“The night before my first dig I am like a kid on Christmas Eve. I am ridiculously excited and cannot wait for the day to dawn. I can see everything that is going to happen. I lie in my bed and picture the scene …
I will walk onto a verdant field rich in history. Countless people through the ages have worked and walked on these fields. There will be an age-old oak tree, under which thousands of medieval bottoms have sat. This venerable tree will have protected yeomen and serfs, possibly Barons and Lords, from the sun and rain. Coins or jewels will have slipped out of the pouches of smocks or robes to be lost in the grass. Hundreds of years later I will walk the same land with my metal detector – me, in the pale winter sunshine waving my magic wand back and forth. There will be a ringing and pinging in my ears. Something lost, something buried, something forgotten for centuries will have been detected! I will kneel down and poke around in the hole I have made with my lucky spade. And there it will lie: an Edward 1st silver penny, perhaps a gilt brooch, lost by a distraught ploughman or Lord of the Manor way back when in the mists of time. I will bring it out into the sunlight for the first time in 600 years.
I CAN SEE IT ALL
I fall asleep and dream about the dig. A herd of green cows singing Ave Maria walk across the field in front of me. In the sky, a cloud with the face of Paul McCartney sticks out its giant purple tongue and licks the ground, scooping out a trench. I dig a hole into which I fall and down I go, like Alice in Wonderland. Sirens begin to sound … I wake with a start to my alarm at about 5am.
Unlike a regular day I don’t bother with repeatedly pushing the snooze button until I end up getting out of bed late and rushing around to get out on time. I lie there thinking my dream might come true if I accidentally ingest some magic mushrooms while rooting around on the fields. I must be careful.
I leap out of bed like a gazelle and check the forum posts on my phone to see where we are all meeting up. Detectorists don’t like to advertise in advance where they are going to be digging. The fear is that night hawking stalkers will spot that a dig has been organised, get on the land and, under cover of the night, strip the place bare.
A post tells me to meet in a car park at a Sainsbury’s in a town about an hour’s drive from my home. From there we will drive in convoy to the fields of dreams. Though hopefully not fields that feature crooning green bovines.
I put my detector, headphones, my chunkier replacement lucky spade and old walking boots in the back of the car, stick the postcode in the satnav and head off to the rendezvous.
After an hour I pull into the appointed carpark. I see a gaggle of shady characters standing around their cars. All are men. Most are dressed in camouflage. Many are giving off clouds of vapour from their vape machines. They are, to be frank, a rum looking bunch. I park up and wander over to look for Stevie, who runs the forum and the club. The group eye me as I approach.
“Hi,” says one. “Are you Andy?”
“Yes, are you Stevie?”
“Yep, otherwise known as Hot Diggity Dog. Welcome to the club.” Mr Diggity Dog then introduces me to the other members.
“Andy, this is Jewel Hunter, Soil Boy, Holey Moley, Bog Lurker, Dirt Diver, Penetrator, Sweatstain and Mrs Doubtfire. Guys this is Andy.” There are a few mumbled ‘all rights’ and ‘watcha, mates’.
“You not got a nickname?” asks Sweatstain.
“Er, no, not yet.”
“You’ll have to think one up,” says Dirt Diver.
“Oh, right. Yes, okay.”
And then I hear myself blurt it out. “Captain Underpants.” What am I thinking? Why not say Treasure Hunter, Duke of Torc or even Goldenballs? Too late. Captain Underpants it is.
Over the next 10 minutes other members of the club arrive in dribs and drabs: Bellend, Arthur Scargill (not the AS), Jumbo, Forklift and, finally, Mentalface, accompanied by a woman, who everyone refers to as ‘Mrs M’, presumably short for Mrs Mentalface.
I have no idea what passers-by think about the motley crew that are standing around in a supermarket carpark early on a Sunday morning. If they weren’t my new-found friends, I would probably give them a wide berth, perhaps taking them for a military fetish dogging group returning from a night in the woods.
“Right,” says Mr Diggity Dog, on the stroke of 9am, “I think we are all here. Let’s get going.” And with that we all climb back into our cars and head off.
HERE WE GO
After a five minute drive through the town, we turn onto a B-road and then take a left onto a country lane which peters out to become no more than a track that looks as though it might indeed lead to the dogging area. After bumping our way along it for half a mile we come to a farm gate, which is opened by Mrs Doubtfire – and onto the field we drive and park up.
THIS IS IT
Within seconds people are pulling detectors, spades, headphones and other bits of assorted equipment from the boots of cars. I am pleased to see that one or two people have the same detector as me. But no one, it seems, has plumped for the model of replacement spade I eventually lighted upon. Mr and Mrs Mentalface amble over as I pull on my old walking boots.
“Good detector for a newbie to use,” says Mentalface. Mrs M nods in agreement. I beam.“But that spade of yours dear, oh dear. Might be okay for an allotment, but your arms will be falling off by the end of the day carrying that about with you.” Mrs M laughs like a drain. The beam is wiped off my face.
Mr Diggity Dog arrives to collect the £10 fee for the dig. It seems many clubs these days have to grease the wheels of getting permissions from farmers with the aid of modest financial inducements.
“Is this your first time?” he says, pocketing my tenner.
“Er, yes. Is it that obvious? Well, the spade is a bit of a giveaway. You won’t be bringing that with you on your second dig, believe you me. Do you know much about how to use your machine properly? “I’ve got a rough idea,” I say. “I found some coins on my carpet and a farthing in my back garden. “Right. Let me talk you through a few things.”
As other members of the club spread out on the fields, Stevie, as I now think of him, talks me through the ins and outs of my detector: how to get the best out of it, what the different bleeps and beeps mean, what settings to use and where I can and cannot detect on today’s dig. I thank him profusely. How kind of him.”No problem,” he says. “We all have to start somewhere. But get yourself a decent spade.”
And with that he heads back to his car to retrieve his detecting kit out of the boot. I steal a glance at his spade. I now know the meaning of spade envy. I make a note to ask him later where he bought it.
I am ready. I clamp the headphones on my head, turn the machine on and pick up my spade. It does seem a bit on the heavy side.
I survey the scene in front of me. The fields sit at the bottom of a gently sloping valley, bounded by hedgerows. Solitary trees dot the field in which I am standing and I can see more trees in the field to my right. I get no further than that because I see Bog Lurker is already crouched by the hedge probing about in a hole with what looks like a vibrator. Surely not. Another bit of kit I need to look into.
But I can do that later. It is time to look into a hole of my own. Off I set, swinging my detector with what I hope is the sweep of a veteran. Within a few paces, I am stopped in my tracks by a high, double ringing tone in my headphones. I check the control panel on the top of my detector. It says silver.