31 August 2010

Girlish subaerial caving

The email that went out warned against too high expectations: we might not make it underground this trip. Finbar was after some mine the club had not previously explored, and we first had to find it, evaluate how it should be rigged, and then possibly go down. But after the first two activities there may not be more time for the third.

Quite abruptly Dave turned off the main road, and immediately some familiar shapes could be made out. Rick, Finbar, Lionel; quite a dream team, and except for Rick I hadn’t seen them for quite a while. When we parked the cars we wondered if we should get kitted, or perhaps first look for the shaft. And strangely enough it was me who suggested doing the recce in civilian clothes. And I was in a skirt. And Finbar spoke of nettles and brambles.

We set out over a comfortable path. Easy, caving in a skirt! We admired the relics of the engine house, wheel pit, and some more of such features. And then spread out, looking for the shaft. And that’s where it really became thorny.

The chimney; pic by Dave

It paid off, though! Wrestling through a particularly nasty bit I came up on a high, where my eye was caught by a dark shape. Aha! The shaft! Finbar was nearby , and quickly answered my beckoning. Then the job was flagging the other men in... that involved some more bramble-sliding. But soon we were gathered. And by that time the blood was trickling down my legs.

We wanted to see how deep it was, and if we could see some levels leading off from it, but it’s not advisable to just stand on the edge and lean over, so we fidgeted a bit with ropes. And it turned out to be a very pretty one! We all agreed it was a deep shaft, but couldn’t really see what the situation was regarding levels. And in the meantime Lionel had turned his attention to an ancient car wreck wrapped around a tree just beside the shaft. He went so far as to exactly  identify the door handles.

Me trying to see the bottom of the shaft. Or in other words: me lying flat on my belly in a dark, thorny wood, surrounded by four men who have tied me to a tree. All in a day's work! Pic by Dave.

We decided it would be too late to rig it. We packed up, failed to agree on a date for the actual trip, and made our way back to the cars (needing a find-Finbars-glasses-back-break on the way), and then to the pub. There we had a good time, but still failed to agree on a follow-up date. I do hope it will be a day I am available! This night was one heck of a teaser...

30 August 2010

Sedimentary archive

As a micropalaeontologist you spend most of your time reconstructing the past from its waste products. In a way. In any given time, whatever glorious happens, there will also be small organisms with resistant parts dying. And we go look for them and try to make them tell a story, of whatever grand or modest it is we are interested in.

It was a bank holiday here in the UK. No idea why. I used it for work on a manuscript that deals with work I did in Norway. There's all sorts of things going on in the Barents Sea, and we try to find out how that is documented in the sedimentary archive. And while I was working on it I suddenly realised I am creating my own sedimentary archive in my own little office-world. When I go home tonight there will still be information in the waste products of my activity that tell a tale of what has been going on! In my garbage bin. And the time scales of my office are smaller than these of the Barents Sea; tomorrow the cleaners will come and destroy my sedimentary archive, but for the time being it tells the tale of what keeps a micropalaeontologist going over a long weekend of working while outside the sun shines...

29 August 2010

Good things and those who wait

This story starts in 1997. I was strolling around on the terrain of the Lowlands festival. It wasn’t as overpopulated as it would later become, and one could still stroll. There wasn’t any band playing I specifically wanted to see, so I just tried my luck on bands I had never heard of, vaguely guided by the descriptions in the festival guide. And that way I ended up in an almost empty festival tent, where nobody less than 16 Horsepower was playing. They had just released their first full-flown album, Sackcloth & Ashes, the year before. I wandered in, got completely captivated by their music, and have not been released to this day.

There is something in that music that grabs you by the soul and does not let go. It’s very, very serious music. If you are tired of the speed and frivolity of modern life; if you want to escape from chavs and binge-drinking and reality shows and tabloids and nightlife and consumerism and fashion hypes and all the glittery surfaces, listen to 16 Horsepower. They want to bring you to God. They never managed with me, but they do bring me to responsibility, resignation, reflection, veneration.

A few years went by. I bought every record they released, and went to every concert I could go to. And there were more like me. They have a strong fan-base in the Netherlands; maybe because as one of the few Calvinistic countries, we have a thing going with chastising the soul. So it is not too surprising that in 2000, a documentary about them was released on Dutch television. I heard about it too late… Allard, though, who is also a fan, had seen it, and told me about it. And the images that created in my mind stayed with me.

