Scouting Around

Posted by Dom
 
Today marks the 100th anniversary of the founding of the scout movement by Robert Baden-Powell. Hundreds of people are gathering at Brownsea Island in Dorset, the scene of the first camp for boys in 1907, to mark the momentous occasion. And some 40,000 people are taking part in a massive 12-day extravaganza at Hylands Park in Essex – an event opened last Saturday by Prince William.   
 
Here at MSN, we’ve been celebrating the day in our own way with a series of articles based around Baden-Powell’s famous creation. Below, we’ll be taking a stroll through some of our own personal memories of being in the organisation; we also ask whether scouting could be a solution to the problems of youth crime here, and give you the chance to say whether you think the group is still relevant in the 21st century on our special message board.  
 
My own memories of being a cub scout are pretty random, though mostly happy. I was a member of the Abbey Clarke Pack in the small Warwickshire town of Kenilworth, with our deadly rivals the Abbey Matthew group situated nearby.
 
Every Tuesday, we’d gather in a ramshackle hut at the bottom of a random side-road in the town, play a series of slightly silly, surreal games such as ‘Port and Starboard’ (which seemed to involve running around a lot and, um, not falling over), and then get on to the serious business of planning various community-themed jaunts, or going off to gain another in the seemingly endless round of badges which they handed out for excelling at various activities/skills. I still remember my mum’s face when I’d ask her to sew on yet another badge onto my uniform (which featured the infamous woggle) in time for the next meeting – the badges you had on your arm afforded you serious kudos at the time and were a source of serious pride and achievement.
 
Many of my memories focus on playing for the Cub football team in seemingly endless, freezing local tournaments on the playing fields of Kenilworth and Leamington Spa – we had two pretty much all-conquering seasons, and I still have the trophies to this day. One bitter defeat in a big final on Abbey Fields in Kenilworth sticks firmly in my mind, however. For some reason the organisers of the tournament decided that instead of our drawn final being settled in the time-houred fashion of a penalty shootout, the frankly *rubbish* method of counting who won the most corners would be used instead. Needless to say, we lost, 2 corners to 1 or something pathetic. Maybe they thought that missing a vital penalty kick could scar some unfortunate Cub for life, but ‘losing on corners’ is just…. weird.
 
The night that Domestos released its ‘Big Bad Dom’ television advert also sticks in my mind – as shortly after it aired, at the Tuesday evening’s meeting, approximately 40 boys thought it would be hilarious to bellow the theme tune in my face as I walked in. Half an hour of being asked various questions along the lines of whether I did, indeed, kill all known germs, followed. Ha Ha.
 
The Remembrance Sunday service where a brownie was sick on my shoes was also a bit of a lowpoint.
 
For reasons I forget, I never made it from the cubs into the grown-up world of the scouts, but the memories I do have are priceless. Good or bad, they’re a formative part of my childhood recollections, and if I ever recover my diaries from the attic back at home, there are probably countless other stories that I’ve forgotten. Even now, I occasionally wonder what some of my cub pals are up to now (actually, they’re probably all on Facebook). Maybe some of them are even marking today’s anniversary in some small way.
 
Anyway, those are just some of my own random memories. Here are some of the scouting thoughts from various people here on the team at MSN UK.
 
”I was a boy scout for all of one day. I’d been having a fine time as a cub, which seemed to involve mostly running around and playing games. Then I was promoted to boy scout. My friends, being a little younger than me, weren’t due to make the change for a couple of months. The ‘proper’ scouts were just like the cubs, except taller. They even used the same club house, just on a different day of the week. I had a teacher at school who was a scout master at a different club a few towns along. He told me they did all kinds of exciting things including flying lessons in gliders. Obviously that sounded like the best thing ever and I couldn’t wait to see what lay in store for me. It wasn’t flying lessons…
 
My teacher was a scout master in a posh town. My town wasn’t posh. I remember my scout leaders discussing painting our clubhouse, but only if we could get it done for free. There was a suggestion that we could ‘Challenge Anneka’ to paint it for us, but I don’t think anybody sent a letter.
 
