Friday, 9 December 2016

Ex-Guide Fibs

Common fibs adult former members tell about their youthful Guiding experiences . . .


“I was thrown out of Guides . . .”

Well, if I’d a pound for every person I’d heard tell that one, I could retire tomorrow.  Sadly, I can assure you that my ‘retirement do’ is not imminent.


Guiding’s rules in this regard haven’t changed much for decades, and the fact is, then as now, people could only ever be thrown out of a unit and barred from attending meetings if the Leaders had sought and received the Commissioner’s permission to do so (even as a short-term suspension, far less as a permanent one).  And even on the few occasions when such permission was granted, it was normally reserved only for illegal/morally inappropriate actions, or for an ongoing catalogue of bullying or inappropriate disruptive or abusive behaviour to both the Leaders and to other unit members.  So if you actually were ‘thrown out’ of the unit, or if they did insist upon you leaving, with no alternative offered you, then you must have done something pretty major - and were probably lucky if there wasn’t police involvement.


Of course, what’s far more likely is that one of the Leaders asked you to consider whether Guiding was still the hobby for you, given you didn’t seem to be enjoying it any more - and you agreed her suspicions were correct, you were no longer keen and were now bored – and having reached that conclusion you chose to leave.  Or, you simply stopped turning up without anything amiss being said or done by anyone.  It’s a fair bet that the scene you want people to imagine when you claim to have been thrown out - the vision of teenage you stomping out of the hall throwing your Promise badge back over your shoulder as the hall door slammed behind you, leaving a shocked-but-admiring crowd of open-mouthed young Guides to stare at your display of bravery - or your bold resignation letter telling the Leaders precisely where they could stick their unit – never actually happened.  I know, it doesn’t sound half so rebellious to admit you ‘just stopped going’, or ‘resigned’, does it – and the fibs about ‘being thrown out’ you now choose to tell would seem to suggest that you’re still a bit insecure about it all . . .


“All we ever did was play games/do craft/ . . . “

Yes, the quality of unit programmes does vary from unit to unit, I’d be the first to agree that.  I could vouch as much myself, as the Guide unit I belonged to in my youth wasn’t great by any measure – no residential events, one outing per year, no outdoor skills taught at all.  But - some units have more resources – they have enough staff to run all the activities they would like to be running both at unit meetings and at other times.  Unit finance is sufficient to provide the equipment to allow a range of opportunities without constant economising.  The Leaders have enough experience, ideas and knowledge to run a varied and interesting programme of activities, indoor and outdoor, active and sedentary, using both brain and brawn.  The staff have the time to spend planning larger events and are able to take the units to events outwith the unit meeting time.  The unit is located within travelling distance of a wide range of locations which can be used for indoor and outdoor opportunities.  And many more factors.  Some units don’t have all those advantages, or even any of those advantages, in which case they have to do their best with what they can do in an hour or so, indoors, on limited budget and with minimal staff.  But even the least fortunate units don’t literally do craft, or games, or whatever it happens to be perceived to be, all night and every night, 36 weeks a year.  And even where there is a varied and interesting programme of activities being provided, as there may well be, if you ask any child what they did at school or at their hobby they will tend not to give a full list of everything in the schedule, but will just mention what first springs to mind, usually a one-word answer, or the same answer as given on previous weeks. Be it “craft”, “games” or something else.  I’m willing to bet there were some meetings where you spent at least part of the time doing something else, perhaps even most of the time doing something else.  It’s just not the answer that comes uppermost when viewed at this distance . . . 


“It was babyish . . . “

It may seem so now, but if it was babyish then – were you?  The Leaders do work hard to tailor their programmes to the age group they are working with.  When you were young, you enjoyed the things young children enjoy, which are different from the things older children or adults enjoy.  So dressing-up and pretending was really fun at the time.  Running races and joining in silly action songs were great fun.  Playing in the sandpit or paddling pool could happily occupy you for hours – even if it seems dull now.  As you get older, your tastes change – you want something more adventurous, more challenging, more advanced.  It is natural, and is exactly what should happen as you mature - and it can’t be helped or prevented.  The activities you loved most when you were three or four will be a little different by the time you are 5, 9, 13, 17 – of course they will be.  Some may be similar on-going interests that develop with you as you grow, and may even last you a lifetime.  Some hobbies you will drop, and perhaps you will take up related ones or entirely new ones instead.  Just because it may seem a bit twee when looking back, just because it was starting to feel a little babyish to you when you started to outgrow it, doesn’t mean it wasn’t right up your street for much of the time you were doing it – just as, in time, you will likely outgrow some of the things you really enjoy doing today.  I look back at my instrument tutor book and wonder how the early tunes seemed so difficult to me then – and have real gratitude for the patience of my teacher who suffered my mangled versions of such simple tunes with so much patience.  Of course, it’s possible that sometimes the Leaders did misjudge what stage of maturity you and your pals had reached – or perhaps they were catering for the majority at a time when you liked to think yourself more mature than those just a year or two younger than you were.  But, taken overall, it probably wasn’t so very far off the mark.  In past decades, young people did choose to carry on playing ‘children’s games’ to an older age than they do nowadays, there’s plenty of photographic and film evidence to confirm that in the 1940s and 1950s – and sometimes later - children up to 13 or 14 were still playing skipping games and ball games in the street, and were usually playing with them in mixed-age groups alongside the primary-age children.


