The Beautiful Lessons of Detectorists


I’ve binge-watched Detectorists over the Easter break. For those unaware, this is a British sitcom series spread over 3 seasons and 19 episodes between 2014 and 2017. It was written by (and starred) Mackenzie Crook, who is well-known from the original Pirates of the Caribbean trilogy, and who was my favourite actor/character from the original British version of The Office.

I’ve been aware of it for a while, and assumed (in my naiveté) that it was a bit like the “Off-Roaders” sketches from The Fast Show – but spread-out to sitcom level. In other words – very amusing, full-on slap-stick comedy about laughable people on the fringes of social obsession.

It isn’t that. Yes, there is a lovely sprinkling of clearly comedic daftness, but it is much, much richer and more mature than that; particularly if you look at it as a three-series story arc. Essentially, I feel both hugely enriched personally by watching it, and also struck by the educational messages it has for us and the nuturing of our children.

Rather strikingly, the aesthetics of the series almost say it all themselves: The beautiful folky music by Johnny Flynn croons about the value of what is gentle, nostalgic, melancholic and heart-felt. At the same time, the opening visuals of each episode directly focus your eyes on the beauty of ‘minutia’; the tiny details of the natural world around us which are there for all of us to see, if only we pay enough attention.

And this is it: Amongst all the beautifully observed subtle humour about the gently vain ambitions we all have; the messages about how childish all of us can be – both the ‘goodies’ and the ‘baddies’; and also about the genuine heartfelt sincerity in many of our apparently floored human foibles, there are big messages regarding what is truly of value in that thing called human life.

Essentially, whilst we may cognitively look for a narrative-arc of meaning above everything else, we gain a huge, addictive and nourishing sense of day-to-day meaning and fulfilment from those routine moments of mundanity which simply fit us as people – whether we like the idea or not.

One of the most powerful things which we can do for any of our children is to help them detect and value those small, subtle, apparently ‘nerd-like’ (to others) things which their bodies and inner minds draw them towards, and to put into perspective the bigger, outer attraction which we might find drawing ourselves to socially-defined glitz and glamour. It is from such routine addictions that we have evolved to derive the most satisfaction – whatever the unbridled fantasies our freer cognitive systems might lead us to imagine.

So let’s stop placing so much value on flogging children towards something ‘bigger’… ‘glitzier’… more fantastic. There simply isn’t enough of that to go around to fulfil everyone, and it almost never looks so good close-up anyway. Life is right in front of us to be lived, and we can’t re-programme what it is which will make us personally feel most happy.

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