|The Stupid Brothers Do Even Better
© Mark Gatter, 2004
I managed to make a complete twit of myself at our Club meeting last month. A new member had brought in his first ever finds, and I felt honour-bound to make some supportive comments even if they turned out to be rusty bits of scrap.
‘Found anything good, then?’ I asked. He held out a tupperware box in which I saw a surprisingly nice collection of bits and pieces including some good Georgian and Victorian silver coins, all nestled safely on a plump bed of tissue paper. In my enthusiasm I managed to jog my own arm as I reached out for it, and the top inch of my fresh pint of Guinness landed, with an audible splash, right on top of the whole lot. Fortunately he was very nice about it, but for the rest of the evening I couldn’t help but notice a certain protective air between him and his tupperware whenever I was nearby.
Seeing how well a beginner had taken to the world’s greatest hobby reminded me that the Stupid Brothers had been through a fairly extended dry patch of late. I wandered over to find Martin.
Generally I have to say that Martin has been remarkably good-natured about the story in which he featured recently (The Searcher, April 2004). I’d written to assistant editor Chris Bain asking to know the proposed publication date so that I could disconnect my phone, explaining that Martin still had no idea I’d written about our exploits. ‘HE DOES NOW’, came the swift reply...’KEEP YOUR HEAD DOWN!’ Unfortunately our magnificent postal service managed to return Martin’s copy rather than actually delivering it, so the first he heard about his new-found fame was at the Club meeting. As a result, and to his credit, he only threatened me with actual bodily harm a couple of times.
‘Loved the story’, said one member in a loudly whispered aside. ‘Could have recognized Martin a mile off even if you’d called him something else’. I felt most encouraged.
Ploughing season is usually a pretty thin time for metal detectorists, especially in a year when there seems to be much less set-aside land than usual, at least in this neck of the woods. Fortunately, I’d managed to secure permission for Martin and I to detect on a small piece of set-aside in a field close to a river - a river which we wouldn’t need to cross, this time. It looked good - so good that we’d both gone ‘Oh, wow’ as we drove past it a few days before. Even better, the lane next to the field was called ‘Mill Street’, and it led to a small row of cottages on the far side. Mills, of course, were places where just about everyone went to spend money back in medieval times, and it was easy for us to imagine their purses suddenly developing large holes and scattering handfuls of coins in this particular field as they walked across it.
Suitably enthusiastic, I arrived early, determined to find something reasonable for once. I drove into the field, got out of the car, turned on my detector and set off. Less than 10 feet away a good, solid signal sounded out and I dug my first hole - in which I found a small, gold wedding ring. My first gold! I have to say, it’s a lovely feeling - one which I sincerely hope we all get to experience many times. Fellow Club member Derek checked up on the hallmark later and told me it was made in 1829 by William Eley, a well-known gold- and silversmith who worked in London. Was it lost, or perhaps stolen, or even (surely not!) thrown from one of the cottages with great force? I’ll never know. One thing I’m certain of - it’s fits my wife perfectly, and is therefore unlikely to grace my collection at any time in the near future. I can say without fear of contradiction that it’s definitely her favourite find out of all the things I’ve brought home so far.
Martin arrived shortly after and congratulated me in his usual good-natured way. ‘Bastard!’ he howled. ‘Miserable rotten bastard! You could have waited! I could have found it instead!’.
It’s this cameraderie that really draws me to the world’s greatest hobby - that selfless code of generosity which particularly shows itself in the ways in which my fellow detectorists react to the success of their good friends, and accordingly hoard their own knowledge like Smaug the Dragon. I thanked Martin and assured him that I had indeed found several more rings, all of them much bigger, but that I’d re-buried all of them so as not to deprive him of the fun of discovery.
Unfortunately, it soon became apparent that my gold was the solitary find at that end of the field. We found several Georgian halfpennies, it’s true - but on none of them were the details much better than barely discernable. Aside from those, I found an oddly-shaped lump of brass which I thought might be an old drawer handle, so it too headed into my pocket for later examination. Yet again, the Stupid Brothers were out for a duck - or a ring, in my case.
