On the Measuring and Defining of Rants
CU 1999 Contents Page Next:
Expo 96
Austria expedition archive

Cambridge Underground 1999 pp 67-73

The Joys of Car Ownership

Sam Lieberman

Once upon a time...

... on a cold winter's morning, 1996 and fate finds Sam out in hot pursuit of a replacement for his t'Rusty' old, mean green 167000 miler Vauxhall Cavalier. This also serves the secondary, and very useful, function of blotting out the impending nightmare that is Christmas shopping -- for relatives who expect you to come bearing seasonal gifts. Anyway, there it was, in the paper, 1.6 Astra Estate - a rare find, and still available -- even rarer, just what I was after. More vroom, more room and enough space to lie out for a comfortable night's kip in the Marton Arms car park (once you've tipped the gear out that is). I was off like a shot -- it had obviously only just come in and they hadn't had a chance to paper over the cracks and up the price, so I gave it the once over, the test drive, and put down a deposit -- Sorted.

I picked it up the next week and they'd given me new tyres all round (even the spare) and made it so shiny you could see your boots in it. I waved goodbye to the green monster and swanked off in my new mobile home from home. Little did I know what I was in for.

A cautionary tale

All was fine and dandy until the balmy summer months arrived and it was time for the grand annual Alternative CUCC/ExCS dinner in Yorkshire. A mass assault on Marble Steps was planned with team rope and team ladder and team photography (well Dave Horsley anyway, keen for a bit of practice before Expo). There was a strange and most unusually clean vehicle at the usual parking spot on Masongill. White and orange and blue, with some coloured lights, blue perhaps -- I wonder what they're lurking around for in a suspicious manner we thought. They drove away whilst we were getting changed and just as I was heading up the hill they came back. I should have known better -- after all we know what happens to cars whilst we're in the Mendips -- (more in Act III, Scene XII)

A jolly day was had by all, avoiding the sunlight and the midges, and we headed back in dribs and drabs to the cars in good time to get to the dinner. Guess what? The police had gone, and so had my passenger door lock, along with any semblance of tidiness such as had existed in my car earlier in the day. It appears my car was the only victim (there were only twelve others to choose from -- mutter) and the thieving gits had made off with Tony's and Dave's trousers + wallets, Tony's gore-tex kag, and my rucksack. This was intensely annoying, as I'd carefully moved my camera from the box it had been in, into the rucksack for 'safekeeping'. More to the point, the rucksack had also contained a violently bright jacket I'd bought specially for the dinner. One that, when people threw up upon seeing it, you wouldn't be able to tell.

Somewhat miffed, we got changed, at least I did. Tony and Dave donned their jackets to hide their undies and Rachel's girlie cycling shorts, respectively, and we headed into Ingleton, away from the dinner but towards the police station. First, a stop at the phone box for Tony to make a call to his parents, who very usefully had a list of his bank card numbers and how to cancel them. Dave had not been so enlightened (unlike his wallet), and we left him to phone half the world's financial institutions whilst we went to fill out police forms. It turned out to be rather amusing, with Tony in his shreddies, and Dave, once he'd run out of credits with the phone company, in Rachel's girlie cycling shorts, explaining in serious tones what had been nicked.

This done, Sam now had an excuse to drive very fast to get to the dinner, and, not for the first time at an alternative dinner, work on a truly horrendous and lasting headache for the Sunday

Everyone was spared the jacket, I'm still annoyed about that -- it was one of a kind.

Mike -- you do have the keys ...?

Only a few weeks later Mike the Animal, Tina and Dave Horsley (with trousers) arrived at my house in a blue Astra estate -- a different one. Despite my best efforts over two sleepless weeks, I'd failed to dispose of the expo gear pile that had been causing minor gravitational (and other) disturbances at my parent's house. The car was full when they arrived, so we looked from the pile to the car, back to the pile ...
... Perhaps if we left the people out??

Luckily my parents had some roof bars, so we piled up a layer of the lighter gear on top and wrapped 50m of rope round.

Here's one for you to puzzle over: -
Sleeping bags are light,
the outside of cars are wet,
light things get put on the outside of cars
the outside of sleeping bags are??
(Water proof! Of course they are... hmmmmm?)

That just left the rest of the gear ...
... Perhaps if we left the people out??

