Tales of a Virgin … Detectorist

5th November 2016 — 45 Comments
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Image courtesy Cliparts.co

I am so pleased and fortunate to have a GUEST POST ‘penned’ by actor and metal detectorist Andrew Caley. You may have noticed that he has started writing for one of the UK detecting magazines and is generating a lot of attention and favourable reviews. 

Andy came to acting professionally relatively late in life, although he has been involved with stand-up comedy and amateur productions for many years. He’s also worked as a journalist … as you might guess from the standard of writing. From the showreel below you will see some of the productions with which he has been associated … also parts in Doctors and Downton Abbey.

An advert in which he appeared was for insurance company Go Compare – the one with the irritating moustache twitching and twirling tenor, but we won’t hold that against him … and the fact that he supports the Leyton Orient football team! Andy’s writing is different, fresh, entertaining and accomplished. Enjoy!

HOW I BECAME A DETECTORIST – Andy Caley

I have been attracted by the idea of metal detecting for as long as I can remember, but I cannot put my finger on WHY.

It may have been sparked in childhood by the tales of Treasure Island; maybe studying history at school and learning about the story of a panicked King John losing his valuables in the Wash; perhaps watching Ron Moody in Oliver! spilling his sparkling, ill-gotten gains into the River Fleet.

Something lost, something discarded, something buried, something forgotten. Something waiting to be found.

As a child growing up in the 1960s, I would dig holes in my back garden to keep myself entertained. Sad, I know. It was a different era back then. The fayre on television was thin to say the least, despite the rose-tinted view of it now. For a start, it was in black and white. True, I enjoyed Blue Peter and Crackerjack in the early evening. But kids’ TV was done and dusted by 5.45pm after The Magic Roundabout, and just before the news. There were no video recorders (to imagine such a thing!). Computer games and smart phones were the stuff of science fiction. So, for a seven-year-old in 1969, keeping occupied and staving off boredom during the seemingly endless summer holidays was pretty much a wholly outdoor affair. I made dens, ran amok on building sites, fished with a net in the pond in the park, played hide and seek, and periodically declared ‘war’ on our rival gang, The Bullies.

And I dug holes in my dad’s back garden.

I suspect today’s internet generation, glued as they are to their computers, phones and tablets, would regard me as a mad-eyed lunatic were I to suggest they might have quite a lot of fun if they went digging holes in a back garden. My 15 year-old daughter would at the very least LOL, and most probably ROTFLOL.

But, back then, digging in the garden was entertainment.

For one thing, my random excavations would infuriate my green-fingered father, whose precious nasturtiums were up far sooner than he anticipated. “Me Nasturtiums!” he would splutter at the sight of the withering strands of stalks and foliage lying atop the soil. His puce face and windmill arms were always a winner.

Second, all manner of creepy crawlies could be unearthed – worms, centipedes, millipedes, woodlice – some of which would dispatched into the next world with an inventive cruelty that makes me shudder when I think about it now.

And I found ‘things’. Mostly, these ‘things’ consisted of broken pottery. In fact, in our garden there was tons of the stuff, or so it seemed. There was a preponderance of smashed blue and white china.

How did all this stuff get broken and end up under my dad’s wallflowers?

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Follow Andy on Twitter:  https://twitter.com/Caley_Andrew

I surmised that people in the old days were very clumsy, forever dropping their plates and cups, and chucking the bits out into the garden. It never really occurred to me that our 1960s semi-detached might not have been there forever and that, before us, others had used this land. In this case … thinking about it now … as a rubbish dump.

While shards of pot could lead to a few diverting minutes of pottery jigsaw puzzling, I would sometimes literally hit paydirt and dig up money. Real money. Money I could spend in shops! In those pre-decimal days when I dug up a Victorian penny, or a sixpence from 1923, Mr White, the local sweet shop owner, was more than happy to swap my grubby coinage for penny chews or Bazooka Joes. Happy days!

The seeds in an interest in metal detecting, or at least a passing curiosity in things subterranean, may have been sown early but this did not mean that as a teenager I was going to rush out to hunt for a Charles I groat. For a start, I didn’t have the money – not a groat – and anyway I had not the faintest idea where to get a metal detector. But this wasn’t the main reason I didn’t dash to the fields in search of a Viking ship burial.

