The Stupid Brothers Go To The Dogs
© Mark Gatter, 2004

I’m always amazed at just how easy it is for things to go wrong as soon as I show up. Little things, big things, you name it, I bet I can figure out how to turn it into a disaster. For example, I recently suggested to a couple of friends that their 11-year-old son, who has a tendency to mope around complaining that he’s bored, might like to borrow my old metal detector for a while. They thought it sounded like a grand idea, and I promised to bring it along on my next visit.

I was pretty sure that this would be sooner rather than later, as my friends just happen to own oodles of luscious land right in the heart of Dorset. Hills and dales, a river or two, and loads of lovely fields - usually punctuated by herds of contented cows or sheep. I’ve unearthed many a nice find out there, and it seemed appropriate that I should return their many favours to me by trying to interest their eldest in what is quite obviously the World’s Greatest Hobby. It seemed quite likely that he’d find some goodies, too, as I’ve turned up Celtic, Roman, Medieval and Tudor articles over the last couple of years. Just so long as he didn’t stumble across the huge hoard that I just know is out there somewhere...

Accordingly, last Sunday morning I appeared on their doorstep, spare detector in hand. Michael and a friend of his - Paul - seemed a little uncertain to begin with, but once they got the hang of it they were quite enthusiastic. They announced that they were going to start the garden.

At this point I should mention that Connie and Kevin’s home is - sorry, was - easily beautiful enough to grace the pages of ‘House and Garden’. Alas, it was shortly to look more like something worthy of a ‘National Geographic’ article on strip mining, complete with pictures.

I wandered out into an adjacent field and was merrily detecting when Paul rushed up waving his arms frantically. ‘We’ve found something!’ he puffed. ‘Something really big!’ He waved his arms about some more, words having obviously failed him completely, then turned and hared off again. I followed at a rather more sedate pace, wondering what minor scrap of stuff they might have unearthed. To my horror, as I turned the corner into the rose garden, I could see the end of what was clearly a major excavation right in the middle of the ornamental lawn. ‘Good grief,’ I spluttered, ‘what on earth are you doing?’ ‘I think it’s a fence post!’ exclaimed Michael, triumphantly. ‘Probably an eight-footer’.

I had no doubt at all that it was at least eight feet long, probably more. At that moment it looked like absolutely the longest fence post the world has ever seen. It also seemed to have been buried roughly eight feet deep, according to the piled evidence of their labours all around me. However, the mind can play strange tricks, especially when aggravated by shock and awe. I was also in no doubt at all that it was in the best interests of all future archaeology in the area if I put a substantial distance between myself and The Abyss absolutely as fast as possible. I therefore congratulated both of them on finding what was certainly the biggest metal detecting find I’ve ever seen, wished them happy hunting in a vague sort of way, and removed myself from the scene of the crime as hastily as I could. As the escape route to my car took me past the house, I stuck my head into the kitchen to say goodbye. ‘Are they having fun?’ asked Kevin. ‘Fun? Oh yes, lots,’ I croaked. ‘Lovely garden, by the way. Gorgeous. Well, must be off...’ ‘Are you sure you won’t stay for a drink?’ asked Connie. ‘We’re just about to open a bottle of wine to have with lunch’ ‘Ah... well, no - actually I’m off to meet (fellow Stupid Brother) Martin. We’re knocking on doors today. Next time, though!’ And, feeling just a teensy bit guilty, I slunk away.

See what I mean? Total disaster, from what were the best of intentions. By way of adding insult to injury, the ‘knocking on doors’ turned out to be fraught with misadventure as well. But of course, it wasn't my fault. Never is.

I had arranged to meet Martin near Withersduck Manor, several miles to the south of The Ruined Garden. Sure enough, Martin - enthusiasm being his middle name - was already waiting for me at the head of the driveway. Withersduck is a lovely and ancient pile, complete with a small church of its very own, adjacent to the main building. Some of it is late medieval, some of it is Tudor, and the rest of it is all points in between. It is a huge, rambling house - owned by Allan, a huge, rambling man. According to Martin, Allan still thought Henry VIII was on the throne. ‘Saw him last night in the pub’, he chuckled. ‘Nice bloke, but don’t shake hands with him. He’s got a grip like a Moray eel - I still can’t feel my fingers’, he added, waggling them doubtfully. Martin had persuaded Allan to let us have a look round in the fields surrounding the house. ‘Just so long as you don’t discover any of my ancestors’, Allan had bellowed, ‘they’re buried here and there out towards the river’. ‘So,’ insisted Martin, ‘The last thing we want to do is detect Aunt Flo. We’re not going anywhere near the river, agreed?’ I assured him that rivers were something that I truly felt we had finally put behind us, and that we should instead head for the hills. That decided, we coasted down the driveway towards the house.

Martin stopped the car near the huge, ornate doorway of the manor house itself. One day I’d quite like a doorway like that, but I have to admit it would look slightly out of place on a Victorian terrace. Still, you never know. ‘I’ll see if Allan’s around’, said Martin, and opening the car door, he stepped out.

He had barely gone five paces when, with no warning at all, an enormous pack of foxhounds came rushing around the corner. Seeing Martin - who stood utterly transfixed with horror, as one does under such circumstances - they turned as one and headed straight for him, baying profusely. I have to say that I was very happy to have stayed in the car. Had there been time, I would doubtlessly have offered him some kind of encouragement: ‘Quick, run!’ came to mind, as did ‘think of England!’, ‘play dead!’ and ‘help!’, but alas, within less than a second they were upon him - and down he went. All I could see was a boiling mass of hounds and Martin’s arms flapping helplessly in near the centre, and then he disappeared completely in a large cloud of dust. Once again I wished I had brought my camera with me. Dogs are enthusiastic creatures by nature, and this lot appeared to be much more enthusiastic than most. They were clearly highly delighted to have found a new playmate, even if he did insist on lying down. Then a mighty bellow rent the air, instantly cutting through all the baying and barking: ‘GEDORFF ‘IM!’ Allan had arrived. ‘GEDOUDOFIT! GEDORFF ‘IM AT ONCE I SAID!’ Wagging ferociously, the ‘hinds’ (well, that’s what Allan called them) jumped off Martin and milled around in a happy clump, looking just as enthusiastic as ever. The same couldn’t be said for Martin, who appeared to rise from the dead in their midst. He had completely changed colour. All visible areas had become the same colour as his clothes, which had become the same colour as the driveway. Quite impressive, actually, and probably a good thing it wasn’t raining.

Introductions were made, hands were shaken (ouch!), and an appalling amount of dust continued to rise from Martin. Permission to go forth and detect was given at great volume and received in appreciative, though muted, tones. ‘THEY SEEM TO HAVE TAKEN A FANCY TO YOU!’ joked Allan, gesturing at the hinds. Martin muttered something about taking a cattle prod to the whole lot of them in return, but fortunately Allan didn’t seem to hear. He strode away, probably in search of a volume control, and the hinds rapidly boiled away after him.

Two disasters in one day: what could possibly come next? Of course, the old proverb is that trouble comes in threes, and as soon as we got out into the fields we found out the exact nature of trouble number three: Concrete. It had been roughly a month since we had any decent rain, and the ground around the Manor was completely solid. It was absolutely impossible to dig unless the earth had been loosened by a plough, which these fields hadn’t seen in many a month. I suggested to Martin that it might be a bit easier digging down near the river, but all I received in return were black, though dusty, looks. To cheer him up, I pointed out that it was a good thing he didn’t suffer from hay fever, as all the dust might have just about finished him off. However, I won't repeat his response here. I don't want to burn a hole in the paper.

Honestly, you just can't win with some people.

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