Whilst I was studying geology at the University of Hull in the late sixties, I became editor of the department’s geological journal, The Harker Geological Journal, named after the Hull-born geologist.
Getting articles written for the journal was a big challenge, and desperate for copy, I asked one of my friends from the school I had attended if he would write something.
Michael J Demaine admired the work of A A Milne, and you can see this in the way he capitalises certain words for emphasis, in the following piece he wrote for the journal whilst he was studying at the University of Newcastle.
A few words of explanation. The reference to Arthur, who leads the field trip, alludes to Arthur Holmes, another eminent geologist, who’s large tome, Principles of Physical Geology, was required reading for those studying the subject. These are the “Bibles” referred to in the text.
The Geology Field Trip
“Why not come with us?” asked Algernon, probably hoping that I wouldn’t. “You might Learn Something and you may even enjoy it”.
“IT” was a Geology field trip organised by the Local Geographical Society. They had combined, on this occasion, with the local Rambling Club, of which I was a proud member, to study something called Carboniferous Limestone. This, presumably, was the white stuff forming steps all the way up the sides of our valley. However, I had been looking forward to a nice ramble around with the usual Rambling crowd and I was more than disappointed to find that we had been infiltrated by an alien society.
Nevertheless, it was a pity to waste such a beautiful day by not going out. At least this was Something Different, something to Try Out. Anyway, it’s only for this week, I thought happily. So, I decided to go.
According to Algernon I needed a hammer, chisel, pick, map of the area and paper and pencil, “Must be pencil because ink runs” said Algernon. So, pencil it was. I gathered my stuff together and put most of it into my little “rambling” rucksack, along with some boiled egg sandwiches; and after lunch, I set off towards the village square to meet the others.
The square seemed crowded but as I got closer I saw there were only about 20 people there. Their various coloured sweaters and anoraks must have made them appear more numerous from a distance. Algernon turned as he saw me coming and suddenly stopped half way with his head twisted at an awkward angle, a look of surprise on his face. Quickly the look changed to a laugh, a loud raucous laugh, and he began pointing at me. I looked about to make sure it was really me. he meant and not to somebody who had crept up quietly behind me, but as I turned I was reassured, for all the people in the square were laughing and pointing at me, yet not me but at the pick I was swinging in my hand. “Why?”, I wondered, “It was a perfectly good pick”. It had been left to me by my gardener when he retired. He had obviously been presented with it for playing cricket at some time as the club’s initials “L.C.C.” were burned on the shaft.
However, they still laughed. Then Algernon overcame himself a little and with a bit of practise, I managed to make out the words “move a cliff” or something, amongst his fits. Then I saw the size of pick which all the others had brought and slowly I walked, without any apparent loss of dignity to the clubroom door and went inside to cry in the hall. There I left my pick until we were to come back.
Outside, laughter had subsided and, under the leadership of some obscure figure, we took to the hills.
We had been walking into the country for about an hour when the leader (Arthur was his name) halted us. We all sat down on rocks round about, took out pencils and paper and proceeded to make notes on what Arthur had to say about Brachiopods and Lamellibranchs and why there was not any of the latter but, if there was, let him know immediately.
After half-an-hour of Arthur’s lecture I found myself drawing fierce-looking six-legged Brachiopods fighting the rebel Lamellibranchs. I found out later that they had only one pseudo-foot each and lived in shells which were anchored to rocks, but one can always pretend.
The lecture over, Algernon seized my arm and pulled me up.
“Isn’t that Mr. Holmes brilliant?” he said.
“Oh yes”, I replied, adding the finishing touches to my battle scene.
“You weren’t listening, were you?” said Algernon.
“No”, I admitted, with some degree of shame.
“Well anyway, come on. We’re going to look for fossils”, and he set off for the bare rock wall several yards in front of us. I followed him, picking my way over what Algernon described as a limestone pavement, towards the exposure.
When we reached the “Trail” there was the noise of twenty people hammering at it. For a moment, I stood a little way back from them and looked on in amazement. Algernon noticed my looks and laughed.
“It’s alright, they’re only digging fossils out of the rock. Come over and bring your hammer and chisel with you”, he shouted.
So I went over to them and began searching for my six-legged Brachiopods.
After one hour of fruitless searching I looked round again to find that everybody had collected little piles of rock-fragments and fossil shells. I sat down on a nearby rock and began to eat my boiled egg sandwiches.
