|The Stupid Brothers Go To The Dogs - Again!
© Mark Gatter, 2005
Take, for example, my most recent visit a few weeks ago. All I intended to do was to find out what land they were designating as set-aside for the following year. I knocked, and John answered the door almost immediately. ‘Mark!’ he bellowed, ‘we were just talking about you! Do come in!’
John, as you may gather, is more-or-less incapable of speaking at a normal volume level. If his neighbours were any closer, they would have probably sold up and moved somewhere quieter by now - the flight path into Heathrow, for instance. John, however, is but a distant murmur compared to his girlfriend Letitia. A fine, strapping example of Dorsetshire womanhood, Letitia Garth is a primary school teacher. There can be little doubt that her speciality is in calling the children from afar. I’d parked next to her (very dusty) car out in the yard, and noticed that one of her more mature students had written in it, with their finger, ‘I wish Miss Garth was as dirty as her car’. 10 points for imagination I thought to myself, as I approached the front door.
In the kitchen, a room into which I fear to tread in case I contract some awful disease, Letitia and John’s mother were tramping around in wellies, piling the table high with all sorts of picnic-ish things.
‘MARK’ yelled Letitia, ‘WE CAN’T DECIDE: DO YOU WHIP YOUR DOGS?’
And yet again, within seconds of arrival, I was completely speechless. Well, I thought, it’s a reasonable question - for this lot, at any rate.
‘No, I don’t,’ I managed to reply. ‘They don’t seem to like it’.
‘NO. THOUGHT AS MUCH. WE WHIP OURS, BUT THEY’RE NOT RESPONDING TO IT VERY WELL’.
We settled down around the table for a brief chat about the best ways to suggest to border collies that, while certain behaviour traits were OK, others were not. I veered towards positive reinforcement; they veered towards a more ‘off with its head’ approach. I suggested patience, they suggested a ‘jolly good beating’. Altogether a rather sad conversation, during which they lost several popularity points as far as I was concerned.
‘How many dogs do you have?’ I asked John.
‘Er... not sure. About eight, I think’, he replied vaguely.
‘No, I’m sure it’s only seven’, announced his mother, ‘I only counted seven the last time’.
As John’s mother is 87, hard of hearing, and almost certainly legally blind I had my doubts; but that is something I expect to encounter at their farm - doubts. I was, by this time, fairly desperate to get out into the fields.
‘Got some nice stubble for you - care to take a look?’ announced John. ‘We’re having a picnic up there later this afternoon - support the hunt, and all that.’
I decided that supporting the hunt, whipping the dogs and then losing count of how many dogs you actually had all somehow fit together into the same sort of thought processes. At least they are consistent, I thought to myself. ‘Love to’, I replied, and quickly followed him out to the yard.
We had just climbed into their trusty Land Rover when Letitia came bounding out of the house.
‘I WANT TO DRIVE’, she honked. ‘IT’S MY TURN’.
John climbed out, dropped the back hatch, climbed on to it, and got a firm grip of the roof. Grinding the Rover into gear, Letitia let out a whoop of global proportions, and dogs came streaming out of the house. I counted nine. All of them piled into the back of the vehicle, and as many as of them as could fit proceeded to squirm their way into the front. I was pretty sure that the one more-or-less sitting right on top of me had been known to bite, but it didn’t seem like a good moment to ask. I wasn’t sure how Letitia would actually manage to drive with five border collies scrambling around over us - the other four couldn’t fit, and were milling around in the back - but I was about to find out. Yelling and hollering, she reversed into the centre of the yard before taking off up the hill at frightening speed. The dogs began barking their heads off, Letitia continued to whoop it up behind the wheel, and I could hear John laughing - rather madly, I thought - from his precarious perch at the back. Had I known any good prayers, I would have started to say them.
