Miracle On Watling Street

I don’t do Christmas or New Year resolutions. Nor do I usually announce formal resolutions at any other time of the year. This year, however, I felt the need to make an exception.

The media talk of “Deal or No Deal”, “frictionless” this and that; “backstops” and “double-backstops” has been draining. I suppose it is to be expected. It’s a sign of the times and perhaps I should be more philosophical about the ever changing political debates we have seen throughout this year. They’re only trying their best aren’t they? Hmm.

So how would I describe 2018? From a legal perspective I would say it was nothing short of turbulent. The government has been steadily wading through its annual quota of legal restrictions and seems to have covered them off. Deactivated weapons…ticked last year and still being ticked as the deactivation specification continues to evolve. Knives…tick. 0.5 calibre single shot target rifles to be banned and more legislation on air rifles and shotgun ammunition…pencil poised for several big ticks in those boxes too I suppose.

Despite the odds being heavily stacked against me I resolved to draw a line under this year and at least try and finish off with a positive note. I made this resolution as long ago as October and one of the key reasons for doing so was to shrug off the depression which consumed me after I had attended the Midland Game Fair – which for me wasn’t the climax to the forthcoming end of the season it used to be. Personally, I think it’s in dire need of a re-boot.

A positive Christmas message requires, of course, a positive Christmas story and as luck would have it my story originates from very close to where I live. It started thus…one night a star appeared! Not just one star I might add. There were several. Each star was comprised of a sign staked firmly in the ground at regular intervals up and down a fair stretch of the A5 Roman Way (Watling Street) in Staffordshire.

All these signs pointed the way to a nearby barn in a country lane which I had thought was long since deserted and re-occupied by sheep, cattle and little donkeys, of course. Shortly after these signs appeared, I decided to follow them and behold…there it was…the donkey barn was now a brand new gun shop!

“Praise be” I muttered and raised my eyes to the heavens in humble wonder and gratitude at the miraculous sight before me. Conscious that a sign pointing to a barn in the middle of the country would be a fitting start to a Christmas story for GTN, I decided an appropriate degree of reverence was in order.

So, in true fashion I didn’t visit this new gun shop for 40 days and 40 nights believing, as I often do, that if it looks too good to be true it probably is. “It must be one of those pop-up ventures” I thought. “It’ll be gone in a week or two and then everything will be back to normal” I convinced myself. “Besides, who in their right mind would set out to open a brand new gun shop in times like these?” Eventually, I could wait no longer. I duly reigned in my curiosity and speculation and decided to call in.

I am very pleased that I did… Let me introduce you now to the shepherd in this Christmas story. His name is Dan Bibb. He is clearly a very modest man because he describes himself as the General Manager of Shooting Sports UK which is, by the way, the name of his establishment based at The Avenue in Stretton, Staffordshire.

Despite his modesty, however, I gleaned a perceptible sense of pride swelling in his chest when I stepped across his threshold for the first time and, upon quickly scanning the interior of his barn, proclaimed “Bloody hell!” before flushing with embarrassment at my expletive in front of a complete stranger.

Shepherd Dan had clearly seen this reaction before because he stood there with a beaming smile. “Hello” he said, “Do you like it?” he asked, knowing full well my first gut reaction had said it all. What I had told my mind to expect was nothing like what I saw. Shooting Sports UK is a well-designed and thoughtfully stocked gun shop with a Tardis like quality to the interior.

It certainly looks bigger on the inside than it appears from the outside. It caters for all types of shooting and field activities ranging from air rifling to clay and game shooting. His range of products for all these activities are equally impressive and, importantly, they are growing on a weekly basis.

There’s no tat in there either. Quality is clearly as important to Dan as friendly and knowledgeable customer service. He makes time for people and his welcome is warm – all as it should be. Dan is an optimist and let’s face it one needs a good-sized helping of this characteristic if you want to set up a shooting business in these troubled times.

However, his location does him a great service. To give you an example, just inside the door he has set up a large spotter scope on a tripod. This one is not, however, sarcastically trained on the first five letters of the sign above the butchers in the nearby high street (“Purveyors of the Finest Quality Meats”). Dan’s spotter looks across fields to a distant copse which I know only too well is teeming with wildlife…pheasants, pigeons, squirrels…in fact the very things you are there for…potential quarry!

It is these seemingly small things that can make any shooter feel quite at home instantly. Of course, Christmas stories aren’t always blissful and this story’s Herod takes the form of the local planning committee which played their part in suggesting there was no room on its patch for the likes of Dan (or his flock).

This is not an uncommon theme for any prospective retailer. It requires steely determination, patience and resilience to get through the reams of bureaucracy and, at times, head scratching moments which emerge from some of our local planning committees.

For anyone out there who is thinking of setting up shop elsewhere, investing in good local knowledge and decent professional advice is a must have. A willingness to compromise on points of details is essential and knowing when to stand your ground in the face of open resistance or tactical delay is just as important.

The police authorities obviously have their part to play also and many offer sensible and appropriate advice and guidance on the premises and security generally. Forming a good and professional relationship with the local team of firearms officers is, I would say, essential because it is a relationship which endures in the years to come.

Experiences naturally vary around the country and even from person to person. Some are more openly supportive while others can be passive in their approach. Heed what they say and if you feel they have over-stepped the mark, diplomacy is the first skill to call upon. Judicial review is the last.

I am pleased to say that Dan’s crusade has well and truly begun. He now has an enthusiastic and grateful flock to tend and his arrival has been long overdue. For my part, I wish the Shepherd Dan, and all of you in the trade, a very prosperous Christmas and a 2019 full of glad tidings of great joy

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