Gazing into the abyss . . . (episode 93)

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1A The Hole
Hope End Street
CARPOOL

July 2 2000

What ho! Auntie

You sounded decidedly more chipper on the telephone the other night. So your plaster cast is finally off! How are the ‘kicking sets’ going down at the Outer Hamlet swimming pool?!

I am writing to report on my latest attempt to engage the attentions of Thule. Despite a certain amount of loitering around the corridors of Carpool District Hospital, I never seemed to bump into her. And, then, just before last weekend I observed her in the act of appending her name to a list on the ‘Outdoor Activities’ notice board. I naturally waited until she was out of sight, before sleuthing up to see what activity she had signed up for . . . It was a trip (that very weekend) to Sunless Pot in the shire responsible for the Kendal Mint Cake. Auntie, I added my name, before galloping back to my bedsit to see whether my wet suit was in sufficiently good repair for me to pack in a bag. It was. Only one or two holes in the rubber!

The following morning, along with quite some motley crew of around ten people, I arrived in the canteen car park, prior to climbing into the mini van. Thule was there but, disappointingly, she seemed to be hanging about the person of a character called Dan: the potholing team leader. Dan, as I’m sure you can imaging, resembled – to my jaundiced eye – the sort of chest-beating gorilla that you tend to see on episodes of Tarzan. AH – AH – AH – AH – AH goes that yell, doesn’t it? She did manage a rather cursory hello to Yours Truly, but that was it. I slumped into a seat and proceeded be harassed, rather irritatingly, by the only other female on the trip. I don’t want to appear unduly prejudiced on the subject of appearances Auntie, but she did have buck teeth and, every so often, she gave out a sound of loud slurping. Uncontrolled salivation I think – not necessarily of the lubricious kind – but more related to some physiological anomaly or other. It was only by dint of changing seats after every motorway service station that I managed to shake her off.

It was certainly a long haul up the slopes of Sunless Fell to the pot, particularly as I was assigned to the carrying of about 200′ of electron ladder. This is the sort of ladder, Auntie, that is metal, flexible, and narrow to the point of only accommodating one foot on each of its rungs. At this point, I was rather wondering what I was getting myself into – particularly as, by then, heavy lead acid cell batteries had been allocated to each person, in addition to helmets clad in a sizable light. I think I had been envisaging a little saunter along minor horizontal tunnels!

Sweating, and doubtless puce about the chops, I finally toiled over the rim of the fell and the opening of Sunless Pot yawned before me: vast and black and apparently descending into a void without bottom. Frankly Auntie, I was all for throwing in the towel – especially when I saw the ladder, all 200′ of it – being rolled over the edge, but I couldn’t as Thule would definitely have noticed my ignominious scampering back to the bus. There was also a loud growling sound to be heard and this – peering slightly further down into the chasm – appeared to be coming from a waterfall in full fall. Black and white water was frothing from a ledge.

‘Surely we aren’t climbing through that?’ I chirruped from my vantage point.

‘It’s no problem mate,’ said Dan, flexing his biceps. ‘You can take a breath from under the rim of your helmet. I’ll just rope you on.’

God only knows Auntie, how I didn’t turn and run – craven – back down the slope, but all I can say is, that terror had me rooted to the veritable spot.

I submitted to being roped on and gaped down at the ladder.

‘It’s easy mate,’ said the irrepressible Dan. ‘Just keep your body straight and close to the ladder. It might flex a bit above and below you.’ And then he gave me a bit of a thumbs up and a bit more of a push.

Well Auntie. What can I say? Down I went, foot after foot, breathing from the small interstice of air beneath my helmet rim, as the water roared down upon me. The beastly ladder certainly does flex about and it took all the strength I had to cling on as I descended through the zawn.

And if you are asking me if Thule was worth it, then I can only say ‘Yes,’ in a way, because she patted me on the back later on – in the ‘duck’ section – and before the ‘sump’ section – and actually said that she’d seen me about the wards from time to time.

I will tell you about the ‘duck’ section and the ‘sump’ section in future reminiscences!

Toodle pip

Your loving nephew

Ralph

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