More years went by. I still bought record they released, and went to every concert I could go to. When in 2002 David Eugene Edwards, as far as I can tell the backbone of 16 Horsepower creates his other band “Woven Hand” I just go and buy their records too, and visit their gigs. That even included a concert in Tromsø. I could never have guessed that, in that tent in 1997…

In the meantime I could not forget that documentary. I have tried a few times to find; on DVD, on Youtube; wherever, but always in vain.

Things have changed since 1997. I don’t go to festivals anymore. I do go online a lot more than in 1997. And as you do, I one day expressed my admiration for David Eugene Edwards by “liking” Woven Hand on Facebook. For the non-Facebookers: if you like some entity on FB you receive any message they send out. And then a few days ago, Woven Hand announced that this Dutch documentary had found its way to Youtube. Ten years later! So now I’ve seen it for myself. And it was all I expected it to be. It’s quite in the spirit of the band to wait ten years for your morose gratification…

A still from the documentary. Copyright: VPRO

Part1 Part2 Part3 Part4 Part5

28 August 2010

Philosophy of shitting gulls

In the parking lot of the supermarket my eye (and ear) was caught by a juvenile seagull. It was standing deadpan on top of a mini convertible, and was pathetically screeching for attention. And it was shitting on the roof. I wasn’t the only one whose attention was drawn towards this feathered youngster. Many were amused by its shameless behaviour. Shameless by default, as as far as I know seagulls don’t know shame. And I went shopping, thinking of why really this seagull was so, well, cute.

There is something funny about those outside human society who act in ways that would be grossly unacceptable within it. And we can safely say standing on somebody’s car roof and shitting all over it, and on top of that kicking up a racket an attract attention to it, is fairly unaccepted. Perhaps it simply is the contrast. It works for small children too. They may be inside human society, but have are not expected yet to abide by its rules. Rosa sticking her feet in her birthday cake is cute. Wouldn’t work as well if I did it.

So far all logical. But then I thought a bit further. With children it all works out; they are destined to become a proper member of human society, and can until that time show us why we abode to the rules by not doing it themselves. But what about the bird? In some way birds do not belong to the human society. They are not human, after all. But this one was definitely getting involved with it. Cars are fairly human-related. So can we divide the human and natural realm? Evidently not. And especially not if you integrate over time. That parking lot must have been gull territory before it got asphalted by humans. So is it not arrogant to judge them by human standards, and laugh if they violate our parvenu codes?

Coming to this arrogance conclusion makes me by the way think of “Dogville”. How a shitting seagull makes me think all the way to Nicole Kidman. A nice exercise! And probably no more than that. If this is a discussion it is probably destined to stay academic...

25 August 2010

Running, again!

In Norway I got addicted to exercise. In England I’m left gagging. Caving can be very intensive, but it can also be a walk in the park. And for a while I was kept satisfied by biking to Dave, and then Dave driving me to a cave, since Dave lives at an excellent distance (far enough to give some exercise but so close you don’t mind biking that late in the evening after a heavy caving trip) but then a sudden surge of inner city cavers turned me into a highly wanted driver. I don’t get off my lazy arse! And the trial run with Jon, three months ago, strangely left me wanting more (who would have thought!) but Jon stopped running, and I was back to square one with finding an efficient way of getting my shot of muscle movement.

After Norway the cold turkey was strong. Six days of sitting in a car does that to you. So I went on a search for another running mate (I can’t do it alone!). We have truckloads of new employees, and they all seem to run, which is hopeful, but it went nowhere. Jon had the perfect pace, but what’s the chance of finding someone else who does? I was afraid one of the new runners would run way too fast and too far, and another one vanished from the scene. But I needed not despair! The statistics Ferret (quite nerdily) places on Facebook concerning his runs made me suspect he would be a good match. And he thought teaming up was a good idea. So on a very rainy Wednesday evening we embarked on what for me was the second run in 17 years. And that was still with a dodgy throat, but the previous time was with tonsils with white lumpy bits, and that didn’t harm me, so I figured it’d be fine.

About 10 meters was enough to notice he wasn’t as fast as Jon. And about 30 meters was enough to notice this time my hamstrings didn’t protest as much. And the latter is only good, while the former simply turned the exercise/social balance a bit to the right. And that can be a negative feedback: the slower the run is, the longer you can keep running, and the more social it is, the more you are inclined to, so in the end you get as much movement as you would on a shorter faster run. And the circumstances were perfect: the abandoned waterfront, the cooling rain, the dramatic, foggy sea! We ran for 45 minutes, after which my hamstrings still felt pristine. Time for some food, a cup of tea, and some general catching up.