We hurtled over the brow of the hill and down the other side, and skidded our way along the valley for about half a mile. Yes, it’s a large farm. On the way we passed the site of a prehistoric village, a small (and very scheduled) iron-age settlement, and eventually slammed to a halt beside the ancient and possibly medieval buildings of a hamlet which was occupied right up until the first World War. And that is why I keep coming back to risk my life here. The history of the place is amazing, and the finds are, from time to time, spectacular. I’m convinced that there’s a valuable horde hidden out there somewhere, hopefully with my name on it.
John was nowhere to be seen.
‘HE MUST HAVE FALLEN ORF’, yelled Letitia. ‘I’LL GO BACK AND FIND HIM’.
‘Good idea - I’ll get out and have a bit of a detect,’ I yelled back, opening the door as fast as I could and almost falling headlong into the grass in my haste to escape.
The barkmobile spun round and once again lurched into action. I watched its erratic and noisy progress back up the valley, idly wondering whether John would manage to get out of its way before being completely flattened.
Despite our noisy arrival, once the Land Rover had disappeared from view the incredible peace of the valley took over immediately. Skylarks larked, the sun shone, and the grass shimmered before me. And, best of all, to my right was about 50 acres of stubble, complete with a nice set of strip lynchets stretching across the end closest to the old hamlet. Waving my Minelab before me, I proceeded to clear my mind of the rigours of the last half hour, and concentrated instead on the task at hand.
By the time I’d reached the hamlet, I had a renewed respect for all the people who had ever lived there. Somehow, they managed to eke out an existence on land that set like concrete before the plough had even been put back in the barn. It seemed to be made up of a solid bed of pebbles with only a slight scattering of earth thrown in as an afterthought. Digging was hard, and I wished I had brought a crowbar. Nevertheless, I found several objects of interest, and I bet there’s a lot more still to find.
First, an odd item, but one that I’d seen before - in fact, there was a picture of a similar object in Old Yellowbelly’s Roundabout in the August issue of The Searcher. Possibly a chape, but we’ll all have to wait until OY spills the beans... Second, two medieval buckles. One is quite small, and having found several similar buckles over the years I feel fairly confident in dating it to between 1250 and 1400. As to the age of the other, much larger buckle, I’m not sure - and I would really appreciate any helpful comments from readers. Last, but not least, is a rather lovely foot. It has the look of an armoured foot, and while it has two mounts fastened to it underneath - as if it was part of a statue - it does not seem to have been broken off a larger object. So, perhaps the mounts were intended to be pushed through holes in a leather belt? Again, I’m stumped and open to opinion.
I sat down in front of the remains of the old cottage, and enjoyed the view before me. Pristine English countryside, my absolute favourite. Peaceful, beautiful, and...utterly shattered, instantly, by the return of Letitia, the Land Rover, a slightly battered John and assorted dogs.
John limped across the grass to me.
‘Fell orf’, he told me. ‘Landed in the hedge. Good things, hedges, aren’t they?’
I told him that, in my opinion, hedges were one of the best inventions ever. I’m sure that whoever came up with them had John and Letitia in mind at the time.
He settled, rather carefully, into the grass, and we both watched - he with no apparent surprise, and me with growing amazement - as Letitia began to run the Land Rover round and round in tight circles, at her usual high speed. The g-force inside must have been stupendous, for every couple of minutes another dog was forced through the passenger window and thrown clear, before running - howling - into the bracken to hide.
John caught my expression and started to laugh. ‘Picnic later this afternoon’, he said. ‘Letitia wanted to flatten the grass a bit, give the children somewhere to play’.
I wondered how the children would like playing in an area littered with flattened border collies, which I was sure would be the final outcome. However, after about fifteen minutes of madly circling vehicle and orbiting, howling collies, Letitia had finished. As the Land Rover came to a shuddering stop, she stuck her head from the window.
‘ANYONE WANT A LIFT?’ she bellowed.
John and I heaved ourselves to our feet. Our eyes met with a shared understanding that, once again, we were about to risk our lives. I couldn’t bear it.
‘Would you like to ride in front?’ I asked him.
‘Oh, no - very kind, but if I hang on at the back I can check some more hedges’, he replied.
Admiring his pluck, I climbed aboard.