Instant expert: Caving

October 1, 2004

Our new monthly guide to conferences taking place around the world.

Conference: National caving conference and exhibition, "Hidden Earth 2004", Kendal, Cumbria October 1-3

What's it about : Hundreds of cavers will gather for displays, social events, workshops, field trips and competitions in an annual event organised by the British Cave Research Association.

Intelligent-sounding question to ask : Is China the "next big thing"? Cavers, like everyone else (including British universities), are eyeing up the vast potential of China - this week will also be China Caves Week, and there will be a symposium at the conference on caving in China.

Dazzle the delegates : Ask them if they have heard the latest theory that ancient cave paintings are linked to places with a particular acoustic resonance and that the paintings could be symbolically marking places with a particular echo pattern, rather than just pictures of buffalo randomly painted on the nearest rock. Researchers have been examining native American cave art to test the theory.

What not to ask : Has anyone seen the Batcave in the new Batman movie?

Showing off : Don't call it caving, call it speleology. And if you want to further burnish your intellectual credentials, throw in a few references to the "analogy of the cave" in Plato's Republic and talk about reality and falsehood and shadows on the cave wall. In fact, make a few generalised references to Greek mythology and the underground world, and if anyone should ask any more detailed questions, change the subject quickly using the "emergency topic of conversation" below.

Emergency topic of conversation : A female potholer who was injured underground last summer was lucky enough to have had her accident near to a national convention of cave-rescue specialists. She was brought back to the surface by 70 delegates.

Conference booze and beds : There are three bars at the get-together, and last year's conference write-up proudly reported that few of the 26 beer barrels supplied had to be returned to the pub. For accommodation, take it as a warning sign that the first places flagged up for delegates are a campsite and the local youth hostel.

Most predictable jokes to avoid : Caves with funny names. It really isn't funny to make lewd suggestions using names such as Swildon's Hole and Gaping Ghyll. Really it isn't. Technical talk: Have you seen the latest asymmetrical Y-shaped lanyard with the flat-sewn webbing? No, I was too busy admiring my karabiner with a curved gate.

Conference fun and games : "National contestants, working in pairs, are required to survey a short, undulating course outside the conference building. The prizes have been worthwhile, including compasses, light sticks, Fibron tapes and free advanced surveying lessons."

How to fit in : Remember the party is called a "stomp". Enough said.

Dress code : Fluorescent caving suits. Helmet with lamp. "Hidden Earth" conference T-shirt.

What to ask the conference DJ to play : Going Underground by The Jam, Like a Rolling Stone by Bob Dylan, Tunnel of Love by Fun Boy Three, anything by Nick Cave. Or else, to show your dedication to the cause, ask for an hour-long music recording featuring real cave and cave-diving sounds, called More People Have Been to the Moon . Asking for Bat out of Hell or the theme from Batman will probably get you kicked out of the stomp.

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