The subterranean beneath us

This could be a metaphorical exercise, but in fact it is very literal: this piece is about actual caves, dark places, and frightening adventures.

I was inspired yesterday to write this after an experience I have aspired to for some months. It was very prosaic, very commonplace, and yet disorienting at the same time. We had an unexpected challenge with our water system that required somebody slim and agile enough to jump into the big 2500 litre tank, and there was no way around it except for me (newly slim, always agile) to embark on a little adventure. Fortunately, we had long ago invested in a telescoping ladder, which proved just the ticket to insert into the wide mouth of the tank (with only about a foot of ceiling clearance for access), telescoping up when inside and thereby providing a foothold as I clambered in backwards.

It was dark and gloomy inside the tank, and my grunts echoed around my head as I stood nearly knee deep in water. One of my boots started to leak. I pre-occupied myself with the task in hand: removing the jubilee clip from the broken hose, cutting it reasonably square and trim, and replacing it onto the transfer pump. All sorted, and with a bit of finessing, and the strong shoulders of kindly neighbour Chris, I clambered out, flushed with a sense of accomplishment as we pulled the de-telescoped ladder out after. Time would tell how long the repair will last, since the pre-filter downstream of the pump, once clogged, will create the same back pressure again to burst the flexi-pipe. We shall need to rinse that filter regularly, or be prepared for more tank-diving adventures.

But back indoors, I remembered another experience in a similar dark and gloomy place, deep underground in the caves of Elpha Green. It was decades ago, when our son was just a boy, and we went down surreptitiously with an experienced caver, all the right gear, into the depths. There was a very tight passage, where the only way through was to exhale deeply to collapse our chests, and then holding our breath, to wriggle along as quickly as possible to the other side. Not for the faint-hearted, I thought! We decided not to duck through the under-water passage which apparently led on to another large chamber; we were already quite cold and wet enough. When we did get through the chest-tightening passage, we turned around and headed back, our guide slithering backwards since his larger chest was no longer as flexible as it had once been, forcing him to retreat. It was definitely an experience to have had, but not something I really care all that much to repeat, to be honest. But ourBen found another exit, unbeknownst to us, and he suddenly appeared in front of us at the cave mouth. That exit has now been named, obviously, ‘Ben’s Back Passage.’ I’m sure cavers have their own particular sense of humour. We were all just relieved to get out in one piece.

Whether the adventure is in a cavernous water tank requiring a quick fix, or in a limestone cave with many dog-leg passages, or into the metaphorical subterranean regions of our subconscious, it’s good to have been there, but even better to emerge into the wonderful, soft light of day.

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