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

Introduction to the Report:

Once a year, readers of the B.B. are only too well aware, it is the custom of the Belfry Bulletin Literary; Historical and Scientific Research Group to present its latest findings to an astonished world.

It is therefore not without pride that we are able this year to announce a happy blend of scientific and historical research.  (It’s a pity we couldn’t somehow drag literature in but, as our research leader says in his highly erudite fashion ‘you can’t not expect a ruddy miracle, cock!).

During the last year, an astounding scientific discovery by the B.B.L.B. & S.R.G. has revealed that certain rock crystals posses the property of being able to store sound – not unlike a magnetic tape recorder.  These crystals, however, soon become saturated and a result, only those sounds which were first heard on Mendip have been thus preserved as a unique record of prehistoric times.  It took many hours or patient work to sort out human speech from the roaring of lions and the howling of hyenas. – there not being a great deal of difference between them in those days – but the job was finally done, and it is with pride that we present this reconstruction of life at the time will require drastic revision in the light of what follows……

The Report

Lit by the smoky fire, the small band of cave dwellers sat around their evening meal in the Witches’ Kitchen of Wookey.  Only their leader, Oll, was not squatting with them and enjoying a meal of roast bos. Oll was standing (a trick first demonstrated by his great-great-grandfather to an admiring audience and since copied by one and all) band gazing at the water.  He was thinking.  (A trick his great-great-grandfather had never got around to).  He chewed absentmindedly on an old lion bone.

“Come and eat with us!” growled one of the young men.  “This roast is good!”

“I’m thinking., “Oll replied. “Where does all this water come from?  It must run right through the hill before it comes out here.”

“So what?  The water’s drinkable and it never dries up.  What more do we want to know about it?”

Oll turned on the young man. “Where’s your spirit of adventure, boy? Where’s your insatiably curiosity that will one day enable our descendants to do things like flying to the moon and inventing the cave surveying head?  If you spent more time thinking about things like cave exploration and invention and less time leering at those young cave girls up in Ebbor, we should make some worthwhile progress!”

“If you want us to invent things, you should encourage us more.  You wouldn’t listen to our latest invention!  We stamp about on a whole lot of apples and let the juices run into a lion skin that we cleaned and sewn up.  Then we hang it up for a long time before we drink it.”

“Pah!  Anyone can drink fruit juice!”

“Yes, but we give it to the girls in Ebbor and it makes them less fierce.  It’s much less tiring than chasing them; hitting them over the head with a club and dragging them all the way back here.  After they’ve finished being sick, they get quite docile.”

“H’mm.  It sounds and interesting invention, but our main job is to get down exploring this cave, and that means being able to breathe underwater. Now, if we take a hyena’s windpipe and sew it up to a lion’s stomach….”

_______________________

Meanwhile, another small group of cave men were huddled round a fire in the dark at the top of No Barrows Hill art Priddy.  They had finished their meal and were talking.

“Why is it called No Barrows Hill anyway?” asked one of the men.  “Because there aren’t any barrows on it, fool!” replied their leader, Wig. “The barrows will come much later on and you won’t live to see them.  In fact, you won’t live much longer of you don’t run away from lions faster than you did today.”

“Why don’t we find a cave to live in, Wig?”  If we had a cave, we would have a place to stamp about on apples and leave the juice to stand for a few months.  Then we could feed it to those girl’s down in Wookey.”

“There’s a hole in the ground quite near here,” said another.  “If we climb down it, we could live in the cave below.”

“Who ever heard of cave men living in a swallet cave,” said a third.  “It just isn’t done.”

An argument broke out, in which fists, lion bones and clubs figured prominently.  Wig ignored this and thought.  At last he spoke.

“It’s not a bad idea at that!  Nor! You’re an ingenious sort of bloke!  Try to think of some sort of portable fire so that we can see what we’re doing when we get underground!  If we can do that, we shan’t have to spend all day running away from lions.  Maybe we’ll have enough time to start some kind of civilisation around these parts.  We could certainly do with some…”

______________________

“It’ll never work!” said one cave man to another, as the odd contraption of animal’s entrails which were tied by means of various parts of Oll, disappeared below the still waters of Wookey.  His companion continued to sit on the tree branch he had brought with him without speaking – watching the water where Oll had disappeared.

“What’s the matter?” asked the first man.  “And why are you sitting on that branch?”

“Oll said that I must keep a log all the time he is underwater.  He said it would be part of the procedure.”

Faced with this sort of bad joke, the first man went off in search of some apple juice.  His companion watched him go.  ‘No sense of humour!’ he muttered to himself.

_____________________

“Well, Nor?” said Wig, as they once more met on the top of No Barrows Hill, “What’s that thing you’ve got there?”

“I call it a ladder. Its made of two long vines.”

“I can see that!  What are all those sticks doing in between them? I suppose you’re going to tell me that you call them rungs?”

