Monday 13 July 2015

Scouts and scouting

Scouts and scouting, as far as Kingsley was concerned, actually involved East Worldham where the local pack was located. The First Worldham met on Friday evenings mostly in the village hall at the top of the hill on the right hand side going towards Alton. I say mostly as there were occasions when we met in the vicarage garden. The scout leader being The Reverend Nap. Reverend Nap was the local vicar and he was also The Rural Dean. As small beady eyed man with a well clipped moustache, he was a thoroughly decent chap. He and his wife did great things for the pack not least by providing cake and biscuits in sizeable amounts. The Reverend was a friend of Baden Powell, the founder of the scout movement. They had served together in the army during the First World War. Among his many adventures Reverend Nap had been instigator in founding the first scout pack in Russia. He was, as can be imagined, getting on a bit and although I can’t remember when it was he retired at some point during my scouting membership.

I suppose the only negative thing I can say about my scouting experiences was the fact that I, thanks to the older boys, became a smoker. It was customary for many of the boys to take advantage of the garden plot behind the Hall, which in those days, grew large quantities of tall brassicas in the form of kale and Brussels sprouts together with beans and peas etc. In any event the vegetables provided a convenient hiding place in which they could puff away upon their Woodbines and Players Weights. These had been obtained from the Three Horseshoes Pub which was, of course, just a couple of hundred yards down the road. Sold then in packs of five, ten and twenty there was no problem in going to the off sales door at the pub and being served. This was long before age restrictions on the purchase of tobacco were imposed.

Scouting for me provided a great opportunity to indulge in all the things which I held dear: woodcraft, building camps, hiking and numerous other country related delights. There was then an official scout camp site in a woods at Crondall and during my membership the pack spent a number of times both camping and attending scouting events at that location. I still recall with pleasure the camp fires and the jam buns we made in the embers. These were simply flour and water made into a stiffish dough which was then pressed on to the end of a shaved hazel stick and held into the embers. When cooked, this sometimes meant charred, the dough was removed from the stick and the hole which was left was then filled with jam. The other great delight was breakfast cooked on the open fire. There is, in my opinion, nothing quite like the aroma of bacon wafting through the woods whilst cooking on an open wood fire, wonderful!

Of course knot tying, whittling, map reading, lashing and basic survival skills were all a part of scouting in those days and each of these activities provided the scout with the chance to obtain another badge to be sewn on to the arms of the scouting shirt. It was during my membership that the wide brimmed scout hat was superseded by a military style green beret. I don’t know why that change occurred but I rather liked the older style hat and was sorry to see it go.

I suppose, if I had to choose my favourite scouting activity, the one that jumps out at me is the map reading exercises which Reverend Nap set us. These took the form of small numbers of boy being blindfolded and then driven several miles away from the vicarage in a circuitous route. We would then be dropped off and left to find our way back. Maps and compasses and advice on looking for obvious land marks such as church steeples and other high buildings our guides to getting home. The perhaps obvious, but often overlooked, fact that rivers and streams always flow downhill and will eventually go through a village was also one of the factors which were taught as a way of finding our location. No sat navs then! Wonderful days and memories which have lasted a lifetime. I don’t know how the modern scout movement operates and I am also well aware of the, sadly, many scandals involving scout leaders, however, my own experiences of scouting gave nothing but pleasure and a great deal of learning. It is quite amazing how many techniques and skills, picked up as a scout, have stood the test of time and remain as valuable today as they did then. As far as the First Worldham was concerned the Reverend Nap did a great job with lots of local village boys and I am sure will still be remembered by many of them with great admiration, gratitude and fondness. It doesn’t get much better than that.

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