Thursday, 27 July 2017

A load of old musket balls

It’s five to 4.  The man in long khaki shorts has just come out of the portacabin in the car park and is picking up the pavement sign.   Typical.  The one time I’ve finally decided to stop and take a detour on my way to the Co-op to venture inside for a look and now I’m too late.   “Oh, are you closing...?” I ask.  I’m aware that I probably sound disappointed.  “Well, should close at 4, but it’s okay, I can stay open - no hurry,” he replies, looking at his watch.  Actually he seems keen that someone is interested.  So, once I’ve checked that it really is alright, and he definitely doesn’t having to rush off for anything  (“stay as long as you like!” he offers merrily), I enter  the portacabin and have a good look round.

There are a couple of tiny ornate Roman brooches which catch my eye.  They are delicate and beautiful, and all the more captivating for just knowing they’re over 1000 years old.  Next to them, a small collection of musket balls.  These look familiar – I’m sure I’ve found something that looks very similar in my garden, and I’ve kept it in a saucer along with a selection of broken crockery pieces, the ubiquitous pieces of clay pipe, flints - next to a bowlful of bird skulls.  Other items here in the Heritage Centre include Iron Age tools, Georgian coins, Roman buckles.  I love these things.  Little pieces of history, tiny remnants of lives left behind.  It’s nothing out of the ordinary, probably not even of value, and it’s around us all the time, beneath us, maybe not that far below the surface.

“It’s fascinating!  I’ll come back when there’s more time,”  I tell the man, and I will.

Continuing on my way to the Co-op with these archaic finds in my mind, my thoughts turn naturally to my current favourite TV series, ‘Detectorists’.  There’s so much to like about Mackenzie Crook’s charming comedy based around two men hoping to find the remains of a Saxon ship and ancient gold with their metal detectors (and even the word ‘comedy’ doesn’t quite do it justice): the pace, the humour, the pathos, the acting and characters. But as much as anything for me is the beautiful cinematography and my additional personal connection to the familiar mellow landscapes of its setting, as it was filmed not far from here.


I pick up some Fairy Liquid and a bag of Bombay Mix and head home, the back way this time, by the allotments.  A Red Admiral settles on the path in front of me, spiky leaves of globe thistles rub against the sunflowers, I notice a dead woodpigeon in the brambles, I drift along in a world of my own… make sure I don’t sprain my ankle again…. wonder if I’ll see the chickens, there’s a coop just along here… must check that musket ball thing I found when I get home, I'll be on the look-out for more now ….and then my thoughts are broken by a sound.  A strange, whiny, uneven sound, a bit like a gate swinging back and forth on rusty hinges, but not regular enough, too extreme.  It’s coming from the other side of the allotment, behind the trees, I think.  A sort of whistle but, no, not a whistle, more synthetic… sort of beeping…  where’ve I heard that before?

It only dawns on me as the path ends and joins up with the car park again at the back of the Heritage Centre that I’ve just heard a metal detector.  Or should I say: detectorist. Perfect.

(I wonder if they found anything.  Or (to quote) fuck all...)


A saucerful of secrets.  My equivalent to the 'Finds Table'.

28 comments:

  1. Yes, yes, yes! Detectorists! Yes!

    But then you already know I'm a fan...

    You should have asked the detectorist, "What you got?"

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    1. P.S. Love your "finds table". And did you check your musket ball in the end?

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    2. Thought you'd be pleased to see it mentioned again!
      It really felt as if someone was reading my mind when I heard that sound. Yes, I wonder what they got, if anything. Perhaps just an old Status Quo badge.
      As for the musket ball - well, I don't know. It seems a bit small now I look at it again. And I'm not even sure if it's made of metal or not (nothing to detect it with!) Will have to investigate further...

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    3. Careful, you'll be buying a detector before you know it...

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    4. I'm sorely tempted! Perhaps a BLX500 or whatever (no idea/memory of their model names but it sounded about right). I wonder if sales have gone up since the series first aired?

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    5. Saw a detectorist on the mud flats of the Thames at low tide yesterday. On hearing a few beeps, was sorely tempted to ask him what he'd got...

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    6. I do wonder what he got! It probably wouldn't be the first time he's heard that, though...

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  2. I've seen you all mention "Detectorists" but wasn't sure what you were talking about - Now I get it! Will have to seek that one out.

    Funnily enough we had a similar experience during our recent short holiday - The local (a burgh since 1066 apparently!) town had a really great museum spread over 3 different buildings and as we were the only visitors we got a one-to-one tour by the curator who was incredibly enthusiastic. No muskat balls though but some celtic brooches etc -Nothing Roman up here as we were so scary, they were frightened off and built a massive wall instead!

