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Rest Assured

Author's Note: The B.E.C. of Pete Pushem, and the rest of that fictional band of cavers, bears no relation to the Bristol Exploration Club, but are a purely fictional set of characters who come up against and somehow overcome difficulties which represent extrapolations of trends in present day caving as their author sees them.  The trend being flogged to death this year is topically.  Public Liability Insurance and its effect in a purely hypothetical future.  In presenting this episode, the author must stress that no resemblance of any kind is intended to any real cavers or incidents; to any caver’s relatives; to managers of actual insurance companies; to actual Claims Investigators, Solicitors or to anyone connected in any way with the subject dealt with.  This fictional tale is intended as a Christmas fantasy, and not as comment on an actual situation of any kind

------- I -------

It is a dark, wet, cold, foggy, typical Mendip autumn evening.  Inside the old Mendip pub, which all form of progress have luckily overlooked, the cosy - not to say snug - atmosphere is failing to have its customary effect.  In short, the B.E.C. have a problem.  Pete Pushem, one huge, hairy fist clutching his tankard is, as usual, holding forth.

“If I'd known that ruddy twit Wethen's ruddy parents would threaten us with ruddy negligence, I'd have wrung his ruddy neck for him.  No ruddy gratitude for being taken caving!”

“We shouldn't have been caving.”  Fred Ferrett remarks.  “We all know that when the insurance went up to £50 a member, and we stopped paying it, we weren't covered for this sort of thing - only for Social Activities.”

“I know that:" growls Pete, taking a savage swig at his beer.  “We play ruddy dominoes when anyone's about and go ruddy caving in the middle of the ruddy night.”

“That's the snag." muses Ron Runnitt.  “We were all tiddly at that time of night.  Completely slewed, in fact, it was rough luck that somebody lurched a bit, as a man will, and knocked young Wethen into the pot, where he broke his leg. Can't very well deny that it happened.”

"We've ruddy got to!” points out Pete.  “Otherwise they'll collar all our ruddy assets to pay the ruddy damages.”

Sid Spanner has so far said nothing.  He has been thinking.  “We might get away with it,” he now remarks, “given good luck.”

Unfortunately, it is not the B.E.C.’s lucky day.  Lurking in the deep shadows at the other end of the, bar sits Stan Sniff, the claims investigator.  Owing to the acoustics of the room, he has not heard the entire conversation, but he has, he feels, heard quite enough to exonerate the insurance company from any possible claim.  As they continue to talk, he slides expertly and quite unnoticed out of the pub.

------- II -------

It is a few days later. We are in the offices of the Helictite Insurance Co., known in the trade as ‘the old Erratic.’  The manager, Charley Coverall, is conferring with his secretary, the attractive Belinda Bedworthy.

“This letter from the B.E.C.” he says, waving the offending piece of paper in the air, “reporting that a guest received an injury while engage in social activities.  Isn’t this the case we put Sniff on to?”

Belinda nods.  Past experience has taught her never to say ‘yes’ to even the most innocuous of Charley’s remarks.  She hand him a file, which he looks at.

“Ha!”, he snorts.  “Here it is!  They admitted they were caving - and drunk as well.  'Tiddly' and 'slewed' I see.  We're in the clear.”

Belinda frowns. She has often found this a good move.

“It's only their word against Sniff’s and possibly Wethen’s” she suggests.

Charley looks at her. She has, he thinks, the most delightful legs.  She really should wear shorter skirts with legs like that.  With an effort, he recalls the subject of the conversation.

“Get Sniff to look in at their Hut, and try to trip them up.  I want to make dead sure we get the better of that lot.”

------- III -------

It is early one evening when Stan Sniff knocks most deferentially on the Belfry door.  It is opened, after the merest pause, by an obsequious Ron Runnitt.  Sniff is invited to enter.

Pete Pushem is seated at a table, playing patience.  Nearby, an animated game of dominoes is in progress. At a side table, Sam Strangeways is pouring himself a small orange juice.  It is a peaceful, if dull, scene.

Introductions are soon made. Sniff has expressed his interest in joining the club.  Sam, giving every appearance of a man speaking the truth, is replying.

