Thursday, April 28, 2011

Akele! I will do my best!

The Inimitable George Formby, price 14/6.
Music for Pleasure!
In common with millions of kids across the world, I was once a cub scout.  Like my brothers before me, I was inducted into a movement that was a strange mix of youth organisation and the paramilitary. On the whole it was a “good thing” in that I was encouraged to develop some self-discipline and to think of other people.
Nowadays I would baulk at saluting the flag and swearing allegiance to a God and a Queen I don’t believe in, but at the age of eight you just accept this stuff. I do remember raising an eyebrow a couple of years later when our leader defined a communist as someone who doesn’t believe in God (that was all we needed to know apparently, there was no mention of political ideology), but for the most part I was happy to go along with it, because the Scouts offered an enormous amount of fun.
It gave me a legitimate reason to carry a knife for one thing.  I was, incredibly, allowed to carry a fairly substantial sheath knife on my belt; if you remember the film it was (in my mind at least) about the size of the one Crocodile Dundee pulls on the would-be mugger.  I didn’t carry it for anything more sinister than ‘whittling’ and only then if we were going hiking or camping, but nobody seemed to bat an eyelid or think it inappropriate that a pre-pubescent boy should be allowed such a thing.
The weekly scout meetings were fun too, once we’d got the ‘parade’ bit over and done with. It wasn’t all tying knots; we had some good games of football, and things like British Bulldog, possibly the most violent kids’ game of all time. But we learnt cool stuff too, like map reading, tracking and some basic survival skills (although not quite up to Ray Mears standard).
But the real reason for going to cubs/scouts was the camping trips. The scouts took us to sleep in fields all over the UK. They were great fun. Sleeping in a tent, going hiking all day, eating outdoors and then a camp fire in the evening in which we baked potatoes and of course sang. Many of us had a camp fire blanket, a sort of home-made poncho with all sorts of badges sewn on.
My first camp was with the cubs, and it was held at the West Midland Showground on the outskirts of Shrewsbury, all of 3 miles from my house.  This was around the time of the moon landings, and just about every activity was prefixed with the word ‘Apollo’. So at the Apollo Camp, we constructed Apollo dens, had a football tournament to win the Apollo Cup and even had Apollo Pudding (jam sponge and custard).  But the camp has stuck in my mind mainly because it was there that I earned my first badge, one that I could actually sew onto the sleeve of my uniform.
For reasons unclear, I opted to try for my Troubadour’s Badge. I no longer recall exactly what was required, but I do remember it involved singing a couple of songs to one of the scout masters. To my eternal shame, I sang a couple of George Formby numbers, unaccompanied. I can’t explain why I did this, except that I knew I could. My parents, not best described as a musical couple, had finally bought a record player, and the first (and for some months the only) LP they possessed was a George Formby one. It was in the ‘Music for Pleasure’ series (was there also a ‘Music for Pain and Misery’ series, I wonder?) and cost 14 shillings and sixpence. The novelty of having a record in the house was such that I knew every word of every song, so in terms of performing I was confident I’d be on safe ground.
I got the badge too. Indeed the scout master was so impressed he declined my offer to sing a third Formby classic. He was obviously a busy man and seemed in a hurry to get away, so with my scout book duly signed I made my way to the canteen tent for a drink of Apollo squash.  A glittering career as an entertainer lay at my feet. If only I had a ukelele...

The coveted Troubadour's Badge, awarded only to youngsters of exceptional talent is in the top row, 2nd from the left.

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