Tomorrow I’ll really know how my hamstrings have done! I don’t know if they really cope now, or that it was the lower pace or the cooler weather that did it. And I’ll know for sure what my throat thinks of this. But I think I’ll run again, and this time not wait 3 months!

ps and indeed, I did not wait three months! Two days later we were on the move again, this time in the sunshine. The hamstrings, that were a little stiff the day after that first run, but nothing major, did not mind. I'm turning into a runner!

Bunker's and bonus

In a week of hard work, Emily and I would reward ourselves with a Tuesday of squeezing. However, the hard work proved too engulfing for Emily, and I drove to Dave to pick up a helmet alone. It was one of these trips: a squeezy one for the PCG midgets (epithet by Dave), and a mine for the full-grown members. Dave was in the process of packing his car, so we had a nice pre-trips catch-up.

The drive to Buckfastleigh was nice. I still have my head full of cotton wool, and driving while listening to music seems to be the best thing to do under such circumstances. You give the system a rest; something I’m otherwise not very good at. I was the first to arrive.

In one’s memory stories get more and more spectacular! I remembered the entrance as hardly bigger than a rabbit’s hole, but after many more months of crawling and squeezing I thought it looked big and comfortable. So I dived in after Richard. The squeeze into the main chamber, which took me a while the previous time, I now did in seconds without thinking too much about it. I’m surely in the process of needing bigger kicks to get the same thrill…

In the main chamber I tried out my flash gun. The previous time I was here I didn’t have it yet, and due to malfunction and it ending up among Dave’s stuff I hadn’t used it for a while. It was not much of a success, as by the time I found out the battery compartment was not properly closed which led to the batteries not properly making contact, we squeezed into the passage with the lovely aragonite crystals. I did manage, though, to make some nice pics with only the light of the headlamps.

Always good to have people with bright lamps with you! As long as you can avoid being blinded...

Pic by Mike

I figured I could not improve on the pictures I had made of the crystals the previous time, and beside that my hand-held torch had vanished, so I took one or two using Richard’s light, and then took the opportunity of having a man around with a lighthouse on his head to take some larger-scale pictures as well. In the end of the cave we just sat (or lay) down and just chatted away for a while. With Richard’s recently undergone surgery as inspiration, the topic hovered around blood and hospitals, but the tone was cheerful nevertheless. So cheerful Mike deemed it worthy to document this casual conversation, which he considered to be somewhat bizarre, for posterity.

Richard kindly shining om some nice structures

Couldn't resist taking at least some pictures of the pretties!

With Richard's light you can take pictures of lots of crystals at the same time

Karen and Jenny admiring a curtain

On the way back I continued a bit with failing to take good pictures with my flash, while the others, one by one, squeezed back. I followed through the narrow passage, of which I don’t know if it has a name, but it should be named “the passage of interesting sounds” as far as I am concerned.

Arty-farty photograph of Richard!

On our way back to the cars the pull of the depression, of which Richard had explained contained another, smaller hole called Shaky cave, became too much for Mike. He suggested a bonus extension of our short but pleasant trip. And I thought that was a grand idea! I made my way down into the pit, and to my surprise I was whizzed past by Mike, who took a bolder, as sub-vertical and low-friction, route. This could have turned ugly. He however carried it off like a swashbuckling caving superhero, and politely let me go first into the entrance. Soon I found out his heroism did not reach further than that; I was on my own finding my way in this short and bouldery cave. But that was his (and the others’) loss; it was a nice treat!

Some nice structures next to a beautifully shaped natural tunnel entrance

On the way back to the cars we were all struck by the beauty of the full moon, and I wondered if I could take a picture of it. And I could! Richard was glad to find some use for the tripod he had carried uncomfortably all the way through the cave without any discernible reason. And after we had managed to bully Mike into not spoiling these long exposure time pics with his headlight, and taken a nice one, we retired to the cars, changed, said our goodbyes, and went home.

