What Beavers do on St George’s Day

The Beavers, Cubs and Scouts gathered in Radlett to celebrate St George's Day
I spent part of the afternoon at one of those simultaneously anachronistic, life-affirming, frustrating, funny and frankly nauseating events that we’re good at in suburban Britain. It was St George’s Day so Olly’s Beavers troop, plus the local cubs and scouts, marched through the village, from the car park at the back of Budgens to the library and then on to the church for a service and a speech from the deputy mayor (then back to Budgens, of course). During the church service we were treated to lots of singing, fidgeting and giggling plus a short play about the merits of being tolerant of people different from ourselves. Afterwards, on the march back to the car park I was chatting to one of the older leaders. She told me this was her 35th St George’s day parade: “34 actually. They did one in a synagogue but I wouldn’t go in there”…

I’ll be honest: the scouts are screwed. They’re an institution on the verge of annihilation. An essentially 19th Century source of authority and discipline whose legitimacy has all but disappeared – dwindling numbers, vanishing volunteers and an isolated, ageing leadership (like our anti-semitic friend) – they’re a bit like the Chinese Communist Party… only slightly less successful. Various top-down efforts at reviving the brand have all failed. Renewal is impossible while the current cohort of fossils is running the shop locally and it’s impossible to recruit young, interested people while they’re still going around in woggles and nasty brown shorts.

I’m certain there’s a place for an organisation that brings kids together outside school and provides structure, learning and a bit of the outdoors. I also think that the kind of positive adult role models an organisation like the Scouts can provide (don’t laugh) could really help keep difficult kids on the straight-and-narrow. I’ve also met several brilliant, young, committed and inventive leaders who give up their time for no apparent reward. Still, the scouts are finished…

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Goldfish and Beavers

Fishy Malishy Golden Treasure Nemo, our Goldfish
So here’s why I was late for work Tuesday. I was photographing the goldfish. My 7 year-old son rushed into the kitchen to tell me that those morons on the BBC’s kids’ channel want everyone to send in photographs of their pets. Since the only pet we own is a goldfish (Fishy, or ‘Fishy Malishy Golden Treasure Nemo’ to give him his full name) I spent the next fifteen minutes trying to persuade Fishy to come round the front of the bowl so I could take his picture, thus missing my train. Anyway, this is the best I could do.

Later that day, and to round out this picture of suburban weirdness, I went to be a helper at the same son’s Beavers troop (Beavers are the bit of the Scout Movement that comes before the Cubs, since you’re asking, although we really don’t know why called them Beavers. Why not Badgers? That’s a much better name). Anyway, what we wound up doing, in that cold scout hut Tuesday night, was improvising a sort of riotous relay race (involving a lot of those square carpet samples) because the vicar failed to show up to give a talk.

I’m not sure why I’m telling you this. Perhaps I want you to think of me as a sort of homely guy who’s got his priorities right or perhaps I’m looking for sympathy. Anyway, the vicar did show up in the end, only it was too late for him to give his talk so he cleverly seized the opportunity to discuss forgiveness with the boys, all of whom said they really did forgive him for being so late, except my son, who said ‘no’ quite loudly when asked. Afterwards the boys wrote letters to some Dutch Beavers because, we’re told, they all speak perfect English…

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