Odds and Ends in Lancaster Hole
CU 1975 Contents Page Next:
Expedition Report

Cambridge Underground 1975 pp 13-17

Beer Can Damage the Brain
or Norb in Wonderpot

Beer has different effects on different people. After substantial quantities, some of us have difficulty driving, some talk loudly and incoherently, and some....well, read on!

Sitting in an alehouse late one Saturday night, a certain caver, whose name wasn't Norb, but that'll do, was trying to read an entry in the logbook upside down as someone else was writing it. "This is boring", he thought, "I can't even find any spelling mistakes." As he looked up a Welsh pig - sorry, rabbit - wearing a black neoprene waistcoat rushed past muttering "oh my helmet and boots, I'm late again!" Much intrigued, our gallant Norb, pint-pot in hand, followed the rabbit outside in time to see it run down the road and leap into the river.

Norb was close behind it, just pausing to sieze a pair of wetsuit trousers from the clothes-rack that had mysteriously appeared on the river bank. He'd pulled them on before he started to wonder where they had come from, and by that time he was swimming upstream after the rabbit, which suddenly turned left and vanished behind a boulder. Norb, feeling rather cold by this time, followed quickly, and found himself outside a low dark entrance. Without thinking, he plunged inside, and started falling. After the initial shock, he opened his eyes, and found that not only could he see perfectly well, but he was falling quite slowly, and had plenty of time to admire the view.

He had been falling for some minutes when he decided that he must have found the deepest pot in the world, if only he could remember where he was. But he couldn't, so instead he examined the collection of objects on the ledges past which he was falling. And a curious collection it was too: tattered neoprene, dented evostick tins, soles off old boots, a steel toecap that had "William" inscribed on it, ("I wonder who he was," thought Norb), and even a NiFe cell. Norb picked this off its ledge, but it didn't have a headset attached, and anyway, he could see quite clearly, so he put it back on an empty ledge, being careful, like all good (but not necessarily hard) cavers, not to drop it.

Just as he had got around to wondering how he was going to get back up the miles of ladder he would need, or who would lower it down for him, he landed with a gentle "shplaattt*" in a muddy pool, and was immediately grateful for his neoprene leggings. Not for long! A wide, high, sandy passage opened out in front of him, and down this he saw figures approaching. The leading one stopped as he came up to Norb, and bowed so low that his long beard touched the floor.

"Greetings," he said, "You must be Spelo Boozings, who has been sent by the Wizard Flashgun to help us recover our treasure. I, by the way, am Thorin Calciteshield."

"I don't know what you're talking about," gasped Norb, as he realised that these must be the fearsome goborcs, about whom he had heard so little. "My name is Norb, and I'm just an ordinary caver."

"Then he must be the one," growled another goborc, "although he doesn't look much like a caver to me".

"Well, I'm not a very good caver," Norb started to explain, but before he could finish he was hurried off by the goborcs into a large forest where they were camping. Thorin explained that he and his friends - there were thirteen of them altogether - were journeying back to their homeland from which they had been evicted by a huge monster of dubious ancestry, the Batpondile, which was now living in the grotto containing their hoards of cave pearls, which they hoped to recover. A frontal attack was out of the question: however, there was another entrance to the underground dwelling, but this involved climbing a lot of big pitches, and the goborcs could not stand heights. Hence their need for a caver. Norb didn't like the sound of this, remembering how he had jacked on a 100' pitch in Yorkshire and forgetting how many times he had stopped on that 135'. But before he could pluck up courage to say this, there was a loud rumble from the depths of the forest, and the goborcs all disappeared in different directions crying "Beware the Rodite, beware !" Norb, looking round, could see nothing unusual, and could hear nothing. It was so quiet, in fact, that when someone, or something, behind him said "Boo!" quietly and distinctly, he was so startled that he leapt at least six feet up into the air; and then kept on going up, and up.....

He landed on a narrow ledge, with sheer walls above and below, and no way off apart from a tiny rift at the back of the ledge. This draughted violently, and Norb could see daylight through it, but it was only 10" by 3", so how could he get through it without his lump hammer ? Then his eye fell upon a strange object: a mud-encrusted Mars Bar, bearing the caption "Eat me".

