Yep, that’s a hell of a mixture and it isn’t as philosophical as it sounds, this one.
As you know, I go metal detecting, or to put it the correct way, I’m a detectorist. After a very, very long break, I got to go detecting the other day and I found … THINGS.
The ground has been too hard and the crops too high or digs just not … on for a long time. I have wanted to upgrade from my trusty Garrett Ace 250 to a new detector for a year or two. But I wanted one with a display so I could check my ears, so to speak – the ritzy ones give you a numerical scale and if you know your onions you can tell what the metal below you is from the read out. The ones that give you a reliable read out like this, though, tend to be north of a grand. The read out on the Garrett Ace 250 has not, to my knowledge, predicted more than a handful of the metal I’ve dug up with it correctly. So I’ve persevered with the Garrett, because I’d got to know it’s foibles by now, and started saving up for a high end machine.
Meanwhile many of my friends at the clubs I go to suggested I should forget about the display and go on my ears alone because that way, I could buy a high end machine for £800 or thereabouts rather than £1k plus. I wasn’t sure and I waited … until I was at a dig in autumn 17 and I realised that because the display on my Garrett is so random I hadn’t actually looked at it for the whole afternoon I’d been out and hadn’t been using it, while detecting, for some time.
The detector I’d finally decided on was chosen because it’s light and would sell for a good price if I didn’t get on with it. However, that’s the rub. It’s very expensive, even second hand. Bemoaning this, at one of the clubs I go to, one fellow popped up and suggested I forget about the really ritzy one, and the ritzy one’s smaller £800 brother and go for the baby of the brand which is about £600 new, but which you can get second-hand for much less. Then someone else at the club knew someone who had one for £220 and I bit his hand off.
Bearing in mind how incredibly bad I was at getting the hang of the old detector, I wasn’t expecting much so when I first went out with it and found some nice things I was well chuffed! And then I stopped finding … well … anything except old iron and crap. Some of the crap was just luck – when you dig up a bit of copper you might find it’s just a tractor part, or it might be a Roman coin – the only way to tell is to get it out of the ground and have a look. It just so happened that it was tractor parts. It was also getting tiny, tiny fragments of things which were taking ages to find in the freshly dug soil because my pinpointer is a bit dodgy. They could have been beads or medieval fasteners but they weren’t. They were tiny bits of lead.
Dig after dig went by and I was well aware that most of my failure to find interesting stuff was less about the detector and more down to the plonker waving it about. You know when you’re doing something wrong and you just can’t work out what to do to make it right. I could tell the machine was giving me a lot of information, I just couldn’t work out what the chuff it was saying. So eventually after going to about 8 digs and failing to find a blummin’ thing, I discovered that one of the detectorist’s suppliers I use had a sheet of hints for setting the thing up. I rang them and the lovely fellow there spoke to me for about thirty minutes and sent the instructions over. That conversation was a bit of a scales from the eyes moment.
The principle of the new (to me) detector – or at least, the technique that works for me – is the exact reverse of the other one. Most machines have three tones, high, low and iron. This one is no different, although sometimes it feels like there are four. The iron on this one is a pulse more than a note, then there appears to be a very occasional low tone a mid tone and a high one on top, but the low tone may just be the way my ears hear one of the high ones mixed in with the iron pulse. So then you trundle round, listening, and it’s like hearing a chord. When it bings, you listen for the tick of the iron tone. If there’s lots it means you’ve got a really big piece of iron, deep down, unless you can turn sideways and swing the detector a different way and it becomes a bing on it’s own with no tick. Then it’s not iron. It might be canslaw, a blob of lead or a brass tractor part, or, worse, a cartridge cap – which gives the exact same signal as a Bronze Age axe head, I’m told – but it is, at least, the kind of metal you’re looking for.
So on the one hand, I was doing it all wrong because I wasn’t listening for the ticking iron tone, so I was only getting half the information. On the other hand, I was doing the right thing digging the signals I was getting because if you leave the distinctive tone of an old shotgun cartridge, you may actually be leaving something … better. So while it’s a pain in the arse as, ever the optimist, I dig them up, I’m actually doing the right thing.
Then came spring, the crops seeded at lightning speed and I didn’t get to test my new detecting theories until the first weekend in August. Then, to my joy, I got to go digging for an afternoon. It was thirty three degrees centrigrade that day (about ninety Fahrenheit) so I was actually quite glad it was only an afternoon.
I arrived just as everyone else was eating their lunch making an ignominious entrance across a stubble field, the freshly cut stalks just that little bit higher than the flat panel underneath my car making a loud screeching sound, like someone running their fingernails down a blackboard, the whole way. I parked, approached the nearest detectorists and apologised profusely. Turned out they were all fed up, the ground wasn’t too hard but the going was hot and the finds and signals few and far between.
