Author Topic: The new BCA newsletter  (Read 1717 times)

Offline Andy Sparrow

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The new BCA newsletter
« on: July 10, 2019, 11:14:35 am »
Clearly a great deal of time, effort and money has been put into the production of the new BCA newsletter.  I'd like to say well done, what a fine publication, good work everybody. I'd like to but I can't.  What I'm actually thinking is what a total waste of time and resources.  I've seen plenty of dull caving publications but this plumbs new depths.  What are we offered? A series of articles that are mind numbingly dull.  I tried to wade though the editorial, did my best with 2019 AGM, made a valiant attempt to engage with Students, Young People and the Future of Caving, but had by that point I had lost the will to live.  And when it comes to young people - is this publication going to enthrall them? Even dye hard old timers with an interest in caving issues will struggle to wade through it. 

If you want to produce a publication that will be read and inspire cavers make it useful.  Useful means articles about caves and classic trips. It means rigging topos, it means surveys.  It means equipment and techniques.  Most cavers don't give a crap about the BCA AGM or how a load of students spent a weekend getting pissed.  They want to go caving and they want information that helps them go caving.  I realise that any caving magazine depends upon contributions but just possibly if you ask people to write about what excites and inspires them you might get some articles that people will actually want to read, and which will encourage them to get underground.
Andy Sparrow



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Offline David Rose

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Re: The new BCA newsletter
« Reply #2 on: July 10, 2019, 11:33:06 am »
Andy, the publication you're describing already exists. It's called Descent, and indeed, it's excellent. I have subscribed to it for many years, and I urge all cavers to do the same. I look forward eagerly to receiving each issue, and sometimes I write for it. Chris Howes and Judith Calford work on it for many hours each issue, and make some money from it (I suspect not much). I think they do a fantastic job, for which the whole caving community should be grateful, and I've said so on this forum more than once.

However, I don't think it should be the place of the BCA Newsletter to compete with it. That's not what it's for: its main role is to keep members abreast of what's happening in the association. It's basically about administration, you could say, not exploration or classic trips, and I can quite see why you might feel that inherently, this is a duller subject. Nevertheless, members have a right to be informed about what the BCA does. Sometimes I have run articles which go a bit beyond this. But not by much. Rob Watson's piece in the current issue is an example.

This issue does indeed look much more professional, and for this, thanks are due to BCA secretary Matt Ewles. I'm sorry the content hasn't excited you. But please do feel free to write something for the next issue, if you can keep yourself from nodding off.

Offline Pegasus

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Re: The new BCA newsletter
« Reply #3 on: July 10, 2019, 11:37:20 am »
Well said, David

Offline Andy Sparrow

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Re: The new BCA newsletter
« Reply #4 on: July 10, 2019, 11:59:01 am »
What is the point of BCA using precious resources to produce a newsletter that almost nobody will bother to read?  The content of this newsletter could be posted online for those who are interested and it would cost nothing. 

I'm sorry, David, but Descent isn't the publication that British caving needs - it's very well produced but very little of its content is actually useful  for the active caver.  We used to sell Descent in our shop, or at least tried to.  There was very little in it that appealed to active cavers.

BCA used sent us a few free copies of the previous incarnation of the journal to distribute from our shop.  We tried, we put them out, the customers would flick through, but they always eventually went in the bin. 

Cavers want information!  Descent ran a short lived series of articles back in the 80s on 'classic caving' starting with the Greater Easegill Traverse.  I read and reread that article and 20 years later I did the trip because of the article.   Cavers want surveys, they want topos, they want something they can file away and put to use one day.  That isn't Descent, and it's certainly not the BCA newsletter.
Andy Sparrow



Offline David Rose

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Re: The new BCA newsletter
« Reply #5 on: July 10, 2019, 12:14:07 pm »
Almost all copies of the newsletter are read online. As an innovation, because the format is suitable, Matt has kindly arranged to print a small number for distribution to clubs and other bodies. I think the total is 100, so the resources involved are not great. 

