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The Promise of Excitement

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“Reminds me of that Billy Joel song. You know the one I mean?” asks Andy.

“Yep. It’s the one where she plays Parcheesi,” says Lance.

“No-one plays Parcheesi in that song. I don’t think anyone plays Parcheesi in any Billy Joel songs, but definitely not this one.”

“I mean, I know that. But that’s my version of the lyrics.”

“Why would you want that as the lyrics?”

“It’s humanising, isn’t it? She’s down for a bit of a board game.”

Andy doesn’t know how to respond to this. In one sense, it is a sentence, and it is approximately grammatically sound, and includes words that Andy understands. The whole evades him. He continues to scan the ground with his detector. 

A moment later: “You know the internet exists? You can just go and look up the real lyrics.”

“I know that, and I do not care to, Andrew.”

There is a beep on Andy’s detector. It’s not a promising reading, but no use leaving it in the ground. He takes the trowel out of his belt and plunges it into the earth. It’s wet at this time of year, and the trowel easily moves into the ground, but the resulting excavated mass sticks together and he needs to prise the lumps apart to inspect them. Paperclip.

“Lunch?” asks Andy.

They go to the edge of the field to seek shelter from the wind and something solid to sit on. In this case, the edge of a disused water trough. More of a perch than a seat, but it takes the weight out of their feet. Lance takes off his gloves and pulls a small bottle of hand sanitiser out of his pocket, which he proceeds to apply liberally.

“Downwind, please, that stuff stinks.”

Lance stands, takes three exaggerated strides to the other side of Andy, and perches on the other end. “Better?” he asks.

“Barely. You never used to bother.”

“Well I’m a little more aware of the delicate interplay of the natural world and my insides, now.” He shakes his hands theatrically and airs them for a few more seconds. “Also I’ve still got a box of them left from last year.”

Andy takes out a sandwich: cheese and pickle. He notices his soil covered fingers and wraps it in a napkin.

“What were you doing this time last year?” asks Lance.

“Same as everyone else. Staring down the huge pile of food in the fridge that no-one was coming over to eat. We still had mini quiches the following week.”

“Oh, yeah.”

“At least the lockdown meant only one day of Becky’s mum. Small mercies.”

“I was out here.”

“Here?”

“Well, three fields over. Getting my daily exercise. I always find a coin on Christmas Eve, you know. Every Christmas Eve for the last twelve years. Last year was no exception.”

“We find coins lots of the time.”

“Yes, but not every time. But every Christmas Eve.”

“What was it?”

“1971 ha’penny.”

Andy makes a half nod of acknowledgement. It’s not bad. It’s not great, but it’s not bad. If he had found it, it would rate a single sentence to Becky, which was the threshold for worth a half nod.

“Was that scarecrow there yesterday?” asks Andy.

“It was not.”

“Did it just appear overnight?”

“Is that how scarecrows normally appear, then?”

“I assume someone makes them. Funny time of year for it.”

“It is.”

There is a pause in the conversation. Sometimes the pauses in their conversations could last an hour. Sixty minutes without a word, and then one of them would pick it up again, as if it had been no time. This pause is not an hour.

“Saw the farmer put it up yesterday,” says Lance. “It’s got a white beard and a tinsel scarf.”

“Ah,” says Andy.

“You weren’t thinking it walked itself onto the pole, did you?”

“What? No.”

“Not going all Worzel Gummidge truther on me, are you?”

“Is that a thing?”

“Don’t know.”

They watch a robin bounce along the ground, eyeing up their sandwiches. Lance throws a crust to it, which it grabs without pausing for caution, and flies off.

“Didn’t he play Doctor Who?”

“Who?”

“Jon Pertwee. Worzel Gummidge.”

“He did play The Doctor, yes.”

“You knew who I meant.”

“I knew who you meant, but that is not the point. Might as well start calling ourselves metal detectors.”

The robin comes back. Its head cocks to one side expectantly. Lance gives it another piece of crust. “Anyway, it’s all part of a long tradition, isn’t it? Representative of the natural world, come alive,” says Lance.

“Suppose.”

Lance offers Andy a chocolate bar. “Christmas penguin?”

“How’s it different from a normal penguin?”

“Penguin’s wearing a santa hat on the wrapper.”

“Go on, then.”

They resume detecting after lunch. They pack up their lunch debris carefully. Detectorists make for tidy visitors to the field. This is one part respect for the landscape they enjoy and the natural world they enter to take part in their hobby, and one part not wanting to dig up their own foil wrapper in 18 months’ time.

“It would make things easier if the earth rose up and went ‘Lance, over here! Got some lovely Saxon bracelets under here.’”

“Too easy. It would take all the sense of accomplishment out of it. Nothing like the accomplishment of spending months of your life running a wand over a field and one day there happens to be something there.”

“Maybe more like a long-service award. You’ve put in the hours, done good by the land, and now it gives something back to you.”

“I mean, metaphorically, that’s what it does.”

“Metaphorically. But not literally.”

“Light’s going,” says Andy.

“Can’t be. Only just had lunch.”

“Well, lunch was late, and also an hour ago. That’s the tilt of the earth for you. Barely an afternoon.”

“But I haven’t found my coin yet.”

“Does it count if I drop one on the floor and scan it and pick it up?”

“No, it does not.”

“Does it count if I drop one on the floor and you scan it and pick it up?”

“No.”

“Come on, Beck’s coming to get me at four thirty and I’d quite like to get a pint in. It was hard enough to get her to agree to that.”

“But my streak.”

“All things have to end, mate.”

They detect for another twenty minutes. Two ring-pulls and a marble later, Lance cedes to fate. They head back to his car, and he sighs as he gets in, waiting a moment at the wheel to look back on the field and the abandoned opportunity.

Lance parks his car at home, and they walk to the pub. Andy finds a pound coin on the steps outside, which Lance declares also non-compliant with the terms of the Christmas Eve Coin Streak. They use the coin to get a packet of peanuts with the beers, the peanuts of fortuity. They toast to Christmas.

“She’s always a woman,” Lance says.

“What?”

“The Parcheesi song, that’s what it’s called.”

“Oh, yes. Yes, that was it.”