Enthusiasm and passion for treasure

TV Review: Treasure Hunters
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The Independent Culture
Monday was a great day for sport: last day of the Test Match, early rounds at Wimbledon and - a relative newcomer in the fixtures - the Tories annual Leadership Stakes: a uniquely British event, with its colourful tradition of doorstep evasions and its deliciously arcane rules. The commentators, unfortunately, can't quite decide what sport it is. John Redwood, we discovered on Monday morning, was a strong runner who could punch at equal weight with the prime minister - added to which his intervention had created a sticky wicket for the Major team. I flicked channels to discover Geoffrey Boycott examining the wicket in question, a stretch of ochre turf as scuffed and arid as the Conservative Party's election prospects: "Those cracks have disintegrated at the edges," Geoffrey said, pointing his biro at a widening split. "It may be a day for low balls."

He was right. There was nothing but low balls on the other channels, every news studio packed with political spinners. "John Redwood has immense guts," explained Bill Cash excitedly on Sky News. In most sports this would suggest that he had foolishly neglected his winter training, but I think we were meant to take it as an advantage in the sumo arena of Westminster. Others, though, were convinced that John Major would see off the Redwood threat: "He will beat him out of sight," said Lord Archer, who may have had cricket or boxing in mind. Or, indeed, nothing at all but his own future prospects. "It won't surprise you to know," he continued, "that I am utterly convinced that the Prime Minister will have a resounding victory, will lead us into the next election and will win it." It didn't surprise me a bit, given Lord Archer's turbulent relationship with verity. His celebrated gift for language, incidentally, has not deserted him: "I have heard on the way here that cabinet ministers are coming out one by one and supporting the Prime Minister," he said confidently. The image brought to mind hunted men, flushed from their hiding places by the encircling siege of microphones. Blanket coverage of this wonderfully enjoyable fixture continues all week.

Treasure Hunters (Channel 4) accompanied the nighthawks - illicit treasure hunters - on their nocturnal metal-detecting outings. The nighthawks inhabit a grey area of the law - strictly speaking if the Coroner's Court deems their finds have been lost in the first place they get to keep them. If not, then they should be handed over to the Crown. Most nighthawks don't bother to check, regarding "finders keepers" as an entirely acceptable piece of demotic law: "Who owns it?" asked one. "As far as I'm concerned if it's a roman bronze, the geezer's been dead for 2,000 years." Another delivered a more complex legal syllogism. "We're just retrieving our past and the past is supposed to belong to the people. And we are the people. Is it a criminal thing that we're trying to save our heritage?" That rather depends on whether you end up down the Balls Pond Road, trying to flog the heritage to a dodgy coin dealer, I suppose.

Neil Rawles's film was instructive, and not just about the passions that lead the enthusiasts to spend their nights in freshly-ploughed fields. Most of them dream of the big find, the one that will set them up for ever, and in pursuit of that they dig through books, as well as archaeological sites. A few seemed to recognise that the resulting knowledge might be a reward in itself, but for others the notion of becoming familiar with the small change of Roman history seemed positively embarrassing. One described the image on one of his finds with an involved excitement and then seemed to remember that some of his mates might be watching: "Rome was built on seven hills and all that bollocks," he concluded. It wouldn't do, after all, to be caught in possession of well-gotten education.

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