The Stupid Brothers Ride Again
© Mark Gatter, 2004

"So...what do I do now?"

I would have tried to help, honestly I would, but at the time I was paralysed with laughter. Martin was in mid-stream, precariously balanced with his right foot on a submerged log and his left foot some distance away on the mossy trunk of an overhanging willow tree. His left hand was firmly fastened round a none-too-healthy looking branch from the same tree, and in his right a wildly flailing shovel was obviously helping him to maintain the delicate equilibrium which was, currently, keeping him from a brisk swim.

"We should call ourselves 'The Stupid Brothers'", he muttered later in the car. I agreed.

To explain: we had set out earlier in the day, intent on doing some serious detecting on a farm some miles away. We would have probably managed to get there had we not driven past a huge, rambling old house which appeared out of the trees to the right of the road.
"I bet that's Upandscratchit", said Martin. "It's the site of a deserted medieval village. Shall we knock on a door or two?"
That sounded like a good idea to me. After all, we looked entirely presentable, not having done any detecting yet. That's not so often the case after a few hours in the field, when the sight of two muddy and windswept figures appearing on the doorstep was likely to send most farmers into the cellar, shotguns in hand.
After a little while a pleasant looking elderly woman approached the door, and following several minutes of undoing bolts and looking for the key, it creaked and scraped its way open.
"As you can see, I'm securely locked in", she announced, now that she obviously wasn't. "What can I do for you?"
I explained that Martin and I were extremely interested in metal detecting in one of the fields we'd noticed as we drove in. Having presented our pedigree (photo ID cards issued by the Dorchester Museum, bless their hearts) she agreed that, after all, we might not do too much damage and could go ahead. We promised to return in a couple of days to show her what we'd found, reluctant to scare her with the 'ragged and damp' look that would probably descend on us (literally, judging from the colour of the sky) fairly shortly. "That would be nice", she beamed. We thought so too, keen to be on our way. "But do tell me", she continued, "how are you going to cross the river?" I had seen no river, and assumed it to be a mere ditch that we could effortlessly leap across, fit devils that we were despite the constraint of enough layers of anoraks between us to double as Michelin Men. "No problem", I replied jauntily. "We'll think of something", and we turned to go.

I think the phrase is 'famous last words'?

Back out near the field in question, we pulled over onto a fairly steep grassy verge and got out of the car. "Bloody hell", muttered Martin in a less-than-optimistic way. "talk about the raging torrent". Though not particularly large, as rivers go, it was obviously a happy little thing, rushing along in a very businesslike 'White Waters of Dorset' sort of a way. It was, to boot, clearly much deeper than our wellies could deal with. Just to add a bit of a sparkle, everything around was coated with either thick moss or green slime and was utterly slippery. Things began to look dark.

But hey, we're not called The Stupid Brothers for nothing.

We trudged back along the road, looking for a more likely spot to cross. Actually, I kept glancing up into the trees in hopes of a Tarzan-ish vine or something, knowing that there are few things less comfortable than introducing one's socks to local waterways prior to a nice, long walk.

"Look!" exclaimed Martin, excitedly. "I bet we can cross there". He pointed to a willow on the far bank which had grown out over the water, obviously thinking it had been planted on the wrong side of the stream. It was going to be a decidedly precarious venture wherever we crossed, but I had to agree that this looked possible, at least. Casting around for something to use as stepping stones, Martin found a chunk of waterlogged tree-trunk, which he rolled down the bank and into the water. Between us we managed to shove it further out, until it looked as if it might actually provide the missing link between us and the tree on the far side. Neither of us considered that the return journey would be decidedly trickier...but later for that. Hanging on to Martin's shovel handle with one hand, I managed to lever myself up onto the log, and leaning forwards grasped the nearest branch of our friendly willow. After several more moves worthy of a professional contortionist I had manoevered my way through the tangle and found myself on the far side. Reaching back through the thicket, I held my shovel out for Martin, who eventually managed to scramble across in the same way.

"Dry land", he laughed - except that it obviously wasn't. The lower part of the field we found ourselves in was clearly water-meadow, where all the interesting finds would have sunk deeper and deeper with each winter rain, far beyond the range of our detectors. However, the upper side looked much more interesting as it rose into the hill beyond. We set off, headphones bleeping merrily as we crossed what could have been a scrapyard, now cunningly disguised as a field of stubble.

Shotgun cartridge, shotgun cartridge, penicillin tube, cartridge, tube, tube...and absolutely nothing else. Sometimes I find myself wishing that our loyal 'caretakers of the land' took a bit more care about the garbage they left lying around on it. We've probably all wished the same thing from time to time. It should be easy to pick up the cartridges after a pheasant shoot, after all they're brightly coloured and right there on the surface. And wouldn't it be nice if that yucky penicillin tube was popped into a pocket and removed rather than...dropped for people like me to find. And they give such good signals...I wouldn't mind so much if they showed up as scrap, but I always think that maybe, just maybe, I've found a hammered coin rather than a flattened tube of goo.

After two hours we had found a combined total of absolutely nothing interesting, and by way of icing on the cake it had started to drizzle. "Right", I said. "Now that we're both so weighed down by treasure that we can barely walk, let's go". Martin nodded, at least I think he did. He was so far inside his hood that it could have been almost anything. Looking like lost extras from 'Night of the Living Detectorists', we trudged back to the river for the final entertainment of the day.

Now that we were faced with the return journey, it struck both of us that we were dealing with a much more difficult proposition. Instead of going from a wobbly log to a (fairly) solid tree, we were heading from solid to wobbly. Very wobbly indeed, as it turned out. I went first, and got lucky. As for Martin...well, Martin had apparently left most of his luck back in the field. In mid-flap he decided that he'd had enough of the precarious balancing thing, and with a dignified cry of 'aaaarrrrgh!' he launched himself at the far bank. If it had only been a couple of feet closer he would definitely have made it. Well, probably. As it was, however, I could hear a clear 'squelching' sound with every step he took back to the car. 'Look on the bright side', I said, encouragingly. 'At least it wasn't quite deep enough for swimming'. But oddly enough, he didn't seem to want to talk about it.

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