I would be interested to know whether other forum readers share Andy's view of the newsletter. So far, in the two years I've been editing it, I've had very positive feedback, but maybe that's because people who don't like it or find it deadly boring generally keep this to themselves.

So now is their chance to make their opinions known.

Do we need a total re-think (which is what Andy is implying)? I'm afraid if the general view is you want lots of articles about classic trips, the BCA will have to find another editor, because compiling this sort of thing and doing it well with surveys and photos takes too much time for a newsletter run by volunteers - at least it would for this one.

Offline GarDouth

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Re: The new BCA newsletter
« Reply #6 on: July 10, 2019, 12:23:23 pm »
A few facts about the newsletter...
  • The newsletter is also online on the BCA website.
  • It did not cost a lot of money.
  • It did not take a lot of time (people are happy to give their time).
  • Not everyone can or wants to read online documents.
  • The BCA has received a huge amount of positive feedback about it.
  • Some people will find some or all articles dull.
  • Some people will find some or all articles very informative.
  • No one is forced to read it.
  • If hard copies have been received and are not wanted; contact the secretary and they will not be sent to you in the future (as the cover letter states).

If anyone would like to see different content, please feel free to submit your articles it to the newsletter editor (newsletter@british-caving.org.uk). The newsletter will be as good as those that provide the content.
« Last Edit: July 10, 2019, 12:32:40 pm by gardouth »
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Offline Pegasus

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Re: The new BCA newsletter
« Reply #7 on: July 10, 2019, 12:44:18 pm »
Tim went to a LAF meeting earlier this week (Local Access Forum I believe).

He was able to take copies of the newsletter to give to members of the BMC for their HQ and to staff at the Yorkshire Dales National Park.  These copies will reach people who I doubt would read an online version.

Copies are also in Inglesport for reading over a brew and butty and are being sent to caving huts etc.  Time will tell if these hard copies help to increase awareness of what BCA is doing on behalf of its members.  Time will also tell if recent efforts by volunteers to change many other aspects of BCA will improve its standing within the caving community and beyond.

I agree, it would be great to have a second caving publication to appeal to younger, active cavers as Andy suggests, however the fact is, in this modern digital age there is just no way a new publication will be launched commercially as it wouldn't survive, or by the BCA as there simply isn't the volunteer capacity available to edit it - and it would cost considerable more than a few printed newsletters. Cavers are moving online more and more, it's where many they get their information and inspiration.  However, I do believe there is also a place for the printed word - maybe sometimes it's just more pleasant reading a hard copy over a cuppa in a club common room that an online copy on a screen.  Why books survive despite e-readers ....


Offline andrewmc

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Re: The new BCA newsletter
« Reply #8 on: July 10, 2019, 12:47:21 pm »
Cavers want information!  Descent ran a short lived series of articles back in the 80s on 'classic caving' starting with the Greater Easegill Traverse.  I read and reread that article and 20 years later I did the trip because of the article.   Cavers want surveys, they want topos, they want something they can file away and put to use one day.  That isn't Descent, and it's certainly not the BCA newsletter.

The problem with putting information like surveys and topos in a newsletter is that a newsletter is transient. It is, after all, supposed to include news. I always get annoyed when I find a reference for a cave survey or topo in 'Descent 163', 'XYZ Club Journal 342' (for the clubs that haven't put theirs online) or whatever. I know club libraries are a thing for some people, but the only club library I currently have access to is 4+ hours away (I could probably get access to the one 25 minute away, but it's additional faff in my life). The best place for topos and surveys was in the regional/area guidebooks and now on the web _in an organized fashion_ like the CNCC site, not buried somewhere in a newsletter (not that the newsletter couldn't include this information via a link).

I'm sure David would be extremely keen to receive well-written articles giving ideas and descriptions for caving trips, but that would be a 'bonus feature' on top of what should be news about the BCA.