Suddenly Algernon’s voice rang out over the hammerings. “Come and look here”, he cried.
I was nearest to him, so I jumped up and ran across to where he stood looking excitedly at an area on the rock face. “What have you found?” I asked, equally excited.
“Look there,” and he pointed. “See? Two crinoid cups.”
“Looks more like a fossilised bra for a lady Brachiopod”, I said thoughtfully. Algernon did not even notice what I was saying as we were now surrounded by the whole party, all eagerly peering over our shoulders to see. It was Algernon’s proudest moment, and when Arthur came over and actually said “Well done. Those are excellent specimens”, he flushed noticeably.
“Try and get them out”, added Arthur, “Right, back everybody. Give him room”. They all backed.
Gingerly, Algernon began to pick away at the rock near the cups, his tongue clenched between his teeth. After a few minutes he put down his pick and began to rummage in his bag. “My chisel’s too big”, he announced. “Has anybody got a smaller one?”
“Me,” I shouted, feeling valiant, and handed it to him. It was no ordinary chisel. I had found it in the toolshod only today. It had obviously been attached to something at some time and had somehow broken off, but it was the right size and had a good edge on it.
Now I watched the operation a little more proudly. Algernon was working faster now and the fossils were not far from out. Then, suddenly, there was a tinkle as of metal against metal, and then perhaps, against rock and Algernon stood there his mouth open, looking down at the shattered remnants of his fossils, and holding the broken chisel limply in his hand. Then a look of agony spread across his face and he murmured, “bloody cast-iron”, severally.
Everyone dispersed slowly and tactfully, and went back to their own fossils. Algernon was still standing there looking down at the fragments, stupefied, until I tapped him on the shoulder. “Go away.” he said without moving and added “Go away.” this time more fervently. So, thinking it sound advice at least for the moment, I went hack to my boiled egg sandwiches.
Algernon, meanwhile, had accepted his failure, or mine, and ate two of my sandwiches. He would have had three but he chose to push the other one down my shirt-collar.
At about 4 o’clock the cloudless sky wasn’t. It became suddenly dark and the wind began to blow more strongly. “There’s a storm brewing”, announced Arthur.
“Don’t you think we’d better set off back, Mr. Holmes, before it comes on to rain?” asked a younger member of the party.
“Yes, I think we better had”, decided Arthur. Too late, the rain was upon us. Down it came in deluges which the wind picked up and drove into our faces. We began to walk. Sludging along through the puddles that had so quickly formed, slithering and sliding from rocks covered with moss which had been dry before and, thus, unnoticeable. Down into the clints and up onto the grykes we slid or was it up onto the clints and down into the grykes? We pressed on silent and soaked, unable to see for the rain driving into our faces. Blindly we followed Arthur, until, after two hours, we all knew where we were – utterly Lost.
“Now nobody panic”, cried Arthur hastily, seeing the flash of teeth through the gloom. “Ah! This is the way”, and he led on up along the side of a stream.
After a while I heard people making loud splashing noises behind me and, on turning round to see what they were doing, I joined in the chorus. As we were all in the stream, it was decided that it would only he fair if Arthur joined us. So, we grabbed his ankles and swung on them until he slipped in beside Algernon, who we lost for a few moments but reappeared shortly afterwards a little further downstream. Then we all clambered out, soaked to the skin, and shook ourselves while young Jimmy Thornton announced that we were lucky, it had just stopped raining, and was promptly pushed back in again.
We pressed on upstream and hit the main stream which, Arthur said, ran through our village. Stream after stream we hit. We were going to count them all up and hit Arthur for each one afterwards when suddenly Algernon’s nose twitched. “Beer” I thought, “It must be”, and, with a shout to the others, pushed Algernon forward. He began to run to the top of the bank and, on reaching it, disappeared over the other side. We all followed and saw him racing down the grass to a small knot of buildings in the valley below.
Sure enough it was our village, at opening time of course. We had walked all the way round the valley and approached the village from an abnormal direction which explained why we were lost.
I bought Algernon his beer that night. “Never mind about your old fossils”, I said, “You couldn’t get that into two crinoid-cups, could you?” He looked at his pint and laughed bitterly, then he poured it into my coat-pocket.
That was the last time I went on a Geology field-trip. I will not be on another, not for a long time, unless the Brachiopods get me first. Arthur also retired from field-trips after that one, and began writing ‘Bibles’ which he sells for four guineas each.
© 1968 Michael J Demaine