Archive for August, 2014

Two Layers beneath the surface of the Earth…

Sunday, August 10th, 2014

Being a Layer is a tricky and demanding business, and not just for Caleb’s sandwich wrangler. A rigorous training programme is in place to cover every eventuality and, in preparation for our shady sponsors demanding that we obtain a long-hidden relic from an abandoned tomb (you’d be amazed how often this happens. Damn sponsors…) Paul and Neil spent a cheerful Saturday exploring the limestone mines that honeycomb the area below Wiltshire’s picturesque Box.

We quickly attached cheap head torches to builders’ hard hats and then, preparations about as half-arsed as was possible, we met up with a few of the local underground community.

Box Freestone Mines  was a source of limestone from Roman times until the 1970s, when mining finally ceased for good. Freely accessible until recently, the entrances have been gated off for safety and preservation of what is now designated a site of Special Scientific Interest.

A brief stroll through sunny woods brought us to a barred entrance in a hollow; even yards from the entrance, the change in the air temperature was palpable, bringing a chill to the summer morning.

Ducking down to scramble through the entrance we were confronted with a small chamber full of tumbled rocks, with litter and graffiti evidencing the incursions of local youths. The graffiti is a shame, as in places in the mines it obscures the writings of miners from hundreds of years ago - some official mine business, some in the same vein of its modern counterparts and some hauntingly poetic.

The survey maps of the mines, laminated A3 sheets, show the incredible extent of the tunnels. The maps have almost biological look, dendriform, resembling old biology textbook drawings, dead ends and short passages branching off longer passages that join sections of the mine. Once inside it is tremendously difficult to match the map to what you see - below ground your sense of direction is thrown off; one part of the mine looks much like another and falls have changed the layout over the years.

The ceilings are pitted with pick marks, corners indented with grooves cut by the ropes that hauled stone. There are pockets in the walls where scaffold planks were inserted and others, soot-stained, that held lamps and candles. The hardship of working down here must have been incredible.

Making your way about the passages is a demanding business - even the uncollapsed passages are uneven and damp underfoot and, in a helmet and head torch, just strolling these easy corridors needs concentration. Some parts of the mine are flanked with piles of stone too small or uneven to be worth removal, representing a hazard as they are prone to easy collapse.

Navigating the falls gives an insight into the dangers that must have accompanied the mine workers. Huge stones have fallen from the ceiling, leaving gaps to be traversed with great care. Some rock with weight on them and the noise they make brings a thrill of primal fear - an almost subsonic, percussive grinding as much felt as heard  - it is easy to imagine that sound and cracks opening in the ceiling, the panic of men trying to clear the area.

Scrambling, climbing and sliding, we travelled through the mines, stopping off to see stations where stone saws were sharpened, crane points and wells. Again, we marvelled at the physical demands placed upon the miners. After photographing some of the better-preserved mine workings, the party split, some of the more experienced cavers taking the youngsters in the group out while a small group of us tried to find the way towards a section of the tunnels pressed into military use.

At once, the incredible difficulty of navigating was apparent. There are few unambiguous reference points and it is difficult to whether the marking on the map is the tunnel in front of you without making a brief exploration. This makes progress incredibly slow.

On your own, the little cone of light in front of you is all you can see. The absolute dark is always in the periphery of your vision, as you move, it seems to follow you, as if chasing you along. It’s really quite disconcerting.

Finally, after one wrong turn too many, we abandoned the attempt to see the military tunnels for another time. After a brief stop off at The Cathedral, a huge cavern where daylight streams in through a hole in the roof, we made our way to the Back Door, crawling on our bellies to a tiny grate that released us into another little wooded dip.

As an introduction to caving, we couldn’t have been better looked after. Our guides were confident, friendly and incredibly knowledgeable. We were a little disappointed by the absence of Doug Maclure, rubber monsters and Morlocks but I assume that our guides were saving those for a subsequent expedition.

