Trading terrors

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Philip Moss gets a stark reminder that there are worse fates than selling leather belts in between a series of one-day shows.

I hadn’t heard from Gun Trade News’s editor, Colin, for a while, so I was annoyed and pleased in equal measure when I received an email from him. “The little tinker,” I thought, “he’s gone on holiday to Central Asia.” My mood darkened as further down the email it transpired that he’d been mugged and lost all his belongings. Then there was a bit about sending him US$2,000 via a bank account in Kazakhstan. Before I went off on the annual death march known to traders as The One-Dayers, I emailed Colin to tell him his email account had been hacked.

And so to Yealmpton (pronounced ‘Yamton’ apparently) – a proper country show in deepest Devon evidenced by stereotypical accents, buckets of excellent food and drink (including the Brimblescombe Farm Dry Cider) and the Herculean difficulty of relieving the locals of any spare bundles of banknotes they might have been stashing beneath their straw mattresses. Weather was mixed but good and the pitch fee very reasonable.

Next, the Honiton. This event is like two shows in one. Up on the hill, the best trading sites are rapidly becoming taken by solicitors, wealth managers (sic), accountants and similar professions. By midday, their drinks parties and jollies bisected the main aisle at so many points that it was impossible for punters to see, let alone fight through the crowds to get to my stand. Anyway, a humble belt seller can hardly compete with free Pimms, snacks (often with fancy French names), dry roasted peanuts (the type that badgers prefer) and professionals wearing badly fitting business suits boring on in a high, braying tone about what Jocelyn is doing now or how brilliant the skiing was (and, by implication, they were) at Val d’Isere at Easter. Next year, it’s down by the Hound Show for me, or cross it off the list.

01

After two hours cleaning dust from the stock, I got on the road to Tenbury Wells. En route, I checked my email. “Philip, it’s not a scam – it’s really me!” read a new email from Colin. “Please send cash asap! They are threatening to saw off my hands!”

“Well, the copy editing could hardly get worse, could it?” I replied wittily, finishing off the email with a winking face. I rarely use emoticons but considered the use justified in this instance. I was beginning to develop a sneaking regard for these cyber-criminals who had done such an excellent research job on their would-be victim.

Strangely, I’d had no response from Colin. This played on my mind as I squatted, unsleeping, next to the stock in the confines of my LDV. The heat and sun of the day had meant trade was poor and my mind began playing tricks. What if Colin had gone off to Central Asia on his tod? What if he had fallen in with a group of terrorists and was up against it?

“There is a big, hairy man called Alexei in the next room who keeps on looking at me in a funny way. I am begging you…” read another email purporting to be from Colin. I didn’t dignify this with a response. My iPhone’s iBattery had used up more than half of its 17-iMinute iDuration so I had to be careful. After all, I might need the iPhone for a personal iEmergency.

I overnighted to The Herefordshire Game Fair at the unfortunately named Hope under Dinmore. Habitues of this event have added ‘No’ at the front of this place name – it looked as if this would prove prescient . The gates opened at nine o’clock, as did the clouds. The steady drizzle built up to a constant downpour. Strange to tell, but ‘Herefordshire’ in the ancient language of Ur of the Chaldees meant ‘as the water from a cow’s rear-end’. It went on and on. I cannot speak for the Ureans, but the redoubtable folk of Herefordshire would turn up to the opening of a manhole cover, and they stuck it out. Best day’s trading for six weeks!

03

I checked my email on Monday morning and was pleased to see that the criminal fraudsters had finally blown their cover. “Send us moneys now or Colin never edit again.”

I didn’t see the point of this email as they obviously didn’t know that Colin doesn’t edit anything anyway, but I finally decided to check Colin’s whereabouts with Wes Stanton, the lord of Blaze Publishing. I was horrified to discover that Colin (who had been learning Russian at evening class) had been away on holiday for the last week and no one had been in contact with him.

Setting up the stand at North Devon Show with one hand, I held the iPhone with my other and ‘spilled the beans’ to Lord Stanton on his secure line. His response was helpful and constructive until the matter of the two thousand dollars’ ransom was mentioned. “Are those Zimbabwean dollars?” he asked. I told him that the demand had specifically been for US dollars and the phone line went dead immediately afterwards.

The next few hours were torture. The weather was back to hot and sunny and no one was buying leather goods. God! If only this summer thing, or whatever it is, would end, I might make a few bob. I pondered my dismal commercial prospects as I drove to Okehampton for the final show of the run. I also wondered how long Colin got for his holidays and whether Russian was a difficult language to learn.

As the iPhone 3 iBattery was just about to run out of iJuice, the handset burst into life. It was Lord Stanton. “Problem solved,” he announced. “I’ve found another editor called Colin living in the greater Leamington area. He starts on Monday. But I warn you, if a word of this ever gets out you’ll be writing the toad-sexing column on Herpetology Today quicker than you can say George Osborne.” Back to business as usual, then

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