Wednesday, 6 June 2012


Since my last post the Queen's Jubilee has come and gone. I also went and came back again. A few days away for a well deserver break, we found a cottage in the White Peak of Derbyshire. Every village and small town, every front garden, pub, shop front and street we encountered was decked out with red, white and blue bunting. 20,000 miles of bunting sold, so they say. 

Cottage with yours truly peeping out of it.
And a peep at Wolfsdale down deep in the dale with sheep grazing safely beside the River Dove.

Then home again, I watched the flotilla of thousands of boats sailing down the Thames in London, everyone, including Her Maj braving the cold, wind and pouring rain. Then on TV again I saw the last hour or so of that concert in the Mall and gasped with genuine amazed pleasure to see the electronic lazier show transforming Buck Palace into a mundane, but hilariously audacious block of red brick Council flats where every so often virtual windows opened to reveal parties of virtual London revellers dancing and singing inside. What Fun! Truly, this was the best street party I've ever virtually been present at. Tech magic at it best ever yet. And even our dear 'monarch in waiting,' Charles 111, managed to out-do the comics on stage with a bit of warm, wry humour of his own. Almost makes one proud to be British. Anyway - enough of that....

Regretfully, no red, white or blue to illustrate any of the above. It simply didn't occur to me to take a photo of the decked-out streets. Altho' possibly we shall never see their likes quite like it again. Or so they say. England is changing, or has changed irrevocably. In the South, in London, certainly - even here in Conservative Bath I only saw one house with bunting -- but maybe I don't look hard enough. The rural villages up in the north midlands though were an eye-opener. Derbyshire: my own back yard. Though Sheffield born and bred, my city has its toes well and truly in Derbyshire, and in my youth and early 20s as an art student, I spent nearly every week-end climbing, walking and sometimes caving in Derbyshire. The Derbyshire edges in the Black Peak; Froggatt Edge, Burbage, Curbar, left by the receding Ice Age glaciers are of Mill Sone Grit and more appropriately linked with gritty steely Sheffield. These were the nursery edges we practiced on as a warm-up to the mountains of North Wales. Shorter in height, yet, in places, just as demanding in severity of challenge.

Memory. How far to trust it. The mention of caving triggered an urge to recapture one of the admittedly few caving experiences of my life. If I told you it took place in the Giant's Hole there's a good chance that was it. But I know I did some of my underworld delving in other Derbyshire caves - so it could have taken place elsewhere. But let's say Giant's Hole (or as it was known in times less proper, Giant's Arse.) 

Imagine if you will a lot of Black. I don't have a picture to illustrate blackness, but I can safely leave it to you I think to conjure up. We've entered at the mouth of the cave and at this moment it is still normal daylight - but we've come prepared. Prepared as far as amateurs in those far off days of my youth could be. Several other more professional groups were assembled at the cave mouth, but these were clad in proper boots, waterproofs and helmets with safety lamps attached. These people called themselves, Speleologists, and they went in first. I'd never been on such an expedition, so the two male companions who'd tried this cave out before, kind of updated us on what we were in for. At some point, they told us, after following the underground stream for some way, travelling downwards all the time, yet still able to stand upright, the tunnel would begin to narrow and we would be faced with a huge rock-face blocking our way. Standing there in our comparatively primitive gear; basic boots, cut off father's raincoats as anorak, clutching the candles and matches we'd brought with us to light our progress, we sized up then next step. Obviously we weren't meant to turn round and go back. The pros., the speleologists by this time well ahead, had gone under the rock, and we must follow. Their waterproof head lights had shown them the way, but candlelight was all we had, and these life-saving essentials must now be protected. 

We'd equipped ourselves with metal Oxo tins with tight fitting lids. Our candles, now must be extinguished, blown out and placed with our box or matches in the Oxo tin and tightly closed.  Then in utter darkness we must go down into the water, feeling our way with our hands, sensing with our feet the river bed, and prepare to dive under the rock-face which had seemed to block the passage. A deep breath -- and dive in faith and trust, until we bobbed up again on the other side, ready to continue further along the passage of our adventure.

Since asking you to imagine a lot of black at the beginning, you may be wondering why I've wandered off - and maybe left you and blackness hanging in the air. Candlelight may not be the last word in illumination, but it's not exactly dead of night BLACK. But stick with me. More to come. The passage continues and so did ours. I can't quite remember if among our equipment items I mentioned climbing ropes, but we must have had them with us, for the next stretch of the journey underground necessitated a bit of rock climbing. Leaving the river/stream behind or below, we began to climb up the sides of the underground cave system and onto a narrow ledge, from which a new passage opened onwards. More exploration lay ahead, but soon we began to notice a certain flickering of the light. Checking our supplies, we realised that we were almost out of candles. The boys, determined to carry on as far as possible suggested that we two girls sat it out while they forged on further. Only this meant taking the candles with them. 

Promising not to be too long, and that they'd tell us all about their discoveries on return, we agreed to wait in the dark. Off they went and we sat tight on the very narrow ledge while the light from the boy's candles grew ever fainter. With their disappearance, light and sounds of crawling menfolk fading and dwindling into nothing, the rock-face pressure at our backs and our narrow seat seeming to grow skimpier and less secure by the minute, blackness descended. A blackness like no other I have experienced. Outer blackness even at dead of night and sans moon or stars had never been like this. This was ABSOLUTE.  Absolute black. 

A long time passed; our feet dangling into space, a strange sensation overtook us; we could no longer tell up from down, right from left. Time lost its meaning too in this extraordinary world of sensory deprivation, similar I believe to that experienced by trainee astronaughts before they're allowed to fly weightless into space for the first time. The boys had their experience; we had ours. A bonding of sorts. Two girls on a ledge holding hands, exchanging thoughts, seeing it though together. Rite of Passage? 


Susan Monroe said...

You blog took me to a wonderful place I have never been to and would only go to vicariously as I don't like enclosed spaces. So thank you for blogging about it.

Steven said...

Thumbs up for this one. transported me - a world away - its' what inspiration's made of... thanks