“I was looking for a computer external hard drive. I can’t see one on the shelves.”
“We only stock two sorts.”
“I only want one, and I can’t see any.”
“They were here.” He perused the shelves of miscellaneous computer accessories. “No, I’ll have to go to the storeroom.”
He disappeared through the double doors of the stores; minutes later he reappeared, he raised his right hand with two small, neat yellow boxes “A terabyte or 500 gigabytes?” There was little difference in the price, the terabyte was better value.
“I’ll walk down to the cash desk with you.” The box was untagged and might easily have been slipped into a jacket pocket. “Although you don’t look the sort of person who would run off without paying.”
“Is there a sort of person?”
“Oh, yes there is.”
“You remind me of a police inspector I knew in Northern Ireland during the Troubles. I said to him one day that I had frequently been at police and army checkpoints where I had been waved straight through and how did they know I wasn’t carrying something. He said they knew who they were looking for. He thought there was a ‘sort.'”
It is almost twenty years since the formal end of the Troubles, though the task of determinating a date for a definitive end of the conflict will be a task for historians in generations to come, and there has been little acknowledgment of why the police knew the “sort,” yet were so limited in their capacity to act effectively against the paramilitary groups.
The communities from which those sought by the police also knew who they were – and perceived them in an altogether different way. Policing in those communities might be no more than parking two armoured Land Rovers across the roadway into an estate, or it might be an aggressively intrusive raid, with army support, it was not the local bobby (or Peeler, in the Ulster Scots usage), knocking at the door.
Without consent, law enforcement became very difficult. Of course, there was intimidation, there were many people afraid to speak to the police; but, having talked to Loyalist politicians in difficult times, there was also a sense that the police did not administer law in an even-handed way, that complaints from poorer people were not pursued and that the paramilitary organisations were the only groups to which people might turn for redress.
There was a “sort,” but a sort that would find refuge within his own community. On reaching the cash desk, there was a sense of reassurance at living in a community at consensus about unacceptable behaviour.