NPC Journal 4(1), Jan 1987, pp 27-31


George Cornes - A Living Legend

Jim Eyre

Being a 'has-been' and past it, is, after the initial shock, a fairly pleasant state of affairs; and with no need to compete in the painful rigours of outdoor pursuits one can relax and enjoy a slow slide into oblivion without any feeling of guilt. Of course one has to keep the body in trim and the occasional stroll up Ingleborough past the Hill Inn with my personal physician in attendance is just what the doctor ordered - and its his round next. Ah ! Life is pleasant ... what should I do next ? I mused ... write poetry perhaps ... ?

The phone rang and immediately I recognised the deranged laugh and compelling voice of Doncaster's biggest con-man. It was Millington of Millington Enterprises, and I waited in dread for the words that I knew were coming. "Hello, you old sod, I've got an offer you can't refuse." I shuddered and sank back white-faced into the armchair.

Audrey, who was busy ironing the dog, looked across at me and gasped, "It's not -," she hesitated, " - Millington, is it ?". "Yes." I croaked, reaching for the cat to mop my fevered brow. "Good God!", she said.

While Audrey searched for the Insurance policies, the proprietor of Millington Enterprises explained that George Cornes, the Pennine's lovable geriatric, had suddenly reappeared from Australia and had decided he wanted to do a through trip of Lancaster - Easegill.

"Great", I said, "Good Ole George".

"Now for the bad news," says Kev, "You're going with him."

"Oh, that's impossible, I'm too old." I replied.

"George is seventy four...", says Kev.

"Oh-er," desperately I searched for an excuse,
"Ah, I've got this bad leg".

" ... and Chester's going with him ..." says Kev.

" ... and my chest isn't too good," I said weakly. " and ... "

" ... and Thorpe's making a film", came the voice from the telephone,
"and... "

I put the phone down, I couldn't take any more.

By some really clever planning, George's geriatric walk had been arranged for the day after the club dinner, thus guaranteeing that everybody would be half dead. It was, as it turned out, the very Dickens of a dinner and in spite of several offers from Big Jane, Elsie, and a peculiar bloke who offered me a bed for the night, I ended up with Millington again, stood outside the Bridge at 2.30 am, whilst everyone else was in bed. "You will get a good night's sleep at Greenclose", the Gentle Giant had said.

Considering that last time I slept there I was bitten by a Hungarian Vampire and had my head sat on by Thug, and the time before I narrowly escaped a lynch mob, I somehow doubted Millington's optimistic remarks, and at 4 am as I lay in a pit purloined by the Gentle Giant for my own personal use I again mused on my fate.

At 4.30 am an irate 'Waddo' burst into the dosshouse. "Who's pinched my ****** pit ? I've had that pit for eight years." Mutter ! Mutter ! "My ****** cassettes all on the ****** floor". (Or was it corsets ?) "Eight years I've had that ****** pit." Mutter ! Mutter ! Crash ! Door closed. Voice trails off down the passage, " Some ****** has pinched my pit. Eight years I've had that .... "

Crash ! Door bursts open, lights blaze everywhere. It is now 5 am and the Pennine's youngest hooligan (Budge II) enters room, farts and shouts various obscene things and disappears with another crash of the door which somehow did not disturb anyone except me and the virgin who was sleeping opposite, and the farting, burping and belching continued unabated.

I now realise what the holes in the ceiling are for - its to let out the methane.

I wondered what the virgin thought about all this farting and smelling and burping and obscene language - obviously she couldn't care less - she had a smile on her face even when asleep; so had the sod next to her.

The highlight of the night came at 5.30 am when Thorpe fell out of bed, stood there scratching his arse, gave a resounding fart, put on Millington's socks and headed for the tandem. About six am, I was just about to go to sleep when the occupant of the bunk above had an attack of flatulence that was really frightening, and I was covered in fall-out. Anyone lighting a cigarette at that time would have blasted our rural slum into orbit.

8 am saw me with a methane hangover, and eyes like ruptured frogspawn, hoping it was all a bad dream and that any minute Audrey would come walking in and gently wake me in my nice clean bed and give me a pat on the head and a cup of tea. It was not a dream ... I slowly opened one eye and looked at Thug scratching his arse again. He's not a pretty sight with clothes on, but naked, - ugh !!