No, the fact was that metal detecting was for nerds, losers, plonkers and weirdos. At the age of 15, I was already tainted by the fact I was a bell ringer at the local church. I sure as hell was not going to compound my dork status by adding metal detecting to my list of ‘dodgy’ interests. The coming years would be determinedly given over to drinking with mates in pubs and trying to impress girls.

To admit to being a metal detectorist would be akin to confessing a love for bus spotting, collecting birds’ eggs or smothering puppies. No one would want to associate with me. Detecting would mean social and romantic death. So, despite harbouring a secret wish to pound the fields and find my own Saxon hoard, I did nothing about it.

Until last year.

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A Recent Production – Andy played Ratty!

Getting older has some compensations. Granted, they might not quite outweigh the hair loss, the weight gain, and toenails that become more abhorrent with each passing year. But there are compensations nonetheless. The main one being the realisation that you do not have to give a toss what anyone thinks about you … to a point.

Sometimes you must take heed of what wives, children, friends and acquaintances say to you. If I decided one day to wear nothing but socks, paint my head green, and call myself Mrs. Posy Frumpton, I might need to take some advice. But I could take the hooting and catcalling that would inevitably come from those who heard I had become a detectorist.

 

It was time to act. Christmas was coming. So last year, when the missus asked me what I wanted for a present, I heard myself saying: “You know what, I rather fancy a metal detector.”

I admit to a slight twinge of shame and embarrassment when she snorted loudly and exclaimed: “A metal detector! You sad old git!” But I let it pass, and resisted the urge to comment on the range of exercise machines she had accrued over Christmases past, and which now haunt the under stairs cupboard collecting dust.

Today, thanks to well-publicised treasure hoards being unearthed seemingly every other week, and celebrity endorsement in the shape of Mackenzie Crook’s award-winning sitcom Detectorists, metal detecting has perhaps acquired a tad more cache, if not having entirely shaken off its dweebiness. Indeed, as a hobby it is booming.

Of course, every detectorist yearns for that day a lumpen sod of turf is turned over, or crumbly ploughed soil excavated, to reveal a shining golden hoard of coins or jewels. But we all know that isn’t going to happen. The rising popularity of detecting isn’t just about the fantasy of digging up the equivalent of a lottery win. It is more to do with a growing interest in history. Increasing numbers of people are becoming intrigued by the fact that, wherever they go, history lies just below their feet.

Metal detecting gives the Ordinary Joe and Joanna the chance to put their hands on that history. To find it. To hold it. To wonder about it. To research it. And, by and large, the archaeology profession has accepted that detectorists are not the enemy, but an ally in uncovering and recording the past.

I could not be more pleased to have joined this band of ‘saddoes’ who brave all weathers and the mud to unearth the lost, the buried and the forgotten.

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Andy (Ratty) meets a rat at the Yorkshire Show

See more of Andy’s writing in upcoming editions of the UK Searcher magazine.

John

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45 responses to Tales of a Virgin … Detectorist

  1. Loved reading this John…thanks.

  2. When I started detecting back in the very early 70s John, I was looked upon with, well maybe not derision, but certainly with pity.

    A man who has no life, they must have been thinking… But, it has almost a cachet now.. and at least more people know what we are doing.

    Thank you my friend

    Micheal

  3. Interesting read. Thanks John

  4. As I dispatched my previous comment I noticed that in England it is already Nov5, Guy Fawkes Day!
    I have to say that I really miss that celebration. Americans do it on 4th of July (Independence Day) in the same kind of way, but here in Canada there is no countrywide fireworks festival for any reason. Some people do let off fireworks to celebrate birthdays and other events, but there is no time where everyone celebrates together, each with their own box of fireworks and matches.
    Barry

  5. A great story.
    I have mentioned before that i liked Andrew’s writing style when i read his articles in The Searcher.

    I hope to see more on his progress as a Detectorist. If he ever gets the inclination to visit Australia i will take him out gold prospecting.

