The Stupid Brothers Go Rallying
© Mark Gatter, 2004

Up until the last month I've only ever gone on one rally, in September of last year, and all I ended up with was a pocketful of buttons. Most of the other attendees, it has to be said, ended up the same way. We collectively decided that the land on which we'd spent all day must have been previously inhabited by members of the Button Cult, a strange group addicted to putting on all available clothing, rushing headlong into the nearest fields, and then tearing everything off each other as quickly as possible. It's quite likely that this frantic activity didn't stop there, but of course as historians - even if of a rather amateur ilk - we should avoid idle speculation beyond what we can deduce from hard evidence. Sad to say, the entire day was perhaps most memorable for coinciding with the first hard frost, which killed all my courgettes!

It was with some trepidation, therefore, that I put my name down for a rally organized by fellow Club members Anne Laverty and Mike Pittard. The thing is, they both have honest faces, so I thought it was bound to be worthwhile. Indeed, the cause benefiting from the rally was a local hospice, which is just about the most worthwhile kind of thing I could ever consider donating towards, anyway. I thought that even if I found nothing at all it would be money well spent.

On the previous evening, I called fellow Stupid Brother, Martin Savage, to arrange the details. We planned on driving up there together, and I planned on watching carefully as he tried to get the hang of his brand new Explorer II. Yes, sad to say, his trusty XLT had proved to be not quite as trusty as he thought, and a week before it had finally died. As local hospices are so far unable to do anything for dying metal detectors, it has been quietly put into a cupboard until technology can find an answer to inconsistent battery levels. I suppose one day they'll do much the same thing with me.

An Explorer II has to be the Ferrari of modern metal detecting. If you're used to driving something more predictable, here are a few choice comments from a new user, i.e. Martin:
"What the hell does THAT noise mean?"
"I can't understand a s******** thing this b******** machine is trying to tell me"
"It sounds like a turkey being castrated"
"Pass the salt" (This final comment took actually place at the pub, much later. To be fair, it might not have too much to do with the detector itself.)

Martin excelled himself with his new toy on his first trip out, detecting on a huge local manorial estate which on which we've been pulling our collective forelocks (so to speak) for the last couple of years. Quite a few nice finds have come out of the fields there, and we've been careful to behave in at least a reasonably dignified manner whenever the owners are out and about - which seems to be almost any time we're around.

There he was, on a field of nice short stubble, new detector in hand. He found a decent signal and dug a sizeable hole. The 'find' appeared to be in the pile of mud thus collected slightly to one side. As there's no 'pinpoint' setting on this machine (which SURELY Minelab will fix at some point? I mean, it does tend to speed things up somewhat, doesn't it?) he was picking up handful after handful from the pile and waving it around near the coil, trying to get a signal which would put him a bit closer to the actual object. Eventually he'd transferred the entire pile to the other side of the hole, and realized that he'd missed it. Well, never let it be said that Martin would be found lacking in a moment of crisis. The air turned blue around him as he gave vent in truly Stupid style. You might almost have thought that he had a Naval background, or at least to have served a lengthy apprenticeship around people able to swear for 5 minutes at a time without repeating themselves once. As he neared the end of his diatribe, he noticed that slightly to one side of him a very sensible of ladies shoes had appeared... attached to a sensible-looking pair of ankles, topped by a very sensible-looking tweed skirt. The lady of the manor, herself. "Oh f***. I mean, oh, er, bugger me, oh dear - I'm awfully sorry!"

He fully expected to be hoisted by his forelock (!) and carried bodily from the estate by attendant menservants, and probably severely mistreated along the way besides.

"Oh, it's quite alright - I didn't hear a thing" was the gracious reply - gracious and slightly untrue, it has to be said. Unless she was completely deaf, or had only just then materialized next to him from at least a quarter of a mile away, she had to have have heard the whole thing.

I must say, good breeding is fantastic, isn't it? It makes one proud to be British. I mean, my dog probably wouldn't take any notice of me if I called her from a quarter of a mile away, and it's probably because she's a mongrel.

