How to summarise 1980-81? Well, in the first analysis the club's track record this year is very similar to those recorded by a long line of 'Bit' writers before me, but I'll subject you to a review all the same.
The recruitment technique this year was a bit different to the year before in that it was much less high-powered. In fact, we positively discouraged people from parting with money at the Societies Fair, recommending instead that they go on the novice meet first. The potential loss of revenue turned the treasurer a bright shade of purple, but in fact, this approach created so much goodwill that the crop of freshers was almost of comparable size to that of the previous year. The novice meet was the usual mega-Carlswark epic which had the expected effect of frightening off 80% of the potential recruits. It would be nice to find something a little less sordid than Carlswark for novice meets to come, and no doubt this will be the topic of the perennial novice meet discussion which will take place in October as it has done for many Octobers past.
The freshers meet did have the effect, though, of weeding out all but the toughest/keenest/stupidest of freshers, and caving for the rest of the year was, on the whole, very good.
There were three official trips in the Michaelmas term, all of them well attended. It would seem reasonable to suppose that since we took subscriptions from most freshers after they had been on their first trip, that the recruits we got would have been fairly serious about caving. Certainly a number of the novices were quite enthusiastic, but almost as soon as the year started, we began to lose first years. It is difficult to see why since the caving was good and novices were always catered for, and socially the club was quite healthy too; friendly without being cliquey. One or two notable characters found the physical side of it a bit too much, but for most people, cost seems to be the only other thing which might have put them off. The problem of petrol costs first became real in Rob Shackleton's time, ie. 1973, and has been getting steadily worse ever since. For a club such as ours which is based so far from limestone, the cost of petrol is a powerful restricting influence, and it's all the more irksome that because of the Cambridge collegiate system we are unable to obtain the subsidies on travel costs that almost every other university club in the country gets. It is normal now to pay £10-12 per weekend for travel and accomodation alone, so that by the time you have spent money on food, beer and the odd krab or handful of stinkie spares as well, a caving weekend becomes a major outlay. This is probably the main reason why I am having to keep my bank manager at bay by waving my contract of employment at him.
But despite the loss of young blood, the caving, as I have already said, was very good. The Christmas South Wales meet was resurrected, and, in fact, a good deal of affection was generated for O.F.D. throughout the year. Through trips have almost become the norm in O.F.D., and I can well remember doing four of them in two days, and having to physically restrain Piete Brooks from dragging us underground for a third time on the second day.
The New Year meet was another success despite the fact that Pen-y-Ghent (surprise, surprise) was so full of water as to be impassable. Soon it will no longer be traditional to do Pen-y-Ghent on New Year's Eve, it will only be necessary to carry the tackle up to the entrance and bring it back again.
S.R.T. has really caught on in a big way in the club this year. Prusiking first really made itself known in the club in about 1976 when the first ropes team was established. Over the past year there have been about eight club members regularly using ropes, and we have seen separate ropes teams doing different Dales pots at the same time. Pots roped have included Juniper, Nettle, Vulcan, Long Kin West, Alum, Rift, Rhino Rift, Car and Dale Head. The reason for the proliferation of ropes teams is the same reason why caving in general has been good this year, ie. the collective experience within the club. We have been lucky this year, partly as a result of a large number of research students, fourth years and other wierdoes, in having a high proportion of experienced members. This has meant that we have been able to do more ambitious trips, and that in general, there has been no shortage of leaders for novice-type trips. Unfortunately, the situation will not be quite as rosy next year.
There were three more official trips in the Lent term followed by another South Wales meet and a Belgium meet at Easter. The Belgian meet was very successful, but marred by an unfortunate accident which raises one or two important points. The first is that had the victim been wearing a climbing-type helmet when he fell, then the helmet might not have been knocked forward exposing the back of his head to contact with the floor. The second is that graduate students are not covered by E.E.C. reciprocal health agreements and are liable to pay the full cost of any hospital treatment, so that it is essential to obtain medical insurance before leaving. Brian is still receiving bills for treatment and for the helicopter transport, and the total is likely to, exceed £1,000. The fall itself was an unfortunate slip from a short climb which one would not normally consider lining. It was just one of those things which can happen after all precautions have been taken, but it does raise the question of the value of helmets which are attached more securely than the average plastic caving helmet.
Another interesting point of safety was brought to light when our ladders began to disintegrate. It turned out that the culprit was some stainless steel cable bought for ladder building some years ago. At the time it was possible to obtain some stainless cable at an attractive price, and since stainless has better corrosion resistance than galvanised, it was decided to buy some. Some ladders made with this material had been discarded to the knacked ladder shelf for various small faults which were repaired. Stainless though is more brittle than galvanised wire, and although they had shown no signs of fraying when they were repaired, when these ladders were brought back into service, they quickly began to fray to the point of breakage. The moral of the story seems to be steer clear of stainless steel cable for ladders, it's not designed to be repeatedly flexed.
A problem which is worsening almost as fast as petrol costs is that of cave booking. Many caves in the Dales were booked for the whole of the year by March so that it is necessary now for the Club Secretary to book ahead for the person who will succeed him. Leck and Casterton Fells are particularly bad in this respect.
The last thing that might be mentioned about this year is the driving. Pioneers such as Rob Shackleton and Simon Farrow can rest assured that the traditions of dangerous driving that they did so much to establish are still alive in the Club. The magic roundabout club is a small elitest group within the caving club which has been founded this year by members who failed to recognise these features of the highway until they hit them.
And now back to the problem of how to summarise. Nick's year apparently was one of personality conflicts, Rob's was one of noncooperation, and Evan's year suffered from non-communication. If our year is to be noted for anything in particular with regard to personal relationships, then I can only think that it will be for the fact that some of them were unusually intimate; one of the hazards of an increasingly mixed club! Communication at a committee level may have been less than in previous years, essentially because everyone on the committee has done their job at least adequately, and we have not found it necessary to sit around talking for a couple of hours each week in order to get things done. The caving has been varied and ambitious, the social life has been healthy, and the year as a whole has been quite successful.
So what is in store for next year? The level of experience in the club will be lower next year than it was this, but things are still reasonably healthy. Unless something happens to supplement the low number of present first years though, things might not be so good for the year after. So for next year at least, there is no obvious reason why the club should not have a perfectly successful year, though just how successful it is will depend partly on the new intake, and more importantly on how well the senior members of the club get on and work together. Personally, I have every confidence in them, and I wish them every success.