My friend Thomas Duffy
and I both joined the Cubs, which we loved. I think we’d
exaggerated the subs to our folks so we could buy Slush Puppies
on the way home. Our parents never caught on, even though we’d
always come back with bright blue or purple mouths and crippling
headaches. The Cubs was run by a lovely lady who lived round the
corner from us. I don’t think she knew a single thing about the
Cubs or the Scouting movement; she just started it up in the
church hall to give us something to do. There were none of the
awkward formal greetings and knot tying of the proper Cubs. If
you wanted a badge you just told her and she’d set you a totally
arbitrary task. I got my sports badge for running round the
hall. There was a great fancy-dress competition every Halloween.
Once I went as the Hulk – painted from head to foot in
watercolours that dried on me in such a way that I seemed to be
walking around in a huge scab. Thomas, quite brilliantly,
painted an enormous cardboard box and went as an Oxo cube. He
made his dad walk us up to the hall as he had a real paranoia
that a passing lunatic might set fire to him.
The Cub leader’s brother would come to the
meetings a lot to help out; he was maybe in his twenties. The
last 20 minutes of most meetings involved him tying an enormous
running shoe to a big bit of rope and making us jump as he swung
it round faster and faster. Who knows what was going on in this
guy’s life that he’d turn up every week to blast wee boys into
the side of a public building with an enormous shoe, but we were
really glad that he did. I even won one week! I was encouraged
to stage a high jump competition at some railings near our
house, hurting my balls quite badly.
Our outfit or unit or whatever (not having
been in the proper Cubs, who knows what the term is) went to a
real Scout camp once and it was absolute chaos. There’s always
been something suspect about Scoutmasters to me. Middle-aged men
taking young boys into the woods to practise tying knots is
clearly not good. If you’re going to get felt up in a tent by
the Scoutmaster then the very least you should get is a badge
that you can use to cover the hole in the back of your shorts.
There was also some weird sectarian thing
going on with the guy who was leading the trip. I was too young
to decode what was going on but when the kids started singing
‘Flower of Scotland’ on the bus he went absolutely tonto, making
the driver pull into a lay-by and giving a truly crazy,
bulging-eyed speech about the Queen. That’s a real thing with
sectarians – they always assume that people are interested in
the shite they talk. He was literally foaming at the mouth about
the Act of Union, in front of a bunch of 9 year olds who were
thinking about when they might get a hotdog. Of course one must
avoid generalisations but that man was definitely a paedophile.
At camp, we were no more prepared to set up
tents and light fires than a tribe of monkeys. In fact, one of
our guys (a real wingnut who seemed much too tall and old to be
a Cub) immediately climbed a tree and started screaming like a
monkey, breaking off branches and throwing them into the camp.
Another got off the bus and just ran straight down towards the
river bank, crashing straight into the river. The real Scouts
looked shell-shocked as the monkey guy leapt down from the tree
and tried to engage them in swordfights with an enormous stick.
Clearly, all pretence of being a real outfit, unit or possibly
troop had been blown.
The Scouts sent an observer to one of our
meetings. I missed it but apparently he stood around slack-jawed
watching boys get pelted into stacks of chairs with a big
training shoe. We were all made to attend a real Cubs meet in a
better part of town. The Cubs had to line up and do a little
salute at the start! The leader was called Arkela! The
gymnastics badge didn’t simply require jumping two-footed over a
chair! Their leader called out a boy to give a mad little speech
about the history of Scouting. He had an enormous gumboil,
easily half the size of his face, and spoke in a wet mumble like
The Elephant Man Jr. The meetings must have been bad because our
Cubs got shut down and there was fuck all to do again.
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