You know what my problem is? Authority. I don’t like authority. Or rules. Or barriers. Or short, ungrammatical sentences. And definitely no quasi-military uniforms. I see red when I see a blue light. It’s wrong, it’s self-defeating and I should just get over it. Thanks for telling me. Now stop telling me! I can make my own decisions, dammit!
Why the sudden rush of blood? Well, I recently made the mistake of slipping casually under a rather flimsy piece of tape, taking a few steps into “the forbidden zone” and ignoring a scary, muscle-bound guard’s command to return. Sure, I was wrong, but was he in the right to bolt after me, grab my skinny wrist tight and start radioing for backup, all the while aggressively shouting phrases that I’m sure both his and my mother would have been ashamed of? A little excessive, perhaps. However, it seemed he was soon satisfied that – like a trusty guard dog – he had successfully protected his patch and now couldn’t be bothered dealing with a stupid Englishman with broken Polish and a death wish: he let go of my wrist, turned his back and allowed me to melt once again into the crowd. Fortunately for me.
‘Course, it’s a problem being a middle-aged proto-anarchist in the twenty-first century, especially in a country like Poland. Sometimes it seems that everything – and I mean everything – is “protected”. You cannot even pass a bus stop without seeing the words obiekt ochrony – protected object – slapped on the glass (Is it even the bus stop that’s protected or merely the sticker itself?). Actually, I’ve never seen a security guard at a bus stop. There’s not really much to “guard”, is there, apart from the odd empty crisp packet and the occasional sleeping drunk? And, anyway, they’ve all got cars now – the guards, that is, not the drunks – although when you consider some of the driving in Krakow…
Still, at least the ticket inspectors are reasonably civilised. Even open to a joke and a little bribery, on a good day. I can’t say the same about private security guards, though.
These guys (and they are, of course, mostly male) are everywhere! Let’s take a moment to examine the species, starting with those seen pulling up quietly in front of banks, in white mini Hummers, with helmets and guns. This particular genus is guarding that most precious of our commodities: money. As such, they’re handpicked for their professionalism, attention to detail and muscle size. If you’ve ever messed with one of these, chances are you’re reading this article from either Intensive Care or from Secure Wing B.
Next in the pecking order are the many varieties of black-clothed, big-booted guard. Equipped with hard exo-skeletons and formidable nightsticks, they possess varying levels of energy and testosterone. Their natural habitat is any public event or temporary structure deemed to be worth more than about 5 złoty as scrap metal. Whilst apparently docile creatures, be warned that they may bite if threatened.
A little further down the genealogical tree and we come across the nocturnal guard. These “all-nighters” are so-called due to their habit of guarding, for example, an impromptu “stage” (in reality some bits of old scaffolding and a few hastily erected floorboards) throughout the long hours of darkness. They often achieve this by spending all night sitting together in a semi-circle, playing cards and smoking cigarettes, whist speaking a secret language that even the Polish mountain-people would find a mystery. Comprised mainly of individuals with – unusually for the security guard – the correct balance of X and Y chromosomes and even the odd pony-tailed student, the all-nighter may be approached – albeit with caution – by those curious as to the future function of the guarded object, or else by tramps trying to cadge a fag after midnight.
And now we come to the guard that perhaps all of us are most familiar with: the shop and office security guard. This subspecies is itself strictly hierarchical, with a guard at a government or corporate head office snobbishly refusing to even look at the Kefirek or Biedronka guard, come the security guards’ Christmas party (incidentally, the one unsupervised event in the whole of Poland). These guards are solitary creatures and spend their time incessantly patrolling the same small patch of territory, the more domesticated individuals occasionally helping to weigh fruit and vegetables when needed. They lead a routine, even boring, life. And so, without wishing to seem in any way irresponsible, I would like to take this opportunity to ask, nay implore, some of our more impressionable readers to attempt to steal an item of small worth from one of these neighbourhood shops. The ensuing commotion would make the guard’s day, week or even year. Believe me. You’d be doing him a favour – as well as helping to smash the tyrannous forces of state authority, into the bargain.
Selected pieces by John Marshall may be found at at http://krakowjohnradio.blogspot.com