With nothing to lose but his boots, Norb cautiously chewed a corner of this delectable nosh. As nothing seemed to happen, and the chocolate blended quite well with the mud, he had another bite, and another, until the whole bar (and the paper) had gone. As Norb turned round, he was startled to realise that he could now enter the rift, having apparently shrunk to about a tenth of his normal size. walking through into a passage that grew wider and higher, and higher and wider, until the roof and walls were out of sight, he was confronted by a clean green machine which purred quietly and uneconomically at him. Unexpectedly, it grinned widely, and asked, "What are you ? And where are you going?"

"I'm a student, and I think I'm a caver. And I don't know where I am, so I can't know where I'm going," replied Norb, uncertainly.

"Never did have a high opinion of students," said the grin, "especially those who try and think. Anyway, cavers, if you are one, which I doubt, never think, only drink. If you go that way," he said, changing the subject abruptly, "you will come to the Mad Diver's house. If you go that way," flashing its other indicator, "you will find the Racder. I shouldn't go to see him if I were you; you can smell him three hundred feet away in a crawl."

"Why, doesn't he wash?" enquired Norb, intrigued.

"He washes, but he lives in a house built from tattered wetsuit and old, vests, and if he washed those, his minivan would fall apart. Besides, he only speaks a few incomprehensible words of local dialect."

"That still sounds better than going to see the Mad Diver, though."

"Oh, Racder is mad too. We're all mad here - so are you or you wouldn't be here." And with this piece of worldly wisdom, the green grin vanished in a mutter of exhaust smoke (and don't ask me how exhaust smoke mutters).

After a moment's consideration (not as difficult as thought), Norb set off for the Mad Diver's house, on the theory that if this lunatic part of the world thought him mad, then he might very well be sane. Crossing a meadow of sky-blue grass, Norb saw a curious pageant being enacted. Two figures, one considerably fatter than the other, were circling round and round, taking occasional wild swipes at each other with bundles of rags filled with feathers. They had clearly been at it for some time, as the air was thick with down, and Norb promptly started sneezing. When they heard him, the two figures stopped clouting each other and ran towards Norb, crying "He can decide!"

"Decide what?" asked Norb, "And who are you anyway?"

"He's Tweedlerod," replied the plumper one,

"And he's Tweedlejont," said the thinner one,

"And we can't agree on who's got the smellier and nastier sleeping bag," they added in chorus.

"Are those sleeping bags?" enquired Norb, dubiously looking at the two heaps of cotton. "I really don't think I could tell them apart."

"That's mine, and it smells much worse than his!" Screamed Tweedlerod, picking up one stinking pile and swiping his brother with it.

"This one's mine, and it must be the most festerous!" shouted Tweedlejont, replying in like manner; and the two characters moved off again, yelling insults at each other.

"Oh dear, they're at it again," sighed a female voice behind Norb. He turned round to see two women laden with saucepans, frying pans, cutlery and food, who introduced themselves as the Tweedlegirls, Caroleach and Annie-get-your-leach.

"All they do is argue," explained one, "and they only agree when they want us to cook them a meal." As the brothers were coming nearer again, and Norb had no desire to act as arbitrator in this particular dispute, he hurriedly made his apologies, and carried on across the meadow to a drystone wall. Duly ignoring the gate in it, he climbed the wall, dislodging the occasional rock, much to the annoyance of an odd little animal that had been scaling the other side. Norb was most apologetic, but could not placate the other, who picked up his pitons and krabs, and stalked off, muttering under his breath about speleos who wouldn't let a self-respecting climber do a decent rock-face in peace.

Following the wall, Norb turned a corner to see a very strange sight. There, sitting at a round wooden table, was a small figure wearing a smooth black wetsuit, topped by a tie and sports jacket. On his forehead, pushed up from his face, was a glass-fronted mask, and on the ground beside him were two metal cylinders.

"Excuse me," said Norb, unusually politely, "Are you the Mad Diver?"

"Aye," replied the Diver, in a strong northern accent.

"Well in that case, do you sell dives, like a hatter sells hats?"

"Certainly not," was the indignant response. "If you want to buy something, go and see the Gritscratcher: he's always got something to sell, be it mopeds or old books."

"Well, I can't buy anything because I haven't got any money: there's no pockets in my wetsuit trousers" said Norb.

