“Are they still looking?” says the hedge.
I get to my feet, stretch and casually glance back. Ten sets of teenage eyes instantly fix upon me.
“Uh, that’s a yes.”
While housemate A—— continues scrabbling in the bushes, I pull out my camera and start lining it up on random objects. Come on, Tree, pout, pout for me baby. Love the lens, Cigarette-Burned Rubbish Bin, make out with your audience, oh yeah. I’m aware I look as unsuspicious as a British student at a Tory Party Conference, but what else can I do? I focus my efforts on a pigeon and try to make it feel fabulous. Stay. No, stay where you are, STAY you feathery little f…
He emerges, damp leaves matted to his knees, and in his hands is a tiny black plastic case, the kind of thing you’d expect to see two biological terrorists waving around in an urban setting. He pops the lid (if any police are nearby, here’s the moment they rush us) and shakes out the contents – a plastic sleeve wrapped round a frail scroll of paper, wedged in with a pencil stub. We unfurl it – a long list of names against dates, the last being a couple of months ago. Once scribbled on, it’s back into the hedge for it while I make a special effort to be distracting by pointing my camera directly at the teenagers. Everybody look at the obvious pervert, and not the man geocaching in the bushes!
Geocaching has an undeniably geeky reputation. I tweet our geocaching triumph, and seconds later @mikebarish calls me a nerd. (And hey, when Mike Barish calls you a nerd, you know you’re in real trouble).
It’s gadget-lust slipping the reins and galloping like the clappers. It’s treasure-hunting for adults, except in the bad way that has grown people furtling behind parked cars and lamp-posts and in rubbish bins, and falling out of trees (onto parked cars, lamp-posts etc.), just so they can make use of that GPS unit they inexplicably spent £300 on during an ill-advised drunken visit to Amazon.com.
Okay, I mock. But let’s look at what geocaching actually is. It’s:
- something that requires you to leave the house, albeit slightly pointlessly
- a hobby that almost always sends you somewhere new
- a hobby that often sends you somewhere new in your own neighbourhood
- an exciting new way to get arrested.
Newly-added to which, it’s also a geeky hobby that doesn’t require expensive equipment anymore. My new brilliant-yet-bog-standard HTC Wildfire smartphone has a built-in GPS receiver and can run the Android version of the geocaching software – and since this also integrates web access, it’s an improvement on the old two-stage affair where you had to get home before you could brag about your finds online. iPhone users probably have it even better. It’s geocaching v2.0, and suddenly anyone can do it. (Casual-use dedicated GPS units? Expect to see a lot of them in the next few years – in charity shops and jumble sales, for example).
If you combine that with points 1-3, you have something potentially rather special on your hands. A perfectly respectable….well, okay, a fairly logical reason to explore where you live in a wholly different way. A reason, however manufactured, to go urban hiking the most unlikely – and maybe the most uninviting – places you know.
Hey, I don’t mind being called a nerd for that.