|The Stupid Brothers Play April Fools
© Mark Gatter, 2005
So saying, Paul Rainford, El Presidento of the Weymouth and Portland Metal Detecting Club (my local church) turned and began to wander away again.
'I think I'll just give it one more dig', I replied, causing him to pause in mid flight.
Let me explain. We were in a small pasture field, not far from Dorchester, and we had come there in order that I could try out the Minelab Explorer that Paul had decided to sell. It had been looked after with the utmost care for the last 2 years, but Paul had recently bought its successor, the Minelab Explorer II. I know a good deal when I see one, and despite thinking very, very highly of my White's XLT - and having no intention whatsoever of selling it, ever - I was sorely tempted to add the Explorer to my collection. And, it was the morning of April 1st...
We had been attempting to plunder this particular field for an hour or so. I had bought my XLT along, in hopes of being able to test the claims of every Minelab owner that I've ever talked to - which is that nothing can beat a Minelab when it comes to depth. I particularly wanted to find a signal with the Minelab that I couldn't pick up with the XLT, and thus validate my reasons for parting with quite a lot of money. However, aside from that, I couldn't possibly let this particular date go by without a little wink in its direction, could I?
Therefore, and unbeknownst to Paul, I had seeded this particular hole. The object which had caused him to turn away, distinctly uninterested, was in fact a 2 pound Victorian gold coin of 1887, the Jubilee year. It was in poor condition, to be sure, otherwise I would never have considered burying it. But it was nevertheless a clear half-ounce of 22-carat gold. His face, when I turned out the next shovel-full of earth and pulled said coin from its midst, was a picture indeed.
After a couple of minutes of spluttering and passing it from hand to hand - I actually thought he was going to bite it for a moment - he noticed that I was just standing there, grinning.
'You - you DIDN'T! You DID! BASTARD! I'll get you for that!'
He probably will, too. Cheers, Paul, that was the best April Fool's trick I've pulled in years!
Speaking of the fresh acquisition of metal detectors, I have recently witnessed the first stirrings of life in a couple of newcomers to the, er, field, so to speak. First is my old friend Julian, who asked me to look out for a decent machine for him on e-Bay. I promised to have a peek, and was lucky enough to find an XLT that was due to go under the hammer a few days later. As Julian was going to be away when the bidding closed, I promised to try to buy it for him, and accordingly keyed in a bid for his top price when there were only a few minutes to go. It's always a bit of a risk buying on e-Bay, as all you have to go on is the owner's description and a low-resolution picture of the thing, but in this case it appears to have been a good choice. Julian is now the proud owner of said machine, which is in fantastic condition, and he is getting to grips with it very well indeed. And, best of all, he only paid a fraction of what a new one - or indeed most used ones - would have cost.
Second mention is my brother, Robin. Now, when I say 'brother', do I mean 'Stupid Brother'? Definitely, yes. Do I also really mean 'brother' as in born-of-the-same-parents? Oh yes, he's that, too. After seeing me pull ancient silver hammered coins from my pocket over the last couple of years, he finally decided that enough was enough, and he would have to show me how it was done. After all, he is my older brother, so it's only fair that he should lead the way, right? Hmmm...
Credit card in hand, he drove out to the Joan Allen detector shop near Biggin Hill, not too far from where he lives. As luck would have it, they had a single, used XLT on display. 'They're never around for long', said the assistant. 'As soon as we put one on display, it gets bought. This one has only been out here for ten minutes.' Good sales pitch, but it is after all a great machine, and I'm sure he was telling the truth. My brother seemed to think so too, and, just to prove the assistant's point, bought it on the spot.
Later in the week I called to find out how he was getting on with it. 'Oh, great', he said. 'I've found this really good place for detecting. I was out there for about 5 hours, yesterday, and picked up a lovely 1915 sixpence'.
Now, a 'lovely 1915 sixpence' might not sound like much to those of us who turn our noses up at anything less than 300 years old, but when it's your first time out with a new machine, it is riches indeed. When I first began detecting, I had to wander around for days before finding anything at all worth adding to my pocket (come to think of it, I still do that from time to time), and so of course I congratulated him on his efforts. After all, I'd been out on the same day and found an Elizabeth Ist sixpence, though for some reason I completely forgot to mention it to him.
He told me that he was heading out again, that Sunday, to the same place. However, when I called him that evening, he had a sorrier tale to tell.
'I started off well enough,' he said, 'but after about 10 minutes or so I heard this sort of yelling noise. I pulled off my headphones and found myself face to face with a rather excited man who turned out to be one of the wardens'.
(Oh dear, I thought. 'Warden' doesn't sound very promising, does it?)
'Anyway, once he realised I wasn't going to kick up a fuss, he started chatting fairly normally. It turned out that it was an English Heritage site, owned by the Corporation of London, and that if I'd read the big sign in the car park I would have seen that metal detecting is forbidden, rather specifically'.
(By this time I was holding the phone in one hand, and covering my face with the other).
'He pointed out, rather nicely I thought, under the circumstances, that I could be fined thousands of pounds. Apparently, when they put a fence across the property to keep out the cows, they had to have an archaeologist beside them to inspect every posthole they dug. The archaeologist ended up costing them more than the fence!'
Need I say more? Now, my brother is an intelligent chap. Very much so. But clearly, intelligence is not a complete defence against stupidity - the kind of stupidity that can land you in this column. So, welcome, Robin. Glad you could make it!
Finally, and not at all stupid, a book review. I just bought 'Bill Wyman's Treasure Islands', and I would like to suggest that you all do the same. Not that he needs the money - after so many years in the Rolling Stones I'm sure he's not short of a bob or two - but it's a very good and compelling book. It lists locations all over the country alongside pictures and descriptions of some of the things that have been found there - primarily through the use of metal detectors - and is therefore a great inspiration. It's the kind of book which, aside from being a fascinating record of things historical, just makes you want to get out there and...detect! It's also a very useful guide for the identification and dating of objects, and I have been able to clarify 7 objects in my own collection as a result.
Oddly enough, my personal Bill Wyman history goes a little further back than his book. Many (!) years ago, he worked in the spares department of Spark's garage in Streatham, and I saw him behind the counter on several occasions. Later, John Sparks told my father that Bill had come to him one day and told him that, as the Rolling Stones had decided to take the plunge and 'go professional', he was handing in his notice. 'I tried to explain to him that he had a good, solid career ahead of him in auto parts supply', said John, 'and that life with a rock and roll band was a very precarious thing indeed, and that he shouldn't throw this all away'.
Yeah, right. I'm sure he regrets it very much indeed...
Anyway, if Bill should happen to read this, and if he should happen to like the idea of becoming an official Stupid Brother, all he needs to do is contact the editor of this fine publication and invite me out for some detecting practise. I shall now go and sit by my phone...