The dawn chorus of farting began as Thug struck the first chord, and increased to crescendo, to be even joined "el sotto" by the virgin, which somehow gave me some perverse satisfaction, for I didn't know virgins did that sort of thing - and what's more, I didn't even see her lips move.

Breakfast at Greenclose is something too obscene to dwell on. Suffice to say, the Pennine's youngest hooligan drank from the teapot containing last night's beer and fag ends. Thug fed Millington a handful of horse pills and then in walked Cornes.

Oh ! How I hate that old sod !

Why doesn't he get older like the rest of us ?

Why doesn't he get hangovers like the rest of us ?

Perhaps he is 'Bionic' - he could even be one of those 'Invaders' and I looked at the back of his neck for the tell-tale sign, but I couldn't see for dandruff.

"Hello 'Ers." he said, "What a gay day."
"I like you 'Ers, you're so handsome in the morning."

I looked at the man who used to chase me when I was a choir-boy and thought, "Silly old sod, why isn't he ever miserable ?". Bloody geriatric delinquent.

Eventually, in what seemed like a scene from Exodus, Moses Cornes, surrounded by the Pennine Israelites staggered across the fell to Lancaster Hole. We waited with baited breath for the film director to start filming, unfortunately Thug, the working man's Sid Perou, had got lost and was eventually caught wandering the fell in a distressed condition. Considering that Steve Webb was with him, this wasn't surprising.

After two year's inactivity, my wet suit had mummified and I was turned into a walking case of rigor mortis as my body was held in a vice-like grip by the man eating rubber - probably like being digested by a Boa-constrictor. I collapsed into a heap by Lancaster Hole and waited for the Pennine to surge into action, and waited, and waited as our SRT experts tried to work out what to do with a ladder and rope. Then Gordon Batty stepped forward and muttered "Here's a rope 'Ers", and gave me a rope to hold. The Gentle Giant said "Its great when it all comes together", but apart from that nothing happened. Did I detect a reluctance to part company with the great outdoors ?

By this time, the stars of the show, George and Chester, had been transformed into something resembling Bill and Ben the Flower Pot Men.

With Chester in a bright green creation and George mounted in a pair of dazzling white coveralls surmounted by a bright yellow helmet, with his permanent red nose finishing the picture he looked like a large exotic bird - a sort of shitehawk.

Somebody decided, as it was getting near dinner time, that somebody should go down the pitch and the Pennine swung into action and two hours later we still had eleven members on top and Millington stood there broadly smiling saying "Its great when it all comes together."

George's fixed grin was by this time getting a little strained and Chester's leg was showing signs of rust, so in an effort to speed things up, it was decided to use both ends of the rope. It was a bit complicated for the lads to work out, but we thought we'd give it a whirl. First we lowered five tackle bags down on the 200 ft which almost took the enterprise out of Millington, and then Greg was despatched on the other end. In most clubs, someone would untie the tackle bags but of course this proved impossible for the NPC and we eventually ended up with all the rope down the hole with 100 lb of batteries on one end and a very irate Greg on the other, and lots of strange swearwords floating up the pitch.

"Ah, just like old times," and Millington's smile got broader, "Isn't it grand", he said, "when it all comes together."

Lots of young, eager cavers, bristling with SRT gadgets, had now gathered round the hole in the vain hope of getting underground, and were somewhat non-plussed to find Lancaster Hole the venue for an old crocks outing. "Caving used to be a macho sport", moaned one, looking at Batty. "Now ****** pensioners are doing it!! Sod this, I'm taking up bowls."

We told them to come back on Tuesday, and they left.

At long last, we began to get the 'Stars' underground, and Chester, complete with one of Alan Steele's long life caving lamps, did a controlled descent of the pitch. Two minutes later, Alan Steele's lamp did a controlled ascent with note "**** lamp packed in". There was enough time to go to Ingleton and get another, (probably enough time to go to Leeds) and the Pennine's youngest hooligan promptly volunteered, and was rapidly followed by six other volunteers. I too was about to volunteer but Uncle Kevin was looking at me in a very funny way, so I didn't.

