Monday, 8 April 2013

G is for Guiding

Getting enrolled to 4th Spondon Brownies by Brown Owl in 1986.
When I was young, I took a solemn oath. A promise that I felt was incredibly important and I took it very seriously. On uttering these words, I would enter that most desired of states for my 7 year-old self - a full, proper, actual Brownie.

"I promise that I will do my best, to do my duty to God, to serve the Queen, help other people and to keep the Brownie Guide Law."

I adored Brownies. I loved the uniform (bobble hat and all). I was meticulous about the special items that all Brownies had to have with them at all times (a big old-fashioned 10p piece, 30cm of string, a clean handkerchief and a notebook and pencil) I loved that everyone has special names, just for Brownie night, and that we belonged to a 'pack' and a 'six'. I was sold on it all.

Tuesday night or 'Brownie Night' was one of the highlights of my week. 4th Spondon Brownies, in the old Guide Hut on West Road, with its melamine surfaces and musty smell was the place to be. Perhaps because I was so much smaller then, or maybe because we spent a lot of time sat on the floor, I remember the carpet particularly well. The rough, scratchy grey/green carpet with its splodges of spilt candle wax, from marshmallow toasting or christingle making, hardened into mysterious black pools.

The Leprechaun
badge that I proudly 
I remember arriving at my first meeting with trepidation to see some familiar faces from my village all stood in this mysterious hut in groups of six, in straight rows. Their shiny school shoes, often given a special polish for Brownie night, along with their curious uniforms had me intrigued. I couldn't wait to join their ranks and before I could be introduced, I automatically joined the end of one of the rows and grinned at the lady in blue, who I later learned to be Brown Owl.

I was a proud Leprechaun and I was so pleased when I joined to meet my 'Sixer', who I continued to embarrass greatly by announcing her title, rather pompously, whenever I saw her in the street. It is only in retrospect that I can see the gulf that exists between the barely 7 year-old new recruit and the oh-so mature, and responsibility-weary, 10 year-old Sixer. At the time, I was as enamoured with her as I was Brown Owl, Tawny Owl and Snowy Owl - all of whom I decided, immediately, were brilliant.

My time at Brownies taught me so many things. I earned badges in subjects as diverse as dance, orienteering, animal care and sugarcraft. I learned about Brownies all over the world, raised money for different causes, furthered my knowledge of history, formed close friendships with girls I would never have otherwise known and laughed and sang and danced my way through so many evenings of my childhood. From formal Remembrance Day marches through town, once as flag bearer, to watching enthusiastic district Gang Show 'Flying High' - I devoured all that came with Brownies as well as my treasured Tuesday evenings.

Perhaps one of the best memories of a Brownie event, which really demonstrates the supportive spirit of
The mysteriously carpeted Guide Hut in Spondon.
the organisation, comes from my first ever Swimming Gala. I was a steady, but slow, swimmer, who had volunteered to undertake the 200 metres race when no-one else did. On the day, I lined up, tubby and beaming in my flowery swimming cap alongside a row of lithe 'swims for the county' types who prepared to dive in. I hadn't done diving at swimming lessons yet so jumped into the pool as they dived gracefully in, pulling ahead quickly as they butterfly stroked up the pool. My determined front crawl took me twice as long as the winner, leaving a gala full of people two full lengths to watch my chubby face become redder with embarrassment and exhaustion. However, I finished. I gracelessly hauled myself out of the pool to a raucous round of applause and a special award for 'determination'. The warmth of the applause and the hero's welcome I received from my pack when I returned to them, shivering in my towel, said it all.

My hard-earned Brownie Swimmer
My first ever camping experience - sleeping over in the big hall at Drum Hill Scout Camp was thrilling. I learned a lot that weekend - how to make a bedding roll, how much fun rope swings could be, how to make toast on an open fire and the fact that attempting bunny hops inside a sleeping bag will result in a bruised arse. I would later revisit the place and be surprised by how very mundane and ordinary it was compared to my childhood memory of it as a haven of hot chocolate and camp songs.

Sadly, my progression to Guides was not one I found particularly satisfying. As they progress beyond 10 years old, girls do become that degree bitchier and crueller and I found myself dragging my heels that little bit more as I made my way to meetings. I missed Brown Owl, the endless summer evening games of rounders, the responsibility of being a Sixer and the frantic games of 'cat and mouse'. Guides was more about baking, crafts and, most significantly in my memory, the importance of making a shoe-rack by lashing together sticks with string... when camping. It wasn't really my scene.

Fairly quickly, I made the shift to becoming a Young Leader - the scheme set up to encourage those who've been in Guiding to move to volunteering as leaders themselves. I immediately loved it and
My Young Leader badge,
awarded on completion of my
Young Leader training.
quickly formed friendships with the others who were all undertaking the programme under supervision of a Guide Leader of considerable experience, Cath Fletcher (or Cath-With-The-Laugh as we later named her for her distinctive and unfailingly contagious chuckle). I relished these evenings and took her advice on board, initially working as a Young Leader with a pack of 5 - 7 year-old, Rainbow Guides, before moving on to work with, yes, you guessed it, 4th Spondon Brownies! My old pack! I was thrilled to be back with my old leaders and to be part of the planning and organisation of equally exciting adventures for a new generation of girls.

