. Given that they do have proper grandparents and the family wanted to avoid confusion, I was asked if there was any particular way that I’d like to be addressed. I think the terms, Pappa and gramps were proffered as options but for some reason the word Grumpa popped into my head and the title has stuck.

Now, back to the 5 year old sat next to me. Both of us sat quietly tapping away for awhile, when suddenly I was aware that he was hugging my right arm and saying something I didn’t quite catch. When I asked him what he’d said he repeated, “I love you Grumpa!” I was completely gobsmacked. I’ve no idea where it came from or what went through his head at that point to trigger such an outburst of affection.

I don’t think my choice of the term Grumpa was without some justification. Although, I am always there to comfort them if they are distressed in anyway. I have occasionally spoken rather sharply to them, and I’ve always found it difficult when it comes to playing with them. They’ve tended to relate more to the other adults in their lives; and other children of course. I’ve tended to just hover around in the background most of the time. Feeling a little superfluous.

However, I guess I must have got some things right, to have suddenly and quite spontaneously earned such a sweet and genuine expression of love from a small boy.


Saturday 25th February 2017. I’m on a hospital bed being wheeled to an operating theatre. Eight days earlier I was admitted with chest pains that had been diagnosed as cascade Angina by my GP; who was insistent that I shouldn’t go home from his surgery but that I should go straight to the clinical decisions unit at the nearest heart hospital. When admitted, I was told that I probably would only be there for 48 hours or so. However, it seemed to be that it was one of those weeks when everyone else’s case was more urgent than mine. So as boring and tedious as life was on the ward, (one can’t go far when hooked up to a monitor 24/7) I actually felt comforted by the fact that they didn’t seem in a hurry to get to me. Add to that the fact that two guys ahead of me had gone down for the same procedure, and had returned reporting no problems at all, and I was almost feeling rather chipper.

I say almost, but I couldn’t help feeling more than a little apprehensive as I was wheeled towards the operating theatre by three nurses; one of whom I noted seemed to be more senior and experienced than the others. I’m not sure what I expected the theatre to be like but my first impression was that it seemed cavernous and pretty spartan. The walls were completely bare and the high ceiling was covered in a network of track from which was suspended various pieces of technology. The only item I recognised was the biggest flat screen monitor I have ever seen. Just below all this space age kit was the operating table and my bed was duly parked alongside this. The side rails were removed and I was asked to shuck myself over onto the table; which was no mean feat considering the amount of tubes and wires I had attached to me. My cardiologist then came over and introduced himself and briefly explained what they were planning to do. Which was to pass a catheter through an incision made in my wrist. This catheter would then be manoeuvred along a vein towards my heart, so that they could see where the restriction to my blood flow was. Then he would insert a device called a Stent that would open up the vein and allow the blood to flow normally. All pretty straightforward then; except that it turned out to be anything but.

The nurses began their routine of preparing me for the procedure. Equipment was manoeuvred into place. There was a mechanical whirring sound as a compact looking box was lowered from the ceiling into position over my chest. This was the X Ray machine that would allow them to see, via the big monitor I mentioned, what was going on in my chest. Glass screens were wheeled into place that would protect the surgery staff from any radiation. What was going to protect me from it wasn’t mentioned. I then felt a pin prick in my right wrist which I realised was the local anaesthetic being administered. This was just one of the many needles that had been stuck in me since I was admitted, so I had got used to them by now. They fitted a Cannula to my wrist and without further ado the surgeon began to pass the catheter into my arm.

From this point on, everything began to go Pear shaped. I’ve never been good with pain. So I had asked to be sedated as soon as I got in there. They were quite happy to do this for me, as it would help to keep me calm; or so they surmised. At first I just felt a pressure as the catheter began its journey up the interior of my arm, but then the pain kicked in. Not too bad at this stage; just bearable. I began to realise that my surgeon was struggling a little. He then announced that they were going to withdraw this one and try something narrower. The pain continued as it became clear that even this one was proving difficult. He then backed out and tried once more; again with no success. It seemed that by this time the vein had gone into spasm; so he announced that they were going to switch to my groin where they hoped to have better luck.

Before I came down to theatre I was given a pair of disposable paper panties to put on; presumably to protect my dignity. I now felt the fingers of the nurse who had the task of prepping the area, very delicately tearing a strip off them just down the side of my testes. In another time, place and context, I might have considered this quite a sweet little bit of foreplay; but given the circumstances I wasn’t in a position to allow myself this little distraction. While they were busy prepping my crotch area, the more senior nurse decided they were going to give me some morphine because I was in so much pain. While she was doing that I felt another needle going into the top of my right leg as they administered the local anaesthetic. The Cannula duly fitted in that area, they proceeded to pass the catheter this time up through my abdomen. It took about thirty seconds for the pain to kick in again. This time in my chest and a lot more severe than in my arm; I was in agony. It felt like hot irons were being driven into my chest. Gasping with the pain, I was trying to stay as immobile as possible. It was all I could do to stop myself leaping off the table. I think the only thing that stopped me was the thought of all the hardware that was attached to me. I realised I could go nowhere, and therefore had to somehow endure this torture. At one point, I’ve no idea why, I started to bang the back of my head against the table. Until I was urged to keep still.