We packed 'most' of the rest of the gear in, called Julian Haines, who was coming out a week or so later, to inform him that his gear pile was a 'bit' bigger, and actually managed to have three seats spare ...
... and four people

Well, what the hell, Tina and Sam wouldn't fill a matchbox between them and Tina + rucksack was being exchanged for an equivalent volume of nitrogen/oxygen gas mix at the chunnel port (she was joining Clive & Co. who were off canyonning in the Maritime Alps). So in we piled, and off we set, waved nicely at Mr. Policeman on the M25, who, fortunately had better things to do than calculate axle loading weights that day.

Driving on to the train was no problem and Mike & Dave went off in search of Tony and Becka, who were elsewhere on the same train, whilst I read the instructions for my new camera (see above). I got bored eventually, and set off to find the others, as I left, out of force of habit, I thought, "... car full of gear ... I'll lock it up", locked it up, and then headed off to find the others. I met them coming back the next car down and, as we were ambling back to Mike's car I popped out innocently with,

"You have got the key's, haven't you?", to Mike. "No, they're in the ignition, You haven't locked it have you?" says Mike, "Have you?"

I smiled sweetly.

We got back to the car and despite the keys being, one could argue, topologically speaking, on the same side of the car's surface as us, there seemed little hope of getting to them. Being in the ignition as they were. Now, of course, would have been be a good time for the announcement "Would all passengers please return to their cars ready for disembarking -- do not start your engines ..."

The announcement came,

"Would all passengers please return to their cars ready for disembarking -- do not start your engines ..."

After a bit of fruitless screw-drivering with a penknife (now bent) and cars behind now revving their engines, it was decided that Dave could unleash some of his secret marital (errr... sorry) martial, arts knowledge on the rear quarterlight window. It's amazing how LOUD the tinkling of glass is in the confined space of a chunnel carriage. Especially in front of a family audience, looking somewhat dubiously at you, as you pick up the million shards of sparkly stuff that used to be both see-through and waterproof.

Needless to say it rained for the whole of the fourteen hour journey to Austria.

And Sam achieved the honour of being expedition fuckwit before the expedition had even started.

Act III, Scene XII

Well, expo was all done and dusted and we were settling back into student novice season. I was back in my own Astra estate, a full set of windows and the passenger lock actually worked better now I'd cleaned it and popped it back in -- at least, you couldn't open it with a lollipop stick like you could the one on the drivers side. I was off to Cambridge to meet up with the minibus at Churchill College for a trip to the Mendips. Happy my car would be safe from the ravages of Mendip country lay-by parking problems I locked it up and headed for the bus.

It was an eventful weekend all round. For some reason going to the Mendips involved Julian 'Rhino' Haines driving the bus too fast round corners and frightening the young and impressionable students. Though this was partly due to the circuitous route he'd planned via a housing estate in Bicester (a pick up) and another housing estate in Newbury (drop off). Anyway we made it to the Wessex in one piece and those seasoned cavers amongst us cracked a few tinnies -- the students went to bed.

The next day saw some fine caving, the classic Swilly's 'half round' trip was done and the sump ducked, or is that the duck sumped? or the duck ducked???? I don't know, it was a bit confusing what with my rubber duck on the team. Anyway you couldn't do the round 'round trip' as the mud sump, normally just a 'mud', was in fact a 'sump'. I am of course referring to the mud sump on the round trip (half round trip) and not the mud sump near the sump on the reverse round trip (half round trip)

I hope that's clear.
Or at least clearer than the mud sump, that is.
Oh! Some people had a less confusing time down Manor Farm Swallet.

The usual pub session ensued and afterwards the seasoned cavers drank some tinnies back at the Wessex -- the students went to bed. Later, I was putting in my usual bid to be 'last man standing', or at least slouching, when we heard a crash outside the lounge door. Upon opening it we found a Wessex caver, Max, in a crumpled heap at the bottom of the stairs. He was dragged onto the sofa and it didn't take an expert to determine that his ankle was well and truly F*#!#ed, either that, or he had secreted half a grapefruit in his sock ready for breakfast in the morning.

"This was about due to happen", someone said.