I took the sneak way back to Dave where I startled his wife somewhat with my late-ish appearance, as normally happens when I bring club kit back. And then, in spite of two caves, night photography, and Plymstock detours, I was home at about 22.10! That’s one efficient caving evening…

23 August 2010

Soothes the throat, warms the heart

I thought all was said about laryngitis here, for the moment. But it wasn’t. The condition is a nuisance, but it’s not something that makes you very ill. Just very silent. I did not stay home from work, though my energy levels were not at normal level. And microscoping is something that also works if you’re feeling somewhat under the weather. So today I stayed until I had finished a preliminary count of the core we took in Scotland, and came home fairly late. And found a big envelope, on which I from a distance recognised the word “Lohja”, and which made strange sounds when moved. From Marieke, evidently, but what the...?

It turned out to be enough throat pastilles for an army! So sweet! And I can talk again, but still only at low volume, and two people have today told me completely independently from each other that I’m not myself yet. Besides that, I still need throat lubrication to get me through the night, so the pastilles are very welcome! But whatever they will do for my throat pales in comparison to what they did to my general mood. I have the best sister there is!

22 August 2010

Relaxing underground assault course

At 8.15 I was on the move. And at that hour, on a Sunday, nobody else is. And for the first time in many months I had not forgotten the front of my car radio, so on the empty roads I listened to music and was quite happy.

I had gotten my voice back the day before, and I expected it to be even better after a night’s sleep. So I figured I could do a trip with the Cornish madmen. And that’s how I ended up on the Cornish country roads; fortunately, it wouldn’t be too deep into Cornwall this time.

When I arrived there was only one van there. Not unsurprising; this time there wouldn’t be many from Plymouth (which is fairly surprising), and the Cornish are infamously unpunctual. And the other PCG members coming; Hugh and Trish, knew that, and didn’t bother to hurry either. The van belonged to Martin, who had explored and rigged the whole system, and his wife. As we had to wait anyway he showed me an impressive hole: a collapse, providing a possible alternative way in...

But eventually everybody showed up, and we got geared up, and soon I was on my way down. A pretty mine! It turned out the mine is mainly a narrow, vertical lode, often higher than you can see. And in days gone by you would have been able to walk long distances, but time and the concomitant collapses had changed that. Every few tens of metres there was some hole or some climb to be negotiated. Lots of ladders, hand lines, and proper SRT pitches. Fun! And my voice held; I could talk but not shout, so I used a whistle for indicating “rope free!”, and that worked like a dream.

The entrance seen from below

Even though that way you don’t move fast, we were at the end, which was a drainage adit full of water, around noon. So we sat down for a cup of coffee and a sandwich, and then we started the way back up. It was a bit of an assault course! But a very pretty one.

Some of the beams were mouldy in a very pretty way!

The entrance, evidently, let in some daylight, and the lode had collapsed in a few places more (treacherous terrain there!) so near where we had descended there was lots of filtered sunlight coming in from far, far above. Beautiful! By the time it reached us it looked like moonlight. I sat on a rock for a while, admiring the view, while in front of me Martin was ascending, and behind me Daz was searching for pretty minerals. And then it was time to go back up...

Me maniacally grinning while doing a short vertical pitch
At the re-belay halfway I was struggling with my bag; since the Wheel Jane trip I don’t believe in short trips anymore, and I bring litres of water, which is nice, but you have to drag it up as well. Or rather, you don’t actually, come to think of it. I could well have just ditched the cold water and drank the hot water once back at the surface. Ah well. One lives and learns. I was dragging it all back up, anyway, and I have a special talent for making one big tangle of the rope, my cow tails, my foot loop, and whatever else you can entangle. So that was a bit of a mess, while I heard Martin above me shout “rope free!”, indicating he had got off the rope above the re-belay. I heard Daz below me shout back “OK!”, and then put weight on the rope I was still dangling from. Oi! Now I had to shout; a whistle would not have clearly communicated “not this rope, you @#”*&%”.

Daz coming up...

...and out.

Without issues, however, I came up, and then it was time to enjoy all that water, both hot and cold, in the sun at the surface. That’s another nice part of caving: slouching at the entrance, just chatting away over a coffee or so. When we were all up we went back to the cars and changed. Half of us went straight back home, but Martin, Tina, Daz and me went for a quick pint. And then it was time to go back. I drove through the rolling landscape, looking back on a lovely trip, lip-synching along with the music, figuring these may have been the most relaxing road trips I’d ever done. And I realised there were days that I had to be on holiday to see such landscapes, and now they’re my back garden. And I could sense autumn approaching... in short, this was a very pleasant trip. Maybe I’ll be back; Martin is not done yet...