Jan, George's minder, now began getting him ready with the kiss of life, a heavy course of in-depth massage, checked his fly buttons were fastened up and gave him a couple of steroid implants for the trip. Georges's voice immediately went up three octaves, but it still didn't remove that silly grin from his face. Eventually, with Doc. Walker below, and Doc. Frankland above, and with Jan, his nurse, in close attendance, George the fearless was despatched down the hole. Jan was despatched, John was despatched, and I despatched a large whiskey which Uncle Buzzer had sent across to combat the growing blood pressure. I asked Auntie Elsie and Uncle Bernard (quite a family affair was this) to phone Audrey and tell her not to put dinner on until Wednesday, made my very reluctant farewell to the great outdoors, and found quite naturally that everyone underground had ****** off and left me all alone.

I met Frank Walker in Bridge Hall going out. "Been down two hours - got to see the Doc. about my throat." he croaked. Poor chap, fancy being stuck for two hours with Batty. It must play the Dickens with your nerves.

Soon I came across the 'Stars' and wondered if I could scrounge a small 'walk-on' part. But Chester told me to go away. "We don't want no Hasbeens in this film", he said, "We're the new discoveries, you've had your day." At Fall Pot I approached the director for a small part. "Yes," he said, "You can carry this bag." Steve was very impressive, he kept such a low profile that we lost him again, but it was coming together and I wondered if perhaps Sid Perou had got it wrong as Steve didn't tell people what to do or say, and he increased in stature every minute as he just stood there lurking behind his camera. A kind of fat, miniature Sir Alexander Korda, only instead of chewing a big fat cigar, Steve chewed on a small mud-covered Woodbine.

Another thing about Thug's movies is that they're silent and Cornes wasn't allowed to say anything. This in itself made the trip worthwhile for a silent Cornes was something I had been waiting to see (hear ?) since 1946.

We passed Painter's Palette, barely recognisable from the mud which had almost obliterated Bob's Boss. We slowly wandered through the cave, pausing now and again for filming. My man-eating wetsuit had now turned into a mobile pressure cooker, and I staggered on like a black Tutankhamun with a seizure problem. Chester and George were doing remarkably well, with Kev in attendance as short stop, in case they went out of control in one of the more lethal areas.

Our pit stops became more frequent as Thorpe's little fat legs didn't seem to be the right length for a lot of things. "He's better surrounded by water" confided a confidante. As George slowed a bit at one section, Thorpe's smile got bigger. "It might even turn out to be a 'snuff' movie", he said, lighting another Woodbine, "You know if old George croaks in Cornes' Cavern we'll make a bomb ..."

But George is made of stern stuff (or something) for he reached what is now called Monster Cavern (also after George) and we had a picnic sat in a cloud of Woodbine smoke. Steve Webb now pulled out a mike and George sat there like the Ancient Mariner on the painting with his young audience transfixed as he recalled half forgotten fragments from the corners of his mind when as a youth of only 36 he first explored Cornes' Caverns, alone and with no light. He told us magic tales of caverns measureless to man and blow up sex dolls with runny noses, of choir boys with pink ears, of flatulence in airliners and of fairies found on mountains.

We moved on and just to liven things up I sent three young members off exploring half expecting them to get lost - they did !

Eventually, Stop Pot was reached and the relief party from County led by the Pennine's youngest hooligan and smelling strongly of drink gave us coffee. Even Cadge had been de-mothballed for this event and there were now more members down the hole than were at the dinner.

About now it was turning into a fine experience, especially when I spotted a sweet young thing and asked her if she would like to relieve two old gentlemen of their little red bags which didn't weigh a lot. The sweet young thing smiled, and J Frankland and I parted with our bags and scarpered. This is called experience.

Chester and George must be congratulated, but must not be encouraged to make this a yearly event, and I have made a mental note not to be around for Millington's fiftieth or George's eightieth because if these two keep practising like they are, who knows, they might make good cavers. I mean George is a late starter, I don't know what Kev's excuse is - but keep taking the pills.

I am now going for a lay down.

Jim Eyre

J.Eyre cartoon - 11k GIF

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