Tuesday, November 30, 2004

market day

the tuesday market, in the st john's car park behind the church, is a mishmash of the usual market town stuff - straight veggie stalls flogging their six-for-a-quid oranges alongside the organic veggie bloke doing his best to compete on principle; traders in dodgy chinese tools, extra-large-size tights, baby clothes, t-shirts saying I heart ny, crappy cheap toys and wilting bedding plants next to the unfailingly cheerful fishmongers (even on a frosty morning such as today's, when merely to watch them dipping their hands into those trays of ice makes you wince in sympathy), and the hippies eternal car-boot sale (this week, amongst the battered stringless guitars, incense-holders, framed t-rex prints, and dog-eared copies of carlos castaneda they had a disturbingly genuine-looking life-size fake-mediaeval plaster saint james - I didn't ask). but today there was a new stall, a stall that felt like an intrusion into our world of something dark and heavy and malevolent: a stall selling replica firearms.
there was nothing either discreet or furtive about it - beneath a large hand-printed felt-tipped sign on fluorescent card saying 'replica firearms' was a double-trestle stall stacked with boxes of guns. not toy guns - these were replicas, with prices ranging from thirty pounds to two hundred. mostly the sort of badass chunky things you see characters in vice city and grand theft auto using, but also smaller, more discreet beretta-type things, a few uzis, a couple of AK-47's - familiar ware to anyone who has watched a James Bond film or, indeed, any American cop show.
I can imagine why someone might want to own a real gun, but what is it about replicas? the word 'replica' kind of dignifies with pretentious gravity the fact that these are nothing more than toys for the boys who grew up with the toys and always wanted the real thing but are too wuss to go the final mile and shell out and risk the police hassle for something that they can actually kill someone with. they are, of course, attractive to petty criminals who want to appear more threatening than they really are - although, considering the increased trigger-happiness of police armed-response units, I'd have thought that sort of thing was becoming fatally stupid. 'collectors' (another of those words that cheats the anal-retentive of their poo-clogged due) seem to get some kind of proxy thrill out of owning a facsimile of something that's designed to kill - that's behaviour out of the same psychological paperclip-box that accounts for the crowds attracted to the sites of fatal accidents and (hello Donald) hoarding bits of collapsed skyscrapers. and the more serious (ie the most wealthy) collectors profess a discerning connoisseur's delight - often expressed in pseudo-sexual hyperbole - in handling such exquisite workmanship, blah blah blah.
like any town, we have a (still relatively small) proportion of lost souls who meet their daily fix requirement through theft and prostitution if they can't meet it through begging. they're a small, identifiable core group, known to everybody who - well, everybody, really. their supplies arrive from Bristol on different days in tragically recognisable style - the flashy boombox, the furtive dudes with nokias and attitude, the swift exchanges - and filter down through a monthly rotating set of flats to which a small but steady trickle of visitors arrive as the word goes out. all known to the police, all monitored, mostly ignored - these are the smallest of the small fry - a complete waste of everyone's time to arrest. their economy works through a slow but steady expansion of the market via recruitment, on the street, of the town's future generation of lost souls - those kids of thirteen, fourteen, who've been excluded from school since year seven and whose reward for acting as untouchable (because of their age) messengers and go-betweens has been both pocket money and a bit of crystal, weed, whatever. a familiar story in every city in the civilised world.
so far - touch wood - there's only been one instance of armed robbery that I know of in our town: a clumsy shop raid a year or so ago by a couple of guys from Bath who were caught and later identified from the CCTV tape. they were using a replica gun.
it's not going to be the dealers who buy these things - they already own the real thing - it's those kids. they'll flaunt them to their mates and impress girls and rob year eights of their lunch-money with them. and then, one day, because they're invulnerable, and high, they'll decide to use them - why not? - to rob a bank. and the armed response unit will corner them after an exciting fence-jumping chase - just like in the movies - in a corner of the car park. and, because they're wearing balaclavas - like they do in the movies - the police will fail to see that their villains are children, but see them as an armed threat, and when one of them, stoned and out of bravado, refuses to respond to the call to drop the weapon, and (independent witnesses will argue about this at the subsequent investigation) begins to raise it, he will be shot. and that will be everybody else's fault than that chirpy mr market trader man who was, like it says on the box, just supplying the market.

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