We decided to try at the other end of the field instead, which was much closer to the village and adjacent to a couple of cottages which looked seriously ancient. Much to my surprise, I did it again - barely had I wandered into the field when I found a lovely Elizabeth Ist threepence. I could detect the early signs of delirium in Martin when I showed it to him, and reminded him that the pub was only a couple of hundred yards away. ‘Yes, and guess who’s buying!’ he chuckled, a mad gleam in his eye. Mentally, I could see the headlines: ‘man clubbed to death with metal detector’...Hmmm, I thought, maybe I shouldn’t find anything else - might tip him over the edge. Then it occurred to me that, as we both had XLT’s, a mid-field duel would be an even match, so... ah, the heck with it. I detected on.
As nothing of note surfaced over the next couple of hours, I was declared the winner. The pub came a close second, and Martin scraped into third place. I was sure we’d left something behind, however, so I decided to return a bit later in the week.
On the other side of the old cottages was a small paddock which could easily have been the village green at one time, judging from its central position. Now, surrounded by a small hedge, it had been divided into two by a modern wooden fence. On one side, a couple of frisky horses - the bane of metal detectorists everywhere. My shovel handle bears the marks of many bored equine teeth as their owners have follow me around the paddock, determined that if I don’t have pockets filled with sugar lumps then I must be persuaded to provide some other form of entertainment. On the other side of the fence was a small pond complete with a platoon of ducks. There was also a solitary sheep, and an old rabbit hutch over in one corner. As I stood there debating which side to try first, a solid-looking young woman strode past me with a cheery ‘Mornin!’, opened the gate and headed determinedly for the horses. I couldn’t believe my luck, and watched while they were gathered up and led away, hopefully for a nice - and seriously long - walk. I’m sure one of them whispered ‘we’ll get you later...’ at me as it clumped past, but it might just have been headphone static.
It was soon clear that this particular pasture hadn’t seen a plough in ages, if ever. Within a few minutes I’d found a nice crotal bell with a beautiful soft, green patina - the sort that says ‘we’ve never even heard of chemical fertilizer’ - near the roadside hedge, and a George II halfpenny in, well, ‘slightly used’ condition a few yards away. Other than that everything seemed to be fairly modern, if a 1945 penny can be called modern after more than 50 years in the ground. But then I found a real oddity. At first glance it looked like a complete, but crudely made, bronze locket - the sort of thing that I was sure I’d seen on stalls at the Portobello Road market in the early 70’s, when most of my contemporaries needed such things to hold small amounts of this and that, mostly that. But it, too, had a beautiful dark green patina that said ‘I’m REALLY REALLY OLD’, so into the pocket it went - carefully - for later inspection. By this time I’d been in the paddock for about an hour and a half, and the distant sound of ‘clump, clump, clump’ told me that the horses were now heading for home. I decided to hop over the fence and try my luck round the pond.
This turned out to be the gala event of the day, and I wished that Martin was with me to share in a truly Stupid Brothers piece of detecting.
Realizing that my presence could easily panic both ducks and sheep, I decided to go slowly and gently so as not to disturb anyone. I was quite surprised, therefore, to hear a huge commotion coming from the rabbit hutch as I quietly unlatched the gate and entered the field - and even more so when the cause of the noise came hurtling across the grass towards me. A lamb. Awwww...cute. No doubt about it. But as I heard later, not an altogether happy lamb. Mum, the ewe placidly grazing a few yards away, had been an orphan herself almost from birth and was bottle-raised. As she matured, the farmer and his wife decided that it might be nice for her to have a lamb of her own, so... now she did. The thing is, she completely rejected said lamb in favour of a small white bunny which also lived in the hutch... with the lamb. Lamb and bunny became best friends, and curled up together in the hutch to sleep. Mother, on the other hand, detested the lamb. If she had only ignored it, it wouldn’t have been so tragic. But she hated it. If it came anywhere near her, she kicked it away. But she’d really taken a shine to the bunny...
It’s a strange world, and the paddock was about to become a microcosm of most of the strangeness in it.
