The Stupid Brothers Go Roman
© Mark Gatter, 2004
A couple of weeks ago I’d arranged to meet with (fellow Stupid Brother) Martin on a nearby farm. We’d had our eye on it for a while, and Martin, oddly enough, had the good fortune to meet the farmer a few days beforehand - the cunning fellow had actually gone and knocked on his door! Now, I know this may seem like a dangerous thing to do - indeed, I know quite a few people who have been detecting for years and have not yet done it - but believe me, it’s not that hard. The fact is, most people would rather be polite and pleasant to you than otherwise, and farmers are no exception. Well, not usually, anyway.

Actually, come to think of it, I’m AMAZED that people find door-knocking so hard to do. I mean, metal detecting sort of requires it of us, don’t you think? After all, if you never go out and get land yourself, it means that you’re always going onto land that other people have provided. It’s a bit like never buying a round in the pub. After giving this due consideration, I decided that a short course in door-knocking might be a good way to begin this piece.

For those of you who are used to this activity, please feel free to skip the next bit. Otherwise, may I humbly suggest that for those who haven’t yet tried this unique - even daring - approach to the Worlds’ Greatest Hobby, a fairly good way to proceed might be something like this:

1) Find a field you like the look of. This is quite important.
2) Find the farm to which the field belongs. This is usually accomplished by looking around nearby.
3) Figure out some way of actually getting to the farm. I’ve found that cars are quite good for this sort of thing, and legs come a close second. DON’T rent a limo, DON’T wear a suit...and be prepared to step into things that are not, er, quite nice without looking offended about it.
4) Locate the front the door, and approach it.
5) Knock, or ring the bell. Try not to step on any cats (there are almost always cats).
6) When someone answers, find out if you’re talking to The Person You Need To Be Talking To. If you are, proceed to number 7. If not, find out where that person is, take yourself there, and then proceed to number 7.
7) “Hi, I’m ............ (your name). I wondered if I could have a look around on (describe the field) with a metal detector?” Yes, I know this might sound like a devious, sneaky, indirect sort of a way to phrase it, but - honestly - it works.
8) Here’s where you might need to think quickly, as you might get one of several different kinds of response: Possible response A: “Bugger off” - clear and straightforward, but fortunately quite unlikely. I’ve only had this once.
Possible response B: “Well, I suppose that would be OK” or variations thereof. This response is quite likely.
Possible response C: “Sorry, but I already have someone detecting here”. This one is also quite likely, because what else did you think the rest of us were doing while you waited for someone to invite you to go detecting?
Possible response D: The undecided response. The clue to identifying this one is that they won’t seem to know quite what to say. In this case, try pulling a few previously-found goodies out of your pocket (you did remember to bring a few of those, didn’t you?) and start talking about them. It’s amazing how much people open up when you plonk an Elizabeth 1st shilling into their hand, even though they know not going to get to keep it. The thing is, in their mind it’s quite likely that they’re thinking something along these lines: ‘Hmmm... this must be worth a bob or two. And the next one he finds might be in one of MY fields...’ You don’t need an astrophysics degree to see where that one could be headed. If everything works out and you get an OK, buzz off. Farmers are busy people - why else would they eat breakfast in the middle of the night - and once a decision is made, you’re in the way. Don’t waste their time, ‘cos they don’t have any to waste. 9) If you do get permission - and unless they’re descended from Silas the Tight, or already have someone detecting on their land, there’s a very good chance that you will - Get Thee To The Field and start detecting. And make sure that you go back, the same day if at all possible, to show the farmer what you’ve found. Now that they’ve seen you once, you’re not a complete stranger - and if you found anything that you can talk about, why not slip in a question about maybe having a look in some of his other fields? And why not whip that handy little map out of your pocket if he says ‘OK’, so he can show you exactly where the rest of his fields are? 9) Happy detecting! You now have your very own farm, and you don’t even have to milk the cows.

OK, now that’s out of the way. We may now proceed.

Martin, it turned out, was covered in pink spots. “Good grief”, I stuttered, “are you OK?” “Oh, yes”, he laughed, “it’s only hay fever”. I couldn’t help but think that’s no doubt what the early victims of the Black Death told each other, just prior to collapsing covered in vile purple warty things. “Right-o”, I replied, cautiously stepping back a few feet. “Is it contagious?” “What? Oh, no - it’s just that I normally get my hay fever pills from Allie (his daughter, Alice) and she changed her brand. And the new ones give me spots”. As I couldn’t think of anything to say about that (except perhaps ‘wouldn’t you rather have hay fever?’) I suggested that we do a little detecting. So off we went.

Martin, I should like to point out, sings while he is detecting. I’m not even sure he’s aware of it (though he will be when he reads this), but from time to time he sends a disembodied line or two warbling across the fields. Headphones have a habit of making some people act as if they had suddenly gone deaf: they fool them into thinking that they need to shout in order to be heard, and /or that if they sing nobody else can hear them... Hiya, Martin!

After an hour, nothing was happening. The usual Stupid Brothers afternoon out, I found myself thinking. Nice farm, lovely field, dose of spots, no finds. Still, it’s good to be out here... Perhaps I was thinking out loud (fooled by my headphones?) as Martin almost immediately wandered across. “How about a quick look in that field up by the road?” he suggested. “I’m not getting anything here, and I had a couple of roman grots in that one the other day. I bet I left a few behind”. Grots? Great! Why not. On a bad day, grots are better than...spots? Off we went again.

Half an hour later, the score was Martin: 8, Me: 0. And boy, was he happy. None of his finds were great, but they were all 3rd-4th century Roman, and all had reasonable detail. “Don’t worry, you’ll find some - eventually!” he chortled. “Are you sure you turned your machine on? It really helps!”

Humph. I veered determinedly off to the left and suddenly got a really good signal. I was surprised to find that I had to dig nearly a foot down before finding the cause, as I didn’t think my machine could pick up coins that far down. Out came a truly beautiful follis, fresh as a daisy and twice as big. Although the inscription implies that was minted for Maximianus, I have it on good authority that it is in fact a coin of Gallerius. Maybe he was having trouble remembering his name... Martin, to his credit, was delighted for me. He already has a large collection of good Roman coins, many of them silver, but this (as he knew) was my first really decent ancient coin. I suppose that it had managed to escape the ravages of the plough through laying just a little too deep, though sometimes it must have been a close call. Gloating over, no sooner had we decided to carry on detecting when car drove into the field and headed our way. Martin, having met the owner before, immediately recognised him at the wheel and walked over, a big smile on his face and a bunch of Roman coins in his hand. A few words were exchanged, then the car turned and drove away. Martin looked at me, dejectedly. “Well, that’s that,” he sighed. It turned out that this particular field had just been rented out to a third party, and the owner was afraid that our detecting activities might dent his rental agreement! So we had to leave...for now. Nevertheless, we’d managed to pack a lot into 30 minutes! The next step will be to find the new tenant. We will then apply the door-knocking technique, with an added variation: “Hi - Mr. Farmer, the owner, gave us permission to detect on the field you just rented from him, but he wanted to make sure that it was OK with you, too...”

What do you think he’s going to say?

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