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Annual Report of the B B L H & S R G

If there is one subject which the members of the Belfry Bulletin Literary, Historical & Scientific Research Group have hitherto avoided like the plague - as readers of this tiresome annual series will no doubt have noticed - it is that of writing about present times.  Our aged savants, like ancient leathery pterodactyls, creak their way from the mythical past to the improbable future without ever demeaning themselves by getting too close to present day affairs.

It will therefore come as an unpleasant surprise to find that this year; using perhaps the same techniques as last year, we are to meet once more such characters as Pete Pushem and Fred Ferrett in a situation that could almost be classed as topical.

It is a fine, though wintery afternoon.  The sun hangs low and red in a cloudless sky, bathing nearly all of Mendip in its rays, as it picks out here a dry stone wall and there a leafless tree, tuning them all to a rich golden hue.

It does not, however, shine on the B.E.C.  Whilst the stonework of the Shepton hut glows softly in the afternoon sunshine and even Upper Pitts basks in the rays of its light; a brooding darkness hangs like a pall over the Belfry.

The reason for this phenomenon is readily seen to be due to the presence of a vast pile of rubbish, which looms like some enormous piece of modern sculpture behind the Belfry, casting a low and horrible shadow over that noble building while inside, in the stygian gloom, the committee are discussing it at some length while their bikes - for petrol is severely rationed - lean against the outside of that building.

"It's no use!", Pete Pushem is saying as he bangs his half empty tankard on the table by way of emphasis, "the ruddy council say they can't get ruddy petrol to shift our ruddy refuse, so we will have to ruddy deal with it our selves."  He shifts his large, untidy bulk and drains his tankard with a single, convulsive swallow.

"I've been thinking," says Tom Traverse, the Climbing Secretary, "that if we chucked a bit of cement over it now and again, it would make quite a decent climb in a few years' time.  That is, if the club could afford the cement."  He glances at the Treasurer, who makes what he considers to be an appropriate gesture.

Silence reigns, as this discussion has been going on for some time and ideas are becoming scarce. At last Ron Runnitt, the Hut Warden, makes his contribution.  "We will have to dig a gash pit." he announces.  "After all, the club always used gash pits before its rubbish was collected by the council.  If the lads of those days could dig gash pits, so can we."

Nobody having any answer to this profound remark, the meeting breaks up, as it is almost opening time.

The scene is more or less the same as before, except that now there are two vast piles which disfigure the Belfry site.  One is, of course, the rubbish pile - now higher and if possible, even uglier than before and the other is an enormous pile of spoil which looms nearby.  The B.E.C. is, as usual, doing something to excess. From the lip of the excavation, a winch cable tapers down into the darkness; for this is no ordinary gash pit of the sort you might find beside the hut of a minor Mendip club.  Those operating the winch are, in fact, peering over the edge and watching the tiny lights of those working at the bottom. There seems to be a great deal of activity below and yet no bucket has come up for some time.  At last, a pull on the cable sends the winch team back to their task.  It is a heavy load this time.  As the bucket slowly rises from the darkness of the pit, it is found to contain Pete Pushem, riding up.  He reaches the top and steps on to the platform to deliver his simple but effective message.

"The dig's over, lads," he announces. “We’ve struck oil!"

News of the B.E.C's discovery produces, as one might well expect, a variety of reactions.  The W----x, for example, hold the opinion that this is just the sort of jammy thing that is always happening to the B.E.C., while more deserving clubs are passed by.  Sid Stratum, the local geological expert, confesses himself baffled and privately wishes that it had never happened, as it completely upsets all his theories.  The fact that the sample barrel which the B.E.C. have sent away for analysis has shown the oil to possess a high carbon content renders him, if possible, even more baffled than before.  The B.E.C. point out that this is what you would ruddy expect from carboniferous ruddy limestone, but this explanation fails, somehow, to satisfy.

Meanwhile, the Conservation and Access committee of the Southern Council of Caving Clubs are in a quandary - or, as one member from Bristol aptly puts it, a dilemma.  Much as they would like to denounce this threat to the caves and countryside, they are only too well aware that they have all had to cycle to the meeting, and are finding it difficult to denounce the proposed commercial exploitation with any degree of conviction while they have vivid memories of pushing their bikes up Harptree Hill.

The receptionist at No. 10, Downing Street wrinkles his nose disdainfully as he opens the historic door to admit a collection of scruffy, oily and unkempt cavers. Against his better judgment, he ushers them in to the P.M.’s study and rushes off to see if he can find a large sized tin of airwick.  Finding one at last, he knocks respectfully on the study door and enters.  The room is full of these great hairy creatures. He broods on the sorry state to which the country has been reduced as he places the airwick conspicuously on the P.M.’S desk.  Suddenly, he is addressed by the largest and hairiest of these dreadful people. "You, lad, over there!  Don't just ruddy stand there in a ruddy daze! Go and fetch us some ruddy beer!"