After-trip picture previews

21 August 2010

Flirtatious neighbour, revisited

I was just faffing with my car when I heard a sound that might not have been loud, but that caught my undivided attention. The sonorous voice of the charming neighbour! I quickly finished my car business and hastened in his direction, wishing to find out if he was in a flirtatious mood again. And yes he was.

He pulled his trick again; climb onto my shoulders, purr in my ear, claw my arms, and drool all over me. Lovely! But after a while he jumped off, and I took the chance of taking some close-ups. Which is not easy as he would be head-butting the camera, but I got a few acceptable shots! Do notice the droplet of drool dangling from his chin on all pictures...

Learning in silence

The second time everything is much easier than the first time. Even being mute. This time I immediately got out my little note pad and wrote away. And as it was the second time, people recognised the situation, and adapted to it much quicker. They just ask “ah, voice gone again?” and when you then nod they’re not at all surprised if you shove a notebook into their faces. The people that were not there the previous time were still puzzled, of course; one guy asked me if it was a religious thing; some vow of silence-on-Fridays (he hadn’t seen me on Thursday) or something. Another guy asked if I'd shut up for money, in order to support some charity or other. Interesting hypotheses people have!

What was the same was people assuming I had acquired this ailment through snogging someone, and the widely expressed wish that I would snog many, many people, thereby infecting them, as everybody had a long list of those they would want to shut up for a while... and the person most people want to silence is still the same.

I did notice soon I was much better with the notebook than the previous time. I filled page after page! I got lost of communication done. Even went to the pub for a pint, and didn’t feel isolated. Yay for written language! And I directly benefit from being some atavistic sod who still writes letters; I’m used to writing fast and long, quite unlike most of my peers.

Side view of the notebook; the upper piece of tape indicates how much of it I used in a week’s worth of silence in April, and the lower piece of tape is two days in August...

The notebook is used in many different ways by different people; some read in silence, making the conversation very cryptic. Some make sure everybody within a mile has heard what I was trying to say. Some are not very good with sloppy handwriting and make me repeat myself all the time. Some make sure the conversation goes so fast I can’t keep up, and mock me. Some get influenced by the short sentences I am forced to use and become as concise, which is a bit of a challenge. Some people show their solidarity and answer in writing too. Some people happily elaborate away if you ask them a question of only a few words. These are excellent! Make you forget your handicap. And then there’s the people who read aloud, but not what I write, but what they would have liked to see me write...

Some examples of half-conversations in the notebook

18 August 2010

Voiceless, again

I sometimes get compliments for the steady stream of postings that appear on my blog. Well, producing words is one of my stronger points. Written, but perhaps even more so spoken. I don't tend to shut up very often. And late April I had to. No voice! At all! For what seemed like an eternity.

Yesterday I had a slightly swollen throat, and my voice sounded a bit odd... so I got worried. Would it happen again? And yes. Today I woke up with hardly any voice, and around lunch it was completely gone. Not again! I want to express myself!

As I feared another two weeks of being more or less ill, and one week of not talking, I decided to see my physician. Maybe there was something that could be done. Emily was so kind as to phone the medical centre for me. Fortunately, I could come immediately. The GP needed about ten seconds to diagnose laryngitis. I had only heard of that a few hours earlier; Maria suspected that would be my problem, instead of tonsillitis, as the latter does not normally affect the voice so much. So she was right. The remedy seems to be resting the voice, and consuming paracetamol, lemon, honey and cider vinegar. And the previous time, the size and colours of my tonsils were such that in hindsight I conclude I then had tonsillitis and laryngitis at the same time, and this time I don't, so I hope it will get better much quicker! I am doing my best, not speaking (how I love internet again), and devouring industrial amounts of the substances mentioned above. We'll see how it goes!

Spreading the virus

When I talk about my caving adventures, during lunch for example, it often happens that people respond with a “that sounds cool! I’d like to do that!”. It happens more often that they shudder and say “rather you than me”, but the first reaction does occur. But this is England, and most people never actually do such things, even if they’re attracted to it. Marta, who evidently is not British, once joined, but never came back. And now Emily got the spirit! And yesterday she indeed joined.

I expected large numbers! Dave& Dave would be coming; one with daughter, and Richard, and lots of other people. So when we reached the designated place I reversed miles into the little country road, to make place for all these other cars. That would not come.