“Actually, I do. They’ve got holes bored across each end, and the vines go through the holes.”

“Yes, I can see – but what stops these rungs of yours from slipping when you put all your weight on them?”

“Ah!  I’ve bored a hole I from one end of each rung to meet the hole where the vine goes through.  I’ve wedged a hyena tooth into each hole an that stops the rung from slipping.”

“H’mm.”

“Then I’ve taken some blueberries and made a dye and soaked the vines in it.”

“What for?”

“To show the ladder is ours, of course!  We don’t want other people borrowing our tackle and claiming it’s theirs, do we?”

“No I suppose not. It’s not all that bad Nor!  Given steel wire and dural, the same principle would make a damn strong ladder, but I suppose that’ll have to wait.  You had better make a few more and keep some sort of record.  Bash some marks on a rock, or something.  You could give us a report once a year on how much of this tackle we had.”

Wig turned to the next man of the tribe.  “What have you come up with, Ben?”

“It’s a thing I’ve called a candle.  You take apiece of bamboo and put a bit of dry vine down the middle.  Then you stuff up the bottom with clay and pour lion fat in. When it’s set, you split the bamboo away and light the top of the vine.  Look!  I’ll demonstrate!”

“Not bad at all! It cast no treacherous shadows!”

“Can we start to explore the cave now, Wig?”

“Well, we’ve got all the stuff we need, so we must wait and hour then we can go in.”

“Why can’t we go in right away?”

“Because we’ve got to start off all the traditions properly.  Whoever heard of a Mendip caving trip starting on time?”

Two hours later, the small band made its way to the depression and Nor slung his ladder down the hole.  Swallet caving had begun.

____________________________

Of course we believe you, Oll!” said one of the young Wookey men who had clustered around him as he emerged, wet but triumphant from the water.  “But how are we to explore these new parts of the cave you have discovered without some sort of fire that we can take through with us?”

“We’ll find some way! Perhaps we can wrap up a flint and some tinder in a hyena’s stomach and light a fire.”

“But the smoke will fill the cave!”

“Well then, somebody will have to up go to Priddy.  I hear that some cave men there have got things that they call candles.  I read about them in one of those stone tablets that Old keeps bringing round – the Mendip Caveman I think it’s called.  See what the Priddy lot want in exchange for some candles.”

A runner was sent off, while Oll divested himself of his gear and the whole tribe went off to celebrate his feat by drinking a large quantity of apple juice.  It was very late that night when the runner returned.

“They say they want two lions’ skin of apple juice!”

“Two lion’s skins! But there aren’t very many of them, are there?”

“No.  But they keep saying that they never have enough drink laid on at their dinners.”

_________________________

Up at Priddy, Nor and two helpers were carting the day’s rubbish out of the cave.  They had got as far as the Vine Rift – where a vine had been strung to help get tackle along it.  Nor was grumbling.

“I wish Wig wouldn’t insist that we take all the rubbish out every day.  Why can’t we dump it all down the Rocky Boulder Series?”

“Wig says that we must practise conservation.  He says that all this rubbish could play merry hell with the ecological balance if we left it here.”

“I wish he wouldn’t keep on inventing all these new words!”

“He says it’s all part of our becoming civilised.  Anyway, he says that if we left remains in the cave, it would baffle future archaeologists – whatever they are!”

“I suppose he’s right. Give me a hand with this detailer bucket.”

___________________________

Down in the Dining Room, Wig was examining a device which Bry had made.  “It’s downright ingenious!  Just the kind of thing we need to help get a civilization going! What does it do, Bry?”

“It’s for surveying. You look down this bamboo tube and swivel…” Wig shook his head.

“No, Bry.  Let’s forget it for now.  Once we start this surveying stunt, we’ll spend all our time arguing about traverse closures and never get anything done.  It’s best left for the future.”

____________________________

Meanwhile in Wookey, Oll was laying down the law to a somewhat rebellious lot of cave dwellers.

“I say that we shall get in a hopeless muddle with all the sumps we have discovered unless we learn to count.  Now let’s try it once again – and I’ll mind you that nobody gets any of that sirloin of lion until we all got it right!  Now say again – after me…

Wookey 3, Wookey 4, Wookey 5, Wookey 6….”

____________________________

“Wig!” said Ben, “We’ve discovered a sump!”

“Well kill it and give it to the girls to cook!”

“It’s not alive.”

“Then take it out of the cave!  How many times do I have to remind you lot about the importance of cave preservation?”

“It’s part of the cave. It’s where the water goes through a passage and fills it completely with no airspace.”

“Ah!” said Wig, thoughtfully.  “They have places like that in Wookey so I’ve heard (from the Mendip Caveman – Ed.)  We must be getting close.  See if you can get Nor to come up with some method of digging it out.”