Separately, I'm sure the P&I officer would be very glad to hear that someone was happy to take on the work of restarting a non-commercial caving publication with a wider theme than the newsletter. I'm not sure the BCA would need to be involved though? I guess people already have in some sense - in the form of this forum and both DBs...

Offline JasonC

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Re: The new BCA newsletter
« Reply #9 on: July 10, 2019, 02:59:15 pm »

Cavers want information!  Descent ran a short lived series of articles back in the 80s on 'classic caving' starting with the Greater Easegill Traverse.  I read and reread that article and 20 years later I did the trip because of the article.   Cavers want surveys, they want topos, they want something they can file away and put to use one day.  That isn't Descent, and it's certainly not the BCA newsletter.

I would suggest that this sort of thing is now available on this very forum (and elsewhere online).  I've certainly done a couple of trips that I hadn't considered or didn't know about as a result of reading postings here.

Times move on, and I wouldn't look to BCA to provide the sort of information you're talking about these days.

Offline BCA Secretary

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Re: The new BCA newsletter
« Reply #10 on: July 10, 2019, 03:03:25 pm »
What a total kick in the b*llocks this thread is for us!

The BCA newsletter is designed not to broadcast general caving news. As David has already pointed out, we have Descent for that and Chris and Judith do a much better job at broadcasting discoveries, surveys, expedition reports, book/gear reviews etc than the BCA ever could or would ever wish to (and long may that continue). The BCA newsletter is designed mainly to show our 6000+ members what the organisation (and some of it's constituent bodies) are doing to benefit caving and cavers nationally. Unless everyone is just being too polite, then yours, Andy, is the only major negative feedback received.

Agreed; not everyone wants to read about the AGM; not everyone cares; but lots of people do care so shouldn't we provide a simple and accessible means for those people to find such things out?

I think your summary of Rob/David's articles as being 'about a load of students getting pissed' shows your total ignorance of the subject i.e. about the excellent efforts by CHECC and the BCA Y&D team to get more young people involved in caving particularly through university clubs. As someone who got into caving through a university club, reading Rob's article made me feel pretty encouraged about the future of student caving. Clearly you have totally missed the point.

Andy, I assume you won't be wanting future copies posted to CaveClimb then? As you say, no point wasting BCA resource :lol:

Offline Martin Laverty

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Re: The new BCA newsletter
« Reply #11 on: July 10, 2019, 03:37:08 pm »
The BCA newsletter may 'not be designed to broadcast general caving news' but it would surely be more widely and read and appreciated if it were to publish more on the doings of its more active members than of its bureaucracy.

Thinking back to the heyday of the BCRA Bulletin and its successors (Caves and Caving, Speleology), they provided valued companions to Descent as publications of record which can still largely be read with interest. One particular area that I feel is lacking nowadays is in expedition reporting. Tens of expeditions apply annually for Ghar Parau support, but few get reported in Descent. Indeed, quite a few don't appear to report back at all (eg majority of recent Picos and  Mulu expeditions on http://www.gharparau.org.uk/map_beta.php to pick two of personal interest), albeit they might put something on a website somewhere (but only until interest wanes). The BCA newsletter could provide space for at least summary reports and links to the detailed reports which should surely have been made. And no, these reports don't seem to get deposited in the British Caving Library either...

Offline Jack Hare

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Re: The new BCA newsletter
« Reply #12 on: July 10, 2019, 04:01:40 pm »
The question is, who is writing these reports? I'm sure everything thinks it would be great to have more articles of discovery, exploration and derring-do in Descent (or the BCA newsletter). But someone has to write them and send them in! The absence of "exciting" content is not the fault of the editors. David asked for contributions, and published what he got.

Maybe the presence of the new shiny BCA newsletter in various shops, cafes and clubs will remind people to write and send in articles? They certainly wouldn't do that if they were unaware of the existence of the BCA news letter.

Offline Jenny P

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Re: The new BCA newsletter
« Reply #13 on: July 10, 2019, 04:07:19 pm »
The idea of producing summary reports of expeditions in the BCA Newsletter is an excellent one - even better if links to the detailed reports (where they exist) are provided.

