You see, I should have been a Cub Scout when I was a boy, but it rained that night and I never got to join.
This holiday weekend has seen a huge gathering of the Scouting Association on a farmers field near the airport, its on the route to the hotel where half of my family work and I’ve been taking the wife to work these past few days at stupid o’clock int he morning, a time of day when no-one should be awake on a holiday weekend, certainly not if they don’t need to be, but if I want the car then I have to take her to work and pick her up again afterwards, so I do.
And on these very early mornings we’ve driven past this huge Scout camp, I mean huge, so huge they even had fairground rides and climbing walls for the kids, hundreds of tents and dozens of marquees, I’ve driven past there at stupid o’clock in the morning and they are all awake, all of the kids, all pestering the adults to get breakfast over and done with and onto the climbing wall, or bungee jumping, or bear baiting or whatever it is that Scouts do these days – do they still rub sticks together ?
Maybe it was a mistake placing the Scout camp at the end of the runway at Leeds/Bradford Airport ?
Anyway, in 1907 a British Boer war hero, Robert Baden Powell had the idea that groups of idle boys should be put to work rubbing sticks together and dib-dobbing things, or similar, just as he had done at the siege of Mafeking in 1899, yes its a little known fact that the very first boy scouts were young boys that had been conscripted into the British Army to act as signal bearers, kids who would cheat death on a hourly basis by running between the Army positions with messages for Generals like “How much longer can we hold this position for, I have a luncheon date at 7pm prompt”.
Baden-Powell started his Scouts Association with a group of 21 boys who were taken a a small island in Poole, Dorset and left there to see how they would sort themselves out and while he observed their in-fighting, death and retribution he wrote a best selling book called “Lord of the Flies”, from this experiment with small boys that nobody wanted back he formed his ideas on the ideology and structure of your average boy scout pack and then wrote another book called “Scouting for Boys” which became a blueprint that has been followed ever since.
Scouting for Boys became the fourth best selling book in the world despite the fact that it extolled young boys in their formative years to do things such as start fires, carry around at all times a sharp knife and sing garbled nonsense songs about ging-ganging and goolies, all things that were frowned upon in strict Edwardian society – its amazing what you can get away with when you are a Boer War hero.
Baden-Powell was heavily influenced by the writings of Rudyard Kipling and all of the pomp and glamour that the British Empire could muster and its no coincidence that many reference terms within the scouting movement can be traced back to Kiplings “The Jungle Book”, the name of a scout leader in each group is traditionally “Akela” for instance, this being the name of the wolf pack leader in Kiplings book, and the boy in each scout pack who dances and acts the fool a lot is of course “Baloo”.
As I mentioned earlier, despite all of this hard earned knowledge of the Scouting Association I never became one. All of my friends were in the Cub Scouts when I was a small boy, we moved into the district after they had formed the local pack in the local village hall, led by a man in khaki shorts and a natty necktie called, coincidently, “Akela”, they met every Tuesday night to set fire to things int he car park and play a game called British Bulldogs which seemed to exist only to break Stuart Ackroyds collar bone every week, which they did with unfailing regularity.
“You must join our Jungle Book based activities” they extolled me, “why Akela keeps asking us to bring along some fresh blood, so you must join, its sixpence a week”
Now that was the bit that scuppered my chances for as I have hinted at earlier my father was not exactly free and easy with his money and sixpence a week, why that was almost half a pint of beer or a quarter hour in the light meter over the snooker table, what nonsense was this boy of his speaking of that required a sixpence piece every Tuesday night ?
Eventually though I persuaded my mother that my life would be forever improved by becoming a Cub Scout, learning to light fires, carry sharpened knives around and “Be Prepared” at all times, why they would hardly be able to restrain me from helping old ladies across the road at every hour of the day, even if they didn’t want to cross the road.
It was arranged that I should attend a meeting the following Tuesday and on the night in question I sat eagerly awaiting my Boy Scout friends who were going to “call for me” and take me to the village hall where Akela awaited his fresh blood.
They never came.
I gave my mother her sixpence back and the next morning I asked my Boy Scout friends what had happpened to our arranged meeting, “It was raining” is all they said.
The Cookridge Boy Scout pack didn’t function when it rained apparently although I’m not sure that such an attitude was foremost on Baden-Powells mind when he wrote “Scouting for Boys”.
I never got asked again, saved a small fortune in sixpence pieces over the years