“Our Leader was ancient . . . “

It’s like the old saw about policemen getting younger every year.  When you are young, everyone over 20 seems ancient - regardless of how far past 20 they may happen to be!  What happened 10 years ago is ancient history on a par with that which happened 100 or 1000 years ago so far as children are concerned.  So the Leader you thought was ancient may have been in her early sixties – but could just as easily have been in her fifties, forties, thirties or twenties, and you wouldn’t necessarily have been aware of it – when you are young, ‘old is old’!  The upper age limit of 65 for Leaders was around for many decades, so no matter how old you imagined your Leader to be, she had to have been under 65 at the time you were in the unit – perhaps by quite a margin?


“I felt excluded/overlooked/wasn’t the Leader’s pet . . .”

It can’t be denied, that personality does affect all relationships.  It’s natural that there will be some personalities which each adult finds appealing, some they get on okay with, and some which really rub them up the wrong way.  But, being adults, they try hard to hide their feelings, and to treat each individual fairly regardless of whether it comes easily or not.  I still remember when I was a young YL, one older Brownie who was leaving the unit was trying to push me to comment on the topic of my favourite Brownies amongst the pack – I wouldn’t answer.  She was sure I must have a favourite amongst those in the batch who were leaving (and in truth, I did) – in the end she said she didn’t need me to answer her question, because she knew all along she was my favourite – still I said nothing to confirm or deny.  To this day, she doesn’t know that actually, she couldn’t have been more wrong.  I hated all sorts of aspects of her personality very strongly indeed - I just tried not to let it show, and aimed to give her fair turns regardless.  Equally it’s a two-way street - sometimes the girls are quick to imagine slights from Leaders where none was intended, or perhaps even existed.  And no matter how hard we as Leaders try to treat everyone equally, sometimes limited places mean we have to choose some to get opportunities and thus automatically, some to not get those same opportunities.  We try to use reasonable and transparent criteria to choose – oldest first, or names out of a hat, or first come-first served, or using relevant reasons such as the girls who have the specific skills being sought - in order to choose representatives as fairly as possible.  But whichever way choosing’s done, it’s fact that some will get chosen, some will not, and those who miss out may be upset about it.  It’s something that will continue on through every other area of life too.  Maybe your Leaders weren’t as skilled as they might have been about making things both fair and seen-to-be-fair.  Maybe you were unlucky over your name coming out of hats, or maybe your parents weren’t quick enough at replying to first come-first served opportunities?  Or – or maybe you are forgetting the times when you were one of the ones who was chosen?  I recall one unit which had two large jam jars, and a set of straws, each straw bearing the name of a girl in the unit.  Each time someone had to be chosen for an opportunity, the Leaders would choose a straw from the ‘picking’ jar, and that person would get the chance.  Their straw would then be placed in the ‘chosen’ jar, alongside everyone else who had had an opportunity of some sort.  Only when the ‘picking’ jar was empty, would all the straws be transferred back across and everyone given the chance of another turn at being chosen – yet in spite of the care that was taken in this way to both be entirely fair and transparent, there were still complaints from parents that their girl had missed out and was never picked for anything . . .


The Guider’s daughter was always got to go to everything . . .

Invariably, the Guider’s daughter is in a no-win situation.  I know – I am one.  Sure, some Leaders may have struggled with handling favouritism, and perhaps ended up being over-generous.  But most ‘go the other way’ and in their desire to be seen not to show favouritism to their own child, end up actively discriminating against.  Fact is, at many events, for childcare reasons alone, the Guider would have had to bring her daughter along whether daughter was a unit member or not, otherwise none of the unit members would have got the chance to attend the event at all.  And yes, this did mean the daughter getting to go to a lot of events.  Or, one could equally say, it meant her having to go to a lot of events.  Whether she wanted to or not, and perhaps at the cost of missing other clashing events she would have preferred to attend instead.  You got the choice or whether you wanted to go or have your name put in the hat, she had no choice but go.  You could tell your folks fibs about whether uniform was needed, she had to wear it every time, and correctly too else her mother would be judged.  Anything which you achieved in Guiding, you got the praise and glory for achieving it all by yourself.  Anything she achieved in Guiding, there would always be folks claiming she must have got loads of help from mum (whether that was true or not), it could never have been all her own work (even if it was).  So, looking at it in the round – yes, she may have got some opportunities that worked to her advantage - but she had to put up with plenty too.  It’s not all jam.

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