"In that case, stay and have some carbide tea," said the Diver magnanimously. "That is, if the Sesmouse hasn't been at the KOH again." He lifted the lid off the teapot, a curious affair with a large reflector on one side, peered inside, and lifted out a wee brwon furry creature wearing a kilt, sound asleep and snoring loudly.

"How sweet!" exclaimed Norb, who was somewhat overwrought by this time, "Can I cuddle it?"

"Only if you've got some tit-bits of porridge," answered the Diver, spreading a marmite butty. Before Norb could reply, there was a great commotion behind the Diver, and a chant of "Ming, Tang, Manchu, Ming, Tang..." as a wild eyed man staggered past them carrying a bright vase in outstretched arms. He was closely followed by a girl with glazed eyes murmuring "Oh Doctor, how clever! Oh, professor, how intelligent!"

"That," said the Diver, "Was Mike with the luminous Ming. He's forever deceiving innocent young girls with stories of ancient China, and then, when he has hypnotised them with his vase, he feeds them to his computer."

"How fiendish," muttered Norb. "Can't we stop him somehow?"

"And don't sit on my table," snapped the Diver, totally ignoring Norb's comment., "It's a very rare and well preserved Cogar."

"Why," asked Norb, "is it called a Cogar?"

"Because it's made of Yew wood, of course," said the Diver. "I thought everyone knew that." By this time, the Sesamouse had woken up and was assembling a large collection of teacups, which he proceeded to tap with a spoon, while whistling "Oranges and Lemons, say the bells of St. Clements."

"He's never been the same since we took his bells away; but he would keep ringing all night and disturb the neighbours." commented the Diver sadly.

"You've got some neighbours then?" asked Norb, rather more cheerfully.

"Naturally. There's the Johnofd, who lives that way, and....," but by this time Norb was out of earshot, seeking sanity again. Before he had gone too far, he met a tall thin man, with an amazingly sad look on his face, draped with long coils of electron ladder, festooned with ropes and hung about with assorted carbide lamps and NiFe cells, while on his head Norb could see at least six helmets of different colours.

"Why are you looking so sad?" asked Norb sympathetically. "Are you the Johnofd?"

"I am," sighed the Johnofd, "and I'm forever looking for a cave where I don't need all this tackle".

"Try South Wales," suggested Norb helpfully.

"I have, but it's very difficult when you have to lifeline the pitches and ladder the boulders. Oh dear!" And the Johnofd sat down and started crying to itself. Norb, realising he could get no more sense out of the forlorn creature, hurried on without further ado. Some way ahead, the wood in which he now found himself was being illuminated by bright flashes of light. Much intrigued, he pressed on cautiously to investigate the phenomenon, and, tripping over something, was surprised to find, not a tree root, but a heavy duty power cable. Looking around, he saw that all that part of the wood was littered with giant transistors, diodes, and other electronic discards. As he went on, there were more and more of these until, from a vantage point behind a large transformer, Norb could see the centre of activity. This seemed to be a portly figure sitting between a calculator and a soldering iron, and holding a camera in front of him, while a sort of conveyor belt arrangement of strangely shaped calcite formations passed him as flashguns went off all around.

A quiet purr close behind made Norb turn round, in time to see the Green Grin slowly appearing, grin first, then the green, followed by the rear lights.

"Who's that?" asked Norb, not for the first time.

"He's the mighty Wizard, Flashgun, who has many slaves to keep his photoempire running. You don't want to get caught by him. Quick! Get inside!" This last was added as one of Flashgun's minions spotted Norb, and rushed towards him, eager for another model. Norb leapt inside the grin, scarcely noticing the bald old man asleep on the back seat. The Grin accelerated, going faster and faster. Norb was suddenly siezed with panic as he wondered what he had let himself in for, and tried to open the door. Abruptly, it flew open and Norb was jettisoned, only to find himself being picked up from the car park outside the familiar outline of a caving hut. "Never again," he said as he related the tale to his amused companions.

"Which?" they asked, "Beer or caving?"

"That's another story" replied Norb.

Moral: Since all good stories have a moral, I don't suppose this one has.

Any resemblance to any living person is probably intended, and no apologies are made to anyone except Lewis Carroll, and J.R.R.Tolkien.

Richard D M Lindop

Odds and Ends in Lancaster Hole
CU 1975 Contents Page Next:
Expedition Report