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For some years now a dedicated and selfless inner caucus of caving gourmets has been arguing the case for a tolerant and all-embracing approach to caving. The thesis of this latest pamphlet is that the traditional stereotype of the hard caver - thin, wiry, strong, lean and hungry-looking, eschewing all luxury and lunchtime drinking (eg. Clive) is all wrong. The true hard is, in reality, a portly, sybaritic, alcoholescent hedonist (eg. Guy).
Now before all you thin men turn on to the next article to hunt for gripping accounts of the discovery of vast caverns hidden beyond unbelievably narrow, nay, impenetrable fissures measuring some 15 cm (5.90551"), read on for categorical proof of my theories. Even in a Fat Man's article you will find true stories of trips down such holes as Pippikin, Car and Gingling. In the normal course of events I should deem it unnecessary, if not improper, to write about caving trips in the narrow sense of the term, but the fat man is a much-maligned creature, and, faced as he is with the threat of ostracism and even extinction through selective breeding, he is in dire need of defence from all angles, even, in an extreme case, the speleological angle.
The general arguments which add weight to the fat man's case must be obvious. As Camus points out:- "Most people spend their lives getting ready to die when they should be learning how to live." A determination to stay or become thin is liable to affect adversely the multifarious social facets of caving. Even if only thin men could be hard (which is fallacious), success in one very narrow aspect of life cannot possibly justify the sacrifices demanded.
The point, however, is that there are very few pots about which present a sufficient challenge to the thin man for him to be able to demonstrate how hard he is. Every Tom, Diccan' Harry can do Piipikin if he is thin and reasonably agile. Apart from Marble Sink, the Quaking extensions, Strans and a handful of other pots, everything else is just a Sunday afternoon time-filler. If, on the other hand, one is fat enough, a Calf Holes - Browgill trip can become an epic.
Now I know what you are about to say - "Squeezes aren't the only difficult things in caves". True, but consider how much fitter, stronger, more expert (in short, how much harder) you have to be to undertake the 40m (130' 1.59999") pitch in Car, knowing from the tips of your rubber gloves to the toe caps of your quaking boots that you are going to go through a baptism of fire on the way out. A thin man can expend all his energy climbing pitches, traversing etc., secure in the knowledge that he will experience no difficulty in squeezes.
Take a typical thin man remark like:- "Squeeze? What squeeze? Didn't notice a squeeze." Well, what's the point? If you spend all your life doing trips which don't extend you, then your not hard, even if you extend them. Whereas I, or any other fat man (and, Mike, if you think fat you are fat - Existentialism without tears, p73 ff) can, hopefully, struggle out of Car, Pippikin or Gingling, collapse in the bog, suffused with the incandescent glow of achievement, and, in all honesty, groan:-
"God, that was grim! But I did it. They said I couldn't but I showed 'em, Aaaarrgh!"
To illustrate my point, let me cite last New Year's Gingling trip. A crack party of thin men rigged in, whilst a team of gargantuan gourmets was left to combat the combined forces of their own debilities and gravity in a derigging trip. (There is, surprisingly, no truth in the rumour that they chose to derig in order that they might be able to have a pint or two before starting.)
On average, we were over two stones a man heavier than the others. I need hardly point out that the parties were arranged in the pub.
To cut a long story short, the riggers in were in the pub, laying in the Slimline Tonic Waters by six o'clock, after a boring, routine trip. We staggered in at 11-pm after a gruelling epic, both muscles of our bodies quivering from the battle against the Earth. With the exception of Evan, a well-known gourmet, the others were in high spirits (a state we only attained later that night), looking as though, as indeed was the case, they had done nothing more strenuous than stroll to the pub and lift a few glasses.
Two pictures stuck in my mind from that epic. The first was when we met the other party near the bottom. Nick and Jack were just emerging from a slot which, to me, looked about as tight as a cow's anus in flea time, or, if yu prefer, as tight as Reckert in a pub. The second was in the same place on the way out. The orifice was similar, indeed, it might just have been deja vu or presque vu or something, except that now my view was obstructed by Pete's flailing limbs and writhing body and that the air was now rather thick with obscenities. I was reaching for the Sustaining Books and Washing when Guy, from below, gave a final shove and out popped Pete.
Now I seem to detect scornful mutterings to the effect that Gingling cannot conceivably be classed as a tight hole. Well, if you don't think it's tight, then at least be honest, and, if and when the new Northern Caves appears, alter the Grade V to a Grade III. The only alternative is to alter drastically your eating and drinking habits. The real point is that the trip will remain with us as a vivid example of our hardness and courage and fortitude and prowess and skill and masochism, but I digress. Will Nick's grandchildren (!!?!!?!) be impressed when he says:- "Gingling? Let me see now. Ah yes, page 26,437 of my book. Fairly straightforward. What about it?" You can't make a very good story out of that, though perhaps I am being unfair to Nick's abilities as a writer, but the fact remains that relatively, and all things are relative, we were much harder than the other party. Similarly, you can't really say that you have done Car until, like myself, you have spent a quarter of an hour in the tight, again to me, slot above Baptistry. In the meantime, Nick was basking in the warm June sunshine after what can have been no more than a grade III trip.
So much for the speleological arguments for obesity. Much of the pleasure in caving lies in the uneasiness felt before, and the satisfaction gained from doing, a hard trip. Such emotions must be alien to the thin man, since there are no hard trips for him to do. Above all the pleasure lies in telling other people, preferably less experienced than you, what you have done. Of course, it's all bluff, but that has no bearing on the motives or the effects. Consider the following two conversations:
(The thin man sips delicately at his half and goes off to mend his wetsuit. Yawning, the ouigee moves up to the voluminous figure of the Fat Man.)
So what is the thin man to do about the situation? After all we must consider their plight - some of my best friends are thin and ours is a tolerant apprach to caving. We don't want them to get ulsas from the worry. Some take up diving in search of new kicks, but such methods are just avenues of escape which do nothing to remedy the basic problem of size. Let us take Nick as a typical example of the unhappy category of people known as thin men. There is no Dowbt that if Providence had been kinder he could have been hard. As it is, we must content ourselves with the Spectacle of Nick Pottering about the archives, Growling to himself, or else tramping the fells singing in time to the Jingling of his ironmongery, a victim of cAlumny and the Rumblings of malicious gossip, a Shivering, Black, disconsolate figure, bedraggled Strans of hair on his cheeks, silently adjusting the Notts of his prusik loops. He is Nettled by the jealous remarks of his comrades unable to Mask the Ill feeling which Piques him, but equally unable to Jack it all in and start to Swill Down the ale. But Nick, your situation will Brook no delay. You must Ease down the Gills, Swallow your Disappointment, and, Barring accidents, the Passage of Time will heal the Scars, White the wongs. In Pastures New, you can live a life of Sump2ous ease, at the top of the ladder of success, where the Sun never Sets, the Scenery's so Priddy and the Water's Sweet (even on Saturday). So don't Double your Troubles on single ropes, since, once the basic techniques have been mastered, SRT simply makes a pot easier and thus makes it correspondingly more difficult to prove you are hard. Nor can a speleo-literary career as a shop-assistant solve the problems of your size. No, you must make the Pascalian leap of faith from the Black Hole of despondency and the Landing can Shatter only your illusions. There is only one answer:-
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