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Scouts made me the man I am today

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IMAGE: The Guides' decision to ditch God and country from their oath is an unnecessary concession to political correctness »

I was disappointed to read last week that the Guides are ditching God and country from their oath. It’s an unnecessary concession to political correctness that misses what Guiding and Scouting are all about. When I was a Scout, I don’t recall worrying that I was being indoctrinated either into evangelical Christianity or Ukip. I was too busy whittling sticks into spears and setting fire to things.

In fact, I was obsessed with earning badges; I collected so many that there wasn’t a patch of free space left on my Scout shirt. A lot of what I excelled in has subsequently proven useless: I have never once in my adult life had to use a reef knot or identify poisoned berries (how I wish the Scouts had handed out badges in avoiding income tax and curing hangovers). And some of the information learnt, such as first aid, has been lost in the mists of time. Today I wouldn’t know the difference between CPR and a French kiss. That’s reason number 542 why I’m single.

Aside from collecting accolades, what I really relished about Scouting was the chance to go native. Scouting takes boys and girls who have grown up in an urbanised, over-sanitised Britain and relocates them out to some wild spot where they can regress to the savage. Every camping trip seemed like an adventure in the Amazonian rainforest, the conquest of a new frontier. In retrospect, it was a 10-minute drive to a campsite in Otford village, and although we believed we were pioneers into the unknown, we were actually heavily coddled.

I can’t imagine that Columbus set sail for the New World with sandwiches packed by his mother and 20p in case he needed to use a payphone to call home in an emergency.

Away from the telly, our lungs suddenly rushing with fresh air, it was at camp that we kids discovered the purest pleasures of simple things like roasting marshmallows. We were gifted a small piece of authority (as a “sixer”, one of my duties was to make sure the weaker boys wore armbands in the swimming pool) and granted a rare slice of freedom. They could have asked us to swear an oath to Margaret Thatcher or the Flying Spaghetti Monster, and it wouldn’t have distracted us from the elemental joys of mud, blood and nettles. That’s what Scouting is really about.

Looking back on it now as a nine-to-five office worker, I wonder with sadness where that wild Scout went. Alas, over time, exams and girls became more important than fun and adventure, and I had to develop the squeamishness, that terror of one’s own shadow, that defines the “civilised” suburbanite. One morning at my last camp, I awoke to find a caterpillar crawling across my nose and ran screaming from the tent. This little boy had finally become a man.

I’m always proud of my mother, but recently she gave me extra cause. There’s a horrible new con operating in London: the gold-ring trick. The grifter approaches their mark and tells them that they’ve found a gold ring in the street (actually a piece of worthless painted brass). “It doesn’t fit my finger,” they say, “but maybe it’ll fit yours?” The grifter urges them to keep the trinket and the mark thinks they’ve got lucky. Until things turn nasty. Suddenly the trickster demands money in exchange for the find and the victim is bullied into handing over £20. That was how it was supposed to play out on my mother, but the fraudster didn’t know who they were dealing with.

A lady approached mum while she was shopping and said: “I’ve found a gold ring. Would you like to try it on?”

“No,” she replied, with, I’m sure, terrifying firmness. “If someone’s lost it you should take it to the police.”

“But, but –” spluttered the grifter. “Hand it in at once!” my mother insisted. The poor con artist tried one last time to appeal to my mother’s greed, then slunk away empty-handed.

And the best thing about this story is that my mother never even knew it was a con trick: she only found out later when dad explained it to her. Never try to defraud someone with Girl Guide ethics.


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Updated 6 Years ago

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