Less than 1.5 years ago I joined a PCG trip for the first time. Three months ago I was the most senior PCG’er on a trip. And by now I’ve turned so senior that newbies don’t even dare talk to me. Or would that be due to something else?
I’m supposed to have all my results produced, compiled, contemplated and made sense of in three weeks’ time. Not. Possible. I’ll try to get as close to that stage of completion as I can but it’ll be hard work. And by now I tend to skip caving trips that are too far away, or that I have already done, or which come with complications. And no venue have I visited more often as Pridhamsleigh cavern: four times already. So this was an evident one to let pass by! But no.
Out of every door and every alleyway, it seemed, new PCG members came scurrying to join us. And new members tend to need a helmet and a light. These are kept in Plymouth. So on a trip with newbies we need a driver from Plymouth. And this time there was only one option: me! So I moaned a bit, especially as the new people kept on texting until just hours before departure that they were coming too and wanted a helmet (how many do they think we have?), but I did the responsible committee member thing and got the job done.
With my entire boot full of helmets I drove to Buckfast. I was early! When I reached the parking place I noticed a young man I recognised from DCRO who was unloading truckloads of kit. Not one of ours! He told me he would be taking 20 German kids into the same cave. Oh well. It’s a big place.
We parked a little further on; Lionel and Bernard were early too, and we caught up. I could have joined them to Swildon’s last Saturday, but as I was already busy that weekend being a lady and a Cornish Mine Explorer I had skipped that.
While we were chatting new members appeared. I expected them to walk over to us; they wanted to come with us, right? But no; they eyed us like we were disgusting bugs and kept a safe distance. Apparently we are very intimidating-looking people. Oh well. Their loss. One of the new guys ended up in the cave sweatily overdressed as he had refrained from taking the opportunity to inquire after the environmental parameters underground.
We managed to get kitted up and go in before the hoard of kids. Richard was being very educative and pedagogical and brought us all safely to the lake. I didn’t go in this time, but I did do a silly crawl one can do there, with two other fanatics. Then Richard lead us to a sump. Only the die-hards; Rich, Lionel, Skip (new to PCG but not to caving), Bernard and me, were up for that. Lionel, however, took the high (and dry!) road; the cheek. Oh well. Richard then went around to get the others while we pushed through; a road enlivened with deep water, tight squeezes, and German kids. We were happy to have Skip, who was also a member of the Devon Speleological Society, and knew the place like the back of his hand. But at the end of our wanderings: no Richard with newbies!
We had a bit more scrambly and squeezy fun, and then went to the exit as we figured that was the most likely place for the others to be. On the way we bumped into the German kids again. First one of the guys leading them around had heard me speak, heard my Germanic accent, and assumed I had something to do with them. I, for my part, had been addressing these kids in German; it’s the normal Dutch thing to do. They, however, were clearly adapted to the environment, and addressed me in English. So then I switched back. Just when they did too. It was a complete underground tower of Babel! Funny, though.
Near the exit of the cave we indeed found the rest back. They had had a good time! Very nice. And it was a nice warm evening, so quite unlike the previous time when I had run back to the car through the frozen night to change as quickly as I could, we walked over to the river to give our suits a rinse. And then I figured my job was done; I resisted the pub, brought the helmets back to Dave, went home, had a shower, and was in bed at a fairly decent time, quite atypically for a Tuesday night. I had rather not gone, but I had to admit I had had a good time anyway! And I hope that the new cavers have now overcome their fear of the likes of us and will be a little less timid next time...