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    1. Thoroughly recommend it, as others have done too, as you know. Like 'Car Share', it's fairly slow paced and contained - and the dialogue is fabulously crafted.

      Love the sound of your personal museum tour. Haha, oh of course, no Romans up your way, I didn't even think of that when I wrote this! The man I was talking to was very blasé about Roman finds, said they come across bit of Roman pottery all the time here, it's nothing unusual - we're on the site of a major settlement and road, I believe. Would still love to find some in my garden, though.

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  3. Replies
    1. Maybe a Jim'll Fix It badge...?

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  4. C - a WYCRA update at the Vinyl Villain's place
    Excellent post -as always

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    1. Oh thanks v much for that CC - will head over there now.

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  5. Sounds a good series, I've not heard of it before, I shall " catch up"
    I love your bowl of finds, I've never found anything interesting digging here or on the allotment, just some shards of Victorian China . I'd be beside myself to find a clay pipe!
    I've been meaning to go on one of the guided mudlarking tours that are done on the Thames foreshore, after reading this I'm determined to sign up for one!

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    1. I hope you find it, catch up and enjoy - start with Series 1 if you can, we're just nearing the end of Series 2 on BBC Four now.
      I hope you find something interesting while digging one day - I'll keep fingers crossed for you!I suppose a lot depends on the provenance of the land. Where I lived as a child was also a Roman settlement and we found interesting things in the garden (although mostly horse-shoes as it had been a farrier's at one time). Pieces of clay pipes seem to be in abundance here, but I've never found a whole one - that would be really nice.
      I've been fascinated by the Thames mudlarking too -funnily enough I've kept this lovely article in my bookmarked favourites:
      https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2016/sep/14/london-history-mud-thames-foreshore-mudlarking

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  6. Lovely post, written at "Detectorist" pace. I once read that we process information at 3.5 mph, average walking speed. Taking in the world this way, even a ring-pull can hold a brief fascination.

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    1. Thanks Martin, it's the pace round here, nice and slow - similar to the West Country in that respect, though maybe not quite!
      That 3.5mph processing speed seems terribly sluggish, but I find that quite comforting. Enough time to linger.

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  7. Love the treasures. My youngest has been digging around the yard this summer and has found some foreign coins... not all that old either. Kind of a head scratcher, but it makes for some wildly imaginative made-up tales by us of just how they could have found their way here.

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    1. Love the sound of your imaginative tales about how those coins came to be in your yard. I'm wondering how, too. And here things just seem to come to the surface unexpectedly;I found that small shiny blue tile thing in the picture, it was just there waiting to be picked up one day, no longer under the surface of some bare earth, but I'd never seen it before. I should add no-one passes by our back garden, it's enclosed and surrounded by hedges and fields, so it's not as if someone could throw it in. The soil is just constantly on the move, bringing up surprises!

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  8. Funnily enough, ring pulls account for most of their finds http://johnmedd.blogspot.co.uk/2014/11/watching-detectorists.html

    Martin, I've been trying in vain foe weeks now to leave comments on your blog (esp the Johnny Flynn one when I wrote a few words about his greatness), but each time after hitting publish my thoughts appear to go into a black hole.

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    1. Sorry to jump in here on C's blog but the same thing happened to me when I tried to leave comments on your blog - It was the browser I was using, didn't happen with Chrome

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    2. Hope you both manage to comment on Martin H's blog. I use Chrome and seems to be ok.

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  9. Mrs S found a lot of buried broken crockery when she first took over her allotment, I'm not sure of the age though. It does make you wonder what else lies undisturbed, just a little deeper.

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    1. Lovely.... it's nice to think some of that crockery may be really old, who knows? My mum once unearthed a complete unbroken decorative china lid for a pottery jar, she had it dated and it turned out to be a couple of hundred years old. But as much as anything it makes you wonder how/why some of these things end up in the ground!

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  10. John, sorry to hear about the comments problem. You're not the first. I've no idea what happens. Do you use your Google ID?

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    1. Good luck, seems ok with Chrome?

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  11. Lance, Terry and the all the delicious characters you meet in this little town are so reflective of small town life in England. You are right though it is the countryside that is the star of the piece. Understatement never comes into fashion and thus never goes out.

    Your blog is still a pleasure to read.
    Ben

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    1. Hi Ben, good to see you here again, and many thanks -
      lovely to know you're still reading this! I'd never thought about understatement like that before, but that's so true. The small town life in England is so well-observed and portrayed that there's almost no need for a story line.

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