On average we tend to go geocaching at least once a week and recently, Thursday seems to be the day that we head out in search of Tupperware. So it was that on this Thursday we had a plan in place to “do a few”. When I said goodbye to Sam as he left for school I realised, however, that my vision was even more blurry and hazy than normal. Thankfully, it transpired that it was just fog and we are not the sort of people who get put off by a bit of heavy mist. So we made some lunch, packed a bag and headed off to Hatch End which is near Harrow, pretty much on the border between greater London and South West Hertfordshire.
As I was browsing local geocaches a couple of days previously I had spotted a small series that caught my eye. There were 6 traditional geocaches and a bonus placed along footpaths around and across fields. All the names of the caches were Madness song titles and this got me interested as Madness had been one of my favourite bands when I was growing up in the eighties, and even now, still are up there among my list of all time great artists.
We left the car in the parking area of a local sports centre that was a few hundred metres from the first cache. The route was circular and looked to be no more than 3km so we hoped to be back well in time for lunch. The car park was pretty empty, in fact the whole place looked almost deserted. The presence of signs advising you not to leave valuables in your car is never quite what you want to see when you know you will be leaving your vehicle there for a couple of hours but it was broad daylight and it was the best option we had.
The name of the first cache was One Step Beyond (GC3A3FC), one of the early singles for the band. The song was almost entirely without Lyrics except for a brief spoken intro and Chas Smash bellowing out “One Step Beyond” every so often. Always guaranteed to get a party going and people stomping around the dance floor this song has been used by Madness to open every one of their Madstock live shows. Not one of my favourite songs by the band but a good one for when you are drunk as there are not many words to remember. The cache series had an extra dimension to it as in order to find the bonus you needed to not only collect numbers from the 6 traditionals for the West Coordinates , but you had to answer questions on the cache pages to be able to determine the North ones.
As we left the car, finally finding the start of the trail following a bit of fluffing about, the mist was thick and the air was heavy with moisture. It was cold, but then it is December so I wouldn’t expect it to be otherwise really. I tried to remember the dance that we used to do to One Step Beyond, but even now it escapes me… I was never much of a dancer to be honest and some might say that I still have little if any dancing ability. The cache was found with little fuss and we even remembered to record the info for the bonus which is unlike us. We normally are at least 3 caches into a series before we realise we should have been taking a note of the bonus numbers, and often have to go back to get them.
As we left GZ and headed for the next one, Shar commented that she could smell gas and I had to agree that there was a faint whiff in the air. In the same breath she said she needed a smoke and proceeded to light up. It’s a good job that it wasn’t actually a gas leak otherwise one step beyond could have been our last step altogether.
The second cache was called Our House (GC3A3HD) and the walk took us further along the footpath with the sports ground to our right and fields to our left. The sounds of the road was slowly diminishing as we moved further away from the traffic and the ever present mist gave the place a spooky feeling. Our House is a very memorable song for me as it was on the first compilation tape that I ever owned. This was in 1982 and was just as I was 11 years old and getting into music. This song in particular started my interest in the band I used to play it constantly… I must have worn that tape out. I also vividly remember Madness performing the song on The Young Ones in 1984. The coming together of my favourite band at the time and “THE” programme for teenagers to watch was an unforgettable moment. Sharlene made the find nice and quick here and then we were careful to follow the advice on the cache page and back track a little to take a path to the left to the next cache to avoid inadvertently crossing private land.
We headed off the path and along the edge of a field. I think this is where my boots started to let in a bit of water. They are a fantastic pair of boots but the uppers are not entirely waterproof and when walking through wet grass they soon get soaked and then after a few minutes you get the unmistakable feeling that your socks are damp. By this stage I hadn’t quite got that feeling yet but it would not be far off.