Apparently Max was renowned for being unable to find the front door when paralytically drunk and resorting to the vain hope that it might be somewhere on the top floor, probably in association with a window ledge and a long drop. Anyhow we then had the difficult task of playing the 'Find the sober person at 3:00am on a Saturday night in a caving hut' game. Luckily for Max, one of the womenfolk was still sober and off he went to hospital, though apparently there was no one qualified to operate the X-ray machine so he was dosed up with pain killers and sent home till the morning.

After all this excitement, I was all for a quiet day the next day, so, whilst everyone else went caving, I stayed in the hut and drank tea and wrote up some Kaninchenhöhle cave description. I was just contemplating another round of tea when the phone rang....

"Yes, ... ... Yes, ... ... oh dear!, ... ... Yes, ... ... mmmmmm, ... Yes ..., O.K., ... oh dear! ... ..." went the chap who'd answered.

I was waiting for all the gory details of broken ankles and how 'he'd never walk again' -- at least not in a straight line, when, in marches the chap who'd answered the phone saying:-

"Would any experienced cavers get their gear on, and get down to Priddy Green, there's a rescue on in Swildons"

As luck would have it, I'd got my wet wetsuit from the day before, so I packed my gear, leapt into the dog compartment of someone's car and got driven off to Priddy at high speed. On arrival I got organised into team no. 3, given some gear to carry and off we went. We met the severely hypothermic, semi-unconscious, young scout(ess) at Water Chamber (where the wet and the dry ways join up) and from there it was a matter of hauling, lugging and otherwise being trodden on in order to get the girl in the stretcher out A.S.A.P. Luckily I had a wetsuit, so whenever there was a puddle, a voice would drift out of the melee and say.

"Oi, you in the wetsuit, get in that puddle"

It's a much underrated experience, being a drag mat, I can tell you.

Towards the entrance the amount of space and the number of people increased sufficiently that I could avoid being trodden on some of the time. I started to come across more CUCC folk, who had come back from their caving trips hoping for a cup of reviving tea only to find themselves back in their recently removed clammy caving gear. The girl was safely evacuated and we all wended our way back to the Wessex to pack the bus up.

The return journey was more manic then the journey out with less motorway and more high speed roundabouts, and then a funny thing happened in Bicester on the way out from the chip shop ...

We were all sat in the bus minding our own business when up walks this chap to a house opposite, he looked shiftily up at the open upstairs window and then proceeded to climb the drainpipe in an effort to reach said window. 'Strange behavior', we thought, as the chap bottled out of the obviously dangerous manoeuver and shinned back down to ground level. What next? We settled down to watch the rest of the show. After a moment's pondering, the chap wandered into the chip shop and following a brief negotiation came out with a stepladder ... an eight foot stepladder, and not quite up to the job of levitating people to upstairs windows. There were a few, very exciting looking, wobbles on top of the ladder before this game was deemed to be a stupid idea and the stepladder went back to the chip shop. More staring up at the window. We'd more or less concluded that this person was genuinely locked out of his house, but you can never be sure. So, just as he was about to head up the drainpipe again, Julian sticks his head out of the bus window and bellows diplomatically down the street,

"That is your house, isn't it?", which roughly translated meant "You are aware, are you not, that there is a complete minibus load of people watching you? - no pressure, carry on with what you're doing ..."

The man didn't run off and said he'd locked himself out of his house. Though, if I'd just been accused, by a complete stranger and a bus full of witness', in loud (but diplomatic) tones, of being a 'thieving git' I think I might have run off, even if it was my house. Anyway we'd finished our chips, declined the suggestion that we create a human pyramid to help the guy up, and the last we saw of the man was him gaining a slender fingernail hold on the aforementioned open window. With 'E' grade climbing skills like that, we were obviously outclassed.

We arrived back in Cambridge late-ish and I was dropped off at Churchill College to pick my car up. As I was walking back I felt in my pocket for the keys.

Mmmmm, not the usual pocket, Shake the jacket? Mmmmm ... no telltale jingling of keys. I stopped and put the rucksack down and searched my trousers (for the keys) Mmmmmm ... Must be in the rucksack ... Bugger ... ... Mmmmmm ... I got as far as the second check in the oversuit pocket, before I finally conceded the fact that my keys were almost certainly enjoying a permanent retirement in the Mendip hills area. *$** Bastard ... Mutter ... ### Bugger ... Mmmmmmmm. I was not in the best of moods as I wandered towards the car.