Now it’s not very reassuring in this kind of situation, to turn one’s head to one side and see an expression of near horror on the face of the most experienced nurse in the theatre. It’s even less reassuring when the surgeon stops what he’s doing, steps round to your side and asks you to say where the pain is. Given the amount of hardware attached to my arms I was hardly in a position to point. So I indicated as best I could and he put a finger on my chest and asked, “is it here?” To which I gasped, “yes, both sides and in the middle.” He looked at me in some surprise and said, “but you shouldn’t be in any pain.” After I reassured him that I wasn’t making this up, he looked genuinely concerned and exclaimed,“Oh I’m sure you’re not!” And then returned to the business in hand.

While this little exchange was going on, I was administered another shot of morphine. Which, if I’m honest, had as much effect as the first dose, ie, none at all. The pain continued unabated and at some point I screamed. Although, it was more of a roar than a scream. The emotion more rage than fear. More to do with the sense of powerlessness really. There was simply nothing I could do about this situation but let them get on with it; and get on with it they did. I was very impressed, even through the pain, with the way they handled everything. The nurses called out reassurances that things were going well, they were at the right location, the stents were going in and finally that they were all finished and removing their instruments.

I was helped back onto the bed, the sides were replaced and I was wheeled back to my side ward. Once they had reconnected all my monitors I was left to recover. Some time later I was visited by the surgeons assistant; she’d popped in to see how I was getting on. So I took the opportunity to ask the question that had been swimming around in my head since the procedure, why had I been in so much pain? Her response was, that I seemed to have unusually sensitive interior organs. Which seemed to me as good as saying that they simply didn’t know.

Gun Toting Maniac…….not.

I have something of a confession to make that may come as a surprise or even a shock to many who know me. I fairly recently rediscovered an interest that I had in my teens. I like shooting. I derive enormous pleasure and relaxation from it. Now I’m willing to guess that the first image that pops into people’s heads, when they think of men and guns, is of a maniacal group of people blasting away at everyone and everything in sight. How can I possibly be part of such a monstrous culture? I’m sure that many see me as a fairly gentle, unassuming soul; whose politics and attitude to life in general would rule out me picking up any form of weapon. So I’ll try and explain, what it is that I get out of shooting.

Let me start by describing the type of shooting that I am involved in. My rifle of choice is an air rifle. Many people, as I did, started with one of these when they were young. In my case, I discovered one in my parents bedroom sitting on top of a wardrobe. When I mentioned it to my Dad he lifted it down and showed me how to cock it, load it and shoot it. I’ve no idea why he had it, as I’d never seen him shoot anything other than targets at fairground arcades. Anyway, he let me keep it and I happily plinked away at tin cans in our back yard. Eventually I put it away and moved on to other interests. That was a long time ago back in the early 1960s. Moving forward to the present day and I found that the humble break barrel type of air rifle, (also referred to as Springers) has undergone a transformation. It’s still possible to buy Springers, which are so called because the method of cocking them is via compressing a spring. This spring is locked into position until released by the trigger. The rapid decompression of the spring provides a burst of air which sends a small pellet of lead, (or these days it can be a non lead material) on its way to the target. However, this early method of propulsion of the pellet has now been joined by new methods of compressing the air. The most popular of these being Pre Charged Pneumatic, or PCP for short, and this is my rifle of choice.

I’m sure the question in the front of people’s minds is, what do I shoot at? Well, rather boringly for some people, but quite challenging for me, I shoot mostly at A4 sized pieces of card that have printed on them 10 targets, each one composed of ten decreasing circles. The smallest of these circles being just 2 millimetres in diameter, and this is what I am trying to obliterate with every shot. You’ll appreciate the challenge of achieving this, when I tell you that the distance I shoot from is 25 metres. And yes, I actually find this devilishly difficult and frustrating. However, I also find it curiously relaxing and satisfying. I can be stressed out of my mind when I arrive at my rifle club, but within seconds of settling down to shoot, I have completely switched my attention from whatever was stressing me. The degree of focus, concentration and breath control needed to succeed in my chosen sport, means that my attention can’t be on anything else.

This probably sounds like a very solitary activity and of course the actual shooting is. However, there is a social aspect to the sport that fulfills a need in my life that I had been missing ever since I retired. My working environment happened to be very male dominated; something I had largely taken for granted, and I didn’t realise how much I would miss that when I left the world of work behind. Now although more and more women are coming into the sport, it is still very much male dominated. So a spin off benefit to my well being is that I get to share time with other men again. I’ve re discovered the camaraderie, banter and even the mutual piss taking that goes on whenever a bunch of male friends get together. I often refer to the club itself as my men’s shed.

Aren’t air weapons dangerous? Well, yes they are. But I would argue that they are no more dangerous than many household implements. For many years now, the power of air weapons has been set at twelve foot pounds of energy. Anything above this is illegal without a firearms certificate. I once received, quite accidentally, a practical demonstration of just how much damage to human tissue this amount of energy can inflict. I was shot from just a few feet away by a friend of mine who had stationed himself just behind me; a cardinal sin of any type of shooting. The pellet hit the back of my hand and….bounced off!? My friend was mortified. I however, was in agony, I’d never felt pain like it. I had the presence of mind to dash indoors and thrust my hand under a running cold tap, but this wasn’t enough to prevent a lump the size of a gobstopper appearing and then staying around for several days after. I’ve no doubt that even this amount of energy could potentially kill someone. But one would have to hit them in exactly the wrong place, and very accurately from quite short range. A pellet begins to lose energy the second it leaves the muzzle of the rifle. After thirty metres or so it has begun to drop as it loses that energy. By contrast, a .22 calibre bullet, (the same calibre as some air weapons) fired from a rifle has the potential energy to travel a mile.