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Wednesday, 3 March, 2004 12:17
Why Be Normal?
2 October 2002
Everything was finally in place for our planned overnighter at the Hard Rock Cafe in Ogof y Daren Cilau. Martin was just back from Florida, Mathias from Grenoble, Andy and Joint had driven down from Leeds, picking me up (in Sheffield) on the way, and Tim had come over from Bristol. We had lighting, backup lighting, and candles. We had sleeping bags, spare clothing and food in watertight Daren drums. We had even engineered a solution to Daren Cilau's notorious lack of in situ beer facilities. Martin and I had pre-installed 16 cans of 1664 on a previous trip. It was a superb feeling knowing that the cache of lager was hidden in there beyond the entrance series; a bit like going to watch that Peter Greenaway film "The Cook, the Thief, his Wife, her Lover". You know the first hour or so is going to be tough to get through, but you know you're going to see Helen Mirren with her kit off at the end.
Mathias led into the cave at around 3:30pm. Martin was concerned that he might not get enough exercise in the cave, so he drove his car down to Llangattock and jogged back up to the escarpment. He and I entered the cave just after 4pm. The entrance series passed uneventfully although we did pause at a widening to allow three lads from Liverpool to pass. They were on their way out from a trip to Big Chamber, and one of them was carrying his helmet in his hand! He assured us that we'd find things much easier without our helmets on. We politely declined the experiment and pressed on, meeting the rest of the team at the end of the entrance series. At the junction with the passage to Old Main Chamber we rendezvoused with the lager cache and cans were distributed among our bags. These were now feeling quite heavy and we started to see the sense behind the normal Daren strategy of taking 40% proof liquor in. Although unstylish, it is effective. Perhaps the dismal science of Chemistry could do something constructive for humanity and develop dehydrated lager powder for use in cave situations. We pushed onwards with our precious cargo. Through Big Chamber, along Eglwys Passage, and into Valentines Chamber. This exits to Preliminary Passage and we were soon assembled at the bottom of the ladder pitch to Higher Things. We waited about an hour for an exiting party of four to clear the ladder, during which time I could have done a little forward thinking. However, displaying my usual intelligence, I headed up the ladder with my lager-loaded Daren bag still on my back. This was excellent training for the arms but left me so pumped I barely had the strength to belay from the top. Andy Stuart came up in the same style, but he's a strong lad and he then helped me bend the rope into an Italian hitch. It then occurred to someone (definitely not me) that we could haul the bags up on the pulley line next to the lifeline, so we fired that plan up. I'll remember next time.
Now we headed on through Higher Things and dropped down the tricky climbs into White Passage. Tim, Joint and Andy, for whom this was a first trip into Daren were starting to get a feel for the scale of the place. Down the magical streamway we went and on into the awesome Time Machine. We spent a while appreciating this underground vastness before moving on down the Bonsai Streamway. A little while later we entered the most excellent Hard Rock Cafe. The stream has carved a passage of ideal cross-section, with bench style rock seating and convenient rock tables. It's hard to imagine a better natural design for a cave camp, and even harder to understand why nobody has opened a pub down there. Surely there are sufficient thirsty visitors to make it worth investment from one of the big breweries. The licensee would face challenges in sorting out re-supply and obtaining a decent satellite TV signal, but this would be offset by the high consumption nature of the average client and the free refrigeration of the cave.
We changed into dry clothes, got about 25 nightlights lit, took our first ceremonial in-cave dumps at the excellent facility, and started into the lager. It was just past 9pm. Mathias's first can seemed to have a profound effect on him, and he began an experiment with the nightlights, stacking them to see if he could create a chain reaction. One of my cans must have had a profound effect on me because I cannot remember how his experiment turned out.
