Monday, October 23, 2006


Watching Lawrence of Arabia many people particularly remember the scene where Peter O'Toole rides back into the worst desert in the world, rescues the poor Arab who fell off his camel (they never explain how he failed to wake up when he hit the ground!), and rides back to the astonishment of his Arab friends. Very entertaining since most of us have never been lost in a desert or so thirsty that we were about to die. Most of us.

Kids do crazy things. Some of the crazy things we did as kids make me wonder how I ever made it to adulthood. Particularly, we liked to “play” in the man-made limestone caves left behind after mining operations had moved on to another, newer part of the mine. Check out:

For some reason this was a popular past-time in the summer. Probably because it was very cool in the mine – compared to the 90 degrees plus outside. So, off we would go. We weren't completely stupid – just mostly, so we would take acetylene lamps for light. Once you were in the mine they were essential as there was no light. I mean no light as in no “hand in front of your face” light! The lamps were essential, but had only a limited life-span. The key point was that mining operations were still going on. Therefore, large trucks were constantly going through the mine and loading up with limestone before making their way back. It was imperative that the truck divers did not see you. Even though we were stupid – we knew we weren't supposed to be playing in a mine. The danger, as we foolishly perceived it, was that we would be “discovered” in the mine by the workers and get into trouble.

Of course, we were too clever for this. Timing our entrance to the mine so that we would be well inside before the next truck appeared was not difficult. They ran in about ten minute cycles. Having got in we were free to wander around the disused portion of the mine with only the rumble of the distant trucks to disturb the tranquility. For some unknown reason we did not even see this as particularly dangerous. Our only concern was not to get caught by the mine workers. It was easy to get lost. After you left the well- traveled road the trucks used, the rest of the mine looked exactly like every other part. Good thing we had our lights as after wandering about for a while we would eventually get bored and want to get out. The key was being able to establish by hearing alone the direction the trucks were coming from. Then we could follow the sound to the road and make our way out of the mine in the gap between trucks. Challenging, but not too difficult.

Inevitably, one day we got well and truly lost. And, as luck would have it, we were short of the calcium carbide pellets essential to power the acetylene lamps. When the lights failed we would have to wander about in the pitch dark until we could locate the trucks by hearing only. If we did get close enough, we would see their headlights – if not we were stuck. I don't think we panicked. We should have, but we didn't. Some confusion was caused when some thought the sound of the trucks was coming from the left – and others from the right. It took a long time but (as you may well guess otherwise I would not be writing this now!) eventually we spotted a truck, homed in on its headlamps and found the road. Still dodging the trucks at ten minute intervals we made it to the entrance and got out. Maybe by then we were scared enough to realise the stupidity of our actions.

What I remember most is being thirsty. Very thirsty. More thirsty than I have ever been. We walked down the road looking for somewhere to get a drink. Any drink. Eventually we found a small store and bought an RC Cola with the only money we had. Never has a drink tasted so good – even though we had to share it and were still very thirsty when it was gone.

I don't think we ever went back into the mine. Evolutionarily speaking we were winners. I'm sure some kids have died in very similar circumstances. The Arabian camel rescue courtesy of T.E. Lawrence still makes me cringe.

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