The third cache was Cardiac Arrest (GC3A3J2), a song that was memorable more for its video as well as its song. Madness always had fantastic story telling videos during the eighties with many madcap things going on in them, including more often than not Lee Thompson playing his saxophone whilst flying through the air on a wire. The video of Cardiac Arrest followed the story of a city man on his way to work and being delayed by the traffic and other similar things. He got more and more stressed as the song went on leading to the inevitable heart attack. I think one of the most memorable parts was when they were on the bus with members of the band singing around the man and then a briefcase is opened revealing a xylophone which is then played. Like a lot of Madness songs this one has a very catchy and singable chorus, “Don’t you worry, there’s no hurry. It’s a lovely day, could all be going your way. We found the cache hiding in a tree along with various bits of nature that I got all over me as I retrieved it. So far, so good and on to number 4.
I definitely started to notice slightly damp socks now as we walked towards the turnaround point for the walk. After this one we were basically heading back in the direction of the car. Wings of a Dove (GC3A3JD) is one of the bands quite well known songs but it is one of my least favourite. I never quite got it. It seemed to be a bit of a departure for the band from what they usually did into something slightly odd. The song had a Caribbean island feeling to it a little, and in places had a kind of gospel sound. It never was one of my favourite ones to be honest. Interestingly the song was only ever a single in the UK and was not on any studio albums although it did appear on the US version of the album Keep Moving.
It is a good job that we did keep moving as my feet were most certainly damp now and whilst that is ok whilst they are warm if they get cold then that was not going to be good. Thankfully the find at number 4 was quickly made and it was on to number 5 via a bit of an up and down hill. We do so love hills.
Driving in my Car (GC3A3JN) was an odd song to say the least. Again not really one of my favourites, but it had clever lyrics that all and sundry could remember most of and sing along. In the song they sing of owning a Morris Minor that used to belong to the GPO. This is actually true as one member of the band did indeed own a van like this in the early days. Before finally settling on the band name Madness, they did go by “The Morris Minors” for a short while after starting off as the North London Invaders back in 1976. After a short search at the GZ we found the cache which had been cleverly hidden inside a plastic toy car. Other than the damp feet this was turning out to be a very productive and enjoyable walk so far. We found the first 5 caches and were on our way to number 6 in under an hour
Baggy Trousers (GC3A3JW) is certainly one of the most well known and iconic songs of Madness’ career. It epitomizes what it was like for your down to earth, run of the mill, North London schoolboy growing up in the late 60s early 70s. Suggs, the lead singer and co-writer of the song is quoted as having said that the song was in response to Pink Floyd’s Brick in the Wall, which he felt didn’t relate to him as he had gone to a comprehensive school and not a more strict public school. The video in 1980 saw Lee Thompson do his first flying Saxophone trick which is now so synonymous with the band’s videos. I seem to be writing a lot about the songs and the band and not so much about the geocaching in this blog entry, but there you go, I guess it is because the songs trigger so many memories for me.
After having done so well up till now with the caches, it was inevitable that there would be one that would slow us down. On arriving at the GZ for number 6 which was a point where the path broke through the tree line, we just couldn’t work out where to start. The GPS signal had us about 5-10 metres off the path but it was all pretty dense there. There was an obvious cachers path to one side but Sharlene followed this up to no avail. We split up and I went to one side of the path and she the other to try and widen the search a little. I nearly came undone straight away when I almost fell in a gully but thankfully managed to pull back from the edge at the last minute. For a full 10 minutes we searched and scratched our heads. Then one or the other of us would stop and read some logs and then, not having gleaned anything specifically helpful get back to searching. Slowly the search area got wider until I wasn’t even sure where Sharlene was anymore when the cry of victory came. I could hear her but I couldn’t work out how to get to her. She seemed to be in another field beyond a hedge. She talked me through how to get to her and then happily showed me the cache. With all the numbers now retrieved we could put in the coordinates for the bonus cache, That Rings A Bell (GC3A3KT).
The coordinates took us to a small pond not far from the beginning of the walk and after a short search we found… not the bonus, but something else. It was an offset cache to the final. This means that the final container wasn’t actually at the coordinates we had, but there were further coordinates for us to retrieve which would take us to the final. This was a nice little twist that kept the suspense going just a little bit longer. Eventually we did lay our hands on the final container in a place that I had stopped searching when Sharlene wanted me to go and stick my hand in somewhere. When that revealed nothing she moved to the place I had been to start with and found the cache.