Whoever coined the phrase: "And just when it couldn't get any worse ..."; they ought to be caught and shot, because as I approached the car, it became obvious that the rear quarterlight (the selfsame one we'd broken on Mike's car) had been smashed in, and the only thing that wasn't tied down, the toolbox, was missing.


That was it, I'd had enough. I went back to the college, phoned the police for insurance purposes, phoned Julian, who was still dropping people off and waited for him to call me back on the off chance I'd lost the keys on the bus. No such luck. Julian came round and picked up all the other miscellaneous tat in the car, taped the window up and drove me home. (Thanks Julian, for that) I did in fact have a spare key for the car, which rather surprised me, so I got my mum to drive me back into town so I could remove the car to a place of (relative) safety. The replacement window was a pig to get back in -- especially with no toolbox handy, Mutter ... Bastards ... Mind you, at the end of the day, it was a jolly good excuse to go and spend lots of money at Mackays Shiny Tool Emporium -- a pleasure any day of the week. The keys never did turn up. Mmmmmmm.

Things aren't all bad ...

Well, Winter 97 and Spring 98 passed by without incident and rolled into Summer, at least on the car front that is. NOTHING happened between the Marton Arms and Bull Pot Farm on New Years Eve. NO CAVING WAS DONE after the Red Rose Annual dinner -- certainly not at 4am and especially NOT with a large bottle of Chianti that WASN'T found a week later in Bull Pot of the Witches. More to the point, NOTHING happened at the Alternative dinner, or at least that's my story and I'm sticking to it. I don't think I'll be going back to the Punch Bowl for a while though. At the time my car was full of Expo Carbide and in my absence Andy Waddington proved you could open my car with a Toyota key -- I didn't like to deflate his ego and tell him an old fork would have done.

I was hoping to go to Matienzo for some caving in the summer, but a rash of weddings conspired to make canyonning in the Vercors a much more convenient option. At least there were some nice caves there as well (see separate report). Coming back from one of the canyonning trips one afternoon I'd managed to miss a turnoff and ended up on the wrong side of the Isère river heading back to where we were camping. I was just approaching the traffic lights in a town and there was a Gendarme directing traffic about, he caught my eye and made sure I knew that I should be going right. I assumed there was a diversion of some sort and that the traffic lights were to be ignored. So I turned right and set off up the road, looking for the diversion sign or another friendly Gendarme. Some way up the hill I decided we were going completely the wrong way and that I ought to go back into town. If we got really lost, perhaps we could ask the nice Gendarme at the traffic lights?? As luck would have it, there he was waiting for us, he motioned us towards a parking space on the right. I began to get the vague feeling he wasn't about to give me directions as I wound the window down ...

"Bonjour Monsieur", says 'e

"Je pense q'une diversion" I said in impeccable Franglais, and keen to get my excuse in quickly.

He cottoned on pretty quickly, and switched to English.

"You are English?"

"Ah, Oui" still keen to get on his good side.

He went on to explain that I'd been doing 90km/hr in a 50km/hr zone, so my brain was busy trying to calculate how long a prison sentence this would be. But then the man went on and said that normally there would be a fine but I'll let you off this time. "Merci. Merci beaucoup" I said.

I launched off before he could change his mind, being careful not to run his foot over. I can only assume that they'd pissed themselves laughing when the idiot Englishman had driven off into the distance instead of stopping at the road block, and then obviously died in complete hysterics when he'd driven back again.

The End ?

Not on your Nellie, the best was yet to come.

It was coming round to conference time, September 1998, and the usual crowd set off for Southport -- at least Wookey and I did. Wookey was loaded down with the CSG (Cave Surveying Group) stand and associated PC, plus all the Oxford surveying equipment which he'd been fettling. This was on top of all the usual kit required for a conference, tent, pits, SRT gear etc. We stopped at Becka's house in Liverpool on the Friday night and Julian and Wookey played with the Tunnel software whilst I fretted about the car being in Liverpool, even though it was behind Becka's 8ft high perimeter defences. The next morning we set off bright and early for Southport. On arriving we parked up in the car park behind the Floral Hall where the conference was being held and started carting stuff in to set up the stand. Later that day after lunch I was wandering about when my old MUSS pal Keith Plumb suggested I have a go at the SRT Race, 'Yeah, good idea' I thought and off I went to fetch my SRT kit from the car. I went to where I'd parked the car, and there was a white Metro there, 'must be going mad' I thought and looked for where I'd actually parked the car. 'No, I'm sure ... ... Oh Shit!' I still couldn't believe it and wandered round the car park in case Wookey had moved it for a laugh -- despite the fact I knew damn well that I'd been the last one to see the car.