'My' Brown Owl, Anne Brownhill was an amazing woman. Always enthusiastic, keen to hear our news, able to control a room full of over-excited young girls with a few quiet words - she was the most patient of people and the most adventurous of souls. We used to listen in admiration as we
Anne and her husband George, receiving
an award from their running club in
2008: Link here
heard tales of the long-distance hikes, running races and outdoor adventures she had been on. It is easy as a child to assume that things like Brownies just happen, and Brown Owl turns up on a Tuesday and all the amazing activities, games, trips and badge-work occur naturally. As an adult it is awe-inspiring to consider that as well as the enormous amount of time and energy Brownies must have taken up, she also had a full-time job as a Postwoman, a family of her own and of course her outdoor hobbies. Anne and Nina Winrow (Tawny Owl) only retired from their roles in July last year, meaning Ann served for 30 years within Guiding. She was a wonderful role model to have and, I think, her influence on a whole generation in my village will be seen in the lives of women, now scattered around the country.

I left Guiding when A-Level exams called and the prospect of University peeped over the horizon. At the time I was busy studying, going to parties, obsessing about bands and falling in love for the first time. I don't think I realised at the time what I was walking away from.

Modern day Guiding still remains as relevant and important as ever, in my opinion. The celebrations for the centenary of Girlguiding (as it is now called) in 2010 brought to light again the importance that this movement has. It remains as popular with younger girls and has moved well with the times, with Brownies now working towards badges such as Communicator, Crime Prevention and Disability Awareness. Despite a dislike of same-sex education streaming, I can see a real value in clubs and societies such as Rainbows, Brownies and Guides where girls can spend time with those of their own gender. The chance to experiment, romp, laugh, be silly, make-believe and develop skills in the
The current motto for the movement -
a fantastically positive message.
company of other girls can, I believe, have a valuable impact. Having shared mixed classrooms all my life, I have seen how the slower rate of maturation and the general tendency towards higher self-confidence in some boys can have a devastating impact on young women's willingness to try new things or risk making a fool of themselves. Guiding gives girls this opportunity and, as part of a wider range of activities, I believe it is a very positive thing.

I can't honestly say I've stuck to my 7-year old solemn Brownie Guide promise. In adulthood, I don't have any religious faith so I suppose my 'duty to God' went out of the window, somewhat. I also have absolutely no intention of serving the Queen, in any way. However, the Brownie Guide Law is something that I think I shall always abide by and it will hopefully continue to be a motto close to my heart throughout my life.

"A Brownie Guide thinks of others before herself, and does a good turn every day."

UPDATE - I was very pleased to read that GirlGuiding have added their voices to the campaign to end the inclusion of topless photography on Page 3 of tabloid newspapers in the UK. Yay, go Girlguides!


  1. I was a Brownie for one year and then we moved to another state and that was it. My daughter was in Girl Scouts for several years and when her troop needed a new leader, I reluctantly stepped up to be a junior troop leader. I was working a full time job and was in my second year of graduate school. On top of that, I am not what you would describe as an outdoorsy kind of gal. But, I did it. We ended up selling a ton of cookies that year and I took them "camping." Well, my idea of camping. I rented a huge house in Pagosa Springs, CO. We soaked at the hot springs all day and then made dinner and watched movies all night:)
    I agree with you that the leadership is essential and you were lucky to have had such dedicated people guiding your experience in that organization. I tried to find another troop for my daughter in Texas without success. As the girls get older, enthusiasm wanes.
    Great post!

    1. Your kind of camping sounds like one I could go along with! I am not a natural canvas-dweller, to say the least. How on earth did you manage it on top of a full-time job, studying and being a parent? What a brilliant thing to do for your daughter and her fellow Girl Scouts.

    2. It was a tough year, but I'm super productive when I'm busy. When I have all the time in the world to get something done, I'll take all the time in the world. I thrive on deadlines and juggling multiple tasks. Right now, all I have to do is get this book ready to be edited and I feel like I'm wading through quick sand.

    3. I'm willing you on from here! :0)

  2. You brought back memories. Thank you. I was a Brownie and a Guide. I think I started my habit of collecting things in Brownies by collecting/earning all the badges!

    1. It became a bit of a compulsion to get a good set of badges! We used to sow them on to the arms of our uniform and I remember looking with envy at those with a 'good armful'! :0) Thanks for stopping by!

    2. 'Sew' not 'sow' - what a silly I am! :0)

  3. What a great story. I love to hear how scouting is different in other parts of the world. I'm from the US and had a great experience as a Daisy, Brownie, and Junior Girl Scout. Sadly my troop didn't survive the catty middle school years, but I still am very grateful for what I did get out of scouting and can't wait to get my daughters involved as well.

    1. Those middle school years are hard, aren't they? I remember learning about the Girl Scouts when I was a Brownie - we were very jealous of your uniforms, I recall because they looked so cool! :0)

  4. I was a guide for a year! Brought back memories. Great post! :)

    1. Thank you. I think it is great how Guiding has touched so many people's lives!

  5. Hi Sarah! New follower via the A to Z. Nice to meet you!

  6. Sweet memories!

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