The Stupid Brothers Get The Plague
© Mark Gatter, 2005

I was assailed by an odd combination of events during August. It all began when my wife was needed in California for a couple of days, for some business meetings. It's a long way to go just for the equivalent of a weekend, so of course she decided to combine the trip with a visit to our son's family, near San Francisco. This meant that before her meetings she could play at being Granny for a couple of weeks - a pursuit almost as dear to her heart as metal detecting is to mine.

Oddly enough, I had quite a few detecting trips planned for the very dates during which she would be away. Funny that - but mere coincidence, of course.

Actually, my wife is extremely supportive of my hobby - or, should I say, my religion. As a native Californian, it is still a source of wonder and amazement to her that the fields around Dorchester are littered with things that date back hundreds, or even thousands of years. Indeed, she is especially appreciative when I happen to wander in carrying, for example, a George III guinea complete with a 9-carat Victorian mount, just right for a new necklace.

Unfortunately, August, as any serious detectorist will tell you, is usually one of the most frustrating months of the year. While it's true that the harvest is being harvested, the stubble left behind is tough as nails, leading to a nationwide epidemic of 'Detectorist's Elbow'. Pasture, on the other hand, grows so fast that it seems to be up around your knees again before the farmer has even driven the mower back out of the field. Punctuating this lot is the occasional - and rare - field where the stubble has been squashed flat through over-zealous harvesting techniques, or disposed of in some other way.

I drove disconsolately around, looking for somewhere to detect. Every so often, I would pull over for bout of hysterical weeping, and then drive on again. Eventually, I found I was quite close to Bowlegs Farm, near Little Thumpwit. I hadn't driven out there for over a year, and had never really done any serious detecting there at all, so I decided to go and knock on Mr. Bowlegs' door again, just by way of making sure he was still happy to have me pillaging his fields.

'Oh, ar, roight enuff, 'elp yourself youngfella', he said, which I thought was rather kind as we're probably within a couple of years of being the same age. 'Go an' make moiy fortyoon!'

As it was a bit late, I decided to return (with fellow Stupid Brother Martin) the following day. Alas, the fields immediately around Bowlegs Farm were clearly in deep, tough stubble. Feeling a little despondent, we drove out to his other fields on the far side of the village, hoping they would be a little better. As these are not visible from the road, we had no idea what kind of condition they would be in.

Amazing. The stubble had just...vanished. The fields, on a slope towards a dry streambed, were just about as perfect as we could have wished. To be sure, we were nearly a mile from the village, and so, especially given my luck, it was quite likely that we were the first people to have ever walked across these fields in person. Nevertheless, as Martin pointed out, it would be 'good swinging practice', at least.

Off we went.

About 30 yards into the field, I noticed that Martin had already got a signal and was starting to dig. I tried not to watch, but it is impossible to forget that he is sometimes incredibly lucky. For instance, the first time I went out with my old XLT, we walked into a field together. "Right", he said, "let's turn these machines on". The second his had finished its battery check, it suddenly went 'BEEEEEP!!' He had put it down, right on top of a hammered penny...I almost gave up there and then, except for the possibility that it really might be that easy!

Sure enough, a couple of minutes later he looked over at me, grinned, and made a hammering motion with his arm. I couldn't believe it. A nice 'chaplet of roses' crockard.

Ten minutes later, I had found a couple of nice shotgun cartridges, when I heard Martin hollering at me. "Roman", he yelled. "Big one". I couldn't remember seeing anything at the British Museum labelled as a 'Roman Big One', so I walked over to have a look. Sitting in the palm of his hand was a Vespasian Sestertius - not in great shape, but instantly recognisable - after all, not many people had a beak like Vespasian. He could probably open bottles with it, as a party trick.

I congratulated him in the traditional manner, i.e. muttered something under my breath while scowling, and stumped off again. Soon I had added a rare brace of penicillin tubes to my collection, and I was just beginning to feel chipper again when Martin hove into view, dangling a Roman brooch between finger and thumb.

"Didn't even have to dig for it!" he chortled. "It was just lying on the surface! I like this farm!"

Fortunately, he didn't find anything else of note. More to the point, neither did I.

I talked to Mr. Bowlegs a few days later, and discovered that the reason for the perfect conditions was that his Combine Harvester had caught fire! Twenty acres of corn went up like a torch, and nearly took away a £500,000 house as well. Fortunately, both Combine and house survived.

On our return we passed yet another field in which I have never found anything, but as it was also in great detecting condition - ploughed and rolled - I suggested we give it a few minutes of our valuable time. And, of course, he did it again. Another hammered, albeit a poor one, within seconds of setting foot in the field. And again, I had nothing at all.

At this point I decided that my next trip would be solo. I mean, there's only so much you can take.

As I have to go to Cameroon in a few weeks, I needed to have a Yellow Fever shot at my local clinic. A couple of days later, I innocently tootled off with my detector to do a spot of Martin-less detecting. It was a hot day, very hot in fact, but that didn't bother me too much at the outset. Nor that I was on a fairly steep hillside, trying to dig holes in compacted, rocky ground. However, after about an hour I noticed I was feeling dizzy and decided to sit down. The car seemed an incredible distance away, but I thought it might not be a bad idea to begin heading towards it. The downhill part of the trek wasn't too tricky, but once I was on level ground it began to feel like climbing Everest. Eventually, I managed to scale the front seat - without the aid of oxygen - and headed, slowly and very carefully, for home, where I collapsed on my bed at around 6:15 pm.

I only intended to nap for an hour, but instead woke up at 7:30 the next morning. Both my dogs were looking at me with an intent 'what about my dinner?' expression. Also, I had left the back door and a couple of downstairs windows open, all night. All in all, it was a pretty stupid start to the day. Still, at least I was feeling a bit better, just a bit woozy. I apologised to the dogs and trundled downstairs to prepare their breakfast, and to have my one and only coffee of the day.

I have a low tolerance to coffee. I like one, strong cup - strong enough to cure a lobotomy - first thing in the morning, and that's it. If I have another cup later on, it will be enough to keep me awake that night. So, I had my (usual) cup and began doing the (usual) sort of 'morning' things - wash the dishes, water the greenhouse - and then I noticed that the weather was changing rapidly. 'Wow', I thought, 'looks like a big storm coming in'. The sky was growing darker by the minute. I gathered the washing from the line, and, slightly concerned, went to check the weather on my computer. The sky continued to darken...and dark enough to be...evening? And not morning? I've had my coffee...?

Yes, it was actually 7:30 pm - and still Friday.

Due to my coffee, I didn't get to sleep until after 2 in the morning, when I dreamed I was being pursued by fire-breathing dogs. When I awoke the next day I had a ragged headache, aching limbs, and a fever of 103. I stayed in bed for the entire Bank Holiday weekend, only dragging myself to the door to let the dogs out and in, and to visit the bathroom.

It's now Wednesday, and the fever, headache and aches and pains have subsided. Tomorrow I shall clean the house in preparation for my wife's return on Friday. And then...I shall go detecting!

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