The receptionist looks beseechingly at his master, hoping for some crisp order to clear out this rabble from his presence.  Nothing happens.  A broken man, he leaves the room to get beer as directed.

Once again, we find the B.E.C.  Committee in session at the Belfry.  Outside the building, both heaps are now much smaller and although the sun's rays do not yet shine again on the building, one begins to hope that this might be the case again, given any sort of luck. Inside the building, Ron Runnitt is speaking. He is reading from an impressive-looking document covered all over with massive seals.

‘Complete removal of all rubbish and spoil from the site’, he reads.  ‘Construction of a buried pipeline from the well to a point at least a mile from the site; Unlimited petrol coupons for all active B.E.C. members for the duration of petrol rationing; Abolition of tax on B.E.C. member’s vehicles.’

There is a deep silence. Even the B.E.C. are impressed.

"What did we have to give them in exchange?" asks Tom Traverse, after a suitable pause.

"The complete output of the well for as long as it can produce or be pumped." Ron replies. "They'll have the rest of the rubbish and spoil away by next weekend and the pipeline laid by the week after.  They've issued priority fuel to the contractors."

There is another long silence, broken eventually by Pete Pushem who, as usual, expresses the general feeling of the club.

“Let's have some more ruddy beer!” he suggests.

Outside a garage on Mendip top, two mechanics are busy with what has been a weekly job for more years than they can remember.  They are trundling a drum of old sump oil along to a place nearby where two planks have been laid over a small swallet.  With the ease of long practice, they roll the drum onto the planks, where one of them steadies the drum while the other unscrews the bung.  Another load of sump oil soaks its way into the swallet.

Once again, the winter sun shines on the Belfry site.  All is clean and tidy.  A row of shiny vehicles reflects the golden rays of the sun from gleaming chrome and glossy paintwork.  A small coach on whose sides the club name and emblem have been tastefully emblazoned turns into the car park.  The driver gets out, carrying a large bag and goes into the Belfry.  It is Fred Ferrett.

Once inside, he dumps the bag on the table.  It chinks. "That's it for to-day!" he says, as he makes for the barrel and pours himself a well-earned pint. "I've been the rounds and collected all those poor cavers who've got no petrol ration and taken them all to their huts."

"Ah!” says Tom Traverse,” It’s nice to be able to help those less fortunate than oneself!"

"Yes," says Ron Runnitt, pausing for a moment in his job of counting all the money from the sack, "It does one's heart good."

“Stop ruddy wittering like a lot of ruddy old hens!" growls Pete Pushem.  "Have we made enough profit for our beer tonight or not?"

Ron looks at the pile of cash with an expert's glance.  "Don’t worry, Pete.  We have."

Suddenly, the telephone rings.  Pete answers it, and remains listening for some time.  It is, as the others realise, an important call, for Pete's tankard remains motionless in his left hand throughout the long call.   At last, when the tension is threatening to become unbearable, he grins and says "Cheerio then, lad, and thanks for ruddy ringing."  He puts the 'phone down thoughtfully.

“That,” he says, "was the ruddy Ministry.  It seems that they started the ruddy pipeline working to-day.”

Something in Pete’s manner is disturbing.  Ron voices the general anxiety by asking Pete how it is going.

“Like a ruddy bomb!” comes the surprising answer, there is a collective sigh of relief.  “That should please them!” says Tom.

"Well, no.", Pete replies, “it ruddy doesn’t.  They got two ruddy hundred barrels out today.  The first six were full of ruddy oil and the other hundred and ninety four were full of ruddy cowsh!”

You can almost hear the collective brains of the B.E.C. humming as they assess the situation.  It is Fred Ferrett who puts his finger on the crux of the matter.

“We agreed they could have everything they could get out of the well.  So they can!” he says.

“Even if they ruddy refuse to give us any more ruddy coupons,” adds Pete, “We already have enough for all active ruddy members for months and for the coach as well.”

They exchange self-satisfied looks.  Pete gets up and draws a fresh tankard of ale.  He takes a meditative sip.

“What we could do with,” he announces, “is an engine that runs on cowsh.  Now I reckon that’s a job for the Hut Engineer, but if we take the carb. off an ordinary engine and……."

The B.E.C. settles down to its job of keeping well ahead of the situation.

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A gentle reminder - subs are due in January. Pay Barry.