When I was 9, I got an invite to join the cubs. Every Monday evening, I'd head up to a ramshackle hut hidden in the middle of suburbia, leaving my sister to watch Blake's 7 on BBC2.
Fun and games would primarily be the order of the day. This would include things like 'Tiger Tails,' a variant on British Bulldog, only (supposedly) not so violent. You'd have a tail (a strip of bright yellow cloth) tucked down the back of your trousers, and the task was the person who was 'it' to capture your tail as you ran from one end of the hall to the other. Another weekly highlight would be to buy sweets. I'd get a whole 20p, and would use it to buy a variety of sherbet UFOs, foam shrimps and causticly corrosive cola bottles. We'd also do the usual Saturday fairs, and have a 'bring a parent along day' to help out with maintenance. Something my father would attest to, as he was roped into pulling the urinals off the walls in the toilets. In his words, "that was a piss poor job."
One year, when I was about 10, the scout movement was (I seem to remember) 75 years old. They decided to have a huge series of celebrations. This started off with a trip to the Albert Hall, where we were entertained by Rolf Harris, and found that making paper planes of the programmes and flung from our prime balcony positions into the poor suckers sat across the pit of the concert hall. Another celebration was a large (all the cubs in Croydon) show, called 'Look Lively' that had us all singing "we're riding along on the crest of a wave, and the sun is in the sky" at the top of our lungs. Our group (what is the collective term for cub scouts?) had also rehearsed excessively, and were to present 'Colonel Black and the seven commandos' all of which were strangely enough named after the Seven Dwarfs. I was (like my father) Grumpy, and the highlight of the sketch was as the Colonel lost his rag, he'd go along the line hitting each commando, making them fall over. As he'd hit me, I'd go flying, and a few times he found himself corpsing as the audience would chortle away merrily. One time I let rip a little far, and actually fell under the curtain at the back of the stage, only to find myself having a chat with a couple of stage hands getting ready for the next show. I could hear Steve (the Colonel) trying to compose himself as he got to Dean (Dopey) who was now finding himself incapable as well. The show went well, and for many months afterwards we were asked to show it in old peoples homes all over the area.
One of the things all scouts are supposed to do is go camping. At the tender age of 11, and a sixer (the equivalent of a sergeant), I finally got the chance to go to a large campsite just on the edge of Dulwich in what is known as the Sixer's Camp. Once again, all of Croydon's sixers were there, and we were to pitch up in a classic Baden Powell tent. The first night found me falling out with Chris (the one who'd invited me to join the cubs in the first place) and in a fight I bit a large chunk out of his arm. The whole weekend was marred by him bitching about needing a tetanus shot or that 'only girls bite,' something I'd like to hear him say to Mike Tyson. We learnt how to make Bivvys (bivouac shelters), campfires, where the obligatory half cooked sausage was injested, and how to whittle wood although quite why I never understood.
Eventually I was too old for the cubs, and we moved up to the Scouts. I think it was my second week that things took a sinister turn. There was a really unpleasant bully, a couple of years older then me, called Dorian. He'd taken a dislike to me from the start, and I warned him off. We went on a survival course one weekend, and had to hike across from somewhere in Redhill, through country lanes with a torch and a map, to a pub where the leaders had obviously had a pleasant evening. At one point we found ourselves on an open patch of land, and the guy with the map kept assuring us it was safe, because it was probably a golf course. Someone else made the comment about he 'hoped it wasn't a firing range' but the discovery of an empty box of cartridges had the younger members (myself included) darting for the safety of the trees.
The situation with Dorian didn't improve. He'd upset me a few times, and the scout leader had warned him that it was unacceptable. My father had also warned him that I might 'snap' and then he'd regret it. My father was right. One day, whilst sweeping the floor of the hut, he thought it would be funny to kick the head of the broom, sending it flying across the building. I now had an empty handle in my hand, and in a move a Kendo instructor would have been impressed with, I clobbered him twice around the head, once to the stomach, and once to the carrots and onions, leaving him a gibbering wreck lying on the floor.
I was advised that it would be a good idea if I didn't return.
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