There is a deal of extremely useful information in this Newsletter, particularly about the new insurance initiatives and I know some of my active caving friends have already taken advantage of this.  It's also worth having brief items about some of the issues re. regional access because cavers from outside the region may not be aware.  As has been said, the whole idea is to make this available as an online publication for individual members of BCA to read for themselves - the printed copies for club libraries (and for BCL) are a bonus which is very welcome.

Don't be too sure that cavers aren't bothered about reading all the "political" stuff either.  A few printed copies left around at a Club HQ last weekend were passed around and commented upon - so at least the individual members get to know what's been done in their name.  Surely that's a positive thing isn't it?

This is the first of the really new-style BCA Newsletters and David Rose and Co. have done a great job so let's welcome this and, instead of griping about it, send in your own contributions on the things which you'd like to read about.




Offline Badlad

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Re: The new BCA newsletter
« Reply #14 on: July 10, 2019, 04:13:17 pm »
Andy hasn't got much support for his comments and they shouldn't put anyone off trying to make improvements.  Most of us realise just how difficult it is to produce that sort of publication either by volunteers or commercially so well done to those involved.  In any case this is the newsletter of the BCA and offers news about the organisation most of us are members of.  The second posting above shows a link to David asking for contributions without too much response I'll bet.  I'm sure Dave will be keenly awaiting your inspiring and action filled articles for the next edition.

This edition of the BCA newsletter is much better than any of those before it (in the last five years for sure).  Always available on line this time with a few hard copies to send around club huts and cafes just in case anyone is bored enough to accidentally read it  ;)  I see it as a big improvement and an indication of more positive direction for BCA.

The publication Andy describes in his OP does not exist.  It would be great if it did.  Descent isn't read by many young cavers and lacks the classic trip reports and articles on basic techniques which would interest them.  I remember the late Dave Elliot writing a series of articles on basic caving techniques and a progressive approach to SRT in the classic systems.  He was vilified in the letters pages and pub talk of the time so you really can't please all the people any of the time.

We very much try to encourage people to use this forum to post about their trips/foreign holidays/expeditions but it is not easy to get folk to deliver.  Hats off to anyone who does either here of for any other outlet.  :thumbsup:

Offline David Rose

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Re: The new BCA newsletter
« Reply #15 on: July 10, 2019, 05:05:00 pm »
I must say, I've got generally thick skin, so if Andy found the newsletter 'plumbed new depths', I can cope with it, but the one bit I did object to in his post was his disparaging remarks about the the articles about students and young people caving by Rob Watson and Dave Botcherby. I thought they were just great - and showed that the moans we often hear about how caving is becoming an old timers' sport are misplaced. And it's also clear that the BCA has been doing great work in helping to get once-defunct clubs off the ground, with enormously positive results.   
« Last Edit: July 10, 2019, 05:18:47 pm by David Rose »

Offline Martin Laverty

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Re: The new BCA newsletter
« Reply #16 on: July 10, 2019, 05:16:37 pm »
The question is, who is writing these reports?

The answer would appear to be that too many expeditions are being treated as holidays and failing to produce reports of any substance. It certainly used to be a condition of grant aid that written reports would be produced for posterity: it should still be, but who is policing this and ensuring that the results are, and will continue to be, easily available?

Self-supported expeditions are a different matter but, as with discovering caves, to what extent do they count without a report and surveys?

Offline langcliffe

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Re: The new BCA newsletter
« Reply #17 on: July 10, 2019, 05:35:13 pm »
Speaking as an officially registered Old Fart, I would like to say that I read the latest BCA Newsletter, and I found it interesting and beautifully produced.

Personally, I want to know what the various caving organizations are doing on our behalf, and I believe that it is important that we have effective communication to prevent the feeling of alienation that has prevailed in the past.

Well done, Guys. Keep up the Good Work.

