• BCA Council Elections

    Voting is now open for positions on BCA Council. Emails have been sent out but may have gone to spam – if you haven’t received yours, please check your spam folder.

    Click here for more

Book review of A Series of Small Passages by Graham Proudlove


New member
A Review of ?A Series of Short Passages: Reminiscences, Reflections and Ruminations from a caving life? by Graham S. Proudlove

This is a beautifully presented, hilarious, detailed and at times poignant recollection of underground adventures, escapades and epics over Graham?s 50 years (so far) of caving. It consists of 50 short chapters, each about 1000 words long (?to have enough words to tell the tale but not get bogged down in detail?) and covers a wide range of topics from desperate caving trips, to enlightening commentaries on how the sport has transformed in half a century to surprisingly interesting explanations about cave fish! Graham is a biologist of some renown. It is all delivered in a humble, humorous and self-deprecating style which I found endearing especially as he is clearly a very experienced, bold and highly competent caver (and cave diver).

After many years and much encouragement, the book was finally finished and what a delight it is to read. It would have been a terrible shame if all that writing had never seen the light of day and given hours of amusement and pleasure to anyone with an interest in adventure, and particularly to any cavers or nearly ex-cavers like me.

It is illustrated with beautiful photographs and a touching addition is a commemoration of the people Graham knew, or knew of, through his years as a caver who are sadly no longer here. They all had a significant influence on him and there are unfortunately several of them.

It is hard to pick out my favourite sections as there are so many to choose from. Here are just a few. The book starts with a passage called ?56 reasons for giving up caving? about a particularly challenging, deep and awkward cave called Sima 56 in the Picos mountains of northern Spain. With classic caver?s understatement, Graham describes his trip underground with all the epics and mishaps encountered and ends with a commemoration to Dave Checkley who was one of the keenest, hardest cavers and who was largely responsible for exploring Sima 56 and encouraging Graham to ?enjoy? it!

There are several chapters about cave diving exploits in both the UK and the Bahamas. With genuine and characteristic self-deprecation, Graham describes his role on a cave diving trip in Yorkshire called ?A poor and unprofessional performance?. ?I had blathered my way onto the trip, though I have no idea now why I did this. This was not to be a good move. The night before I trained by not going to the Crown in Horton. This was probably a bad move as I didn?t sleep a wink without the usual quantity of sleeping lotion?.. Plopping into the water I was soon flippering my way towards the distant air space with my left hand closely round the line. Because this particular sump was a bit longer, a good bit longer in fact, than any previous one, the flippering also went on for longer, and longer and longer, and became the prime reason for my poor and particularly unprofessional performance. The further I flippered into the sump, the further I got from the entrance and, even though I was travelling towards air space, and air space more quickly gained by this point than by turning around, I just lost it ? entirely. I turned tail and fled as fast as I could flee, the flippering being less than controlled, a lot less. I suspect that I resembled nothing short of a Polaris missile as I surfaced back at the Lake some minutes later.?  It is refreshingly honest and incredibly funny.

Perhaps the passage which caused me to laugh out loud throughout its length and sums up caving perfectly with all its customs and practices, inherent pleasures and eccentricities is ?The average caver?s day?. You just have to read it!

All in all this is one of the most enjoyable books I have read for a long time. Of course the content is interesting to me as I have been caving for nearly 40 years but it is the magnificent, witty and truly wonderful style of writing that impresses me the most.

Katherine Jones
3 November 2021