A Scottish Guide (camp)

Today the Renault Clio and I are going to Exeter airport but one of us remains blissfully unaware of this fact. I still can’t bring myself to tell the Clio, not when it still has all the ailments from the last time we went. This time we’re taking Laura. She knows all about the space hopper picture, the sick and the fact that I can no longer dip my headlights or use the heater as a hair dryer, but she still seems happy to be my passenger.

We’re going to Edinburgh. Or rather Laura and I are going to Edinburgh. The Renault Clio is going to be hanging out in the same car park as last time. It’s only now that I realise just how cruel it is to force the car to revisit the place where it spent a week festering in sick juices, this will no doubt cause quite a setback in his emotional recovery. But I’ve paid my £35 for the car park, so I’m not changing it now.

I’ve only been to Scotland once before and I found it almost as traumatic as the week my car spent at Exeter in October.

I was 12, it was the summer holidays and I was going on Guide camp.

My Mum was a hugely enthusiastic Girl Guide, and her Dad was an even more enthusiastic Boy Scout. So following in family tradition I was enrolled in the Brownies as soon as I was 7, and progressed onto Guides without even questioning it.

The Scouting and Guiding that my Mum and Grandad took part in sounds far more wholesome and innocent than the Guides I went to.

Brownies was fun, although I was a Brownie  just a few years too early to qualify for the cool uniform. I joined in 1988 when everyone still wore those nasty brown dresses. I was still a Brownie when the brown dress was phased out, but by then I was quite an old Brownie, and none of us old Brownies were allowed to trade our brown dresses in for the cool yellow sweaters that the young Brownies were rocking up in every Monday, mainly because our mothers had spent so many hours sewing all the badges onto our uniforms that they couldn’t face the thought of transferring them all onto a new uniform. Obviously all the old Brownies had earned a needlework badge by the time we were eight, but we still fully expected our mothers to sew all our badges on for us.

Eventually the long standing tradition of wearing the nasty brown dress every Monday, dancing round a toadstool, making coconut ice and enduring random spot checks to make sure you had 10 pence, an elastic band and a safety pin in your pocket came to an end, and off I went to Guides.

My first night at Guides was a sunny spring evening and so we were sent off on an orienteering exercise. Back in my mother’s guiding days I’m sure that would have been idyllic. In 1992 not so much.

I was 11 and still very much cocooned by the security of my village primary school. I had no older siblings and had no life experiences that would prepare me for the horrors of being put in Nightingale patrol.

My patrol leader was called Harriet and the only orienteering she was planning to do was navigating us all to the local bandstand where she had a hot date with her boyfriend. The only thing hot about him was the ash that fell of the cigarettes that he and Harriet smoked. The rest of us sat around awkwardly as Harriet’s mouth alternated between smoking cigarettes, kissing her boyfriend and telling us that if we dared tell on her then she would be sure to flush our heads down the toilet when we went up to secondary school in September.

Suffice to say, this is the first time I’ve ever told anybody about my first night at Guides.

The weeks went on and we spent our Wednesday nights doing crafts, making quizzes, going canoeing and singing songs in a round. Harriet’s attendance was fairly sporadic and it wasn’t long before she left altogether.

The first Guide camp passed without drama. Vague memories involve a trip to Cadbury World, a couple of ghost stories and a competitive game to see which patrol could peel the most potatoes in 10 minutes.

But the next year was a completely different story.

North Devon is a long way from Edinburgh but it seems even further when you are on a coach full of teenage girls, and when you are sitting next to your one time best friend Gemma who has never been away from home before and who decides that she is going to spend the whole journey, in fact the whole week, crying because she misses home.

To be honest most of the week is a blur. I only seem to remember things from my childhood if there’s photographic evidence to jog my memory, and I managed to drop my camera on Hadrian’s Wall before we even got to the campsite and pitched our tents. The camera smashed, never to be used again, and 12 year old Cazza wasn’t the sort of person who would bunk off during a Guide excursion to pop into an Edinburgh branch of Jessops and buy a new camera.

What I do remember is the fury of the Guide leaders when we arrived at our campsite. The Girl Guide Motto is “Be Prepared” but they weren’t, because none of them had done an inspection of the camp site prior to our visit. Presumably you couldn’t fly Exeter to Edinburgh for £29 in 1993, and Trip Advisor hadn’t been invented either, so the first time they saw the site was when they arrived with a coachload of 43 Guides for a week’s stay. I don’t remember anything about the site, just their furious faces as they discovered nothing was as good as the brochure had suggested. Being on Guide camp with a load of angry adults really isn’t a lot of fun.

