In 1908, a war hero by the name of Robert Baden-Powell, impressed by the work of young scouts in the Siege of Mafeking, decided to try the idea out back home in Britain. A grabbed a bunch of street urchins and dragged them off to Brownsea Island, a large wooded area in Poole Harbour, from which you can barely hear the screams. He promised them tents, whittling, ging-gang-goolie and their own woggle. It went down a storm and the worldwide Scouting movement was born. And seventy years later, my parents decided it was my turn.
I was dragged, along with my younger brother, down to 1st Hurst for and they signed us up on the spot. We tied knots. We played daft team games that you only played in the Scouts and we helped little old ladies across the road, whether they wanted to or not. I got a woggle and a sheet of paper with the words to “Ging Gang Goolie” which I was told to guard with my life.
We also had to engage in “fundraising”. The Scouts aren’t exactly rich. We had a shack made almost entirely out of asbestos that had previously been used as a bakery, and before that for manufacturing chemical weapons in the War. We also had a van which looked like it had been used to ferry casualties around Beirut. We held jumble sales. We collected old newspapers for recycling. But 1st Hurst, being a rural troop, had a secret weapon.
We sold shit.
Not just any old shit either. We had a deal going with the local stud farm. We’d turn up in the Beirut Bus armed with shovels and plastic sacks, and we’d shovel prime quality racehorse shit into the bags and sell it for people to put on their gardens. It was a big money deal - we could make as much as twenty or thirty quid in a day, the equivalent of over 1,500 clicks on an Ask Jeeves banner in this chic modern world.
The shit was to be our downfall. Shit got everywhere. In our clothes, in our hair, but most importantly it got into the workings of the Beirut Bus, and eventually it was led off to the glue factory, but not before we managed to beat the crap out of it first.
And soon, summer came, and we had to go camping. This was the big one - the District Camping Competition. Six of us against the creme de la creme of a small area just to the east of a boring little town outside London. Reputations would be won and lost here. Pride was at stake. This was important, dammit!
In reality, it was a mob of schoolboys living in a field for a weekend loaned out by a gullible local farmer, presumably in return for a cut in the valuable shit-digging rights. The best part of all was that everybody knew each other - apart from the snooty Woodley boys, we all went to the same school, and most of us actually hung out in the same gang. We were Hurst, the poor country cousins; there was Wargrave, cool as hell and had enough money not to have to go digging shit; and there was Twyford who were, and let’s be generous here, as thick as pigshit.
And so it came to pass that while my parents were arranging a “Thank God they’ve gone” party, we leapt out of the back of the Beirut Bus, reeking of horse shit and choking on exhaust fumes. Myself, brother Nigel, Cooky, Greeny, Smithy and Clive, the latter two being in charge.
Getting there early got us the prime camping ground, right in the middle of the apple orchard, giving us an ample supply of ammo in case things got nasty. Our gear was cutting edge - huge six man patrol tents that had probably seen action on the Somme, or failing that, Baden-Powell’s original 1908 Brownsea camp. And no bugger was going to come near them either, oh no! Not with the reek of horse shit still hanging about us like a ...err... bad smell.
The rest of the district turned up in dribs and drabs, almost entirely in the back of daddy’s Volvo. We’d arrived first class, and this time we didn’t even need our shovels. And with the parents out of the way, this bunch of teenage boys broke out the “gear”. This had been a meticulously planned operation. Cooky and Clive had been slowly weedling away their parents’ supply of cigarettes for several weeks now, and maybe they had as many as fifteen. Bloody luxury. Nigel and I, on the other hand, had got our supply in one fell swoop, raiding Dad’s box of top-quality Cuban cigars, we’d got a big fat stoogie for everyone on the team. Bloody luxury, we were feted like heroes.
And that was right up to the minute until we saw what Cool Wargrave had brought with them. There were huge clouds of smoke rising from their camp, and they hadn’t even started a camp fire yet. We went and paid a “courtesy visit”, to find them sitting on crates of cigarettes, sweets, beer and pornography. They were so cool it hurt. Bastards.
Payback was sweet though. Within six hours, they’d puffed their way through over 200 smokesand drunk all thier ale, and Sean had spent the entire afternoon spewing his guts up on a cocktail of chocolate and Shandy Bass. Julian and Ernie came over as part of a delegation.
“Got any smokes?” they asked. “Ours have all gone”
“I am authorised by our leadership to tell you to piss off”
“We’ve got money”
The motto of the Scout movement is “Be Prepared”. We sold them a box of 250 PG Tips teabags at a substantial mark-up, which they rolled up and smoked over the entire weekend. I’ve got to say that our parents were pretty bloody impressed by that. To this day, they still think we drunk over forty cups of tea each over two days.
Back on the ground and dossing about with school mates, it was difficult to forget we were in a competition. We had to carry out a number of tasks and projects, take part in daft scout games and set fire to things whilst singing “Ging Gang Goolie” in the traditional scouting manner. We had a weather station. We had to cross a river, and the steady stream of soaking wet idiots passing our camp proved we were WELL in the lead on that one. We had to Cook For A Leader that evening. And we had to do A Special Project.
First came The Meal. We built a fire, specially like, as we were going to cook proper backwoods style for The Chief that was coming to dinner. Chicken, potatoes in their jackets, corn, the works. The fire was huge, with flames twenty feet in the air and a heat haze you could feel fifty feet away as we desperately wanted to impress. One of us donned the fire-proof gauntlets and lead-lined suit and stuck the tucker onto the conflagration. It was burned to a crisp within thirty seconds. Holy mother of donkey poop.
There goes dinner...
The Chief was due in twenty minutes and his dinner was a pile of ashes somewhere beneath the Towering Inferno. “Bollocks”, we said in the ensuing crisis meeting, “we’ll cook him pancakes, the rest of us can live off chocolate for the weekend”. Whipwhipwhip, cookcookcook, “This is looking a bit dull, let’s throw some other stuff in to jazz it up”. Big mistake. There was a horrible crunching noise which turned out to be The Chief’s dentures cracking in two.
“What in the name of blue blazes was that?” he said, spitting bits of dental plate and lumpy pancake out.
“Err.... chewy nuts”
We got top marks for improvisation.
Clicky for part II of this epic tale of mirth and woe: "The Death of the Beirut Bus".