When we had changed we walked back to the road, where John and Cheryl and John and Marina had gathered. Richard showed up as well. And then the waiting was for Dave and his followers. That was it! Only ten people, and half of them women. Atypical! But Dave fitted everybody who had not come autarcikally with a helmet and a light, and then we could go.

Bedford Consols is small, but has very pretty features such as dripstone formations, tram rails, and flooded shafts. And we had Stephanie, Dave’s daughter, with us, and she’s a photographer, so we moved slowly. Lots for her to document! And we’re used to waiting for a flashing Warne. So we had a relaxing trip. And for Emily, who was happily prancing around in dark waterproofs, all of it was still new! We’ll see if she’ll be back… and if she caught only the caving virus, and not also the laryngitis virus I seemed to carry... but more about that later!
Marina and Emily admiring the dripstone formations

Emily in the dark

And in the light

All of us, except Steph who took the picture, and John whose outfit was so reflective he was banned from the pitcure

16 August 2010

Two moors way, two way moors

It’s not just me who likes Dartmoor! Whole groups of hikers like it. And one day I got an email from Jitske, one of the Dutch hiking regulars I still sometimes roam around with, that she would be leading a group of such people over the Two Moors Way. Interesting! And I would be in the country at the time. So after having coming back from Norway I assessed the situation, and figured I’d better go look for them in a weekend. And they would be walking from the south- to the north coast, so as I live very very near the south coast, the sooner the better. Which meant: the first Sunday!

Jitske had mailed me where she thought they would end up that day. And I had texted back I’d go and try to find them there. But no answer. I decided to give it a shot, and see if it would work out. The worst thing that could happen would be that I would have a lovely day on the Moors and would not find them!

My plan was to walk to the location she had indicated, and then walk back in the general direction of where they would come from. And the first part worked out. I was happily having a sandwich on the designated tor when she phoned. They were close! But that was only half the story. They had material problems... they had two camping stoves with them, and one had lost an essential part, and the other one refused for unknown reasons. And camping without an easy means of making fire is no fun. So the question was whether I was willing to go get mine, and lend it to them... and so it happened I was less than half an hour away from where they would stay for the night, but it would take me two hours, as I had to travel via home...

Shortly after 5PM I walked on the path to Nun’s Cross, and after a while, lo and behold, I saw some tents appear. There they were! I walked up to them, and was greeted happily. When you bring the possibility for a hot meal, people like you... so I delivered the stove, and a bottle of whisky, and two beers. I had not bothered to buy more that morning, as I figured my chances of finding them were not that big. But this way I did enjoy a pint in the sun with Jitske at a fairly unexpected place! And her hikers were impressed even in a different country she could just open a can of hiker friends to help her out if needs be.

Jitske struggling with the dysfunctional stove

I stayed there, just chatting and enjoying the surroundings, while some of the group were putting that stove to use. Nice people! I felt very welcome. But after dinner I felt a little too welcome: the midges came out, which liked me very much, and I had not brought my mosquito net hat. Perhaps time to go... and as it was a wonderful evening, perhaps to go, but with a detour. To my delight Jitske joined me, so we had some time to catch up. And through the sunset we walked over the empty moors, passing decorative cows and cute foals, eventually arriving back at my car. We were about to exchange last words when a disturbing sound reached us; it was a foal thinking my side mirrors were good for rubbing on, thereby almost dislodging them. But we showed it the error in its ways, and soon I did say my goodbyes, and drove off into the dreamy twilight landscape. I hadn't expected that day to evolve like that, but it worked out well for all of us! And now I hope they don't get too much of more typical English weather during the rest of their trip...

Those with keen eyes will be able to discern the tents in the centre right of the picture

15 August 2010

Better late than never

Last autumn Roland should have moved into his new house. This spring the PCG should have had its Easter meal. But Brits are not known for their punctuality, and only now, half August, we would have that dinner. I looked up the venue, and guess what: only about a mile away from the house Roland thought he had bought last September. And even better: after almost a year it had turned out he indeed had bought it, and that very day he’d move in! So that worked out well.

