There and back again: our journeys to Scouts
‘We have to go,’ I implore. ‘We have to leave right now!’
It’s a familiar scene. I’m standing at the front door, open to a cold, rainy street in early spring, calling out to my son who’s dawdling at the top of the stairs. His Scout shirt is yet to be tucked in; his neckerchief hangs loosely, like a stunned snake around his neck.
‘Take it easy, dad,’ he replies. ‘We’ve got loads of time. By the way, have you seen my scruff bag?’
‘It’s 7.28!’ I reply, exasperated. ‘At this exact moment, your friends are gathered in a horseshoe and there’s a gap where you should be.’
Two minutes later, we’re thundering through the rain, the windscreen wipers battling against the downpour.
‘We’re meant to be fire lighting tonight,’ my son muses, tracing the rain with his fingertips as it steams down the window. ‘I hope they’ve got plenty of matches.’ He doesn’t seem to share my sense of urgency. We’ve made this journey many times before.
Our first journey to Beaver Scouts
The first was when he barely six. It was his first session as a Beaver Scout and my first as a volunteer. I’m not sure who was the most nervous. I remember catching a glimpse of his face in the rear-view mirror. He was peering dreamily out of the window, up at the sky.
‘Everything okay back there?’ I ask.
‘Did you know, Dad, that if you go into space and your helmet isn’t on properly, your head will pop?’
I wasn’t expecting this.‘I’m sure they check them really carefully,’ I assure him.
‘You know at night, Dad,’ he continues, ‘Space comes all the way down to the top of our roof.’
We spend the evening constructing giant mobile phones from cardboard boxes and then practicing making calls to the emergency services. It’s a brilliant way to teach life skills, but I’ve since harboured a secret fear that if I suffer some major accident, he’ll attempt to call the ambulance with a box of Frosties. The meeting is incredibly noisy and my son spends most of the evening close to me. The leaders, however, are incredibly friendly and the fact he gets a custard cream and a cup of orange is enough to tempt him back again.
…and back again
On the way home, I ask him how he feels the meeting went. He thinks hard for a moment. ‘I liked everything about it except the floor was cold. Also, one of the Beavers told me he’s going to the National Mystery Museum.’
The following week we’re in the meeting making finger puppets. On the way back, matters of history seem to be on his mind.
‘Were you in the war, Dad?’ he asks.
‘The Second World War?
‘I’m not that old!’
‘Oh.’ After a long pause, he says,‘Well in the war, everyone had to go into hair raid shelters.’
Beavers only lasts an hour or so, but it seems to fly past. The leader is a brilliant fellow mysteriously named Keeo, with a seemingly inexhaustible supply of activity ideas. He has a real name too, but very few people—perhaps not even his wife—seem to know it. He tells me the following Saturday that we’re going to Duxford Air Museum, and can I come along again and help out? I agree, not quite knowing what to expect.
On our first trip away
The next thing I know, it’s Saturday and I’m in charge of six Beaver Scouts. They’re like blue M&Ms that have escaped from the packet. Each of them seems to want to go off in a different direction.
‘What does this do?’ enquires one, yanking a lever that for all I know will release the handbrake of the B52. I turn around and for a second, seem to have mislaid my son. I find him attempting to scale a barrier fencing in a disarmed cruise missile.
‘Time for lunch,’ I tell them. I herd them into a cafeteria.
Two Beavers appear to be in heated discussion about rainbows.
‘I do like rainbows,’ one informs the other. ‘I just don’t like the light colours.’
After a ham sandwich, a carton of Um-Bungo and 28 loo-breaks, we find ourselves boarding the steps to a retired Concorde.
‘Did you know,’ I tell them, ‘that this was the fastest passenger plane in the world?’
‘What, faster than the rocket that went to the moon?’ one of the Beavers asks.
‘Not as fast as that,’ I confess.
‘Well,’ he replies, buckling himself into a first-class seat, ‘you don’t know much, then, do you?
…and back again
On the way home, my son appears to be fast asleep, exhausted from the countless miles we’ve clocked up during our visit. I switch on the radio and see him open an eye.
‘Last night I dreamt I cut my arm,’ he says, ‘but instead of blood, Love Hearts came out.’
Our first journey to Cub Scouts
Fast forward a couple of years, and we’re heading to our first Cubs meeting. A veteran of Cubs myself, I feel a nostalgic pang for my old Cub cap and bronze arrow award. It’s a beautiful autumn evening.
‘Why do I have to leave Beavers?’ he asks. ‘I love Beavers.’
‘Everyone has to move on eventually,’ I tell him.
‘I don’t. Can’t you just ask Keeo to let me stay as a Beaver? They’re all giants in Cubs.’
I hadn’t expected the move from Beavers to be such an emotional wrench for him. His bedroom walls are plastered with Beaver badge posters and Beaver stickers adorn the headboard of his bed.
‘I just don’t want to go!’
It’s almost like a break up.
…and back again
On the way home, I ask him how he felt about it.
‘I got pushed three times,’ he sulks, ‘and knocked once.’
‘I’m sure they didn’t mean it. What about that game you played?
‘Port and Starboard?’
‘Yeah. I saw you smiling.’
‘It was okay,’ he admits. ‘But I don’t know why they can’t just call it Left and Right.’
Late for Scouts
We’re just pulling up to the Scout HQ. Through the window, I can see the Scouts gathered in the warm yellow light, the leader checking his paperwork. The rain hammers onto the roof of the building and gushes down the drain pipes.
‘I guess you won’t be going out, tonight,’ I say, nodding at the deluge.
‘Are you kidding?’ my son asks. ‘Windy says this is the best kind of weather for Scouts. He calls it Scout sunshine.’ He slams the car door, then hares through the gates and joins his friends inside.