But I digress.

Within minutes of arriving at the rally site I decided that I had a new name for the World's Greatest Hobby: Anoraks Anonymous. I've never seen so many. I suddenly became afraid that we'd all get brain damage from the collective levels of electromagnetic fields generated by so many detectors in one place, and that by the end of the day the countryside would therefore be littered with unconscious detectorists. To avoid any problems personally - purely in order to be of assistance should my fears be justified, I'd like to point out - I decided to get away from the herd and head for the nearest gate, thus into the next field. It proved to be a good idea, because as I neared the gate got a good signal and... up came my first ever complete short-cross penny. I've found a couple of cut halves, but not a whole one - and I'm happy to say I started of in good style, with a coin in such good condition that the edges are completely square and not rounded at all. This can be taken to be a good indication of the length of time the coin was in circulation, as the edges would take the brunt of the wear from the very beginning.

I assumed that everyone was having similar luck, and had quick look around in the immediate vicinity. It was slightly scary - all over the field, people milled in random slow motion, waving their detectors in front of them in a very concentrated manner. 'Night of the Living Detectorists' came to mind, yet again... it was time to move on.

Incidentally, a few coin dealers turned up at the rally, and one of them offered to identified my coin during the lunchtime break. "Hmm, yes, Goldwine, Canterbury mint, Henry III - OK condition. I'll give you £40, if you like". I decided to hang onto it, and I'm so glad I did. When I checked, I found that Goldwine only minted coins for kings Richard and John, and it turned out to be a substantially more scarce and therefore more valuable type 5b1 penny of the latter monarch. I'm sure the dealer only made an honest mistake, despite being able to identify the mint and moneyer so easily (and despite having an eye patch, a wooden leg and a parrot on his shoulder...) but it obviously pays not to be too hasty.

Anyway, nothing much happened for a while after that. Even though it's lovely to see stubble again, and even nicer being able to detect on it, and nicer still just to be out in the beautiful Dorset countryside, it's still hard work at this time of year. Elbows and shoulders can ache at the end of a long days detecting, so a while ago I decided that I'd make use of the strap from my laptop computer bag. I joke that I have the only detector supported by Dell - let me know if there are any more of you out there! It loops over my shoulder and connects to the buckle on the back of the battery pack, et voila! Look, no hands...

Towards the other side of the next field I saw Martin coming towards me.

"Any luck?" I called, cheerfully.

"Sod off," came the equally cheerful reply. "I couldn't find a horseshoe with this thing even if it was hung round my neck".

I deduced that Martin wasn't having too much luck with his new toy.

"And the blasted thing's heavy, too," he complained. "My right arm is now several inches longer than my left. I don't know what Audrey's going to say!".

I assured him that Audrey (Martin's wife) was already quite used to his particular peculiarities and would probably not even deign to comment. "Besides," I offered, "if you hang it from a strap like mine, you won't notice the weight so much".

Martin assured me that, actually, the weight wasn't a problem - him being so fit, etc.

"No, really," I continued, "Even if it's not too heavy, the strap means you can sort of push against it, and it makes it much easier to whack through the stubble..." BEEP!

We both stopped. Martin just stood and looked at me. We both knew it was a good signal - I'm not sure exactly why, but we were both absolutely certain.

"You BASTARD!" he murmured, quietly. As if. Actually, he yelled it at rather high volume, and did an interesting little dance at the same time.

People close to us dropped their detectors in shock. Dogs and horses simply ran. Birds fell from the sky, and nearby sheep collapsed and died. In moments of stress, Martin loses the volume control. Completely.

Smiling, I began to dig... and up came a lovely Edward I penny. Just to make matters worse, it was from Bristol instead of the usual London mint.

I couldn't possibly repeat what he said next as the paper might catch fire. Really, I hate to do that sort of thing to Martin, I honestly do. The trouble is, I just can't wait until the next time...

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