Eventually all the lager, except for a small emergency supply, had been consumed, and we retired to the sleeping chambers. I was last in and found the only decent spot to put down my mat and bag was next to Andy. There was a gap of several meters between Andy and the others, which should have been a warning. There was then a gap of around 10 nanoseconds between Andy saying goodnight and starting to snore. I reached out of my bag and shook his shoulder. After a grunt and a brief pause in the snoring, Andy fired up a chain saw in one of his sinuses and began using the rest of his upper respiratory tract as the power am
plifier for this substantial signal. The shoulder shake lost its effect on the comatose Andy after a few cycles and I began wonder if I could re-engineer my headtorch into an electrocution device. Then I remembered that I had brought an empty lager can from the HRC so that I could take a midnight leak without leaving my pit. I took the still empty can and held it next to Andy's head. When squeezed, the can emitted a loud clicking-clacking noise. The still-alert reptile part of Andy's brain was distracted, perhaps even frightened by this strange new noise and the snoring stopped. I relaxed and lay in bliss until after a while I became aware of my bladder. I filled the can and was dropping off when reptile-Andy decided the threat had passed and unleashed his uber-snore. This was to the initial snore what the Chemical Brothers are to the Corrs. I briefly considered pouring my can of piss on him, but realised I'd be acting out of spite, and he might kill me. Miserable, I crawled, wormlike, still in my bag, to a less comfortable spot a few decibels downrange. I was now quite close to Mathias, who was sleeping in a gigantic crisp packet. Although he rustled, Mathias did not snore. In the morning it was decided that Mathias, Martin and myself would push on down the Hard Rock Extensions for exactly one hour, then turn around and regroup with the others at the HRC so that we could all hurry out together. The three of us set off, with Martin setting a harsh pace in the lead. We jogged where we could, and wriggled furiously through the sand burrows. We negotiated a couple of squeezes and a low crawl and realized we were approaching Acupuncture Passage. Somehow, I found myself in the lead, a dangerous position, given my navigational skills. Acupuncture starts pleasantly sandy but quickly the headroom reduces and the crawling surface becomes painfully sharp. I kept going and the voices of the others started to fade. I'm smaller than Martin and Mathias and I was finding it tight, so it must have been worse for them. I started to become anxious about the way on and decided to look at my compass. As this was on my wristwatch strap and I was in a 12 inch clearance I had to dislocate my shoulder and wrist so that I could see the compass. I couldn't really take a proper bearing, with my head jammed sideways, squinting at the tiny compass, but it looked like I was heading too far west. Just as I started considering reversing the passage something caught my eye a few meters ahead. I shuffled forward, it looks like a sign, a bit further, get the headtorch beam onto it, yes, writing, what does it say... aha, "Why Be Normal?" An inspired piece of humour from one of the pioneers. I was still laughing when the others caught up. We pushed on to the Micron and dropped down this for a look at Ankle Grinder. It was a fantastic place to be, but our hour was up and we had to head back. We arrived back at HRC at a jog, spot on midday. I was quite dehydrated, but fortunately there was still the emergency supply of lager. This was used to wash down the last NutriGrain bars I will ever eat, and then we set off towards the surface. As usual, I was last away, pathetically trying to find clean water in the stream so I could make myself a mug of energy drink. Unfortunately, I could not overtake the others, who were walking in the water and stirring up the mud. I dropped back further and further, and then Mathias dropped back so that he could watch me die. Or was he helping me? I forget. Eventually, when we were all at the bottom of the climbs out of White Passage, I found clean water and gulped down about three pints of Staminade. It was as though someone had taken away the green Kryptonite. For about 5 minutes. Then I was back to a crawl. Mathias and I helped each other along and at last we were pushing our tired bodies through the entrance series. As I got near the exit crawl I thought how nice it was of the other lads, already out, to floodlight the exit with their headlamp beams. But in fact, I popped out into daylight. Of course! It was only 4p.m. In half a dozen trips into OyDC I'd only ever left the cave in darkness. Martin had already run off downhill to get the car, so I gazed out over Llangattock and dreamed of beer and chips. They were only minutes away.
|"The still-alert reptile part of Andy's brain was distracted, perhaps even frightened by this strange new noise and the snoring stopped."|
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