NPC Newsletter (2nd New Series) No. 53 - March 2001

Old Dogs, New Tricks

Spanish for beginners - Lesson One:

     esposo = husband
     esposa = wife
     esposas = handcuffs

I've never really fancied caving abroad. Seems a waste really, I mean, it's a long way to go and, from what I've heard, it's not as if they're proper caves. I've been told that you can actually stand up in lots of them, which is just silly. Real caves, as everyone knows, are eight inches high and contain seven inches of liquid mud.

So I suppose that I got conned into going to Spain.

I'm not embarrassed by that because I was conned by the Bishop who is really very good at conning. I think it's a reaction to his job. The Bishop, you see, works for the Health and Safety Executive so he spends most of his day being very, very careful indeed.

To compensate for this, in his own time, he's developed what at first sight appears to be a fairly carefree attitude to the truth. Closer inspection reveals that his private life is ferociously dedicated to a carefully calculated distribution of mayhem, misinformation and destruction.

The Bishop does not appear to delight in this. Rather he regards it as his duty to maintain a balance in the universal scheme of things.

For example, on one of my first trips into a mine with him, described as a 'quiet, dry little project', I'd already donned a boiler suit when I noticed him climbing into two layers of very expensive wetsuit.

'Er! Nice suit' says I. Sensing the real question behind my comment the Bishop slid smoothly into deflection mode. 'Yes' he replied 'it is lined with depleted uranium'.

I concentrated so much on keeping away from him that it was two days before I realised that the 'dry little project' was a kilometre of flooded, CO2-saturated passage which would have been described as disintegrating had not the roof been coming down in 6' by 8' slabs.

When Millington 'phoned to say that he had a free villa in Spain and could arrange a cheap flight I accepted. I accepted because I did not know that it was the Bishop's villa. I accepted because I did not know that caving was involved. I accepted because, at the time, I was trapped in a bedroom in the North of Scotland with two not entirely sane Scotsmen who were doing unmentionable things to a tricycle. I'm still not convinced that they were actually trying to repair it.

So, by the time I realise that the Bishop and his cohorts are involved we're hurtling around Bilbao looking for the way out, but I do not worry. This is Spain. It has beaches. It has pubs. It has chip shops. What could possibly go wrong?

Two hours later we stop. I survey the scenery in disbelief.

'What,' I enquire, 'is this?'

'This,' says the Bishop, 'is Matienzo.'

Far below me is a valley. Rivers appear and disappear. There are cliffs with holes in. There are mountains with holes in. Egyptian vultures circle on updraughts from gaping shafts. In desperation I scan the horizon. There is no solace, no relief, nothing for hundreds of square miles but pure, white limestone.

The Bishop takes us on an 'orientation drive'. I refuse to leave the car. This does not matter as he drives the car into 'a bit of a sink' or 'a little rising' or 'could be an interesting dig'. I do not need comments such as 'should have got something with double headlights' to know that these are definitely not real caves.

That night the Bishop appears to sense my insecurity and takes great pains to introduce me to some of the locals in the bar. Anxious to appear friendly I ask him how to respond to personal questions. When one moustachioed gentleman rubs my baldy head and says 'leetle wifey?' I'm ready with the appropriate response 'tengo esposo' (I have a wife). 'EsposO?' says he, moustache all aquiver, 'si' says I, now quite the linguist. 'E mee too, geev mi alto cinco' he says.

I give him a high five but he continues to hold my hand and indicates that I should sit on his knee. I look around. The Bishop, apparently tired by his guiding duties, has retired for the night.

It is difficult to summarise the next few days. The Bishop gets annoyed because I cannot walk across the fell without stumbling onto some new shaft or rift. Underground he has only seven people to hold flashes for his photography and is reduced to 'shooting in little corners where the columns are barely sixty feet high'.

One night I order a small starter to my meal and am presented with a 2' diameter enamel bowl containing what seems to be a mega Lancashire Hot-pot complete with sausages, whole black puddings and very large lumps of pig.

For the main course I order one lamb chop. What is deposited in front of me does not look like one lamb chop. I look at it. It looks at me. Then it says 'Baaa'!

I spot a bottle of Glenmorangie in one bar but when I request a tot I'm presented with half-a-pint of the stuff and a bill for 10p. When I ask the Bishop how to order the correct volume he says 'Just ask for 'veinte canas y quatro chicas calientes' but I must be mispronouncing it because I still can't get a normal drink.

We've found some nice stuff in the Dales. There's still some more to find. We found some stuff in Matienzo but the biggest discovery for me was that I've been a total dick-head and, moustaches or not, I'm going back there in April.


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