I started to detect - or, rather, I tried to. The lamb, having been deprived of a mother, assumed that anyone else who wandered along must be coming to substitute. It wouldn’t leave me, or my detector, alone. Have you ever tried detecting while a lamb is standing on the coil? Believe me, it’s tricky. At one point it got one of its front legs stuck in my left wellie, and had to be extracted. And the noise... I could have been detecting on top of the crown jewels, and I wouldn’t have been able to hear a thing. Just to make life even more interesting, a small white ball of fluff emerged from the hutch and bounced over to investigate. Yes, the bunny. A cycle soon developed: Lamb sits on metal detector. Bunny comes to investigate. Mother attacks detectorist to protect bunny. Detectorist retreats, laughing hysterically. Lamb trips detectorist over. Detectorist makes a soft landing in the paddock. Bunny comes to investigate. Mother attacks... I had to leave. Just before I got to the gate, the lamb decided that I wasn’t mum after all and ran off to play with bunny. Left alone for a moment, I was finally able to hear a faint signal. I dug. The signal got a bit better, so I dug deeper. At about 9 inches down, I was beginning to have my doubts. Usually, a false signal would have shown itself by now, by giving me a lower-grade reading than at the start. Sometimes - usually with large iron object - the signal fools me right up until the last moment. This looked like being one of those. Still, you can never be sure, can you? Just in case I was on to something good, I decided to widen the hole before going any deeper. A second later, I was SO glad I did... as a green spoon popped out and landed by my foot.
It turned out to be a copper alloy ‘seal top’ spoon, dating from around 1550 - and it was absolutely perfect. Proof, as far as I was concerned, that this paddock had very likely been neither ploughed nor fertilized (except by the occupants) since the spoon was lost. I was gobsmacked - it was, quite definitely, the last thing I expected to find. I toddled off to show it to the farmer...
But before I get to that, I should finish telling you about the ‘drawer handle’, and the strange pendant.
Brian Read came down from Yeovil to our Club meeting last month, and seeing the ‘handle’ lying on the table in front of me, he picked it up. ‘Beautiful!’ he exclaimed. ‘That’s just about the nicest one of those I’ve ever seen. Congratulations!’ ‘Thanks very much’, I replied. ‘What is it?’ With admirable patience, Brian explained that I’d found a very high-status medieval purse bar. ‘It probably belonged to a woman, because as you can see it’s quite small’, he continued. ‘Perhaps you should go back and have a look for the coins that were probably in it at the time?’ Perhaps I should...
And the odd little pendant? Another Club member saw it. ‘Wow - you’ve got a whole one!’ He sounded amazed. ‘I’ll be right back!’ He returned moments later with half of an exact copy in his hand. ‘What is it?’ I asked - as I tend to do. ‘Don’t go away,’ he laughed. Once again he walked off, returning this time with Ciorstaidh Hayward Trevarthan (try saying that fast, six times), the FLO for Dorset. ‘Wow - you’ve got a whole one!’ she almost shouted. Language, I have to say, is such a wonder. Eventually I learned that what I’d found was one of England’s first make-up compacts. Back in the 1300’s, when people were just beginning to develop the art of hand-grinding lenses out of glass, someone had the bright idea of making small, concave mirrors. When these were mounted in - you guessed - odd-looking bronze pendants, they allowed the bearer to check up on their appearance anytime, anywhere. This was a great leap forward for our collective vanity, and one on which we have been building ever since. They’re very rarely found complete, as the hinge holding the two sides together is both small and delicate. Once again, due to the lack of ploughing, I’d got lucky.
But I digress - back to the spoon.
I knocked, spoon in hand. The door opened. ‘Ah. Yes. Any luck?’ I held it out. ‘Oh, jolly good - a spoon. How nice. Well, must excuse me - Cheltenham Gold Cup, you know. Neighbour of mine has a couple of nags running.’ He handed it back, obviously much more interested in the racing coverage which I could see happening on the TV in the background. He turned to go, then paused. ‘Want to come back?’ ‘Love to’, I replied. ‘Good - anytime. Make yourself happy’. And, with a faint smile, he closed the door again.