Prusiking, the ascending of a single static rope, has reached a very -
"That was last year's, dummy."
Oh, well I, er What, er did you want me...
"Come on, just get on with it, you know, The President's Bit for 1977-78."
Ah, yes. Sorry about that. Sorry. OK, here goes.
I am very privileged to follow on in the long line of eminent Bit writers of the past. So excusing any disgusting innuendoes, here's my Bit.
At the beginning of the year an overmanned Societies Fair stand did the annual con job, bribing people with free beer to get them to part with a subscription. The School of Pythagoras was structurally reinforced to cater for the massive swarm that turned up at the Squash. The Club, with the strongest, most enthusiastic (caving/drinking) committee for ages, positively reeled under the enormous influx of freshers, produced by its own exhaustive recruiting campaign. After the talk came the action, and then we realised just what we'd done. For a club as small as ours, an enormous recruitment is a positive headache. The first few meets of the year were a bit of a struggle. Vast numbers of novices wanted to go underground. They had to be transported, accommodated, helmeted, and illuminated. And what an illumination.
Thankfully caving, being the unglamorous affair that it is, saved us. The rigours of the likes of Carlswark weeded out most of the archetypal Cambridge ponces, slobs and weirdoes. The occasional flash of female thigh during those many windswept changes was obviously insufficient compensation for the cold, the wet, and the sordid mud. After carting 25 people up to do some very wet Birkwith bashing, the final blow seemed to fall when half of the Mendip Circus had to be moved north of Leeds. A late wetsuit order wittled down the numbers still more, and the club gradually diminished to merely gargantuan proportions for Christmas and the New Year. With more manageable numbers, the rest of the year's meets were less chaotic. And naturally, the very strength in depth of the remainder led to phenomenal competitiveness and some great trips. If you really want to know all the caves done, then look at the club logbook. Highlights, in no particular order, include: bottoming Penyghent in six hours, (whatever happened to the days when we used to jack ?) ; getting about 20 (!) people to the sump in Lost Johns'; Wade's/Flood Entrance to Main Chamber; last year's President setting a fine example by bottoming Vulcan; and excellent trips were had down Rift Pot and Christmas. In South Wales, Aggy and OFD (2 to 1, and Smith's Armoury) were contemptuously sorted out. Mendip saw a fine Rhino trip and the usual Swildonslongwoodmanorthrupe, etc. Back in Yorkshire, (God the list goes on) we did Death's Head, Cow Pot, Sunset, Tatty, GG Main Shaft (as for many others, this was done on 'ladders', but Mike'll probably edit that to read 'ladders'), Birks Fell Ireby, Rowten, Gingling (at which I made a controversial jack - many apologies, but only to those who stood a genuine chance of bottoming the place), Dow/Prov, Pikedaw, plus many others. If I've missed out your particular glory trip tough. And these were only the official meets.
The Club had so much private transport (enough to take 25 people on each of the first two weekend meets), that unofficial trips were very common, and not all performed by the same clique. The appearance of the infamous 'Team Bluewater', set up more as a financial proposition than anything else, saw SRT being used extensively by the undergraduate members for the first time in the Club's history. In short, the caving was excellent.
The expedition continued in similar vein, with the club going deeper than ever, but if you don't already know the details of what happened, you're obviously not very important. Also,like a lot of the year's caving, enthusiasm got out of hand, and the expedition was overorganised. Doug, bless his little differentials, did a tremendous amount of work getting sponsorship, but despite this the money saved was negligible compared to the total outlay.
Excellent caving trips should imply an excellent caving club, and to an extent this was true. But as Evan France once said, "The social atmosphere of a club is essential to its efficient working." And herein lay a weakness. OK so last year saw lots of people frequenting 'The Arms' and Jesus LNB (R.I.P.), but were they all really 'friends' ? Some turned up, I'm sure, just because it was a gathering of 'the caving club' but without necessarily enjoying the company. When A and B are sitting in an LNB and A insults B's father, so B kicks a rubbishing great boathole in A's head, what happens when they meet in lectures the next morning ? Tolerance is the only answer. When a common interest forces your path to cross that of somebody you positively loathe, tolerance is the only way. But tolerances were limited, and, as on the above occasion, backstabbing animosity turned more open.
The reason for this situation was straightforward personality conflicts, probably fuelled, interestingly, by the Club's very healthiness. The rivalry between keen cavers of almost identical experience was intense. The competitiveness of it all perhaps begat petty jealousies, and although only niggling ones at the start of the year, things grew more serious as time went on, and relationships suffered. Unfortunate as much of this was however, mutual tolerance levels were sufficient to allow, as I have said, many great trips, and therefore the overall well-being of the club could not be injured. As I write this, another year has already started, and the resident membership changes again. New faces bring new personalities, new levels of experience, new attitudes and, most importantly, new relationships.
In conclusion then, the last year must certainly be filed under 'successful'. Interestingly too, last year has confirmed that the membership is always self-righting. Whenever, in the past, the Club's membership has been low, everybody must have tried harder to recruit. When, as last year, a keen recruiting campaign pulls in a lot of new members, insufficient attention to the individual seems to turn many away. Therefore for the coming year, I cannot say, 'The Club can look forward to a healthy future', only that no matter what events may occur, the club will inexorably carry on through good times and bad. But since that in itself is not a bad thing then it only remains for me to say thank you to the Club for all it has done for me in the past, and wish it all the very best for the future.