Our task for that cold evening was to learn map reading. We were sent out in groups with a map and a compass and told to find our way to… somewhere. I don’t remember because we never reached our destination. Somewhere along the way we came across a woman standing on her doorstep. A gang of local ‘chaws’ were giving her some trouble. Chaws are what we in my hometown called chavs before the latter term became popular many years later.
 
Suddenly we had a new task, a new mission. We would hunt down these chaws and… and… well there wasn’t a real plan, but I’m sure the older lads wanted it to involve a fight. Did we use our scouting skills to hunt down the troublemakers? Did we follow tracks and seek out clues? No. We wandered around for a couple of hours until we saw them hanging around behind a bush.
 
I don’t know what the chaws were up to. Sniffing glue? Drinking White Lightning? Whatever they were doing, I think the last thing they expected to see on a cold winter night was a dozen screaming boy scouts charge at them from out of the darkness.
 
We never did catch them up and, as exciting as crime-fighting was, it wasn’t flying in a glider. Thankfully I got a Sega Megadrive that Christmas and I never looked back." (Antony Bennison, Video Content Editor)
 
"Well, in the beavers (the thing before the cubs), I was granted with the privilege of carrying a mascot a, err, cuddly stuffed beaver for the Remembrance Sunday parade.
 
Needless to say I was feeling the pressure in front of those tens of people and half way through I burst into tears, threw a strop and spent the rest of the time with a face like a smacked arse. This ruined any chance of making it into the local papers and destroyed my proud parents’ dreams (they’re still bitter).
 
By the end, all I wanted to do was lob that dam (geddit?) thing into the nearest road, and rejoice as it was annihilated by an articulated lorry." (Chris Lunn, Video Content Manager)
 
"The various scout troops in Walthamstow could challenge one another to a game of their choice in order to win the ‘We Won It’ trophy. The trophy itself was a brightly painted dustbin lid. Our troop (the 5th) challenged the 24th Walthamstow to a match at our speciality game: Murderball.
 
Murderball didn’t have many rules. It was a cross between football, basketball and fighting. The goals were chairs at each end of the church hall. Teams scored by putting the ball between the legs of the other team’s chair. Injuries were common place. It wasn’t a game for soft lads, as the 24th Walthamstow found out to their cost. A seven-nil Murderball win meant our troop went home with the We Won It trophy/dustbin lid.
 
I also once won a borough-wide scout model making contest, by building a petrol tanker out of a washing up liquid bottle, two fag packets and some cotton reels. It was a disgrace because my dad built it for me. I even made him paint it because I knew I’d mess it up. I was quite embarrassed when I walked off with the 20 pound book token winner’s prize. The first (and only) time I actually even touched it was when I put the winner’s rosette on it.
 
I’m not proud of either of these stories, especially the second one." (Lee Harvey, Search Editor)
 
"I was lucky enough to live very near a huge scout group where I was growing up in Lancashire – and the chance to learn to canoe, rock-climb, abseil, play a trombone but more often play sports and games for a few hours a week was enough to bring a huge amount of the local kids together.
 
I think even then there was a social stigma attached to scouting and I didn’t really like the religious side of things – but I certainly think it gave me a discipline and, more importantly, a team spirit that I just couldn’t have got elsewhere. Given the alternative of standing in a bus stop drinking White Lightning (which seemed to be the other option at that age), I certainly think scouts was the right choice!
 
Do I think it would help today’s youth? Probably not. I think the whole movement is so completely unfashionable that tempting new sections of teenagers will prove impossible. I think sports and activities clubs are probably a whole lot more tenable to give kids something constructive to do in a controlled environment." (Patrick Goss, Tech & Gadgets Editor)
 
"When I was a cub scout we went on a two-day camping excursion. We were accompanied by the usual cub pack leaders, plus a few scouts.
 
One of the scouts (sleeping in a tent near mine) had a nasty accident with a paraffin lamp in the middle of the night. I don’t know what he was doing with it but an ambulance was called and he was taken away. I’m sure he survived but we never saw him again…" (Matt Ball, Editor-in Chief, MSN UK)
 
Were you a member of the scouts? Are you marking today’s celebrations in any way? Let us know your thoughts below.
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