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In One Pair Of Eyes

By Stuart Lindsay

 
The date…. November 14th –16th 2008.
The location…….  The RATFEST.    Priddy,  MENDIPS hills
The event…………….A CELEBRATION…...folklore BORN.

In an expanse of time, an individual’s passing is but a minute in the history of Mendip.  This minute is threefold; this minute is NOW, is also the LAST minute of the past and the FIRST minute of the future. A minute past is a minute lost, and so we have..  In terms of time, Jrats passing, his minute, of some 40 plus years of endeavour, vision, excitement, near catastrophe and an insatiable desire to ensure that local economies did not go into decline by trying to drink most of them dry, will no doubt be the substance of folklore, if it isn’t already.  Like Balch before him, Jrat came, he saw, he explored, he noted, he learned (sometimes with near dire consequence), and most of all he shared, the giving and the taking!,  and  he encouraged. This article is written by one pair of eyes, but was witnessed by the eyes of many, but doubtless they will all have a story to tell.

This item is, and is not, about Jrat. His life and times will be told by many others, this item is more about the Jrat of the Rat fest, his celebration.  My weekend started Friday, again like many others, got my pit sorted out, had a snack and wandered off through the mist to the HUNTERS…Tony’s favourite watering hole. At 8 o’clock you could get a pint, have a chat, get another pint, have a chat, even hear what they were talking about down the other end of the bar.  “ Next couple of boulders and we are into miles of new passage.” (Ho ho ho).  By 9 o’ clock you had to queue a bit for beer, and repeat more loudly your conversation, by 10 it was a lost cause, people in the car park, queues at the bar and 110db and rising as more and faces joined more and more faces, It was like the 70’s all over again. AND so it was the Rat Fest had started.

Scrounging lifts or walking, as closing time drew close, people dispersed to get even more rat arsed, and either fell over or fell into their pit, .for tomorrow was digging morning, and village hall morning, or caving morning.  BANG BANG BANG, it’s ok I squeaked, throat not yet lubricated, I am awake, for it was only Mr Batstone getting me up, I’d kipped in my van. It was 0800 hrs, coffee biscuits and soon, the seconded few were winging it to the village hall, shepherded from the Belfry by the matronly Jane, !  It was cold, it was damp it was windy, as someone commented the old bugger has a funny way of showing his gratitude for what we are doing, lousy fluffy duck weather!  Any way what did it matter, we were all hardened cavers, and in some instances, “were” was the keyword!  Marquees up, wind defeated, bar the occasional indiscrete rasp!,  and most zoomed off for their chosen activity of the day. A quick brush round inside and around the Marquees, was deemed a good idea, keep most of the dirty feet off the hall floor. But like a well-orchestrated Jrat boulder dig perched over a fifty-foot pot, 5lbs of bang in place, not all good things have the desired ending. The afternoon short route from North Hill to the hall, in thick mist and lovely long wet grass, and super clean boots………ended in a 20 foot paddle through ankle deep super soopy glooopy poooopy, and long grass when needed?, none to be seen. HOWEVER, visitors to the gents must have thought the Greeks were in? ! ? the waste towel  bin was full of brown stained “recycled” hand towels,   vindaloo   vindaloo   vindaloo.

Anyway BACK to the morning, after seeing a sneak preview of the forthcoming nights entertainment got back to the Belfry to change into some digging clothes My chosen digortunity was Caine Hill, I cycled to Caine Hill from the belfry.  Some of the more endangered of the caving species may even recollect cycling   on trips to do a bit of caving in their more youthful years?? Before real cars were invented! (Didn’t cycle back though, stuck the bike in Mad Fi’s Doblo and got a lift). Caine Hill, down the manhole cover, and ladies, face packs are FREE. Trev is at the top, notebook out, added to the list, he comments, “got a few down, now you are here we can start pulling em out”. Bags, that is. Trev commented, I’ll stay at the top got me better clobber on, just put my oversuit over it, and should be OK pulling up. Moving on, as this is not a caving report, just to say, we did our bit, kept on digging and pulled out 90 bags. Super effort all Caine Hill diggers, well done.

