Time flies when you're having fun! This week was my first anniversary of caving. That year ran past! I've had a lot of fun.
I came across caving by coincidence; being Dutch I had never heard of caving. And then, last autumn, I was talking with Rob the PhD student, and he mentioned caving. In a kind of sentence like "caving is for terrible, despicable people", but I just ignored the sentence and tasted the word "caving". That sounded like fun! I've always been attracted to the underground. So in spite of Rob's vigorous attempts to discourage me I googled "caving" and "Plymouth", and lo and behold, I found the Plymouth Caving Group. I phoned the chairman, which is Dave, asked if they took on new members, which they did, and the rest is history. And I must say, it changed my life.
It started with finding something fun and outdoorsish to do. I missed Norway, I missed getting physical, and caving is a physical thing to do in a hidden realm of England where the aspects of England I don't like very much don't reach. Underground things aren't overregulated and overcivilised, and the people are not overprotected, lazy, inert and scared! So that was bull's eye. And I love the scambling and the ropework and all that comes with it.
Second, it gave me a community to be a part of outside work. And deracinated as I am I could use that! The caving community is much broader than the scientific one. People of all sorts of ages, political convictions, and walks of life join in. Gives you a wider view on society!
In Norway I had the strong feeling I stepped into a bipolar world, half in the middle of, and half way outside, modern civilisation. I loved it! I need modern civilisation for my job, but I love to escape some of it in my spare time. In Norway, after the science, you vanish into the wilderness. Here there's much less wilderness, but I just get deeper into it. In Norway I made sure I could to dress to cold; now I've made sure I can dress to filthy and wet as well. And my equipment, such as camera, flash gun, and torch, can cope with that too. So now, if I find chest-deep mud, I just step in. And if I then feel filthy, I can just jump into the nearest river, fully clothed, in the middle of the night! It's very refreshing to get rid of your civilised reflexes that tell you not to do that. Why bloody not? There's a time for being tidy and representative, and there's a time for being inquisitive and adventurous! It's great if you can swap between these.
The caving trip that incidentally marked my anniversary visited Baker's pit; a nice, big system, where you can basically have as much fun as you want. I stayed true to my caving motto: when in doubt, follow Lionel, for he goes where the fun is. So that way I had some hours of old-fashioned clambering, slithering, squeezing, crawling fun, buggering off into all sorts of recesses of that cave, and coming out sweat-soaked and mud-coloured from head to toe. A splendid way of celebrating this festive date!