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Found – One 20’ ladder

You might be tempted into thinking that this is a new lost and found column in the BB - it's not!

This note is an attempt to find the persons who left their ladder on the 20' Pot in Swildons some time in October and caused me to be woken up in the middle of the night five weeks later by the police who were concerned that someone was lost down the cave. They can buy me a pint.

The saga began one Wednesday evening in October when a party of cavers, exiting from a Blue Pencil trip in Swildons, noted a ladder and lifeline on the 20'.  The same evening a party was reported overdue.  The whole event came to nothing, the overdue party having left the cave earlier in the evening.  The only other consequence was that a few extra pints were hurriedly downed in the Hunters.  The ladder and lifeline remained.

During the next five weeks the offending ladder and lifeline were noted by several late parties exiting from Swildons.  Things came to a head when a caver from Bristol did a late night trip to Sump 1 and arrived back at the 20' about midnight to find one broken ladder and a lifeline and rope still on the 8' Pot.  He informed the police of his concern that someone might still be down the cave.

The following evening, the MRO Hon. Sec. and I removed from Swildons the following tackle: - one very tatty ladder, broken in four places; one lifeline and one handline.

And the moral of this tale of woe: - take your rubbish, tackle included, out of the cave and home with you and I shall not lose my beauty sleep.

Incidentally, the condition of the ladder gives rise to considerable concern; the wires were eaten away with corrosion and in four places were completely broken.  On the Thursday evening before its removal a party actually used this ladder.

Brian Prewer.

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Gentle Reader, some of you may be so culturally uncouth as to need an explanation for the following letter.  Back in the days when men were men but people didn't make such a fuss about it, beer was a shilling a pint and creosote held the Belfry together, the B.E.C. conducted an occasional correspondence with His Grace the Duke of Mendip through his secretary Pongo Wallis.  In order to get His Grace off our backs (or wherever it was that His Grace intended), Alfie Collins, who was obliged to be Editor during this Golden Age, would reply. (At that times scribes were common as people didn’t reckon much on writing and Alfie knew someone who could). Anyway, Alfie generally managed to weasel-word his way out of trouble by being frightfully polite and kept us informed through the pages of the B.B.  Will there be a later-day Alfie to reply to this letter one asks oneself?

FROM  Kangy King, Secretary to His Grace, the Duke of Mendip, 2nd. Baron Priddy, K.C.B., W.C. & C., Hon. M.B.E.C. Aspirant.

TO  The Honourable Secretary of the Bristol Exploration Club.

Dear Sir,

His Grace, having recently succeeded to the Title was informed by his solicitors of correspondence with the B.E.C. undertaken on his behalf in the 1950's by his Father's Secretary Mr. Pongo Wallis.

Mr. Wallis then a notorious cave photographer is now well embarked on his retirement career as distributor of coloured photographs.  These or at least the ones that he chose to show me one evening at the Star Inn in Wells, he described as blue, which puzzled me somewhat as they were in fact sepia in colour.  I took them to be old medical photographs as they were well thumbed and almost exclusively of females of a certain age unclothed and presumably demonstrating physiological phenomenon.  The purpose of my meeting with him was to clarify the relationship of his late Grace with the B.E.C.  I attempted to ease the discussion with liberal hospitality but in spite of a second barrel of Kingston Black being hastily made available by mine host I gained nothing except a curious twitching oscillation of his left optic as he placed his right forefinger alongside his nose.  I remember little more of the evening as the sight of Mr. Wallis consuming what he described as his pudding, a mixture of rough and orange and ice cream caused me some distress.

His Grace then suggested that I should stay, incognito, at your headquarters.  This I did during the August Bank Holiday.  My appearance was somewhat spoiled, I fear, as I was forced to abandon my high heeled open toed red patent court shoes with the lovely filigree silver strap around my ankle and borrow a pair of gum boots.  One of these contained a piece of fleece but I was not able to ascertain why this should be so as there were no Club Members to be found.  They were Australians, Londoners, Crewe Caving Club, a dozen or so in all, staying at your salubrious premises and they suggested that I might try looking in the Hunters Lodge Inn where Members might be found at that hour sitting on the steps waiting for the Landlord (another Member I was told) to open the bar.  I repaired thither and although the bar was in fact open I could only identify a small but distinguished group who introduced themselves as Old B.E.C. members.   The spokesman for the group was a Mr. Alfred(?) Collins and I had the great pleasure of meeting Mrs. Collins and their charming daughter together with Mr. and Mrs. Ransome and a suave gentleman, Mr. Bagshaw by name, who touched me for 25p, an old habit I believe, for he had had, the honour formally, I learned, of being both Secretary and Treasurer of the B.E.C .  I was informed that Butcombes was 'on' and I was treated to a quantity of this admirable amber liquid whilst they regaled me with tales of long ago.

Resuming my Enquiries at your Caving premises, I was startled by two wet young men in rubber wear which they assured me was caving apparel.  Their fresh eager faces and clear eyed comportment persuaded me that here, at last, were the Members that I sought.  I presented my card and my Letter Introduction from His Grace and they in turn introduced themselves as Mr. Batstone and Mr. Castle.  They very civilly showed me around the Headquarters and we took tea whilst the visitors disported themselves in the palatial new recreational room curiously known as the Dirty Changing Room.  Was this, I wondered, so called because of the mixed bathing available?  A banner announcing “Vacances Propre” which was translated for me as "Clean Holidays" added to my confusion.

I felt it necessary that evening to check what is obviously an adjunct to the Headquarters and once again was allowed into the Hunters Lodge Inn after only a short wait on the doorstep.  I partook of Butcombes for its excellent restorative qualities and was delighted to make the acquaintance of more charming people who

had heard of B.E.C. Members. Feeling quite restored I heard myself agreeing to conduct a party into a cave the next day.  This did not seem odd at the time especially as they were kind enough to buy me more refreshment to help cure my knees.  Mr. Jarratt showed me how to find what he called The Belfry and too late I realised that he too might be a Member.  At The Belfry I learned how to put my legs behind my neck and that the difference between an Australian and yoghurt is that yoghurt is cultured.

The Royal Forest of Dean Caving Club arrived at ten o'clock the next morning led by a girl called Maria who assured me it was all compressible.  Whilst I inwardly regretted my rash words of the evening before no one would have resisted forcing a squeeze with such a lovely young woman.  Suddenly, Mr. Castle, as impressed as I was by the potential of the R.F.D.C.C., offered to help us in the squeezes.  We descended Saint Cuthbert's Swallet to the September Series Boulder Ruckle and had a marvellous time in the squeezes until we were tired out.

That evening, in the Hunters Lodge, knees with more Butcombes.

I was able to assuage my Sir, I am now better able to understand the necessity of the relationship between Caving and Butcombes but I am still unable to explain, to His Grace, that of his dear departed Father with the B.E.C.  The Dirty Changing Room did not exist in those far off days.  I should be glad of your comments to oblige,

Yours Truly,

Kangy,  (Sec'y, His Grace the Duke of Mendip.)