I've been meaning to write something down for a while, but haven't been in the right place. This felt like the best time to do it.
Way back 2010-2011 there was a forum called Yorkshire Divers, I was advised by Martyn Farr to seek out some people that may be interested in joining me on a Cavern Course. Like UKC, there was a Cave Diving section and amongst the numerous posts were mentions of things called a Scoff bag...
I had no idea at the time that this actually related to a person, but at the time, a Scoff bag was the only decent way of adding some buoyancy to the proceedings for folks that couldn't use a wing/BCD for the type of diving they were doing. The Scoff bag predated the sidemount wings from the likes of XDeep and Apeks that folks can buy today.
Roll on 2 years and I was invited to a CDG open day at the Cave Rescue organisation in Clapham - I hadn't been down a cave in my life at this point. Nobody there knew me so I hid in a corner and watched with awe and admiration the presentations folks gave on making equipment, rescue equipment and procedures, pictures of amazing potholes (large vertical pieces of cave) etc etc. One of those talks was from Scoff - it was here that I found out it/he was actually a person. He was talking about things that he had made:
1) Bog pipe belays (silt screws)
2) Arm mounted slates
3) Scoff bags
4) The Bog-0-zep (as used in exploration of the Doux de Coly)
He spoke about larks footing and all sorts of other "stuff" I had no knowledge of, it was all fascinating, but here was a clever, inventive man in his element, generously sharing with others (freely) things that he had done, laughing (at himself) on some of the crapper items (but pointing out ways he could make them better).
Now, some folks in the room were (and still are) world class explorers, rescue personnel, people with a lot of high end caving experience. I on the other hand was a baked potatoe with eyes (a few years later and I have got to know some of them and they are a great bunch who would help you out at the drop of a hat) - I knew nothing about larks footing so waited till the end and then went over to Scoff and asked him. He couldn't have been nicer or more welcoming. He cleared his table and went into detail, had a good chat and just generally made me feel a lot less stupid than I had done when I'd entered the room.
I got the opportunity to go caving with a few people and really enjoyed it. One of the best trips I have been on was one with Scoff and his friend to Alum Pot - a spectacular place, open air pots, misty waterfalls with the sun pouring in, just fantastic. I wasn't a CDG member at the time but here I was going caving with the Chairman of the CDG and the Northern Section examiner, it was a great day and Scoff's love for this place shone through, it was one of the best days I've ever had. I was made very welcome, and had a great day. I became a member of the BPC (Bradford Pothole Club) and went caving and diving whenever I could.
Scoff was (one of) my proposer(s) for the CDG and became my mentor. He had an uncanny ability to know what you were thinking and could get you feeling better/at ease almost immediately, no matter what was going on in your life. My father had worked shifts when I was young and so there was perhaps a bit of a space for a father figure in my life - I definitely looked upon him as someone I could trust and have happy memories of him talking about rubbing his face with "a lovely meat pie" or the story of the floor sweeping robot that smeared dogshit all over a wooden floor...amongst many other excellent tales.
The news that Scoff had cancer hit me hard - as it did to everybody that knew and loved him.
He lived his life to the fullest (as he had always done), going to Australia, kayaking and visiting places he wanted to go to "one last time" - some people never get that chance and so for that I am grateful.
The last time I saw him was when I was with my daughter down Gaping Ghyll/Gill, we were in the main entrance chamber. He was with a group of his friends showing them around, I waved over and he waved back. I went to see him above ground later on (there is a camp site above ground) but he was in his tent fast asleep (the walk round the chamber had taken it out of him). So I never got to say thanks, which is a bitter pill to swallow I can tell you, but perhaps that is best. A memory of him in a place he loved, in his element.
I had gone to see him a few weeks previously and he gave me a few of his favourite books, ones that "if there was a fire in his house, bar his wife he would rush in to save" it was everything I could do to not blub right there and then in the face of such strength, bravery and humility. These are now my treasured possessions.
A week after he died, one of my other friends died of lung cancer and then another friend took his own life - all of which knocked me for six, but I vowed that from then on I would try and think what would Scoff do. He'd treat everyone with respect, show kindness to strangers and be a more welcoming person.
Thanks to him (and a few others) I've been able to see some incredible places, do some incredible things (abseil down 120m pitches, dive through multiple sumps), dive in Wookey Hole, the famous sites in France and (the latest one) follow in his footsteps (flippers ?) being a support diver at Pozo Azul. I remember him talking about gliding through the first sump on a scooter with 2 others ahead of him, I vowed that I would go there no matter what it took. There was a lot of work to be done in a week, transporting (large) scooters, preparing habitats, placing decompression bottles...so I hope I've done his proposal justice from all those years ago. I tried my best.
This has been some quite personal and private thoughts, but I needed to write them down. Some folks on here will know who I am - and that is fine, I would do anything for them and I know they would do the same.
For everyone else, you have no idea the power you have to make someone else's day that wee bit better - until you give it a try.
So that's it from me, thanks for making it this far.
Give it a try!
And to Scoff - if by some miracle you can read this...
Thanks for being my friend, thanks for the gentle encouragement, the chocolate biscuits and the laughs - you are a class act and sorely missed by me (and hundreds of other people). Thanks!