Letters from Thailand

{January 21, 2008}   I Promise That I Will Do My Best…

So begins the beginning of the Brownie Guide Promise that I was forced to recite on a weekly basis for 2 years (between the ages of 8 and 10). Aside from the promise, my memories of brownie guiding are not all that great.

The reason I’ve been thinking about this today is that I’ve been ‘recruited’ to assist the Girls’ Brigade at the school where I work, and I’m in a bit of a quandary about it, due to my experiences during those two years.

Don’t get me wrong, I know the organisation was set up to encourage girls to develop leadership skills and teamwork, as well as keeping them off the streets. However, in reality, it was just an extension of the popularity contest that formed the basis of the Law of the Playground, of which I was forever in breach. I was never invited to join in games that involved speed or feats of physical strength and endurance because I was so crap at them. That didn’t bother me at all, I was quite happy sitting around with another pair of weaklings talking about what they were going to dress their Sindy dolls in that night, and there were enough other kids to participate in British Bulldog or Kiss Chase that my sissy mates & I weren’t missed. With Brownies, it was another story. Lack of participation was frowned upon and there was a hierarchy in the ‘pack’ which meant you HAD to do what you were told, either by the adults (Brown Owl & her sidekick, Tawny) or the girls further up in the pecking order (the Sixer and Seconder).

One of my biggest disappointments with the system was due to this hierarchy, which I will attempt to explain: The ‘pack’ (yep, that’s what we were called – just like a group of she-wolves) was divided into groups of 6, each headed by a ‘Sixer’ who was ably assisted by a ‘Seconder’. In my pack, these positions were assigned on the basis of seniority within the pack, so that once a Sixer left (probably to move up to the Guides) her Seconder would replace her and the girl who had joined next would rise up to be Seconder. When my turn came to become Seconder, I was passed over in favour of a younger girl who’d joined a full year after me. Yep, I’d been forgotten. When I complained about it to my mum, she promptly got on the phone to Tawny Owl (who lived in our street – more about her in a bit). The next week, I was told that they couldn’t inform the other girl that she was no longer Seconder (something about harming her self-esteem, if the term had been invented then. My own self-esteem was clearly of no consequence) but that we would both be Seconders. Now, in our six, we had a Sixer and two Seconders – surely a case of too many chiefs? Not that it mattered as I left soon afterwards, deciding that brownie-ing was not conducive to the lifetime of quiet non-conformity I envisioned for myself.

The other incident (and probably the one that made Brown Owl & Tawny decide I wasn’t a suitable candidate for Seconder) happened after Brownies, in Tawny Owl’s car. As I mentioned, she lived in my street so she would take me and my best mate to the brownie hut in her snotty green Morris Minor that stank of corgis (actually, not sure if she had corgis or not, but her stature, hairdo, tweed suits & support tights did put me in mind of Queen Elizabeth.) Anyway one week, we had had a ‘sing-song’ at the meeting. The lyrics of the song went something like ‘When I was two, I buckled my shoe, the day I went to sea’. After the meeting, my friend and I were waiting in the stinky, green car, waiting for Tawny to finish “discussing pack business” with Brown Owl (they probably had a bottle of gin stashed away somewhere). To take our minds off the boredom and our noses off the scent of wet dog, my friend and I decided to reprise the song with a slight change of lyrics which entailed rhyming ‘one’ with ‘bum’, ‘two’ with ‘poo’ and ‘three’ with ‘wee’ (we got stuck at four, so all suggestions welcome!). There we were singing along with a lot more gusto than we’d previously demonstrated, when Tawny opens the car door. We decided not to stop singing, but repeat the song, in full, for her approval. It wasn’t forthcoming. We were warned if she heard us using inappropriate language like that again, we’d be expelled from the pack. Not such a bad thing in itself, but if mum found out….

I think my greatest achievement was leaving with the record for the least number of badges earned. In four years, I think I earned three -flower pressing, household something or other (making tea & ironing for a month) arts & crafts – all of which have prepared me for the life of a modern woman.

And the rest of the promise?

I promise that I will do my best

to do my duty to God,

to serve the Queen,

and help other people,

and to keep the Brownie Guide Law.


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