  6. Another good read.Thanks Jerry.

  7. Martymoose of the Canadian MDF liked this phrase, which he described as ‘the essence of the hobby.’

    “Metal detecting gives the Ordinary Joe and Joanna the chance to put their hands on that history. To find it. To hold it. To wonder about it. To research it.”

  8. super read john but you cant leave it unfinished ..we need to know what machine he got for xmas

  9. great reading, thanks, i own a deus but not a Rolls Royce , had to make a choice somewhere hehehehe

  10. Read this article and it did make me chuckle.. I can see myself doing the same things looking for buried treasure in the back garden…Being told off for tramping mud through the house…Then my teenage years feeling a bit of a odd ball….When you was trying to impress the ladies then they ask you that dreaded question have you any interests you try to change the subject.. you begin to sweat… you mouth a answer hoping the music will drown out your answer…they ask you again then as you shout your answer the music stops every one in the pub hears your answer you wish a hole will appear and swallow you up….. LEYTON ORIENT

  11. A Garrett AT pro (international) would do you just as well.. A good sturdy reliable all-rounder!
    Respect to your acting success.

  12. Once again John a great read…. i have to say i remember building ‘camps’ and spending all day out in the snow because i could, how times change and they say its progress !

    • Indeed, Clive! ‘Camps’ were my thing too. Usually built from old doors retrieved from the local tip. Camp fires and potatoes baked therein to the point they were totally carbonised! Thanks for your comment. Much appreciated.

  13. I also grew up in the 50s to 60s and used to also dig holes to find things and once by accident found a napoleon the 3rd coin this led to collecting fossils and later metal detecting so it seems many of us had the same motivation to continue with this and never lost our childhood wonder for such things, and speaking for myself I am so lucky that I can still see the world with this childhood wonder

    • Joe, I wholeheartedly agree. When we lose our wonder for such things we diminish ourselves. We are lucky that we particpate in hobby that helps keep our eyes and minds open. It also helps me appreciate the value of a decent pair of boots!

  14. Really enjoyed reading that Andrew. I for one can associate with that once thought a nerd now people show a interest and want to join in
    .

    • Indeed. Things have changed a lot. However I still question my sanity after a wet day in field spent hoovering up scrap! Hey ho. Tomorrow is always another day. And thanks.

  15. Enjoyed the read…made me smile!

  16. Hmmmm… where I live folk think I’m ‘cool’ because I can handle expensive machinery that finds loads of gold and silver and makes me rich and famous. Imagination is a wonderful thing.

  17. Andy, thank you so much for the above, and also for the Searcher article, in two words, bloody hilarious. Your style of writing is superb, and must give an enormous amount of pleasure to all who read it.

    If only I had a hint of the talent which you, and may I say, the old bugger I hold in high regard, John (Saabman) Winter, then I would be very happy.

    Thank you again.
    O.G.J.

    • Old Git John, your words are too kind. If it gives others as much pleasure that I get from sitting down and writing it, then happy days! Thanks again.

  18. So sorry Andrew to hear the Leyton Orient score….I did hear that the Os did ask the referee for another ball because Sheffield United was playing with the other one…saying that I was born in East London…. Upton Park to be precise so I had the Hammers and the Os to watch……Gary

    • Gary, the Os (or at least the fans) should have asked the referee for another team! My experience of supporting the Os mirrors my metal detecting experience: mostly utter crap, leavened by the odd nugget and no silver!

  19. Just a note to thank everyone for the kind comments. And a big thanks to John for giving me this opportunity – and for helping to get my scribblings published in The Searcher. Those of you who subscribe will be able to follow my ‘baby steps’ to becoming a detectorist in future issues.
    A quick plug: I would have liked to have spent a day in the fields today but was instead rehearsing Monty Python’s musical Spamalot. If any of you live near York then do come along 21-26 November at the Grand Opera House.
    I spent the day dancing(!) – and singing about the Holy Grail. Now just to find it in the fields! Thanks again,

  20. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this piece. Thank you! Talking of holy grails, a few years ago I spent fascinating half hour in a Tea Room listen to two elderly ladies on the next table who were convinced they had discovered clues that proved the holy grail was hidden under Lincoln cathedral and had written to the bishop telling him should give orders at once for digging to begin at once, they were most indignant that he had declined.

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