24th World scout Jamboree (22 July – 2 August 2019)
Back in the day, I was a scout (actually, the ‘day’ being what it was, I was a Boy Scout – but it wasn’t my fault. There were no Girl scouts: girls were Guides. Boy Scouts and Girl Guides seldom met – except if they happened to be on a weekend camp close to one another, in which case the results could be very unpredictable) and I loved every dib-dib-dib of it.
I was a good Scout. I am by nature polite. I kept my woggle clean. I rose through the ranks from standard pack member to Seconder and, eventually, to fully fledged Sixer. It was a proud day when I attached the Sixer badge to my sleeve. I collected Scout badges like other kids collected nits. They were neatly sewn to my sleeves (the badges, not the nits) with a precision that earned me my sewing badge. My knife was always safely sheathed in my belt and withdrawn only for a bit of authorised whittling. I always helped the elderly cross the road – whether they wanted to or not. I baked bread in an improvised clay oven (it was inedible); I fried semi-gutted fish of some sort on a primus stove (it was inedible); I toasted marshmallows on the campfire (they were inedible and the molten sugar removed most of the hard palate). My ging-gang-gooley was the envy of every campfire encirclement for miles around.
Times were different back then. I remember trudging off from home on a Friday night carrying a tent and a rucksack loaded with food, a meth’s-filled primus stove and a sleeping bag, to hike around the surrounding countryside for 48 hours (remember, no mobile phones back then – I think perhaps my parents had something they should have told me) finding suitable places to camp on the two evenings before returning home only to find my family had moved*. I was fortunate to spend my first night camped on some grass outside a farmhouse. The lady of the house (having met me when I asked permission to camp on her lawn – Be polite: Boy Scout law) brought me hot chocolate to drink and a bacon sandwich to save me from the meth’s-sodden sausages I had planned. She could not, unfortunately, save me from a night in a meth’s-sodden sleeping bag, although she did lend me a torch so that I didn’t try to light my candle lamp. It was a warm night and the meth’s soon evaporated. I slept like a baby, but awoke the next morning with an unexplained headache. I spent the second night, I recall, in an orchard about two hundred yards from home. I attempted to boil sausages because I wasn’t allowed a campfire and I had no oil to fry them in. The results were not pleasant. I ate a couple of unripe apples and slept fitfully.
Anyway, the point is, I did all this to earn a badge (I can’t remember what badge it was – Lunacy, probably) to sew on my sleeve and the memory started me thinking: why can’t we have badges now for doing something that we have never done before. How thrilled I would be to receive my ‘Not putting my foot in it’ badge. I would award myself a badge for the first time I ate Spaghetti Bolognese without pebble-dashing my shirt; the first time I visited a friend’s house without wrecking something priceless; the first time I turned down something sweet because I’d just eaten already; for making an entire journey without shouting at the SatNav; for avoiding the attentions of over-eager scouts when waiting to cross the road; for being prepared with a dob-dob-dob at the drop of a hat. I could be a sixty-sixer in no time…
*That last bit is not true – obviously.
I originally wrote a different piece yesterday evening for publication tonight, but then today I saw a news item about the Scout Jamboree, so I wrote this today instead.
Below is a photo taken from my window as I typed last night. It’s not really relevant, but it just seems a shame to waste it…