Offline Big Bad Botch

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Re: The new BCA newsletter
« Reply #18 on: July 11, 2019, 08:11:48 am »
I'm glad to see our articles are receiving some attention  :lol:

As young people it's our job to break stereotypes and show that we can be just as boring as any old fart

Offline Andy Sparrow

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Re: The new BCA newsletter
« Reply #19 on: July 13, 2019, 02:01:01 pm »
Please let me clarify that my reference to 'pissed students' was not intended to refer to the article by Rob Watson.  It was actually a rather clumsy reference to various articles that have appeared in Descent Magazine over the years.  For that misunderstanding I apologise but as far as my other comments go I'm not budging an inch.

The BCA represents people who have an interest in caves and caving.  BCA membership is now effectively a requirement of caving club membership and cavers' attitude to this reality is variable.  There are some who take an active interest in the issues confronting BCA, there are those who accept that BCA does an essential job but are really not interested in the issues, and there are those with a hostility to the BCA who consider it to be a bureaucratic irrelevance they would prefer to be without.  Those in the latter group may well look at the contents of the BCA newsletter and consider it a validation of their views.  In that respect it's really not great PR for an organisation that has some chronic PR problems.

Here is the contents list of the newsletter:

2019 BCA AGM
New BCA logo
BCA Democracy:  Upcoming membership balance
New guide to Mid West Ireland
Students, young people and the future of caving
CNCC & DCA reports
On becoming BCA secretary – an agenda for reform
Hidden earth 2019 & Cavefest
Scoff's posthumous memoir
Expedition and holiday insurance cover
Personal accident insurance
Pulley-jammer combo risks

What is there in this list that is of practical use to an active caver?  There's some regional news (one page), one or two forthcoming events (not quite a page worth) and a half page on pulley-jammers.  The book reviews may be of interest, but most of the 12 are pages are dedicated to administration and bureaucracy.  Now please don't get me wrong – I'm very much in the group who appreciates that BCA does essential work on our behalf, and I want to be able to get on the website and read all the relevant stuff.  I'm happy to accept that it's appropriate to include some of these issues in the BCA newsletter – but not to this extent.   What a different impression this publication would have if it predominantly contained information that an active caver would find useful and relevant to them.  Such articles might include:

National and regional news pertaining directly to specific caves.
Classic UK cave/trip descriptions and surveys.
SRT rigging topos.
European cave classics – description, survey and useful info.
Techniques including topics like ropework, navigation, hazard awareness.
Equipment reviews and comparison.

The argument has been presented that it's all fine because this type of stuff is comprehensively covered in Descent magazine.  But actually it isn't, and you'll find very few articles in Descent that correspond to my personal wish list.  This is because Descent magazine does not commission articles but relies entirely on what is contributed.   What people are inclined to write is usually concerned with their own projects so we get, for example, quite a few digging and foreign expedition reports some of which are interesting, but they cannot be described as useful.  We used to stock in Descent in our caving shop and I can testify that it's very, very hard to sell to younger active cavers.  I would also have to testify that the free copies of BCA journals we were sent were impossible to even give away.

My friends will testify that I have been banging about the content of Descent and previous NCA/BCA journals for years.  About 15 years ago I came quite close to publishing one-off journal simply as an example of what I believed would have caver appeal, and that might possibly have some influence on the evolution of our nationally targeted caving publications. 

Descent is an impeccably produced publication but based on what I know of its circulation I think it's probably accurate to say that 75% of BCA members do not subscribe to it.  It will be argued, of course, that the new generation of cavers have a cultural connection to the online world rather than traditional publications.  There may be some truth in this, but the usefulness and relevance of the content has to be a factor too.
Andy Sparrow



Offline droid

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Re: The new BCA newsletter
« Reply #20 on: July 13, 2019, 02:54:09 pm »
Andy's main point is, I think, that the 'Committee stuff' vs. 'explanatory/information/exploration stuff' is too biased towards the former.

As someone whose interest in 'Committee stuff' is about the same level as my interest in amputating my own toes, I agree with this.