__________________________

“All right!” said Oll peevishly.  “So it’s enormous and it goes on and on and on and on!  Just because you youngsters have invented this new lightweight breathing gear, you think you’ve opened up the whole cave!  You may think us older cavers were pretty slow lot, but let me remind you that we pioneered this sport!  We never had all the advantages that you lot have got.  All these fancy sphincter valves and that!  I hope you can clean them out properly first!”

“Yes we do, Oll.  We have to.  Hyenas have a pretty potent digestive system.  But the passage does really go on and on. We call it a master cave.”

“Master cave?  Why?”

“Well, why not? Someone has to invent new words. Anyway, that’s not the point.  We went right to the end of this passage, and it finishes in a sump.”

“Of course it finishes in a sump!  All passages in Wookey finish in sumps.  Everybody knows that!”

“Yes, but this sump is being dug from the other side.  While we watched, an artefact kept appearing and disappearing, and it was moving mud out of the way.”

“An artefact?”

“Sorry.  It’s another of those new words.  I should have said a tool.”

“Now I know what you mean. Everybody knows what a tool is!  I do wish that you youngsters would I learn to call a spade a spade?”

Oll thought.

“It could be that lot from Priddy, I suppose.  We must have a grand expedition to this spot.  We’ll take the whole tribe and three lion skins of apple juice.  It’ll take a lot of organising so we’d better all get cracking…”

__________________________

“I think,” said Ben to Wig, “that this new sump will soon go.  These spade things of Nor’s are shifting it pretty well.”

Wig nodded.  A lot had happened since the day when, as a young man, he had first led the tribe into this cave.  Besides the new spades, there was the permanent tackle on the arête and ledge pitches which made journeys to the surface easier for the older folk. Rumour had it that Nor was working on a thing called a Maypole.

“I suggest,” said Wig, “that when we’ve passed this sump, we have a grand celebration on the other side. We can drink up all the apple juice we got from the Wookey lot in exchange for candles.  Let’s see if we can get through as soon as possible!”

_____________________________

Even Oll had to admit that the new passage was impressive.  The whole tribe were dwarfed by the vast halls through which they travelled. Even the lion skins of apple juice carried on the men’s backs looked small.  Every so often, Oll called a halt – and it was during one of these rests that they noticed the lights in the distance.  Soon, the lights got nearer, and the men put down their loads and clutched their clubs menacingly.  They could see the strangers now – cave dwellers like themselves and a rough looking lot into the bargain.  The men growled.  Oll appealed to them.

“Relax, men!”  It’s only another lot of cavers!  Put down your clubs at once!  If cavers fight whenever they meet, it’ll be a poor example to set for future generations.  These people are probably as human as we are.  Let me go and speak to them.”

____________________________

As Oll approached, Wig picked up a large stone but realised that they were fellow cavers and put is down again.  The two men faced each other and shook hands.  “This,” said Oll, “is a historic moment.”

“An historic moment, “corrected Wig.

“Ah!” said Oll, “I see you’ve discovered grammar!  Between us, we have just made the first through connection on Mendip.”

“Yes,” said Wig, “and it’ll be a long time before they manage to do it again.”

“We planned a celebration,” said Oll, “and we’ve brought three skins of apple juice along.”

“So did we.”

“Then let us,” said Oll, “celebrate!”

Wig nodded his agreement.

“Let us make a joint announcement,” he said.

__________________________

On the floor of the immense hall, a scene of utter debauchery existed.  Cave dwellers lay in heaps beside empty lion skins.  Apple juice ran everywhere.  It was not unlike the Shepton Dinner after a boat race.  On a stal bank slightly above the mass of revelry, as befitted their station, sat Oll and Wig.

“We’d better combine,” said Oll.  “After this lot, it’s going to be damn nigh impossible to sort our tribes out again.”

“Yes, I agree.  Our young men seem to have got hold of all your young girls.”

“And vice versa.  I didn’t see you down there amongst them?!

“Well no.  Actually, as leader, I found it necessary to drink more of that apple juice than any of my men.  Matter of prestige, you understand.”

I felt that I had to do as well.  Did it have any effect on you?”

“Yes, it did as a matter of fact.  Most odd!”

“I was the same.  What do you plan to do now that we are about to merge, Wig?”

“I think I’ll retire from leadership.  I’m planning to bring out a series of definitive reports on this cave system. It’s going to take and awful lot of blocks of stone!  What will you do, Oll?”

“I’m planning to retire too. I’ve got a scheme for taking a hollow log and putting a sot of handle on one end.  Then I’m going to get six strings made out of wildcat gut and stretch them along the log.  I think I might be able to get some sort of tune out of it with any luck.”

They smiled happily at each other as they slowly collapsed to the floor.

“Alfie”

_____________________

P.S.  Anyone who finds that they like this type of humour might try reading a book called ‘The Evolution of Man’ (Penguins) where they will find it done a damn sight better.