Armed with my new machine, and new information, I headed off to detect in the furthest field under a big tree. Surely there had been trees there for many years and I would find something someone had dropped while sitting under it. On the way, I found a bit of the cap of an old bottle, probably from the 1940s or thereabouts. Junk, maybe, but it was a start. I detected around the tree for a while. I could hear the iron buzz most of the time but finally got a proper bing tone on top. Turned sideways and sure enough, managed to reach a point where the bing was on it’s own. Up came half a 14th century thimble with a lovely green patina. This is on my bucket list so even half of one was me set up for the day. With ridiculous optimism, I set about trying to find the other half. I got a shot gun cartridge. Well, you can’t win ‘em all. Next a thing that looked like some kind of silver stud but it was too muddy to tell. Then two signals which I thought were iron and dug to check. They were.
I moved to another field and dug up a piece of old wire and then a THING. The THING looked a bit like a Georgian drawer handle, or possibly a Roman brooch, only not. My fellow detectorists hadn’t been so lucky, many complaining, and one remarking, as we packed up to go, that the only thing he’d found worth keeping were some blackberries! I was dead chuffed with my stuff, but the best thing of all was that I came away realising that I have finally begun to understand the equipment I am using.
As I drove home, delighted with my finds, I wondered if I had really been the only person to find anything good or whether it was more about my standards. The thimble was only half a thimble after all and the Roman brooch-like-probably-drawer-handle-object, which probably wasn’t either, looked ancient but could just have easily have dropped off a Victorian cart or something. The folks out detecting with me were far more experienced. Had finds like mine become junk to them? Possibly.
This got me thinking about life, generally. It seems to me that a lot of the time, happiness is less about what you actually experience and more about how you look at it. I read somewhere that if you get one group of people to sit in a chair and think about exercising – without actually doing any and another group of people to do the same without thinking about running around, the people who think about exercising a lot are 25% fitter than those who don’t. Without actually doing anything. This is the power of the mind and this is why I am always interested in the use of mental techniques in pain management for my knees.
And that got me thinking about happiness. Is the illusive search for happiness nothing more than an exercise in lateral thought? In my own personal experience, I’m beginning to think that maybe it is. There are probably people who, given my life to live, would be a lot more appreciative and happy than I am. Likewise there are probably people who’d be a lot sadder. It’s all about how you look at it. As humans we tend to hear criticism more loudly than praise, the criticism is the stuff that sticks. Likewise, sometimes, I think our preconceptions are that things are a lot worse than they really are. Good things aren’t always newsworthy.
I like to think that I am positive in outlook. I’d say I usually prepare for the worst but I like to think that I also hope for the best. I’ve had to skew my view occasionally, mostly over what I should be able to do versus what is actually possible for someone with my knees, pain management and stuff like that. Has that helped me deal with the situation with my parents? I don’t really know? I’m in my fifties now and I’m starting to see my friends going though horrific shit, their children dying, marriages failing, getting sick … I have no idea how they get through it. I feel a combination of luck, that I have McOther and McMini beside me and rank fear that something will happen to them. But mostly, I’m grateful for them, and nutbag cat and the lunatics I call my family and friends. I’d definitely say I’m happy, overall, even if things that happen do make me sad. And for me I guess the secret is just being interested in what’s going on around me. Is that it? Curiosity? Am I happy because I’m curious? Yeh, yeh, as in enquiring of mind people, the fact I am odd is a given. Is being happy just about looking at everything through rose tinted spectacles?
Or is it that, sometimes, good things seem to appear at the exact moment you need them? Is it a bit of all that, rose tinted but without the delusional aspect? Maybe.
But on good things … this weeks’ visit to the old dears was a gift. On the motorway, stuck in a ‘slow down’ as they call it, a chap in a van next to us beeped at us. I was a bit nonplussed, being, as I am, wizened and ancient and he being a rather glamorous dark haired gentleman in his 20s or so. He waved at me and did a thumbs up, pointing to my car. Then he held up his phone. The screen was black.
‘Uh?’ We said.
He beeped the hooter again, ah yes, the phone was live now and on the tiny screen was a picture of a bright blue car. I’m far too much of a blind old bag to be able to say what it was but I reckon, from the colour, that it was a similar Lotus to mine. Even McMini couldn’t tell and he was on the same side of the car. Mind you, we were all laughing our heads off by this point. We waved and did a thumbs up. People can be real dickheads when you drive a silly car, but sometimes they do mad things like that! It’s all part of the fun and the trick, of course, is to realise that there are probably as many positive things like this as there are negatives. That lateral thought thing again.
On arrival in Sussex. Dad was snoozing and McMini went and sat with him, iPad in hand, to play games and keep him company if he woke up. The lovely Carer cooked lunch and Mum and I went down to the bottom of the garden to pick beans. Then we came back and prepared them. Mum was, mentally, at the top of her game and we had the kind of deep and heartfelt conversation that we haven’t had since the end of 2015. It was fucking magic. I went down there feeling so lonely and came back feeling that I had got Mum back for 40 pure, joyous minutes. We had reconnected, but also it was fantastic to be able to discuss Mum’s life with her and what she wants for her and Dad and confide in her about my own.
And it was brilliant.
After thought …
The Roman brooch-like-probably-drawer-handle-object turned out to be a Roman brooch, just not one from around here. European form, not the Colchester one which, being just near Colchester, I would have been expecting. The stud thing turned out not to be silver at all and was, in fact, a button. Just goes to show that you can never really tell until you clean it all up. The thimble is still a thimble, or at least half of one.