The Virgin Searcher

Andrew Caley has been an actor since 2013, and has worked in TV and film; Downton Abbey, Coronation Street, Peaky Blinders, Doctors, The Burying Party, The Gatehouse, as well as theatre; Spamalot, Wind in the Willows) and Television Commercials, Short Films and Features. It takes all sorts, but he is also an avid Leyton Orient FC supporter. Picture courtesy of Brandon Bishop.

In 2017 Andy submitted to The Searcher magazine the first of his articles on metal detecting. He described it as, “offbeat, amusing and Interesting.” In the editing process I found myself laughing out loud and the editor and I couldn’t wait to have it published. Most of the readers loved it, agreed and clamoured for more.

Beginnings – a Spade’s a Spade – Tales of a Virgin Searcher

All detectorists have to start somewhere, learning as we go along, learning from our mistakes. I was no different when I took up detecting two short years ago. It was Christmas 2014. I did not get off to a good start…

With the trembling fingers of a five-year old I unwrap the Christmas present knowing full well what is inside. I have asked for it and Santa has delivered it. It’s here! Unless it’s the latest slim line Dyson vacuum cleaner, I am 99.999% sure it is a metal detector. It will be my passport to unearthing history and treasure! I tear off the paper to find my trusty magic machine, which will grant me a portal into Earth’s underworld.

No time to lose! The turkey and stuffing has barely settled in my stomach before I am out in our minuscule back garden to swing my new detector over a sorry patch of damp grass. Alas, as is the case with all new hobbyists who plunge right in without much consideration of what is involved, I have overlooked one or two things. If I am going to get anywhere I will need more kit.

More Kit Needed

Something to dig with, for a start! The only bit of kit I have on my Christmas Day expedition into the tiny back garden, other than my detector, is a rusty old trowel. I have rooted it out from the back of the shack at the bottom of the garden, which we euphemistically call ‘the shed’. A relic of a trowel is all well and good to grub around with in the relative privacy of my own postage stamp-sized patch of grass, but it won’t cut the mustard, much less the turf or ploughed field, when it comes to the real thing.

Something to dig with, for a start! The only bit of kit I have on my Christmas Day expedition into the tiny back garden, other than my detector, is a rusty old trowel. I have rooted it out from the back of the shack at the bottom of the garden, which we euphemistically call ‘the shed’. A relic of a trowel is all well and good to grub around with in the relative privacy of my own postage stamp-sized patch of grass, but it won’t cut the mustard, much less the turf or ploughed field, when it comes to the real thing.

But sod it, this is my back garden. I place my ‘phones on my head, push the ‘on’ button and proceed to waft the machine about. (We call it ‘swinging’, Andy, – Editor)

At every beep, boop and buzz I dig with the old trowel. Or rather I hack at the ground with a stabbing motion, frantically tossing soil about. The next-door neighbour, wearing a cracker hat, looks at me quizzically from an upstairs window as I manically root around on my hands and knees throwing earth around my lawn on Christmas Day. I give him a cheery wave. He disappears from view, no doubt to relate to his wife and daughters the bizarre spectacle he has just witnessed.

I find unidentifiable chunks of metal, and a foot-long piece of rusty pipe. I pray to God I haven’t hacked through the waste outflow.

Rusty Pipe

And then my first result! I unearth the hidden underground pole that accommodated the rotary washing line, lost and unmapped for the past two years. I triumphantly text its discovery to the missus who is sitting in the lounge. She is mildly impressed. “Right,” she texts back. “That’s nice for you.”

After an hour the garden resembles the Somme. Horrible pits and piles dot the garden. It looks like the moles from hell have been at work. And then I get my first ‘proper’ find: a coin. It’s a knackered old farthing from 1942. It is worth precisely bugger all. But do I care? Nope. I am hooked. I look at my first coin closely. How lovely to have a wren on a coin. How charming.

But I can’t stand here, moon-faced, admiring a wren on the reverse of a coin. I need to prioritise: I need a spade, but it’s getting dark. And it’s Christmas Day, so it is doubtful in the extreme that any shops will be open. Certainly not one selling spades. It will have to wait until tomorrow. I will check in the shed first thing to see if anything else is lurking in there.