Jumped out of Fi’s Doblo, and hastily transformed from a muddy scruff, cadged a lift, queued for 10 mins to get a pint, (GWJ was buying supplies for most of the weekend, I think). But armed with 2 pints I moved around to the barbeque, sorry the top of H H S, to await the ceremony. Mac and Jane gave a little speech and Tony’s brother and ********* deposited some of Jrat’s ashes down the hole. I also fulfilled my promise, that one day I would get to Mendip and buy him a pint, caver at peace.
After a hairy drive back to the “shed” thanks to Mr Audsley’s Land Rover, awaited the skirl of Snab’s

pipes. As a cavingoclade of cavers set off to North Hill, via the Mineries   the Buddles Waldegrave pond, no ice today!,  and onto the trek up North Hill,  there were quite a few rather bemused, and startled walkers as this eerie skirling dirge appeared from the mist and marched relentlessly up the hill. Halfway up the hill I paused to take a pic. In front of me the file evaporated into the mist, I turned and took a photo, of the file eerily and ghostily appearing from the gloom. But what’s that?   There in the misty shadows a bright effervescing, diffused yellow glow appeared in the light from my flashgun, my god was it an apparition, oh crikey no -  It was only GWJ in his Day-Glo yellow high viz jacket, with reflecta stripes, but just for a moment though…At the top, wind, heavy drizzle, thick mist, (or low cloud typical of Mendip) and this summer’s weather.  The crowd gathered atop, milling around like the famous penguins of Antarctica, juggling for position to keep out of the wind, or keep warm.  Well to more skirling and a odd verse of a song or two, eventually the Ashes arrived, someone commenting, blimey he was only a little bloke, had a lot of ashes though! At a more austere gathering probably not the time and place, but who knows, probably its what Jrat would have said himself, as we know he was always quick to the wit, and enjoyed it also. Again Tony’s brother scattered Jrat’s wish, and then followed a pinch for everybody.

(Now there were quite a few comments, quips etc in pursuing this last wish, by odd individuals. Bearing in mind the wind was a little unsteady directionally! and quite strong each person scattered a small portion, and I’m sure as most folklore stories unfold the stories, quips and jokes will be told)  In sincerity, this journey from the pub to the hill was  at times quite emotionally charged for most, and I don’t make light of this fact. The journey was a celebration, it was not a sad pilgrimage, the sad day was when Jrat passed on.  But he has not left us, alone, or in groups we have his memory, and although scattered to the winds we know where he is, in the caves, in the digs and on the HILL. May his spirit be a guide to all that follow.

Muddy feet and village hall, covered that earlier, mucky cavers!!!!!!!

So now it kicks off, tables are out, screens are up sound system on (and working) and up steps Mac, Mr Compere, Short film, chats etc and then some music blah blah etc etc. roll the film…

The film was a hoot, and there were many serious (well Jrat serious) moments, and many funny ones. Again as folklore unfolds those that watched and tried to listen, will digress their version of what they saw and thought they heard. My best bit was the “effing heck” of Jrat as he recoiled, the shock of the cameraman, as he near dropped the camera, and the teeth chattering loud bang coming out of the hole! Last time I saw anything like that it was at Wigmore, the only camera’s then contained celluloid films in 36 picture strips!, and cost  £6 in BOOTS or £3.99 at bonus print (with a free roll of film.) to get a  4½” x 3 ½”  prints.  Extracts from his logs, GEMS, blimey how his mind worked. There then followed a really good, no a couple of really good sessions, of music singing and dancing and a “ disco” to finish. A very good night was enjoyed by all………..

Well did I miss something out? Ummmmm.  Oh yes the landrover auction, auctioneers the 2 non descripts dressed in curtains with a flowerpot their heads, ( ho ho ho)  and at least one heavy hammer got £ ‘s more than they thought!.  Although attentive all night, and sang a bit, drank a lot, ate a beef and a pork roast roll, donated for scones and a bit of cake. I Missed the last bit, my lift decided to go early, so at 2310 left the building, arrived at the Belfry, and crackle crackle pop pop bang bang, oh shite, I missed the send off, the fireworks. Still, all ups have a down, unless you are Jrat, when most of his downs were usually rocks, and the ups were to the PUB.  I got a quick bite to eat, and a seat and as the hordes returned to the Belfry, was able to sup ale to the small hours whilst watching SUMO, Prancers and dancers, the wobbling and bobbling and the occasional, whoops didn’t mean to sit on the floor manoeuvre.

A goodnight, NO, a ***king good weekend, even enjoyed the clearing up at the village hall between 10 and 12 on   Sunday, along with all the other souls who dismantled and cleaned and scrubbed and mopped.   Even watched MG & GWJ and their party HOP OVER THE WALL to join another 140 plus cavers, aged from 10 to the over 60’s enjoying the delights of good old Swillies…the minutes past…