“So you see, we are now a social club dedicated to the playing of harmless indoor games.  You will appreciate that we cannot allow you to join at once, because many newcomers tend to find our way of life too dull for them.  Have an orange juice?”

Sniff adopts a crafty expression.  “I had heard,” he suggests, “that you still go caving.”

“Ah”, says Fred Ferrett, “A mistake that people often make, I fear.  It is true that we once went caving but, guided by our insurers, we came to realise that it was an anti-social pastime.”

“One that we were well rid of!”, adds Sam.

Pete Pushem’s face is slowly turning purple.  Blood vessels stand out on his neck.  It may, of course, be the effect of drinking orange juice, but Sid Spanner fears that the strain is proving too much.   As Pete rises to his feet, Sam wonders whether all will be lost.

“I feel it is time,” Pete finally says in a voice totally unlike his usual bellow, “that we all sang a few hymns.”

------- IV -------

We are back in the offices of the Helictite.  Charley Coverall is pacing up and down, snarling to himself. The wretched Sniff cowers in a corner.  The atmosphere is tense.

“So!” hisses Coverall, “You completely failed.  Do you realise that I have had to write to them and actually ask them if they will take our representative to see, the spot where the accident took place?”

Sniff prudently remains silent.

“And do you know what they have had the nerve to reply?  They say that, as they have no insurance cover, they cannot help, but since we are both, no doubt, interested in furthering the cause of truth and justice, they will gladly take our representative to wherever he thinks an accident might have taken place, provided that we arrange a years cover for them at our expense.”

Charley glowers at the wretched Stan Sniff.

“And what is more, we'll damned well have to do it, if we want to visit the scene of the accident. I can't send you - you're too incompetent.  I wonder if our Belinda could soften them up a bit?”

------- V -------

It is some time later. Belinda has just returned from her caving trip.  It has turned out a strangely quiet affair for there is scarcely a man - or woman - in the party who is not wrestling with some knotty mental problem.

Fred Ferrett, for instance, wonders whether this girl will insist on staying at the Belfry and playing dominoes and drinking orange juice and if so, how he can manage to slope off. Pete Pushem is wondering how much longer the club can hold out against such an attractive girl.  Some one, he thinks gloomily, is bound to crack up sooner or later.  Unbeknowing to Pete, this has already happened.

Sid Spanner can only think what a marvellous girl Belinda is.  She has taken to caving like a duck to water.  He now feels certain he can trust her, and had resolved to tell her all. Belinda, in turn is thinking that Sid is terrific and is looking forward to caving with him as much as possible. In fact, her thoughts have progressed as far as making little wetsuits for the children, when she remembers that she and Sid are supposed to be on opposite sides.  Her job is to drop Sid in the clag.  Its a situation that the late P.G. Wodehouse would have appreciated, even though (by some oversight, no doubt) he was never a member of the B.E.C.

------- VI -------

It is snowing much later that same evening.  A uniform state of gloom hangs over the B.E.C.  It would not be stretching a point to say that morale is at a low ebb. Fred Ferrett, for example, has not managed to slope off and an evening of dominoes and orange juice has left him physically and mentally exhausted.  Sid Spanner has found matters even more frustrating.  This girl, who he had so much admired, has now shown herself to be a girl who likes drinking orange juice and playing dominoes.  He has just decided to remain a bachelor for life. Pete Pushem is deciding that now she has at last gone, he is so full of orange juice that there is no room for beer.

Belinda, on the other hand, has made up her mind.  She has driven straight to the nearest pub, where she is gratefully drinking a restoring pint of bitter while phoning her favourite uncle.

“…so you see, uncle, why I have got to help these boys.  Wethen's description of the place where he got knocked over is a bit vague, and now I have been down a cave, I'm sure it could fit almost any pitch.  What the boys need is a good story to explain what that horrible man Sniff overheard.  That, uncle is where you come in.  You remember when you used to be quite an expert.”

Belinda's uncle - always the sportsman - grins to himself as the scheme unfolds.

