Sunday, 12 February 2012

I Promise that I Will do my Best...

...To do my duty to God,
To serve the Queen,
To help other people
And to keep the Brownie Guide Law.

Those were the words of my Brownie promise. They've changed a little over the years, although the sentiments have remained largely the same. I joined Brownies when I was seven, then we moved abroad and I became a Sunbeam, then back to England for some more of being a Brownie and then onto Guides and Rangers. During my time as a Guide I also helped at my brother's Cub Pack. (Now that was fun!) Now I have a Brownie and a Beaver of my own (and no, you're not allowed to snigger at that!), both of whom attended Church Parade this morning. It's the church service this prompted this blog entry.

Church Parade was one of the highlights of my Brownie and Guide life. Now, I know that sounds a little unlikely, but bear with me. I was a church kid anyway, or was by the time I got to Guides, so no stranger to a bit of sitting down, standing up, singing, sitting back down again and bowing my head. The church I attended at that time favoured a fairly sparse style of decoration and I always looked forward to a nice bit of Anglican or Catholic fancy church interior, not to mention the eminently singable Methodist hymns. That brings me onto the real reason I loved Church Parade: the Salvation Army band. Now, you couldn't guarantee their attendance but when they did show up, and my memory tells me that was more often than not, you could rely on their brass section providing a rousing accompaniment to, 'O Jesus I have Promised,' which was my favourite hymn when I was ten or eleven years old. Now, I realise it is entirely possible that I was a bit of an Odd Kid, but standing on tiptoe to catch a glimpse of the tubas, while belting out the words:

O Jesus, I have promised
to serve thee to the end;
be thou forever near me,
my Master and my friend.
I shall not fear the battle
if thou art by my side,
nor wander from the pathway
if thou wilt be my guide.

Well, that counted for entertainment, in my mind. I seem to remember considering either joining the Salvation Army or taking up the tuba, but neither of these suggestions were greeted with a great deal of warmth by my parents. Later someone told me that the bonnets worn by the women of the Salvation Army were designed to protect their heads from the bricks that were often thrown at them as they marched through town centres. Frankly, those bonnets never struck me as protection enough from an incoming brick, so I was glad I'd never followed up that particular whim of mine. As for the tuba, well I was all but thrown out of recorder classes, so it's probably as well I never tried that either. Something tells me that, had I taken up the tuba, the chances of me having a brick thrown at me would have increased fourfold.

The tuba looks more resilient than the hat.
Sadly, brass bands are notable only by their absence from the Youth Service, but we did have a good singing session this morning. The vicar of our local church is due to move on to pastures new and this was his last youth service there. To mark the occasion, the local Scout and Guide movements organised a 'Songs of Praise' type event, where the leaders had pre-chosen their favourite hymns and they introduced each one with a little spiel about how and why it became their favourite. I learned some pretty intresting stuff here, too. For example, one lady told us that she had been a Brownie, Guide and later Guide leader for pretty much all her life and she has always lived in the same area. So, by her reckoning, she has attended nearly 400 parade/youth services in that one church. I know we've already established that I'm easy to amuse, but that little fact impressed me! Also, I learned that 'The Battle Hymn of the Republic' (yes, we actually sung that and I like to think we rocked the rafters) reminds the leader of the local BP Scouts of Brian Blessed. Now, I admit I do have a head cold at the moment, and my ears are quite blocked. Therefore I can only claim that I think he said it reminded him of Brian Blessed. Quite what his link with scouting is, I couldn't tell you, although I am guessing that he was once Chief Scout. If anyone can enlighten me there, I'd be most grateful. Frankly, the link between these seemingly disparate facts has been bugging me all day.

"The Scouts are alaive?"
BP Scouts, by the way, stands for Baden-Powell Scouts. Confusingly, they are more recently formed wing of the Scouting movement, who prefer to conduct their scouting in a more traditonal manner. I'm not entirely clear on the distinction, although TR is now a BP Beaver Scout. I signed him up on the basis that the groups are small and friendly and they appear to have an awful lot of fun. Plus TR is, by nature, something of an indoor kid, who will happily engage in outdoor activities if you take the trouble to make them sufficiently exciting for him. So far as I could see, the BP Beaver colony appeared to offer exactly that. I sold the idea to him on the promise of marshmallows and I am happy to report that he has eaten marshmallows at least twice since joining. For all I know, the more mod-cons Beavers may be scoffing them every week,  but TR seems very happy in his Beaver colony and I like the fact that he can wear his uncle's old cub cap, once he moves up to cubs, which, by the way, in BP-speak are called 'Wolf Cubs'. Mercifully, the Wolf Cubs no longer wear the long grey socks and green garters, although a photograph on the wall of the BP Scout hut suggests that this practise was dropped only fairly recently.

I'm proud of the fact that my two are part of the Scout and Guide movement. I like feeling a strong link with the past, both my own and the general sense of Scouting and Guiding History. I also like the way it has it's own little subculture of rules and deferences, such as the left-handed handshake and the slightly odd names given to the leaders. (Actually, the Mouse's are known by their firstnames, but that seems to be the exception, rather than the norm.) I like the way the different groups keep common aims in mind, as demonstrated by the words of the promise, which vary slightly according to which part of the movement you are in, but which all express pretty much the same aims and desires. I also like the fact that you can earn badges. My word, as a Guide I loved earning my badges! By the time I left I had a whole sleeve full and had to learn to sew them on myself because, as my mum rightly pointed out, if I could earn my 'Needleworker' badge, I could jolly well sew the thing on myself!


So, come on folks, light the campfire, sew on your, 'Slightly More Enthusiastic About Hymn Singing than is Commonly Thought Normal' badge and join me in a rousing version of...oh, OK, we'll leave the hymns for now and go for a bit of that old Scouting number, 'Ging Gang Goolie'. As my parting gift to you on this blog entry, I'll share the following bit of trivia with you. Apparently the old campfire song was penned by Scouting founder himself, Robert Baden-Powell. He wrote a song consisting entirely of nonsense words, so that scouts all over the world could sing together and not be divided by liguistic differences. It was a lofty aim, although I think the message is clear: if you are going to write a unifying song, try not to pick words that will cause later generations to snigger into their campfire hot chocolates. Also, if you are a Brownie or a Guide leader, consider sharing the origins of this song with your charges. I spent an entire childhood baffled by why apparently responsible adults were making me maintain a straight face while singing about goolies. It took the advent of Wikipedia to teach me the true lack of meaning of this song!*

Here's a youtube link to the song. You gotta love the backing singer! Bless 'em, they look even more easily pleased than me, don't they?

* Small print: if you're not from the UK or otherwise unfamiliar with Brit-slang, don't Google that term. It's not all that rude but I can't promise you that your Google results won't be.


  1. Sarah, I can't work out which of my many Sarahs you are, but I'm glad you love it. :-)