Thursday 19 January 2012

The Duke of Edinburgh, Sacks, and Smelling of Cake

In the 1930s young men were tinned in order to preverse their youth

The sticky-toffee rascals of Tolly Maw are up for their Duke of Edinburgh awards - or are chasing them, which means the awards had better be pretty lively about the toes. I never took part myself though at VIth-form college there was a society based around it I recall. It took place at lunchtimes and usually in a classroom or lecture hall not so very from the Amnesty International gatherings. I was at the latter because I was sixteen and frankly the Amnesty girls were all gypsy skirts and junk jewellery whilst the DoE girls were entirely boys whose motivation escaped me. So whilst I wrote the odd earnest letter to Smaug or Mrs Brunner regarding human rights violations I missed out on... whatever it was they did for the Duke of Edinburgh awards. Thrashing the servants I would have to guess.
So when as this morning on the way to pick up a prescription I chanced upon the local Duke of Edinburgh Award seekers I took the time to pause, to watch and when approached by a very red man in very small shorts, asked. It seems you have to perform or chase four goals.Volunteering I was told was the first.
            “Chocolate, surprise, and a toy?” I asked.
            Alas, no. A physical sporty thing. A skill thing (which sounded rather thin to me), and lastly an expedition. Given that the group of horrors before me now were beating something in a sack with sticks I had to presume they were on the skill part, and the skill being practised murder. Engaged in conversation by the sort of man that didn’t quite make the grade as a scout-master I had to confess to my Amnesty activity. “They all listened to the Cocteau Twins,” I tried to make him understand. “And they pushed back stray strands of hair with their fingers just poking out of baggy sleeves. And they smelt like some sort of delicious cake. Whereas those doing the Duke of Edinburgh smelled more like...” I tried to think.
            “Me?” he said.
            It was true enough. I learned that the young lads currently sack-beating had spent six months getting their bronze by volunteering for the trenches. Their physical had been burglary, their skills as seen now, and their expedition? To the Barrier Peaks, apparently. These were lads that got into scrapes. The sort who in the absence of combating grand larceny, discovering the agents of a foreign power, or solving mysteries would instead (as they were now) murder a postman. They were making quite the meal of it.
            As a Boy’s Own Lark it clearly ranked up there with the Wasp Factory. Iain Banks’ first novel (and which when I read it was indeed the jolly tale of a boy blowing up rabbits). It was all a lot darker when I saw it at the theatre. I think I might have misread it somewhat. Just as I did the man who on asking admitted he had nothing officially to do with the Duke of Edinburgh, he just liked watching youths being energetic in the woods. Which I suppose in hindsight might be in keeping too.
              I went home to dash off a few lines telling-off a dictator and my beloved Q in keeping with the occasion got very earnest about The Jesus And Mary Chain. She had never been a part of the Duke of Edinburgh Awards either, but she does still smell of cake.


  1. One of my many nieces (this one is now a district nurse)did DofEd. Hers consisted of running up the Wreakin in groups with a compass and cooking packet soup. Well she made the mistake of taking a sandwich and so those with the expertise to boil water and empty powdered monosodium glutamate and dried stick into it, passed and she didn't. But now she's the District Nurse and they are not, which means she gets to shout out "Here's your pile ointment" in full surgeries and make them have their temperature taken anally, and they don't.

  2. My girls started Brownies and Rainbows last night. My ma was a brownie, guide and a sea-scout-thing. I wanted to go to cubs but that got as far as one of my parents grunting a bit. They probably feared what might have become of me at Mafeking.