I’m sure there’s an old bit of country lore about farmers looking up when they’re in town, but in their fields they only look down. It’s the sort of thing Granny Flindt might have come up with after a couple of decent sherries.
It’s true, though. On the rare occasions I’m in a city, I look up, seeking historical clues: old pub names, faded adverts, bricked-up windows and neglected steeples.
Out in the fields, it’s definitely “head down”. We’re checking soil conditions, emerging crops, pests and diseases. But there’s history there, too.
See also: Read more from Charlie Flindt
There are 10-a-penny shepherd’s crowns among the chalk and flints, and the odd chunk of iron pyrite. Recent history is just as fascinating: there are spring tines to be retrieved, YL42s in assorted states of wear, and gargantuan horseshoes – each one telling a silent tale of a long trudge up to the nearest smithy in Kilmeston or Bramdean.
It’s amazing what falls off modern machinery, too. Blackhouse Road produced a massive tine off a contractor’s Kockerling (at that purchase price, you’d think they’d come up with failproof fixings) and a skid plate off a Votex Topper, from the days when OSR stubble tended to be a couple of feet tall. Yes, kids, it’s true.
There’s a cartridge case or two to be gathered, with the heads rusted away, and often a burst balloon with a label.
I once used my AO-level French to enter my name in a “most-travelled balloon” contest that had started near Normandy. Mind you, they probably thought I was trying to order a pizza.
And I’ll never forget the heart-breaking label that simply said: “Dear Nana, we all miss you.”
In fact, a good walk isn’t a good walk unless I come home with something of note. Assorted minerals go in the tray in the kitchen window, horseshoes go on the hook outside the back door, expensive tines go back to their grateful owners, readable cartridges go in my collection, and assorted metal junk hangs around on the yard table for a week or two, and then heads for the skip – or back out to the field to help dissuade the nighthawkers.
Origin of the pieces
Most of the time, there’s a reason for what you find being there, whether it’s geology or human activity.
Look at a piece of scrap for long enough, or wave it under neighbour Robert’s nose, and it can be identified. “That’s a left-hand spigot off a 1925 Blackstone self-acting rake!” he’ll cry, confident that no one can prove him wrong.
But just occasionally there’s an inexplicable find, something that leaves you standing in the middle of a field looking utterly bewildered.
Take, for instance, the little sliver of blue plastic that I found, just visible among the fragile shoots of winter barley. My first thought was that it was a bit of insulating tape from a temporary electrical repair – but it was too wide for that.
Then I spotted black writing on it, and gave it a bit of a spit and a polish with my handkerchief. Slowly, the words “flybe – security seal” emerged from the Hampshire mud. Two things then happened. In a supremely idiotic moment I looked skyward, as if expecting to see a Dash 8-400 shedding bits of luggage en route to Southampton airport.
And the second thing? (And own up, we’ve all done it.) I quickly scanned all around to check that no one had seen me being a complete idiot. Confident that I’d got away with it, I pocketed the ribbon and headed home, still baffled, but dignity intact – unlike Granny Flindt after a couple too many sherries.