Thursday, January 13, 2011

Robert Baden Powell

In our pre-teen days, we grew up immersed in stories from the Victor and the Hotspur of healthy outdoor boy scout pursuits - camping, sailing, climbing, and holidays in the Cotswolds with Uncle Edward. To me these escapades were constant reminders of what I "should be doing" rather than what I was doing i.e lounging around swopping Batman cards or generally dossing. Dossing not tossing.

Feelings of Cathloic guilt crept all over me as I tried to accept that I didn't really want to know how to light fires with a piece of stone, or catch a trout by tickling the underside of its' belly. Coincidentally this remorseful guilty feeling resurfaced when I thought about other dutiful pursuits which my older brothers followed, serving Mass in St Laurences Church and representing the school in GAA at Croke Park , and in which I had no interest. Looking back, I'm eternally grateful I didn't partake in either and I'm also relatively unscarred mentally. It did nevertheless take me a number of years to realise that participation either on the altar or in Croke Park was was not all it was cracked out to be.

The realisation about the boy scouts came earlier. Or the Sea Scouts to be precise. This turning point in my life on this matter came on our first An Oige hosteling holiday when I was paired off for journeys with a veteran sea scout with several years experience, and many many stories to tell. Heading off from Dublin I drew silent comfort from the fact that I was with a guy who could basically get me out of any mess, charging bear included (gumboot in the mouth). Kumbawali, kumbawali, kumbawali, fliske.

Consider my disillusionment a few short days later as I tried to survive getting lost on Carantouhill (we'll nip over the Devil's Gap says he) on a wet and foggy evening with light fading fast. Or my feelings as I tried to sleep in the middle of a ditch in Mallow when he was devoid of ideas, and me expecting a tent made out of deerskin or a fire lit from reeds and dried moss. Or the sheer hunger I felt as the rice is dumped down the sink (couldn't grasp the concept of the sieve) in Foulksrath Castle a few days later - and it representing our first hot food for days.

Now in conclusion these may have been be isolated instances unfortunately performed in my presence in the space of a few short days in the summer of 74, but I came away from that holiday with other ideas. If this was what prancing around in short pants and scarves for ten years taught you, well you could count me out. On reflection, I'm sure it wasn't the display of self-sufficiency and competence which Robert Baden Powell would have had in mind.