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.