By Clive George
Ooh, it was so long ago now. It began in the usual fit of democracy, as people were bludgeoned into volunteering for such desired posts as treasurer, after the retiring rhinoceros had finished his fight with one of James' chairs. As far as I could see, the brief was to be a figurehead for the club (illustrious, eh?, just like the club lights) and otherwise general dogsbody for doing things other people didn't want to do. Fortunately caving didn't seem to feature in the list of duties. As a small but representative group of us charged down the Cam in search of a punt joust, the only figurehead was a gas fired potato launcher (built to a similar standard as a certain cave surveyor) menacing any CUSAGC bodies who were within its five inch range (plop). The standard was set for any competitive events the club may choose to participate in when we won 12-4, their one knight swiftly dispatching the four of us into the depths, but we claimed 12 byes and ate quite a lot of their food.
That marked the end of those long balmy summer days - it being July, it was time to go to Austria and get rained on. Meanwhile the older end of the club (the younger end of EXCS) busied themselves with getting married, cats, putting up shelving and dallying round the BCRA conference, where CUCC was represented by some demon prussikers and backward Expo slides - unfortunately the first one was a map, which gave it away a bit. JullanT marked his return to Cambridge by arriving on the back of a breakdown lorry, making it his third engine in as many years.
The societies fair marked thereturn to the humdrum business of attracting (is that the right word for cavers?) novices. A claustrophobia tally revealed that Cambridge students have one of the highest counts of this problem, and maybe someone ought to study this phenomenon. The squash preparations ran hectically as we tried to find some beer, and Bullet (neighbourhood Spalders wide boy) did it again, finding us a wholesaler with two days to go. I will gloss over the slide show, which was being prepared as the squash begun, and turned out to be lots of pictures of people changing. ('And here's another picture of a jammer').
Why is it Yorks I always seems to begin in chaos and end worse? Aggy got the prize for most spontaneous caver - we went to his house on Friday evening to pick up his gear, and lo and behold he decided to come with it. In the morning there was a strange smell in one of the dormitories; and wellies seemed to be suitable footwear. A novice who made the mistake of arriving early and drinking as if the Helwith Bridge actually closed, had failed to escape when his bladder started filling, and pissed all over my rucksack. He went caving with a desperate hangover in two furry suits and bin bags the next day well, that was all the gear left when it was his turn...
Thanks are due to all the minibus drivers, who braved A1 traffic jams and screaming novii at a minimum of notice (Seb phoned Spalders up on Friday night and got told yes, he could have his gear back, but only if he drove a bus to P8, and Dan and Penny went one better by driving to Yorks I after being asked at lunch-time. (oops)) They also provided interest in the Driver of the Year competition, three buses gaining small bruises in the first three meets. François provided most amusement - on the Saturday, while saying 'Look at me, I can reverse, he backed into the No Motor Vehicles sign at the Red Rose, and on Sunday on a lane near Austwick, he just brushed the tip of one of the top stones on a wall with a mirror, which then obviously decided to hearken back to its Irish ancestors, because it all collapsed. Hot favourite for driver of the year was SarahW, who with a new driving licence said 'I can drive the wagon at 95', conveniently forgot about the appalling handling and spun half circle on the A604 in the rush hour. How she missed everthing remains a mystery, but the heart problems her passengers now suffer will be reminders forever. (For more details of this incident, see Mark McLean's account a little further on). Unfortunately, just before the dinner, I spun my nice, new (to me) Maestro into a couple of trees off an evil bend (or so I claim) on the way to going climbing. I therefore claimed the prize, on the grounds that my car has actual dents, and still has chilli on the carpet from the ex-circular pan.
As usual, certain events stuck in my mind - going caving does not feature highly among these, as you may have guessed. A few trips stood out - the Notts Pot derigging trip, begun at 5pm on New Year's Day by a collection of slightly hung over cavers, via one broken engine ('I'm sure it's not supposed to make that noise. And what's that light with the picture of the oil can?'), and finished at around 1am the next morning. The traditional new SRT crocodile went down Flood/Bar rather than Lost Johns' on Yorks III, starting at half past one, after a gear order. Predictable queues in both entrances gave us hints as to the volume of traffic below, and having missed the pub by miles on Friday, maybe we should have stopped there. But no, onwards and downwards. Then all the novii got scared about tales of awful rubs on Flood, so most people tried to go out of Bar. First preceded by three Sheffield cavers we found looking sheepish, as their mates had derigged on them. If that wasn't enough we then met a practice rescue. The two who had left early however got a lift off their Landrover and made the pub. Bastards.
Peak cavern seemed to be the most liked trip of the year, especially some of the best crawling people have had. The year was also sad, for the loss of much liked curry houses, caving houses, caving cars and light from FX2's. Archaeology featured in the cleanup of Spalders, and there are rumours it is being rebuilt. As is usual, the scrap man reclaimed all the bits of car that he had sold over the previous couple of years when the Wagon died, so there seem to be slight Buddhist overtones here, and the curry house was swiftly replaced by one behind a mortuary.
Genuine bad news is that college kitchens seem to be restricting formal halls by giving them exorbitant prices, or, worse, excluding parties altogether. Trinity appeared to be a noble exception (unlike the food - maybe that's why). This is a disturbing trend which seems set to continue. Other rumours, including restricting the age of minibus drivers to 25, and most importantly, the uncertainty over funding. If caving is not seen as a 'sport', which some claim, dark clouds will begin to appear on the horizon.
After all that doom, gloom and not caving, I shall try to finish on a happier note. As you will be able to read elsewhere, Wookey & Co. finally finished bolting Tatty Wife. Next stop Rumbling, after a group went there for a normal trip, looked at the 'Comedy' spits and went to the pub again. With any luck this should help see the club putting more back into caving again (if the drill can be persuaded to work...). I leave next year's mob with the task of having a dinner with less porters (and possibly less appalling/disturbing dress wearing), the challenge of going caving before noon on Yorks III, the illumination of red brick like cells, and having as enjoyable a time as everybody did this year.