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Oliver Cromwell Lloyd

Oliver was an epitome of English eccentricity, the popular view of the rest of the world is that we are a nation peppered with characters like Oliver.  The man was a part of English culture, fast disappearing, submerged by the transatlantic idiom.  Oliver was educated, refined, gifted but above all surreal.  In any setting his surrealism made him stand out, charismatic but alien, lovable but peculiar.

His settings were so varied that any caver who read his obituary in "The Guardian" would have wondered if it was the same O. C. L.  We could only glimpse one Oliver, he did not foster exchanges across his many universes.

Each meeting with the man was fascinating, each one - and there were hundreds - I can recall vividly, as if he were playing a cameo role in each encounter.  Was this projection done consciously?  If it was, and asked directly if it was, he would only smile in answer.  I was first drawn to the man by his deep interest in the people around him, what they were and their adventures.  We spent many hours comparing notes, filling in on missing episodes.  At one stage he had albums of photographs, using each picture as a cue to describe the people he had met.  In all this there was a golden rule, accept people as you find them, never attempt to prejudge or categorise the un-categorisable.  In this way life becomes the 'moveable feast', a surprise at every turn.

Oliver could be humorous, humanly sensitive or ruthless.

Banquo at the feast of the king

One night at my table, after a C.D.G. meeting on training, the meal was interrupted by the news of a fatal accident at Wookey.  The meal resumed with the gallows humour, which active divers share with minions, the same fatalism that keeps anyone in the firing line from falling apart.  It was his turn, thank God it wasn’t mine, pass the wine over here.  Oliver rose from the table, visibly shaken and left for his room, commenting as he left that we were like "Banquo at the feast of Macbeth".

Later, intrigued by what he had said, I looked up the reference.  In Boece’s original account, Banquo was deemed as bloody and cynical as Macbeth.  Shakespeare, however, exonerates Banquo of his crime.  Oliver had merely cast himself as the king; his fellows at the feast were bloody but forgivable - even if the king was murdered.

The Wooding Affair

In 1966 Mike Wooding, at that time, secretary of Somerset section was believed by Oliver, who had loved Mike as a son, to be using C.D.G. as a vehicle for his own ends.  Oliver wrote to Wooding asking him to resign as secretary thus disproving the abuse of his position.  Oliver threatened complete character assassination if Mike did not comply. Wooding refused to relinquish the secretaryship.  The assassination as promised was total and to the letter, socially and academically.

Mike Wooding was forced to leave the Mendip scene.  Having read the letter I advised Mike to ignore it, believing that no one would act in such a way, and that my eyes and senses were at fault.  I was wrong I had unwittingly betrayed a friend and at this I could never forgive Oliver.  We had grown up quickly.  Oliver had blown his innocence.  Others, when they found that they had been used as pawns in his game realised that his motive had been to protect the group.  We ensured that Oliver never pulled the same stunt again.  The price was too high, but the independence of the group was preserved from any would be or imaginary tyrant.

In 1967 the focus of attention in British caving was the assault by various British expeditions to the Gouffre Berger especially that of Ken Pearce complete with royal patronage. His expedition was to push the sumps at the bottom of the then deepest cave in the world.  For the C.D.G.’s annual dinner at Wells, Oliver had prepared a skit on the entire scene, knowing that he had a captive audience.  As Ken had enlisted not only the N.C.D.G. for this purpose but also stars from the other sections who would in fact form the sharp end of the effort.

Oliver casting himself as Ken Pearce was very convincingly interviewed by Eleanor Bronn, whom he had invited to the dinner, in a make believe radio interview.  The expedition was not set for the Berger but was an expedition to put the first Briton on the moon.  Yes, the Brit in question was Ken!  The method of reaching the moon had that stamp of plausibility that was Pearce's trademark.  They would use ladders and scaling poles to the midway point then abseil down to the surface.  Eleanor probed the logistics of the food and equipment, at every would-be snag, Ken would have an answer.  Any weakness in plan or personnel was covered, getting to the moon was merely a formality.

It became obvious as the interview developed that Ken could not take into account possible failure because of his belief in his own infallibility.  Oliver had put a gentle mocking finger on Pearce's Achilles Heel. Finally, Ken was asked about patronage. Ken declared that not only did he have royal assent but that he had "God on his side".  With this simple line Oliver had turned the barb on his own antagonists, even me, thus proving that Oliver could laugh at himself. Events were to overwhelm Ken Pearce. Mossdale not only robbed him his 'sharp end" but the tragedy demoralized his team.  "If Ken could have learned to laugh at himself, the British caving spirit would have hammered at the gates of Sassenage to be let out", Oliver remarked later.

One morning, Oliver was leaving my cottage he met my next door neighbour who, in shirt sleeves, and a year or two older, was busy mucking out in the cool Peakland air.  For a second both men observed the difference in their physical state.  Oliver looked at both of us ruefully and said, "It comes for us all in the end, age.”

I met him for the last time in May at the Cross Streets in the dales.  "I will come up soon and let you have a look at my manuscript for a piece for a brass band I have written," at 15 separate lines, he was especially proud of fitting all the instruments on one script and that he had been invited to write the piece for the band's centenary.  I smiled, Liz groaned at the prospect.  It was Oliver's little game - an impish smile and he was gone. Oliver had physically deteriorated noticeably.  I was not surprised or even sorry at the news of his death, such a man would have found a lingering death an obscenity.

Let the curtain fall quickly and leave the stage with grace.  He would have delighted to the fact that people so young loved and respected him that would be memorial enough.  The man was a feast we must learn to go without.