Stoical Scouts

My memories of the activities invariably involve grime and general unhigenicity, coupled with criminal deforestation and subsequent unfettered, unnecessary bonfires. It is not the lessons of teamwork or civic responsibility that I remember, but rather an every-boy-for-himself sense of self-reliance.

I was in the Scouts, yet most of the descriptions I read about the movement are alien to me. I don’t know the words to ging-gang-gooly. I do know what a reef knot is, but that only means I would score one out of ten if you were to set me a knot tying test.

More importantly, I do not recognise the earnest, God-fearing, royalist, regimental movement that is being eulogised as the scouting movement celebrates its 21st World Jamboree. My memories of the activities invariably involve grime and general unhigenicity, coupled with criminal deforestation and subsequent unfettered, unnecessary bonfires. It is not the lessons of teamwork or civic responsibility that I remember, but rather an every-boy-for-himself sense of self-reliance (Swiss Army Knives can fuck off, by the way – what you really need is a nice sharp Opinel Number Seven).

I remember torrential rain on the Brecon Beacons and Bodmin Moor, and the chronic agony of trudging thirty miles overnight through muddy farmers fields (my toenails have never really recovered). I remember hauling a green trek-cart up the hill at Ceasars’ Camp, near Aldershot, and the deflating realisation that we had made a navigation error and the effort had been worthless. When I think back to those Friday nights (before I discovered that I could gain admission to pubs) I am amazed I could summon the will and the energy to complete whatever task was presented.

I was reminded of those dark nights during this past weekend at WOMAD, where the mud made any journey a workout, and made keeping clean and dry impossible. Yet not one squeak of complaint could you have heard pass my lips. That, for me, is a cause for smugness and self-congratulation. More than anything else, I think that scouting taught me stoicism, the virtue that above all others, we British like to claim as our own.

5 thoughts on “Stoical Scouts”

  1. I’m slightly ashamed to admit I was expelled from the boy scouts. I acheived the rank of Patrol Leader, then discovered the delights of drinking, smoking and women. To cut a long story short on a summer camp I took my patrol to a local pub, in a posh village, in the midst of a fete (I think celebrating the marriage of charles and di). Needless to say it all went pete tong, patrol went awol, annoyed the locals with drunken late night renditions of ging gang gooli (or whatever) on the way home. Next morning me and my best mate were kicked out. And quite right too.

    Despite that I enjoyed my time there and learned a lot of deeply unfashionable things, self-reliance, altruism, teamwork, respect for nature (long before the eco fascists made it fashionable) and a lifelong admiration for authoritarian men in beige shorts (ok the last bit isn’t true).
    I’ve never forgotten the reef knot (Right over left and under, left over right and under) or the bowline (rabbit out of hole, round tree and back down hole) but I’m buggered if I could ever do a sheep shank.

  2. HAve to say Robert, your remembrance of time in the Scouts is very similar to mine as well. I reckon half those writing about it haven’t got a clue or were never really involved.

    As for royalist and god fearing? This little atheist gave up his republicanism at 25, so I think they failed on that score if that was the plan.

  3. I don’t remember any particularly strong religious or royalist overtones, church attendance once a month was, IIRC, encouraged but not compulsory. Apart from that the only time god or the queen was mentioned was at the mandatory dyb dyb dyb around the flag moment, and who on earth took that seriously – I remember regular rollockings being handed out for people who were unable to keep a straight face.

    I think your experience is probably as much to do with who was running the troop as with the culture itself. We had a group of relatively young and hip scout leaders – one looked like something out of genesis, one played guitar in a dodgy prog rock band and one was a geezerish builder who seemed to have a different girlfriend every week – the stereotypical middle aged perv does not chime with my experience. Their main interests were outdooor activities and er watersports. Obviously if you had a middle aged bible bashing royalist zealot in charge then your experience would be entirely different.

    At the end of the day liberals hate the scouts not because they are authoritarian, royalist or religious but because they are crap at anything practical, dislike contact sports and hate the outdoors.

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