My brain just wouldn't accept the fact it was now gone.

I went round to the helpful car park attendant who had been quite happy that morning to take money off us for the pleasure of staying in his car park and asked whether they towed cars away for any reason. He replied that there wasn't,

"In that case it's been stolen", I said.

This seemed to confuse the little man in the booth,

"Oh! ... Errrrrr! ...", he said.

"Ummmm", he said

The man came out of his booth and locked it up, shuffled around a bit and then went back into his booth. He then announced that there wasn't a lot he could do (probably true) and that there was no point in calling the police as they wouldn't bother coming round (probably true) and that I should go round to the police station to report it missing. Cheerfully I thanked the man for being so helpful. I didn't bother trying to ask for a refund on my ticket, as I got the impression that I would be told I'd have to go round to the council offices on Monday morning to sign a host of triplicated forms to do this. It must be nice to have a job with no responsibility and your own air-conditioned booth.

I went back into the hall to tell Wookey and Julian that their accommodation for the evening had disappeared along with the rest of their possessions and set off in search of the Police Station which thankfully wasn't too far. I had to wait half an hour whilst some youth who'd wrapped his car round a tree and refused a breath test filled out some forms. Then just when I thought it was my turn they asked to see his MOT certificate and, surprise, surprise, it was several months out of date so I waited again whilst they booked him for driving without a valid MOT certificate as well. THEN it was my turn. After relating the details of the mysterious disappearance I headed back to the hall and tried to work out how I was going to get home. I got the numbers of some Hire car companies and having determined that none were open on Saturday afternoon, set to the task of trying to see what the insurance company could do for me.

The first number I called listened patiently, read "I'm sorry we're the wrong department" off a card and gave me another number.

The second number I called listened patiently, read "I'm sorry we're the wrong department; we deal with breakdowns. I'll give you the number for the right department" off another card and gave me a third number.

The third number I called listened patiently, read "I'm sorry we're the wrong department; we only deal with the sale of new policies. I'll give you the right number" and proceeded to read out the first number I had called.

At this point I should have gone out and ordered shares in B.T. immediately, but instead I patiently pointed out that I wasn't prepared to go round the tele-loop again and that if they were able to sell me a new policy, how come they couldn't tell me what my current one covered me for? It obviously took a while to find the card to deal with this one and I got put on hold. A couple of minutes later, they came back and informed me that the claims department -- the one I actually needed to speak to -- wasn't actually open over the weekend and that I should call up on Monday morning. I argued futilely for a bit in the hope that some useful information might appear but to no avail.

So this left me in Southport with no pit, no tent, no means of getting home and no means of finding out if the insurance company would pay for the cost of said items until Monday morning.


With bells on.

Needless to say I got drunk that evening and being a popular chap ended up with several offers of accommodation for the night. In the end Julian went home and Wooks and I ended up getting a lift to and back from Phil Underwood's parents posh house in Ormskirk. As for getting home, Becka very kindly lent us her car, at least by proxy, mostly on the grounds that she wasn't in the country and that Julian, being a recluse, wouldn't need it. Thanks Becka.

My car actually turned up in Preston on the Monday, and two weeks later was delivered back to my parents (I was in hospital at the time) having had the locks fixed, been cleaned and polished inside and out and a new battery fitted. A substantial portion of the contents were still there though on the down side, my rucksack including camera (again, tok!, tok!, tok! sounds of head banging on a brick wall -- I'll learn one day), Psion organiser (this was a serious pain in the backside), Julian's new rucksack, work pager, selection of screwdrivers (but not the whole tool box???), and strangest of all my single person Trangia stove, had gone missing -- they'd also finished off the three tins of McEwans I'd got lined up for the apres stomp party.

For Sale

Blue Vauxhall Astra Estate 1.6L, One careful owner (as yet untraced)

On the Measuring and Defining of Rants
CU 1999 Contents Page Next:
Expo 96
Austria expedition archive