Our attempts at taking pictures were disappointing but others have made far less of a hash of it, so in lieu of our blurry efforts, take a look at http://www.mineexplorer.org.uk/boxmine.htm

The extent of the mines beneath the hill at Box is astonishing. They are a wealth of historic and scientific interest and if you’re offered the chance to visit, we would highly recommend it. If we get a chance to shoot a video down there and you fancy starring as a cannibalistic troglodyte, drop us a line…

Layers out (safe and sound!)

If you build it, they will come…apparently.(1)

Thursday, August 7th, 2014

Yes, who knew that Wayne’s world would have such an insight into the growing world of construction site fetishists?* That isn’t, however, the kind of erection that we’re here to discuss.

If you’re wondering why Layers gigs have been coming along with the regularity of solar eclipses, planetary alignments and mountain-biking messiahs, one reason** is that our attention has been somewhat diverted by the gradual construction of a physical base. The old Layers HQ had two main problems: one being that the rent and upkeep on a labyrinthine, subterranean complex accessible only by means of an extinct volcano is enormous and the other being that it was entirely imaginary. This latter issue, in particular, made it difficult to practise in.

Realising after only seven short years that something had to be done, The Layers held a series of high-level meetings and soon drawings were being shown to an illustrious assortment of investors. In retrospect, the meetings probably should have been held without the presence of alcohol and the drawings not produced by four idiots with chubby wax crayons.  It seemed clear from the contemptuous laughter and restraining orders that investment was not going to be easily secured and so plan B was put into action.

The first element of this plan was horticultural reserve translocation, which was a bit of a mouthful and so was shortened to HRT on the briefing sheet. This lead to a bit of a misunderstanding but Roo’s feeling much better now and his voice is almost back to normal. Then, having forced Neil to simplify the briefing sheet, the band set about moving the shed, wisely waiting until near the end of the wettest period in history since the great flood. Slipping scaffolding poles beneath the structure, the boys bent their backs, lifted with all their might and, with grace and power, sank themselves knee deep into the mud. Oh well, if at first you don’t succeed, stop for a sandwich. At least that was Caleb’s suggestion. Thus refreshed, with no more effort that would be required to raise the Titanic and language befitting Malcolm Tucker getting his scrotum trapped in a mangle, the shed was moved a breathtaking fifteen feet from one side of Roo’s garden to the other.

This small endeavour having almost finished off the men known to music fans as the “fat four”, the prospect of digging out a foundation seemed on a par with starting one end of a transatlantic tunnel however, it turned out that Paul “Golden Bollard” Deacon was more than a little accomplished on the mini JCB that Roo had hired to play on while the hard work was being done. Before you could say “trench foot” the requisite patch was as flat and level as an oversized billiard table. Made from Mud. With no pockets. Look, Paul did a better job of the foundation that I did of that simile, OK?

This being an express project, a contractor was immediately taken on to lay a slab and construct a geometrically perfect frame and, in a matter of mere months, said contractor was making excuses as to why he hadn’t turned up and started the job. A few arguments later and the job was done. Well, half-done. And thoroughly cocked up.

Plan C therefore swung into action and a competent joiner was engaged to correct the creaking, timber folly. Now all that remained was external cladding, insulation, internal walls, insulating the floor and ceiling, waterproofing the roof, wiring, soundproofing, plastering, flooring, lighting, doors, windows and decoration. All simple enough jobs for appropriately qualified professionals. Unfortunately, Bodie and Doyle being unavailable, it was down to Neil and Roo - two men so ham fisted that they’ve been banned from Jewish boxing clubs***.

How would the dyspraxic duo cope with this challenge to their ingenuity? Assuming you’ve made it this far without jamming a spoon into your own eye, you’ll have to wait for part two of this blog to find out. As an added incentive, we’ll include some pictures.

Layers out (on their feet…)


* If you’ve gone off Googling this and are about to complain that there’s no such thing, then shame on you! Anyway, there probably is, you just don’t know the word for it…

**The other reasons, predictably enough, are the usual ones: laziness, incompetence, lack of ambition…

*** If you would like to complain about this or any of the jokes in Layers blogs, we wouldn’t be remotely surprised. Please address all grievances to Mr J Tarbuck c/o Chat Show, Early Eighties, Dreadful, Wilts.