Peter Pickering - Words and Worlds Interwoven

Unseen Shadows

A Tale of Guns, Ammo, and Cold War Echoes

It was the late 60’s, an era resonant with echoes of rebellion and uprising, and my recently acquired car — a white Mini Cooper registered number 9986 UE — was a silent testament to those unsettling times.

Tucked away within its boot was a daunting arsenal, composed of a Browning Auto-5 12 gauge shotgun, a Browning .22 caliber rifle, a Mossberg .410 shotgun, and my ever-faithful BSA .22 air rifle. Always well-prepared, there was enough ammunition to handle a small uprising. The hidden cargo, a necessary preparation for the weekend shooting excursion at my grandfather's farm in Barrow-on-Trent, near Derby, added an unforeseen dramatic twist to an otherwise ordinary journey.

As I set off along the motorway, from home in Warwickshire, the English landscape was a calming familiarity against the drone of my Mini Cooper. However, this trip took an unsettling turn when I noticed a car that had been trailing me with an unsettling persistence. An eerie tension filled the air as flashing lights sliced through my rearview mirror and a siren disrupted the steady hum of the journey.

Pulling over, a swarm of standard questions buzzed around me, stinging me with their intensity. After the initial barrage, I was asked, rather sternly, to step out of the car. The boot was opened, and as the officers laid eyes on the hidden armoury and military clothing, their faces hardened, their eyes narrowed, and the air seemed to congeal with a heavy seriousness.

After a tense few moments where they tried to make sense of my story, it was the sight of my guns and ammo that escalated the situation to red-alert levels. One officer immediately pinned me against the car with surprising force, his eyes narrowing, scrutinising me as if I were a suspect on a most-wanted list. The air grew thick with a blend of suspicion and caution; the kind you'd expect in a high-stakes thriller.

At this point, I was expecting the cold steel of handcuffs to embrace my wrists any second. Another officer was fervently radioing their base, cross-verifying my registration, personal details, and gun licences. Luckily, I had all my paperwork in order, but waiting for them to confirm felt like a lifetime. Each tick of the clock amplified the seriousness of the situation, making me wonder how a straightforward shooting trip had spiralled into an alarming encounter with law enforcement.

Finally, the crackling voice on the other end of the radio confirmed all was in order, and I sensed the atmosphere deflating, like a balloon slowly losing its air. The officer pinning me to the car relaxed his grip and stepped back, but the experience left me rattled and perplexed. Why had I been treated so harshly, just for pursuing a hobby that I had all the correct permits for?

Still, I couldn't shake off the puzzlement. Why all this drama? What had turned my otherwise ordinary shooting journey into an intense questioning session? I decided it was time for some answers. "Why was it necessary to go through all of this?" I asked the officers, looking for some clarity in a situation that had taken a bewildering turn.

The answer they gave me left me reeling — it was all about my car's registration. Apparently, the 9986UE registration, a seemingly innocuous sequence of digits, was associated with Northern Ireland, a detail that had previously eluded me. But in the eyes of these vigilant officers, that detail was far from trivial. The late 60s had been a hotbed of IRA activities, with the resurgence of the Provisional IRA marking an escalation in violence and tension.

Bombings, assassinations, and riots had become a grim part of everyday life in Northern Ireland during those years, leaving indelible scars on the collective memory. The terror had spilled into England. This tumultuous history, intertwined with my car's Northern Irish registration, took on a menacing new dimension when viewed alongside the arsenal stashed away in my boot.

But this encounter, this unexpected detour into the shadows of terrorism, left a profound mark on me. It served as a stark reminder of the burden of context: how unseen connections can surface unbidden, casting long shadows that can turn the innocuous into the suspicious. The experience made it clear that sometimes, unknown to us, these shadows can ensnare us in a web of tension and suspicion, transforming an ordinary journey into a chilling encounter.

© Peter Pickering 2024