Roland picked me up from Calstock railway station, looking happy, and drove me to his new place. It was indeed beautiful! Even though it was filled to the brim with boxes. And the view is stunning. We had a cup of tea and then I found myself lurking in the loft, stowing away not very necessary stuff Roland handed me. But one could tell they had only moved six months before, as about an hour later there was no more for me to do! So I wished them all good luck with the unpacking, and walked north, where I was the first caver in the pub. But not for long! And within no time we were many, and we had a lovely dinner. And to top it up I hitched a ride home from Dave, who was also delivering his wife, his daughter and other Dave home. And somewhere on the Moors we stopped, and looked at the cloudless sky, looking for meteors. I did not see any, but it was a nice end for a good day! And that gives faith for life here in Britain, where things perhaps happen months too late, but work out fine in the end.

12 August 2010

Back underground!

"I haven't been underground since half three this afternoon!" That was what Rick of the Muddy Digs replied when I said I hadn't been underground for a month. We had just entered Reed's cavern as part of a cave familiarization evening of the cave rescue team. I had never been into Reed’s. But I had evidently missed out!

Reed's odd-looking entrance

Only 6 people are allowed into Reed’s at one time, so we were a sub-DCRO training; the others were doing water rescue somewhere else. We were a bit late; Rick himself had been on TV around 7, and had only managed to rip himself away from the screen when the item was over. I’ll go and watch it online! And we had some inspiration for celebrity jokes through the entire training.

Pic by Paul
Reed’s cavern, named after the founder of the Devon Speleological Society, turns out to be very pretty, and have some good spots for some clambering practice. One vertical drop where I ended up dangling in mid-air and many people saw the need to do the splits was interesting. And we had to go back that way, too...

Me trying to get back up that nasty drop. It's not visible on this pic but I'm actually getting some help from below... pic by Paul

We also finally met “the Little Man”; a small speleothem in the shape of some horned, winged creature... it is said to eerily have formed directly underneath the allegedly haunted tomb of a 17th century local squire, described as “monstrously evil”. The local legends of this man and his hunting dogs still roaming around seem to have inspired the story of the Hound of the Baskervilles. We did not encounter any ghosts ourselves, though some after-effects of the dinner of one of us could be qualified as ghoulish. But cave rescuers should be resilient!

Resilient as we were, we were also fairly relaxed, and we took some time for pretty pics too. And for crawling the wrong way and accidentally taking the difficult route out. A nice crawl-with-squeeze! We all had a blast. And emerged very muddy and foul-smelling.

By sheer coincidence, Jon would be celebrating his birthday in Totnes that evening, so my intention was to rinse the worst of the mud off me, jump into the car, and bugger off in that direction. And Reed’s is next to the Pengelly centre, which has an outdoor tap, so the rinsing went splendidly! And off I went. It was a bit of a chore to locate the celebrating crowd as they had moved venue, but I managed, and even succeeded in giving the jubilant the standard Dutch three congratulational kisses without knocking him unconscious with my appalling body odour. All was going well! So I had the one legal pint with more of my colleagues than I had expected, and ended up being the last to leave.
I was the only driver in the company, and I had expected some people to take advantage of the situation to hitch a ride home, but my peers are wilder than I thought, and seemed all to prefer to continue the debauchery in Plymouth, except Dave. I did not bother to go dump the car and rejoin the roaring, reeling crowd; by now they really, really would be too far ahead of me with drinking... but that’s fine! Tomorrow’s another day. Without such contrasts, perhaps, but one that’s worth being fresh for anyway, I suspect!

10 August 2010


I was glad I would have something prettier than my toilet to show on my blog.

The invitation e-mail for a mid-week beer mentioned rivalry from “the fireworks”. It also mentioned these could be seen on Tuesday as well. Fireworks? It seems to be a Plymouth tradition; in August several manufacturers of fireworks try to impress the public the most in a public competition. I had just missed that last year. And this e-mail was the first sign that this year I may not. Several more followed.

With the Tuesday caving trip cancelled I worked late. I had received word from the editor of a peer-reviewed journal major revision would be required to have my manuscript accepted. Being back from Norway, and having an evening off, I made a start. That effectively drew my attention away from any frivolous display. When I later ended up on my couch and saw a flash in the sky, my first thought was lightning. But it wasn’t that kind of weather... and more flashes followed. Fireworks!

I packed a camera in each pocket and jumped onto my bicycle. I headed for the sea front, from where I would have an unobstructed view. Very pretty! If I would have remembered this would happen I would have consulted the user’s manual earlier that day... I used the new one, with which I am not fully familiar yet. But I got me some nice pics! And it was about time I got something to upload...

This one nicely shows the environment, with the anchored boats and the tower on top of the hill!

They showed more than these spherical things, but they look best on pics...