------- VII -------

We are, luckily, for the last time in the offices of the Helictite.  A meeting is in progress between Charley Coverall, Stan Sniff and a solicitor representing the B.E.C.  There is also, of course, Belinda.  For some reason she is wearing her shortest skirt and her lowest cut blouse. The effect is such that none of the others can really concentrate on what they are supposed to be doing.

“I really cannot see,” Charley manges to say, why we are wasting time like this.  There can be no question of our meeting any claim, since Mr Sniff here is prepared to state that he overheard them admit they were down a cave and in an inebriated cond1tfon. There is really nothing more I have to say.”

The club’s solicitor smiles blandly, for all the world as if about to tell the truth.  “It seems,” he says, “that Wethen claims to have sustained- injuries as a result of falling into or on to a pot.  He has given a description of: the place where the injury is alleged to have occurred which he could easily obtained from any of the old guidebooks.  The rest of your story is based on what Mr. Sniff here thinks he heard in a public house, while he was no doubt, consuming alcoholic refreshment.  There is some mention of a person or persons being ‘tiddly’. The word ‘slewed’ has also been mentioned.  Wethen apparently fell into, or on to, a pot after somebody had lost his balance and fallen against him.  Whether this action amounts to negligence is a moot point, since this habit of the B.E.C. drinking orange juice may, for all I know, affect their balance, but,” he pauses for dramatic effect, “it is also well known that the B.E.C. now play indoor games, since they can no longer afford the insurance to go caving.  I have, you will be interested to hear, been in touch with an expert on the traditional English game of Tiddlywinks.

It appears, not unreasonably, that at some stage of this game, a player is said to be tiddly.  It also appears that a certain kind of shot is called a slewed shot and that the vessel into which they endeavour to flip the counter known as the wink, is called the pot.  It would seem that Mr. Sniff, who perhaps had found it necessary to fortify himself against the cold with a certain amount of alcoholic refreshment, in fact overheard the cavers going over what had happened during a particularly hard fought game of Tiddlywinks, during which Wethen fell on to (not 'into') the pot.  I am, of course, prepared to produce my expert witness if necessary.”

There is an awkward silence. It is broken at last by Belinda.

“What do you think of this explanation?” she innocently asks, leaning as far forward in their direction as is consistent with retaining her balance on her chair.

“Lovely,” murmurs Sniff.

“Beautiful,” breaths Coverall.

Belinda dutifully notes their replies.

------- VIII -------

It is early one evening, just before Christmas, soon after these shattering events have taken place. The B.E.C. are, naturally, on their way to the pub.  Now that they have a fully paid up insurance policy, they have been able to go underground in the daytime, but even this has failed to have its customary euphoric effect. Pete is wondering whether the beer he is currently brewing for Christmas will be seized with his other effects, as he does not yet know what has occurred.  Sid, equally in the dark, is still bitterly disillusioned.  They file gloomily into the pub.

Standing by the bar, looking lovely in the soft glow of the oil lamps in spite of the old clothes she is wearing, is a girl.  It is, of course, Belinda.  She is just draining a pint of bitter in a manner that even the experts of the B.E.C. are forced to admire.  She would, Pete thinks, prove an asset to any team in a boat race.  Slowly, she turns round and smiles at them.

“It is my round.” She says. “What are you having?”

------- IX -------

It is very much later that same evening.  It may even be early the next morning.  It is not a point likely to worry the B.E.C.  Much, after all, has happened.  Belinda has brought them up to date on recent events.  She has even managed to get their new policy into the file marked 'automatic annual renewal' - for she is not a girl who does things by halves - although she has to tell them that their old policy now has an exclusion forbidding them to play the dangerous game of Tiddlywinks.  This news nearly causes them to spill their beer.  One way and another, they have had quite an evening.

Now, Pete Pushem is sitting in the Belfry, contentedly surveying the scene which meets with his entire approval.  Ron Runnitt is fast asleep in another chair, his tankard dangling from his hand. Outside, Pete can hear the melodious sound or Fred Ferrett honking in the moonlight.  Over the far side of the room, Belinda is expertly putting the unconscious form or Sid Spanner into his bunk.  He gazes on this domestic touch with particular approval.  If all goes well, he reflects as his eyes finally close, the B.E.C. will not be losing a son so much as gaining a daughter.