Caving is not like Black Cherry yoghurt. Almost everyone seems to know whether or not they'd hate it without having to try it first. For instance, the following conversation just doesn't happen:
"Would you like to get very cold, very wet and very muddy thrusting your body as far down as possible into the tight confines of a dark hole in the ground?"
"Well, I just don't know. I think I'd have to try it first."
In other words, caving either seems as though it might be a bit of a laugh, or it's just about the last thing you'd ever consider doing. If for some bizarre reason or another it seems to fall into the former category, that is, the part of your brain that normally advises you against things like climbing inside microwave ovens, and licking car battery terminals, fails to cut in and point out the obvious foolishness of caving, you might find yourself at the CUCC squash at the start of the Michaelmas term.
The squash seems to be an event where existing cavers marvel at the free beer and relate tales of epic caving trips to wide-eyed freshers. Occasionally some of the stories have their basis in fact, though in the main this does not seem to be important. The highlight of the evening is a slide show which accurately depicts a year's caving with CUCC in the same way that "Carry On Doctor" accurately depicts work in the NHS. The sole aim of the slides is to distract the freshers so that the beer can be finished off without interruption. When the beer has finally dried up and everyone is in a generally more persuadable mood, an attempt is made to elicit from the freshers their names such that they might be written down on a piece of paper titled "Novice Trip to Derbyshire".
After your name has been begged, borrowed or stolen onto the list you will be summoned to prove your worth as a prospective caver by climbing a caving ladder suspended on the outside of Kelsey Kerridge climbing wall. This initially seems a little naïve a test as far as suitability for caving goes, but as most people who have done it will agree, the task is almost certainly more difficult and more unnerving than anything you'll have to do down a cave. In some respects, a year's successful caving might be considered prerequisite for a ladder session at Kelsey Kerridge.
Having successfully proven your man- (or woman-) hood on the climbing wall you'll need to get hold of some gear for the novice trip. This shouldn't be too difficult as, to a caver, the prospect of having all the gear they've been threatening to either clean or throw away for the last six months washed and dried for free is too tempting to resist.
Caving equipment is an absurd blend of the highly specialised and the ridiculously domestic. The potential caver equipped with, amongst other things, a polyurethane-coated abrasion-resistant oversuit; neoprene wetsocks; carbide lamp with piezo-electric ignition; and 'indestructible' kneepads, is apparently improperly dressed without some wellies and a pair of washing-up gloves. This philosophy seems to extend throughout caving where gear is concerned. Most cavers will quite happily spend hundreds of pounds on bits of gear that they probably don't really need but are damned if they're going to splash out on the necessary stuff if a section of drainpipe and a bin liner will do the job. Eventually, you will find yourself sitting in a minibus on its way to Derbyshire muttering "Why, oh why?" to yourself over and over. I won't say too much about the sheer joy that is one's first caving trip as it really needs to be experienced first hand. I offer only a couple of tips.
One. If there are two trips going down P8 then sod politeness and stuff gallantry - get yourself on the first trip. Then at least you have a fighting chance of getting some dry gear. The experience of a wet change so early on is one that will probably put you off caving for life (though some may not consider this a bad thing).
Two. It can get very cold down a cave, especially in winter, and especially if you're stuck at the top of a ladder pitch for hours on end. Spending any length of time in wet caving gear in such conditions can have slightly disturbing effects on the more delicate portions of one's anatomy. If you're a member of the hairier sex then my only suggestion to avoid unnecessary panic later on is to employ the Theseus method - take a ball of string with you and tie one end to the body part most dear to you and keep hold of the other end. This greatly eases location and retrieval of said item on emerging from the cave. Successful negotiation of the Derbyshire cave earns one the right to be referred to as a "weegie" [ouigee - Ed] and is the first step into caverdom. Further transition from human being to caver is eased immensely if one takes the time to learn to speak caver. Phrases such as "ace gear" can be very useful and qualifiers such as "almost certainly" are also popular. However, the most important, and probably the easiest element of cave-speak to master is the trick of turning all statements into questions by adding "yeah?" to the end. With a little perseverance and lots of practice you should soon be producing sentences such as "Kneepads are almost certainly ace gear, yeah?" without thinking twice (or indeed at all).
Caving with CUCC is a lot of fun. Go to the pub meets. Go to the dinners. Go to the parties. Even go caving if you feel it's absolutely necessary. Just remember, in caving as in the club, the deeper you go, the better it feels.