New Spade Wanted

Boxing Day dawns and I head to the shed. The only spade in the shed is, like the trowel, a rusted old relic. In fact, it looks like it has been buried in the ground for decades, something perhaps discovered by a disappointed detectorist hoping for a Roman hoe. Not only is it orange with rust, but there are great globs of concrete stuck there’s the clue to its true nature. It is a shovel, not a spade. A massive shovel. It will just about pass the muster to clear a pavement of snow, or indeed shovel up sand, cow shit, or the vast puddle of concrete, which evidentially is what it was designed for. But as a tool to dig anything out of the ground, it is about as much use as an ashtray on a motorbike.

“I need a new spade,” I say to the missus in the kitchen, as she slices up the remains of the turkey and Delia’s parsnip roulade.“I’m off to Homebase.” As Boxing Day is traditionally given over to visiting relatives or sitting on your arse in front of the TV, or both, the missus is somewhat perplexed.
“Why?” she asks.
“Because I need a spade.”
Why?”
“Because I haven’t got a spade. And the sales are on.”
With that comprehensive explanation I am out of the door and off to Homebase

As I drive there, more excited than a man should be who is off to buy a spade, it strikes me that I have no real idea what sort of spade I need. Nevertheless, I park up and head into the DIY and garden equipment emporium that is Homebase. Ignoring the paint, electrical and home furnishing sections I stride purposefully to the garden section, where I know the spades lie.

My spade. The spade that will, unknown to it, unearth golden torcs, hoards of coins and Bronze Age axe heads. My lucky spade.

Homebase

“Look at my lucky metal detecting spade,” I say to the missus, as I walk through the door, brandishing it in both hands in front of me as if it were Excalibur.

“It looks a bit cheap,” she comments. She is right. It is cheap. In fact, the cheapest going. I reason that I will only need a budget model. The digging will be relatively easy; an industrial strength tool is an unnecessary indulgence. I know what I am doing.

I head back into the garden to dig a test hole on the ‘lawn’. It is harder than I bargain for. Even sinking the blade of the spade into the turf proves difficult. In order to get any depth I end up standing with both feet on the edge of it while holding onto the handle with both hands. I look like I am on a pogo stick. In fact, I do bounce up and down on it a bit to get it into the soil.

This cannot be right.

I hop off my pogo spade and attempt the next step: levering up a clean sod of turf. This, too, is harder than I expect. I lean back, heaving on the handle. Jesus! Compacted ground is a right bugger to dig up. The only result is an imperceptible bulge on the surface of the grass, which might disturb a worm or two but no more than that. I pull on the handle again with all the might of a man hauling a jumbo jet along a runway with his teeth.

There is a cracking sound. I stop heaving. This is not good. You instinctively know when something has gone pear-shaped, yet you cling to a vague hope that things won’t turn out to be as bad as you fear. I bend down and scrutinise the shaft of the spade. Yep, the wooden handle is split. It is now useless. I stand there and contemplate my broken spade: my ‘lucky’ spade that will now never share my joy at unearthing a medieval strap end. There is no way I can go back into the house and tell the missus what has happened. I work the spade out of the grass, march over to the ‘shed’ and throw it in the back. It can keep the cement shovel and trowel company.

“So, how was it?” the missus says. “Happy with your choice of spade?”

Disappearing back inside the house I wave at my neighbour standing at the upstairs window who, it seems, is once again intrigued by the goings on next door. I wander nonchalantly into the lounge to the strains of the Midsummer Murders theme tune.

“Yep. It will do just fine.”

“Good. Now you just need to find some land to dig on.”

She is right. I need land. I fancy I will quickly exhaust the potential of the cratered, handkerchief-sized garden out the back, already stripped it of its farthing.”

“I need land. And I need a spade. “

Rating: 0 out of 5.

The Virgin Searcher: Tales of the lost, the buried, the forgotten. Something waiting to be found

You may buy Andrew’s collection of stories HERE Kindle edition also available.

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