The President's Bit
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Ten years, I hear you cry.. Well, it sometimes felt like it. After all, you are entitled to expect a little more when you sell your soul to the CUCC Treasurer. Where was my face that launched a thousand ships and burnt the topless towers of Ilium? Where was the drill which produced wine from a wooden counter? And what did I get instead? -- An implacable bank manager, and a kidney like Eeyore's balloon. It seemed hard at the time, it seemed unjust, but now I realise that this was simply a hasty and over-emotional reaction. Just think of the compensations -- such as the sight of Nick grovelling about in a not-so-subtle blend of Pyrenean mud and his own vomit, moaning "I've never chundered on alcohol", or the drinking match with the climbing club - 80 pints of Bass Export disappearing (for a few moments) inside five minutes.
But what would have happened if Jesus College hadn't taken over at the helm, if CUCC H.Q. had not been transferred from the Wherry Library to Jesus Bar, if Andy hadn't conned a few of us into the cold embraces of P8 just so we could see him lobbing left, right and centre on Stanage? It's a wonder, or perhaps a miracle, we carried on after P8, Short Drop, Valley Entrance, Stoke Lane and the rest. The approach was all wrong and clearly designed to weed out all but the obsessive troglophiles. One shudders just to think of that hour spent up to the waist in Short Drop water waiting to get out the Gavel end and choking to death on the fumes of Noel's Roman Candles which some of us couldn't even see. Something clearly had to be done to prevent the club from becoming "hard", a whole new attitude had to be forged from within the club. I feel this happened in my three years, but let the facts speak for themselves:-
P8 1969 - 6.30 a.m. start, long queue at Tony's, hanging about for lights in the cold dampness of Derbyshire, an unmemorable sprint down and out and we still missed the pubs.
P8 1970 - the same story, except that the wait for lights, still cold and damp, was enlivened by a display of Scout Pyrotechnics from the new President. At least I had a wetsuit now.
P8 1971 - usual start, wait for lights in the Wanted Inn, unmemorable trip, stop for a jar en route and hit the Jesus Bar at 11-35 pm. in time for a couple of pints.
It was the same story on weekend meets; like the Bar-Dis fiasco of 1970. Now GG Main Chamber may be a fine place, but 1½ hours could have been more profitably spent in the Helwith, or the Hill, or the Crown, or the Green Dragon or..... but I digress. But did I learn from our mistakes? Was the next lunchtime spent offering a few sacrificial pints to the Autumnal Dionyous? No, we were tramping through the teeth of a near blizzard to do ....Alum...DIRECT. Shuddering down the ice-rigid ladders, senseless arms thrust through the rungs before aborting at the ledge and rushing frantically out through Long Churn. It was only through a sense of obligation supported by a kind of mass-hysteria that anyone had gone caving at all that day. Nobody could honestly have said that they wanted to. Or my first Giant's-Oxlow link one arctic day in mid-February of the same year. Well, minibuses are bound to break down if you spurn the true deities. But then you try to placate them instead of repairing the bus and pursuing your sacriligious activities. So aeons later Tony was chipping the ice off his lips and, staring at the neon-sky of Sheffield (it would have been better to turn the bus round), stammering "Just aim for the second star from the left of Ursa Major and you can't miss the M18 which, although it goes the wrong way, is a very good road..." 3.15 a.m. saw Andy and me hurling tackle over Jesus car park fence wondering what sort of night it had been in the bar.
Now consider the new approach to the same trip. Night spent in the centrally heated comfort of Chesterfield suburbia, and in the White Hart darts, dominoes and a fine pint of Barnsley Bitter (don't laugh, try it). (The editor deeply regrets to announce that this beer is no longer available, RIP.) Then bacon and eggs courtesy of C & R Catering Enterprises Ltd., and a middayish start for the hole. Several people were honest enough to plump for a photographic session in Oxlow while the rest of us sweet talked the Giant's farmer and 1.30 p.m. saw us all underground. After a brief refusal shirtly before Eating House we were in the link passage and the next thing we knew ... well, we were still in the link, and God, its an unpleasant place, but soon we were out and heading for Chesterfield, hot baths, soup, roast turkey, sausages, roast and creamed potatoes, three veg., Christmas pudding and a few chocolate coated cotton balls ... Oh! and the pub.