BCA members need to be told what the various parts of the CA are doing on their behalf. I understand this. But it should be as abbreviated as possible and replaced by ongoing exploration reports, regional news, access arrangements etc.

If that means that funding comes with the caveat that reports are mandatory, then that in my opinion is fair exchange.


The newsletter is well writtem and presented. It's the content that needs changing and two people (David and Jane) can't do that on their own.
No longer 'Exceptionally antagonistic' 'Deliberately inflammatory'

Offline David Rose

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Re: The new BCA newsletter
« Reply #21 on: July 13, 2019, 04:17:26 pm »
A publication that contained more than a fraction of Andy's wish-list would not be a newsletter - of which the current issue is probably the longest ever. It would be a professional, quite thick magazine.

NSS News in America does do something like this, though the quality, in my view, is very variable. However, it employs a full-time editor, for whom this is a proper job. Of course the NSS is a bigger organisation than the BCA, and it has the funds to reflect this. Its website says it has 12,000 members, paying a $40 (£32) annual subscription, ie an income of £384,000 a year.

The BCA may be relatively rich (it's said to have around £250,000 in the bank) but I have an inkling that its membership would not like to fund me or anyone else to produce a publication of the type Andy wants.

There is simply no way that a newsletter run by volunteers is ever going to reach this level, and frankly, it should not aspire to.

I suggest, Andy, you make your thoughts known to Chris Howes, and offer to write some articles which demonstrate what you would like to read, with photographs to accompany them. And stop grumbling.The BCA is trying to be forward-thinking and innovative. Complaining it can't do what's possible within its limited resources is distinctly unhelpful.

Offline Martin Laverty

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Re: The new BCA newsletter
« Reply #22 on: July 13, 2019, 06:30:27 pm »
I think Andy is indeed asking for more than just a newsletter and I'm not sure why this could not be produced nowadays, unless it is on an insistence that it should be about the machinations of the BCA rather than the activities and interests of its members.

For half a century British Caving associations (CRG and BSA, then BCRA) produced increasingly professional publications - see http://bcra.org.uk/pub/candc/index.html and http://bcra.org.uk/pub/speleology/catalogue.html for the contents of the latter issues - and the still BCRA produces the more specialist, yet accessible, Cave & Karst Science - http://bcra.org.uk/pub/candks/covers.html, while special interest groups also publish more or less regularly - http://bcra.org.uk/pub/search/search_s.html. I think the BCA should at least aspire to produce something like we have seen before...




Offline AdrianTurner

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Re: The new BCA newsletter
« Reply #23 on: July 13, 2019, 08:48:44 pm »
Andy, droid and Martin, a gentle reminder that the BCA is staffed by volunteers, and you are essentially asking them to do more work. Your ideas do sound like would have merit and I'm sure they would make an interesting publication, would you be willing to make this happen? I'm sure the BCA would strongly support you to produce such a publication, but it needs people to stand up and say they are willing to get involved and do something, rather than just offering ideas to already busy people.

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Offline Cap'n Chris

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Re: The new BCA newsletter
« Reply #24 on: July 13, 2019, 08:49:26 pm »
My friends will testify that I have been banging about the content of Descent and previous NCA/BCA journals for years. 

Indeed he has and it was always faultlessly well considered and eminently sensible.

The BCA may be relatively rich (it's said to have around £250,000 in the bank) but I have an inkling that its membership would not like to fund me or anyone else to produce a publication of the type Andy wants.

I'd be over the moon if it at least did a trial version to see how it went. It could cost £5,000, having been farmed out to some professional quality (paid) writers and still leave the BCA with £245,000. If cavers are so gradgrindingly tight that such a suggestion (and it doesn't have to be £5K, it could be more, or less) dies in silence then we'll have to see how other motivational innovations pan out. Remember folks,... if something is worth having it's worth paying for.
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Meanwhile, here's a link for my no.1 fan and fawning trollyshadow so it doesn't have to type the same old same old: https://www.simplyrecipes.com/recipes/classic_buttermilk_waffles/