I really enjoyed the series not only for the walk and relatively easy caches, but also for the memories it evoked in me. I have always wished that I could have seen Madness perform back in the late 70s when they were just getting started. It wasn’t until the 90s when I did get to see them eventually at Wembley Arena as part of their “The Business” tour. It was a bit disappointing to be honest, Suggs was not in a great place with his voice during this time, but it hasn’t changed how much I like the band and there songs on the whole.
Before we went back to the car we decided to tack on a couple of random caches that were not far away. During the search for one of these,It’s a Corner (GC397PM), we had one of those classic, should have looked at it on a map moments. When you are doing a series of caches there is more often than not a logical order and route to each cache. Conversely when you do stand alone caches there is not always any indication how to approach the GZ and so it is up to you to figure it out. The way we approached this one was to basically follow the arrow which took us along some suburban roads around Hatch end. We twisted and turned where we thought was appropriate and in the end we found ourselves on a tiny lane behind a residential street. The lane was very narrow with houses on both sides of it. As we approached the end of the lane we could see that beyond a fence at the end there was some sort of footpath or playing fields. I reckon you can see where this was going. The follow the arrow method had taken us right to the GZ, but we were on the wrong side of the fence. We were literally within a couple of metres of the cache but had no way to reach it. We had to retrace our steps quite a long way before we found a gate that led into some playing fields and after walking the length of these we found ourselves again approaching GZ but from the correct side this time. After all this we almost had to DNF this one but I eventually laid my hand on it at the base of an Ivy Covered Tree. The hide was very subtle using natural materials for its camo and this is why it took us so long to find, but I am glad we did find it in the end, after all the hassle it had been to get to the GZ at all.
One more cache, Ali Won’t Play Here (GC397PB), on the way back to the car and then we drove a short way to another parking spot where we could take a second crack at a cache that we had been unable to find a few weeks back. On contacting the cache owner of The Motley Pair (GC2XARY) and providing a photo of where we were searching, it turns out we were looking in the wrong place. I went back to the puzzle and re-did it and low and behold I came up with one digit slightly different than I did the first time. Another quick email to the CO and I had confirmation that these were the right numbers. Before heading out to try and find the next stage of the cache we sat in the car and ate a quick lunch. The car park we had stopped in was on a plateau overlooking harrow and beyond that to London. At least it would have been if it was for the fog. Today all that could be seen was… fog.
After lunch we made our way to the GZ and commenced the search. We were looking for a micro that would contain coordinates for the final container. The phones were jumping quite a bit and Sharlene and I found ourselves searching in quite different places, about 10 metres apart. I gave up with the phone in the end and stood back and tried to identify where I would hide a cache. From my limited sight I could make out a fallen tree that had a big hollow under it and not much else other than fairly slim standard boring looking trees. To be fair I didn’t see the fallen tree rather than almost fall over it, but either way I spent the best part of 10 minutes searching every little rotten bit of it and the 12 inch deep piles of leaves that surrounded it on all sides and found nothing. I then stumbled and edged my way further out and eventually found a huge tree with some promising looking hollows at the base. I spent about 10 minutes searching that with no luck either and then got hopelessly stuck in the branches of a tree, finally breaking out in one of those angry flaying limb moments. I was getting ticked off with this, my feet were wet and the prospect of having to log a second DNF on this one was not appealing.
Sharlene returned from wherever she had been looking and spotted the tree that I had been searching. I told her that I had given it a good search and could find nothing. She found the cache in the hollow under the tree in about 10 seconds. Man that pissed me off. Not that she had found it, that was terrific, but the fact that I had finger search so thoroughly and still missed the stupid thing. We entered in the new coordinates and set off for the final destination. Unfortunately after about 5 minutes we found ourselves near a pond and not on the side we wanted to be either. Sharlene tried to find an easy way across but in the end declared that we would have to take a detour to either one side or the other to get round. I checked the time and suggested that we probably didn’t have time to do this as we had to be picking Sam up from school in an hour. Reluctantly we gave up the search and vowed to return.
Apart from the disappointing end and the wet feet, it was a very enjoyable day with a total of 9 and a half caches found. Happy days.