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With shaking hand and bleary eye I scrutinised the note, written in a childish scrawl, that had appeared in my letterbox. "We want your Bit by the end of the week - the Editors" Blackmail? A ransom note? A hoax? Who were these enigmatic "Editors" and which bit of me did they want? Would they take it by force if necessary? Disturbed by these thoughts I swallowed a few quick pints and gradually the horrible truth dawned. The democratically elected president has the duty, in return for his innumerable privileges, of writing a report (which no-one reads) on the thrills and spills of the preceeding president's year of office. The reason for this time-lag is that a) the journal is meant to be published much earlier than it ever is and b) this year's president is, nine times out of ten, last year's secretary and therefore the only person who had any idea what was going on at the time. Well, I'm the tenth so I wasn't and I didn't, nor, for that matter, did the secretary himself - that is, for the few weeks (in November, I believe) when there actually was a secretary. In fact, last year will probably go down in CUCC history as the Year of Non-Communication, or more probably as the First Year of Non-Communication (it's not easy to be certain because, traditionally, nobody communicates with the president anyway).
The open meeting was a fine start to the year. Several gallons of cold coffee were followed by a quick flash from Nick, a few endearments exchanged between Bob and the neck of his sweater and a disorganised jumble of slides. Ten days later stealthy groups of cavers were seen moving about Cambridge, bundling innocent passers-by into a huge empty coach which took them to Derbyshire and P8. Here the novices performed well, getting lost, falling through holes in the floor and refusing to climb pitches. The selection procedure for CUCC is noted for its rigour and over succeeding weeks it was applied with military precision. Tests included being urinated on from an enormous altitude, being systematically ignored for days and being bawled at by a hungover Talbot in a sleeping-bag.
A spot of caving is also included in the selection procedure and the club's official calendar followed a more or less well-tried pattern. In Yorkshire, while one party misbehaved down Tatham Wife, a splendid opportunity to be introduced to the delights of necro-buggery with cows in Sell Gill was greeted with a disappointing lack of enthusiasm by the novices, but in Mendip the fabled Giant Turds of Stoke Lane proved an overwhelming success. At New Year, in Yorkshire, the Great Ireby Idiots' Trip was marred only by the absence of the Founder and the failure of anyone to attempt the horizontal ladder climbing trick. Meanwhile the meet featured, among other attractions, a chaotic Lost Johns' trip and the setting of a new club record for Pen-y-ghent a staggering 4hr. 10mins. The next term highlighted a display of aerial acrobatics in Simpsons, an assortment of OFD trips with a greater or lesser number of casualties and a Fred Davies "Do-it-yourself" trip down LNRC, a great success with all concerned.
The following Yorkshire and South Wales vac. meets are notable only for the illegibility and inanity of the beer-stained writeups in the log-book and for the occurrence of some reprehensible drunken scenes (in which I was not involved). In the Easter Term tripox intervened to prevent all but a few die-hard masochists tackling the thrills of GG, and Post Tripos was narrowly rescued from total collapse by the arrival of tired old hards asking to be lowered down Pasture Gill. The expedition followed and the year was rounded off, as usual, by the President's Invite (to which the president was not invited) featuring Spectacle, Growling and other aborts.
So much for the club's organised programme. Meanwhile a trend developed during the year for a greater number of private meets than used to take place in the good old days. The greater availability of private transport and a general raising of caving standards are probably the main reason for this increase, and it is on these private meets that most of the best trips are done and most of the serious work attempted. Thus over the course of last year there was a series of pushing trips and diving trips attended with a greater or lesser degree of success, assaults on a number of major pots, and pokings around in a bewildering array of obscure and evil holes - not to mention, of course, a large number of much better organised meets where speleological activities served only to fill in the tiresome window of time between 2.30 and 6.00.
The tendency towards more 'professional' caving, though producing some worthwhile results and certainly raising the level of ability in the club so that it is better qualified to undertake some serious work, especially on the Expedition, must be regarded with some caution in a university club, relying for its survival, as it does, not on speleological headlines, but on the continual encouragement and development of the enthusiasm of its members, one third of whom arrive as total strangers at the beginning of each year, mostly without previous experience. The interest in hard pot-bashing, on the one hand, and serious speleology on the other, can easily lead to overt boredom with taking novices underground and, more seriously, to the temptation to cut corners when leading novice trips. People who are taking two or three weekends a term off to sort out Black Shiver or Marble Sink or grovel for hours in some evil wet tube may well say they have not the time, energy or money to go all the way back up to Yorkshire to take novices down Sunset or Sell Gill. This situation can lead to a polarisation of interest, and polarisation is something which a club with a regular turnover of members cannot afford to have. This effect has been emphasised by the number of Cambridge leavers who have continued to cave with the club, a tendency which only became commonplace a few years ago. Admirable though it is that contacts should be kept up, it does present a situation in which the senior members prefer to keep in touch with their old friends rather than come to terms with new faces and, where new members have already had experience, with new attitudes to caving.
The social atmosphere of a club is essential to its efficient working. This is especially true in a club whose real activities take place only spasmodically and a long way from base. No one is likely to go on giving up a fair bit of time and a fairer bit of money trekking off to desolate places boasting some of the foulest weather south of Spitsbergen if he doesn't really enjoy the company and feel a member of the group, especially if everything is rather strange and he doesn't understand what people are talking about most of the time. The army attitude of putting officers in one bar and plebs in the other doesn't help to ensure the continuity of the club, nor the maintainance of high caving standards.
All this is not meant to decry private meets doing new and harder trips. Nothing could be worse for the club than to get stuck in a caving rut, doing the same classics year after year. Nor am I suggesting any half-baked Utopia where everyone mucks in and has a jolly good time with the other chaps (I mean, crikey!). Groups are bound to develop inside the club and there will also be horizontal divisions according to the different years. And then, by the middle of the year, when everyone knows each other more or less and people who started at the beginning of the year have reached a reasonable level of proficiency, it works out better that meets are planned on a looser basis and that more is done in small groups. But we must try, especially at the start of the year, to ensure the stability of the club by paying more attention to the needs of the newcomers, The effect of last year's efforts was to leave the club with only two experienced 1st year cavers (now 2nd year). Since the bulk of the caving and organising is usually done by the 2nd year (the 3rd year doing the bulk of the drinking), we were left without much weight to support this year's work, This situation is being gradually rectified now, but there has been a break in continuity which indicates the dangers of too much cliquishness in a university club. If the club can't maintain an unbroken veneer, then its real raison d'être can only suffer.
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