Clive has fun...geocaching
PUBLISHED: 10:02 21 March 2012 | UPDATED: 20:17 20 February 2013
Clive Agran overcomes his natural Luddite tendencies for a spot of smartphone-assisted treasure hunting
The last person in a busy newsroom to dump my old manual for a new-fangled electric typewriter, I have never embraced change with enthusiasm. My Luddism partly stems from a reluctance to jettison an increasingly redundant technique or skill that took an enormous amount of effort to acquire and partly from the recognition that a similar effort will be needed to get to grips with whatever is replacing it.
Cameras are a classic example. Because journalists nowadays are frequently required to take photos as well as write, I was obliged to buy a digital camera. It was a complicated piece of equipment that I was just about beginning to get the hang of when it broke. Rather than graduate on to the next generation of cameras with even more megapixels, I rather pathetically acquired an identical second-hand replacement. Precisely in the same way as its predecessor, it too soon broke. Only after two more foolish purchases of the evidently dodgy camera did I finally concede that it was time to move on to something newer and less unreliable.
My mobile phone is lagging so many generations behind that it has miraculously survived long enough to take calls from its great, great, great grandchildren. But making and taking calls is all it can do. And if you think thats all you can reasonably expect of a phone then you are guilty of the same antediluvian attitudes as I am. Modern mobile phones can do so much more, like, for example, locate hidden treasure, of which, believe it or not, there is loads all over Sussex.
Geocaching is the current craze that embraces both hiding and uncovering it and my daughter Charlotte is a keen exponent. Accompanied by her, boyfriend Dan, his iPhone, wife Rose and, of course, my newish digital camera, I have driven to Lewes to discover what secrets may be hidden here.
As we step out of the car, Dan immediately turns on his iPhone. While he is connecting, Charlotte explains that a GPS-enabled phone, whilst not essential, is preferable to an ordinary GPS device because it also provides access to the geocaching website, the address of which is at the foot of the next page and, if you cant find it, its not unreasonable to assume that geocaching is probably not for you.
Despite the fact that my head is now beginning to spin with techno-overload, I am just about able to follow the others as they, in turn, follow the compass needle on Dans phone that is leading us up a narrow alleyway off the High Street. Dan announces that the cache is 10cms above ground level and reads out a cryptic clue that refers to Thomas Paine and somewhere over the rainbow. I look in vain for a house called The Age of Reason or a blue plaque that reveals Judy Garland Lived Here. As were wandering up and down the alley, a helpful local asks if were lost. No, I reply truthfully, were just looking for treasure.
After a quarter-of-an-hours fruitless searching we give up and Dan finds another pair of co-ordinates which are about 300 yards away. Apparently whoever has hidden whatever it is we are now looking for specialises in concealing things in and around drinking fountains and the like as this is one of 13 such locations. The official hint tells us we must look near a certain public house (the name of which is withheld on Charlottes orders to protect the secrecy of the site) and Under Dumb. Im just as unenlightened, as it were, as I was with Thomas Paine but Dan and Charlotte are quietly confident. Doubtless looking hopelessly confused once more, Im again asked by a friendly stranger if were lost. At least my role in the whole enterprise is becoming more clearly defined to fend off well meaning but unwelcome offers of assistance.
International treasure hunters
Meanwhile Charlotte lets out a triumphant yell as she locates a small plastic bag squeezed into a crack beneath a horse trough which carries the biblical inscription (Proverbs 31:8), Open Thy Mouth For The Dumb. Although not unnaturally excited, Im disappointed at the lack of gold and precious stones in the bag. Instead theres simply a sheet of paper with various names, dates and messages on it. Charlotte and Dan, however, are delighted and happily sign their names at the bottom of a log sheet and add T.F.T.C. (Thanks For The Cache). When we arrive home, they will go on the geocaching website to confirm the find.
Heartened by our modest success, there is a discernible spring in my step as we head off towards the next location, which is nearly a kilometre away. As we stroll downhill and cross over the River Ouse, Charlotte explains the appeal of geocaching to her rather bewildered father. Its great fun, takes you to places you might never have visited and gives purpose to what might otherwise be a rather dull walk. There are caches everywhere in towns, the countryside and all over the world. You would be amazed how many people are involved in it. And, through the objects we leave for one another, we are all somehow connected. I love it.
By the time Charlotte has finished her mission statement, were wandering through a singularly unappealing retail park which is, presumably, one of the places we might otherwise never have visited. Emerging onto a dull road the other side, Dan says that his phone suggests were close and reveals the official hint, In grey not white. While I am convinced that this is clearly a literary reference to authors Keith Gray and James White and am desperately seeking a possible connection, Dan is pulling out a well-sealed canister from behind a white barrier that turns grey just a few inches further along the road. Ah yes, of course.
Charlotte and Dan are again hugely excited as they open the canister to reveal a small pink toy and an object that is an officially designated travel bug that comes complete with a reference number through which it can be tracked. Using the technology available to him via his phone, Dan unearths the bugs history. It originated in Munich, has travelled 9308 kilometres and been hidden in 17 different locations. Charlotte announces that she will take it with us when we go on holiday to Majorca the following week and, provided that it isnt seized by airport security, plant it in a cache out there. She then completes the log book and removes the unattractive pink toy which, under the strict geocachers code, has to be replaced by something equally worthless.
Those of you not unnaturally wondering what I have contributed to the evenings fun will be glad to learn that I have generously donated two potential heirlooms. Both, coincidentally, are golf related. The first is a Ryder Cup ball-marker bought at Celtic Manor last autumn and the other is an Open championship claret jug badge obtained at Sandwich in July. I offer them to Charlotte to choose which should replace the pink thing and she sensibly opts for the Open championship badge.
Our evenings geocaching over, we stroll by the side of the river, up the hill and back into town. Throughout the walk back, Im subconsciously searching for likely places where other caches might be hidden. The next time youre in Lewes, you could do the same and, who knows, you might find an Open championship badge. If you do, you might pick up the claret jug which, curiously, has always been an ambition of mine.