Mirth and Woe: Carnival
Oh, the stupid things you do in youth groups to raise money.
With any excuse to get you out of the house a couple of evenings a week, and - Brucie Bonus - the odd weekend, your parents cart you off to join the Scouts and all the joys that membership brought. And once there, they have you trapped.
I can now tie any knot you care to name, fashion tent pegs out of scraps of wood and know all the verses to the National Anthem, including the ones about rebellious Scots and the dangers of squirting washing-up liquid up your bottom.
The problem came from paying for the whole experience. We paid a weekly sub for membership (which was, I recall, about half a groat per fortnight), and the rest came from what the troop could raise for themselves.
Sea Scouts could count themselves lucky on this front - they were able to hang around the docks and raise a fortune that way; while we, the poor buggers of 1st Hurst Air Scouts, had to shovel shit. We shovelled shit at the local stables and sold it to gardeners. We also - decades before it was fashionable - collected all the newspapers we could lay our hands on and sold it to recycling companies. And God, endless jumble sales and the terrifying grannies that went with them.
All for about ten quid a year.
God, we'd do anything for money. OK, almost anything - Portsmouth Docks were bloody miles away.
"Right!" announced Skip on summer evening, "Woodley Carnival."
"I've arranged a lorry for a float. Perfect fund-raising opportunity."
Oh, God, no.
The following Saturday would come around, and we were to design and build a carnival float, dress up like idiots and wave at the cheering masses of a small satellite town in Berkshire as we drove around the streets at five miles per hour. Begging for money, like a bunch of inverse kerb crawlers.
"And Mrs Skip's doing sandwiches."
Poor Mrs Skip - always doing sandwiches. I'm amazed they ever had any food left in the house.
Mrs Skip would also be supplying, it turned out, a vast bag of barely out-of-date penny chews and fizzy sweets she'd got on the cheap from a bin behind the local wholesale megastore. Sweets which we were to throw at the good people of Woodley in exchange for their hard-earned.
Completely devoid of any imagination - all the other floats would undoubtedly feature dancing girls and partial nudity - we decided what the carnival float of 1st Hurst Air Scouts was going to be about this: The Scouts.
The whole thing was supposedly a depiction - in the form of a flat-bed truck which stunk to high heaven of the animal feed mill from where it had been borrowed - of what kind of thing we get up to when we weren't whittling or shouting "Dyb dyb dob" at old ladies. Which wasn't a great deal, to be honest.
We set up a couple of tents, a first aid demonstration, and threw in the gym horse for a half-hearted display of physical jerks. And that, dear reader, apart from a bit of greenery cut out of a hedge (to demonstrate our back-woods skills, or something), was it.
Alas, it looked less like an advertisement for all that is good in the Scout movement, and more like a Prisoner-of-War camp from World War Two. And not one of those happy-go-lucky-let's-put-one-over-the-Bosch ones from war movies, either. One where they shot people, for laughs.
Foolishly, we had also started off a bit late, and had to rush from the Scout Hut in Hurst to the start of the carnival parade in Woodley, several miles away. This involved driving through a ford - y'know, where a road crosses a river and they've forgotten to build a bridge.
We arrived looking windswept, soaked and the POW camp was already looking a little the worse for wear. And late as we were, they stuck us at the back of the parade, behind the obligatory and terrifying martial arts demonstration.
Then, way, way ahead of us, someone blew a whistle and we were away, at the tail of a long line of floats with dancing girls, marching bands, floats with partial nudity, majorettes and floats with both dancing girls and partial nudity.
Everybody cheered and threw money, and in return, they got handfuls of sweets and other goodies.
They stopped cheering as we went past. Some mouthed the words "Wht's that supposed to be?" as they clapped eyes on what resembled a bunch of tramps on the back of a lorry. The miserable bastards didn't get any of our sweets, so we ate them instead. The lot.
We got 30p.
Eventually, we pulled into a field where the Lady Mayoress of Woodley to judge all the happy, smiling, dancing and partially naked floats. And our accurate representation of Stalag Luft 14, where the only partial nudity was a bare ankle in the first aid demonstration.
We stood smartly to attention as she eventually came round to our foul-smelling truck, swaying slightly as back-of-a-lorry sea-sickness and handfuls of blackjacks, Mojo chews and sharbert flying saucers caught up with us.
"And finally, your worship, this is 1st Hurst Air Scouts."
Her face fell.
And: "It's not very good, is it?"
The rancid old moo.
And: "What's that AWFUL smell?"
Ten out of ten for targeting from a lad that one day would be guiding aircraft into Heathrow Airport.
Lady Mayoress of Woodley: "Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaargh! Me chain! The little shit's puked on me chain!"
Skip: "Oh, you complete TWAT. Err... not you ma'am."
We didn't win.
They didn't ask us back the next year, either.