As well as the Angry Leaders, we also had Dominique. She was too old to be a Guide but wasn’t ready to leave the Guiding family so they had let her stay on as a young leader. What that really meant was that Dominique had the power to bully as many Guides as she wanted to. And having spent her teenage years being a victim of bullies herself, she was very keen to give as good as she’d been given. She teamed up with some of the older guides and together they formed an effective tribe of evilness. They took all the qualities that a Girl Guide was supposed to have and did the complete opposite. Name calling, backstabbing, sabotaging tents…. I’m sure Lord and Lady Baden-Powell would never have dreamt of Guides competing with each other  to be given an accolade for the most creative and upsetting way to display a used sanitary towel, but these were the sorts of thrills that Dominique and her gang went in for.

During the day times we’d go off on Scottish excursions. I can’t remember what any of them were, because the smashed camera means I have no visual prompts to remind me. I do remember Tearful Gemma crying all the time and I remember looking up the Gough Tartan in a tartan shop but I can’t remember if there even was one let alone what it looked like.

When you’re a Guide you have to travel in threes. The logic behind this is that if one Guide falls down and breaks her leg then you’ve got one Guide to stay with the injured Guide and another Guide to race off and find help (the training sessions always suggested that we’d find this help by racing off to the nearest red phone box with our emergency 10p). So although I can’t remember, there is no doubt in my mind that I would have spent all my days trundling around Scotland with Tearful Gemma and somebody else – and whoever they were and wherever they are now, I’m sure that as they didn’t break their camera on Hadrian’s Wall, they have a dusty photo album stored away in their loft containing photos of me having an unmemorable time in Scotland.

The only really vivid memory I have of Edinburgh Guide camp was getting into trouble. We’d got back from whatever Tartan Excursion we’d been on one day to discover that in our absence an official from Girl Guiding HQ had come out to do a spot check inspection of our camp – a Girl Guide Ofsted presumably. We were all sitting around the campfire eating some variation of baked beans and sausages whilst the Angry Leaders received their feedback and became even angrier and more red faced than they’d previously been which I hadn’t thought possible until it actually happened.

At this point I should tell you that earlier that day I had decided to use my initiative. I’d had a shower, noticed that my towel was beginning to smell a little rank after living day after day in a tent with 5 other girls and their towels, and so I had decided my towel would dry much more effectively if, instead of scrunching it up and leaving it to fester in the tent, I draped it over the guy rope.

And at no point in my 12 years on this planet had anybody ever told me that draping a towel over a guy rope is an ILLEGAL ACT on Guide Camp, and that if a Girl Guide Ofsted Inspector catches you doing it, then your entire Guide company gets an INSTANT FAIL!

The insanely Angry Leader stormed into the circle of 43 girls, her face as hot and as red as the campfire and she demanded to know who the towel belonged to. I unwittingly admitted it was mine and then in front of the entire circle of sausage eating Guides she unleashed more wrath and fury on me in 2 minutes than I’d ever had in the whole of the rest of my life put together.


Well no, I didn’t know that, but now everybody does which means you’ve just given 42 girls licence to bully me for the rest of this week. So “thanks a lot” right back at you Mrs. Angry Guide Lady.

Ironic really that some people can maliciously place a used sanitary towel on someone else’s pillow and get away with it, whilst other people who always tried to be good can spend the rest of the week in disgrace for doing something they didn’t even know was wrong. After that drama, I cried almost as much as Tearful Gemma did.

Laura and I are flying to Edinburgh so there will be no long coach journey for us, and we’re only going for the weekend so homesickness is unlikely to be an issue, but sickness could be because we’re going on one of those rides that hoiks you 60 metres into the air and then spins you round and round really fast before plonking you back on the ground again. Thank goodness I won’t be anywhere near the Renault Clio when that happens.

We’re staying in an airbnb. Just like my Angry Guide Leaders we haven’t gone up to inspect the facilities before our visit, but we’ve seen some lovely photos on the website and we’re not expecting Ofsted to drop in and judge us on where we hang our towels.

After the unfortunate incident in the Renault Clio the last time I went to Exeter I am taking more than one pair of jeans and plenty of plastic bags, so I have remembered to Be Prepared, just as Lord and Lady Baden-Powell intended.

These days I use an Olympus Tough camera which is designed to withstand all sorts of shocks, drops and temperatures so it will probably survive the journey, which means my memories should remain in tact too.

We can’t travel in threes because there’s only two of us, but mobile phones have been invented since the last time I was in Scotland, so we should still be able to arrange for help to come if one of us breaks a leg. We’re definitely not taking any bullies with us and we’ve got Google Maps to lend a hand if we need to do any orienteering.

It sounds as though Scotland 2019 should be a lot better than Scotland 1993.

Not that the bar of expectation needs to be set very high for that to happen!

5 thoughts on “A Scottish Guide (camp)

  1. We all have mixed memories of our childhoods! I was a cub and went on a cub camp. The only thing I remember about it is a senior cub leader trying to get me into his sleeping bag with him! I resisted as I had a feeling that it wasn’t quite right. Naturally I didn’t tell anyone about it.

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