When all is said and done, there is no point escaping from Tolly Cobold and Greene King if you're going to spend the whole weekend in the bowels of the earth. We all know what grey places caves are, not least for fairies, and not one of us has never asked himself the question to which there is no answer .. "Why?", or as Villon might have put it "Ou sont les bistrots d'artan?"
Nobody can tell you why he goes down holes in the ground, but I can tell you that the "bistrots d'artan" are alive and well and living in or near every karst region I am ever likely to visit. However, unless something is done on a national, even international, scale, they will soon turn into plasticised motels from which cavers, if there are any as opposed to full time speleologists, will be barred on the grounds that they frighten away all the plasticised businessmen who spend more money than they do.
I think CUCC has seen the light, although disturning reports have reached me in Pau via my reliable spies, concerning the sudden influx of what seem to be speleologists into what was a healthy caving club. Evidence of transformation in the last three years can be found in the spiralling bar bills of one Evan France, in the introduction of an Annual Dinner, in the drastic curtailment of pre-mortems (which, unfortunately, are still held during opening hours) and in the amazing case of John Wordsworth, who spent his first year brazenly downing grapefruit juices beneath the hallowed beams of Jesus Bar, but whose consumption of NCB was, within two terms, the envy of everyone but his bank manager. In a recent interview for admission to the "Neo-troglodytes de l'Universite de Cambridge", he ascribed his sudden elucidation to Yoga, and uttered the immortal lines, "A merry caver is a good caver".
So let us look at the bright side, regard the new approach not as a defeat, but more as a broadening of outlook. Of course there are still some good caving trips, and the club is even trying to be more original. It is perfectly feasible to combine the two aspects which are, in concept and in practice, completely antithetical. It is a simple matter of dialectics, a sort of Hegelias "euriges Werden", with each synthesis retaining the best of thesis antithesis whilst abolishing the contradictions and soaring to new and unsuspected heights. Let us remember that the beauty and the attractions of caves can only be appreciated fully by contrast with other aspects of life. A genuinely troglodytic animal takes no extraordinary pleasure from being underground since it knows no worse (or better). Marcel Proust has adequately and with painful thoroughness demonstrated that habit prevents any conscious and genuine understanding of our lives. Perhaps a Madelaine dunked in a pint of Trophy will reveal the truth to a privileged and very tedious minority, but why not avoid the habit problem in the first place ? Going down holes in the earth must not become habitual, but rather a rarely tasted pleasure (even in pain) which will make us more appreciative of the whole. Most cavers will admit that one of the attractions of the sport, way of life, call it what you will, lies in its exceptional nature - therefore ensure that it remains exceptional, that our senses do not become dulled by over-exposure. It is all a question of intoxication, as Baudelaire has said:
"Pour ne pas sentir l'horrible fardeau du temps qui brise vos epaules et vous penche vers la terre il faut vous enivrer sans treve. Mais de quoi? de vin, de poesie, devertu, a votre guise, mai enivrez-vous"
The point is to make the intoxication as varied as possible.
Finally, whatever the value of the scientific approach, which is spreading like an ulcerous growth at the very heart of Britain's limestone, whatever the attractions of discovering "caverns measureless to man", let us not lose sight of the ultimate goal:- to enjoy ourselves. But enough of empty theorising. We must pass to Praxis. We must mercilessly eliminate the renegade forces of reaction, the counter-revolutionary neo-Casteret jackals who pretend that caves can be an end in themselves. So, if one Sunday you fell like a lunchtime of beer, arrows and warmth, don't let yourself be dragged underground. Insist on your freedom for self-determination. You're not chickening out of a trip, but rather asserting your liberty. "L'enfer c'est les autres", but only if you listen to them. Like Yossarian, you can escape from the 22nd catch of caving. Anyone who is crazy is a danger underground, but you have to be crazy to go underground. You will be told that not to want to go caving is the process of a rational sane mind and that therefore you must go. All you have to do is rebel, run off to the pub and be yourself. For years to come you may be ridiculed, but come the revolution............
The President's Bit
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