"The advancement of Christ's Kingdom among Boys and the promotion of habits of Reverence, Discipline, Self-Respect, Obedience, and all that tends towards a true Christian Manliness."
When I was a young lad I really wanted to join the Boy Scouts. It ran in the family - my Papa had been a Scout leader (Akela or something) and my uncle had been a Scout. My mum and aunt were Girl Guides, and their whole family used to go to camps and jamborees together. When it was my turn to carry on the tradition, religious sectarianism got in the way. In Newmains, the Scouts met at the Chapel hall. Protestant boys instead joined The Boys Brigade, a less-popular group that actually predated Baden-Powell's Scouts by about twenty years.
While the Scouts seemed to do all kinds of interesting and fun activities in pursuit of their merit badges, the Boys Brigade seemed to think that the best way to pursue The Object (that paragraph in quotes at the start of this column) was to force us to march. Week in, week out, we marched. We marked time. We saluted. I wanted to be out in the countryside learning stuff. Instead I marched round and round the same hall where I did PE at school, dressed in a uniform befitting the Hitler Youth, with some weird Christian tie-in that I wasn't into either.
The whole thing seemed designed to get us started down a path that would end with us joining the regular military. In fact, the BB was started by a soldier-turned-Sunday-school teacher who thought it would be a good way to instill order and discipline in his unruly students.
It wasn't all marching. There were also the occasional homoerotic episodes that seem to occur whenever you put a group of grown men who are overly fond of 'discipline' in charge of a bunch of young boys bursting forth with the bounty of impending manhood. Like the time we all had to dress up in cheerleader outfits (complete with wigs, makeup, and pom-poms) and mime along to Toni Basil's hit "Hey Mickey". I wish this was a joke.
We did make it out into the fresh air and the countryside once a year. It had been years since the BB uniform had included imitation muskets, but once off at camp, the boyish fascination with weaponry of all sorts was allowed free reign. For a wee fanny I was actually a pretty good shot with a bow and arrow or an air rifle, but the one time I had a living thing in my sights (a rabbit) I deliberately aimed high and missed, only to be met with scorn and ridicule.
If I could go back and talk to the 12-year-old me, I'd ask me why a boy who was bullied incessantly at school would willingly join and then choose to continue to attend an organization where he would be routinely bullied outside of school as well. I doubt my 12-year-old alter ego would have much of an answer, but I suppose I must have thought it would build character or something. Actually, I must have got something out of it, but whatever it was, it escapes me now.
Eventually, I got a paper round, and it was the type where you had to go round on Friday nights and collect the money. This meant extra work, but it also meant you got tips. If you worked for a newsagents where people dropped in and paid their bill at the shop, you never saw any extra money. But faced with a fresh-faced, hardworking young lad on his own doorstep, what upstanding citizen isn't going to say "keep the change", or even dip into his pocket for an extra ten bob? (The actual answer is, quite a few people, especially from the posh houses, and they're the bastards who get the big heavy papers as well!)
At any rate, having the paper round meant that I could no longer attend the Boys Brigade on Friday nights. Now I had extra money in my pocket, and I was free from the shackles and the uniform of the junior fascist Christian bullyboy league! Result!
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