Tuesday, 12 July 2016

Traditional Guiding

Yesterday I received a letter from the Girl Guides I left behind (with their leaders) in the Perthshire wilderness last week. They often sing the song I taught them; they have continued the improvement to camp hygiene I suggested; they have played positively epic games since I left; so-and-so fell asleep on watch, was 'kidnapped' by two woodland beasts and had to be rescued. They very much miss me. Bless their girlish hearts.

One of the questions of my childless life is what on earth to do with all this pent-up maternal instinct, and a solution has come in the form of traditional Guiding. The establishment of Guiding in our TLM parish means two different age groups who sometimes need an old auntie to pitch in: the tween/teen girls and their twenty-something leaders. Thanks to an eight year stint with the (non-traditional) Girl Guides of Canada, I know a lot of stuff, and in Guiding situations it slowly comes back to me. But the same time, I know that nothing is more annoying to a twenty-something leader than a woman old enough to be her mother sticking her oar in at the wrong time, so I save my expertise until it is needed. Wisdom of age, y'all.

Meanwhile, traditional Guiding is different from the Guiding that I did in many ways, and none of my leaders knew her way around a hatchet, saw, chisel and awl the way our girls' Captain does. I barely ever used my knife in my Guide career, and yet during the three days I was at this camp, all the Guides had their knives out constantly to help turn our patch of Scottish forest into a colony of France. (The Guides' branch of Traditional Guiding and their Captains come from France.)

The most obvious difference between Traditional Guiding and Canadian Guiding As I Knew It is the emphasis on the Guides' Catholic faith. The girls were amazed that my parents didn't send me to Catholic Guides but to the geographically nearest Brownie troupe, down the street at the Anglican church. I reassured them that in those days, it was okay (by which I silently mean we weren't yet a branch office of Planned Parenthood). And it was, really. A sort of lukewarm  mainstream Willowdale Anglo-Saxon Protestantism still lingered, except when the dirty books came out at camp, which--come to think of it--was in direct violation of Guide Law 10: "A Guide is pure in thought, word and deed." Meanwhile, I doubt the Guide company at my parish church was half as devout as this Traditional Guiding Company. While collecting firewood, I overheard dishwashing girls seriously discussing some saints and the liturgy. Each of the two patrols built its own oratory.

Another obvious difference is that Traditional Guides wear skirts to camp. Okay, they do have "play uniforms", which is when the (rather long) shorts come out, but for such camp ceremonies as morning assembly, they race to the parade ground in dress uniform, which means berets, button-down shirts, navy skirts, sturdy boots and blue pullovers. In Scottish July, one is glad of that pullover, believe me. In my Canadian Guiding days, camp uniform meant a soft, brimmed camp hat, a T-shirt, shorts and running shoes. The shorts were rather flimsy, come to think of it; I much prefer the dark-navy, knee-length denim skirt I managed to find myself in a charity shop while packing for Trad Guide Camp. Camping in skirts is rather fun, and as traditional Scottish dress for men involves kilts anyway, traditional. The theme of the camp was the history of Robert the Bruce, and to play the Bruce convincingly--as our French Captain rather did--you need bare knees, let's face it.

Guiding everywhere involves a "campfire" meeting at the end of every day, and the girls cheered when they were told the leaders would take care of "campfire" that first night at camp. Their campfire always involves songs, hymns, a comic sketch, a dramatic sketch, boisterous games and five decades of the rosary. The girls half-kill themselves preparing it, so I understood their relief, but at the same time I felt a bit stressed. These are very talented, very enthusiastic, very creative girls, so I wasn't sure how I was going to do a sketch up to their standard. Fortunately, I had remembered to do as the Captain bid and brought a "fun story" about Robert the Bruce, which is naturally the apocryphal story of his being inspired by a doughty spider.

We quickly decided that the Captain would be the Bruce and I would be the spider. The Captain had a splendid tunic with a lion on it, and I gave myself four extra limbs by way of plaiting my hair into four braids. But best of all, I had brought a big ball of green twine, which would serve me as spider silk. I stuffed it down my shirt with the end sticking out my collar, and felt rather pleased by this special effect.

If you don't know the story of Robert the Bruce and the Spider, basically the Bruce had failed six times to establish his rule over Scotland/liberate Scotland from the English, and he was lying in a hovel wondering if he should make another attempt or pack it in and join the Crusades when he saw a spider trying to swing from one beam to another. The spider tried six times to attach its silk ot the opposite beam and six times failed. The Bruce decided that if the spider made another attempt, he would make another attempt to free Scotland. And lo. The spider succeeded on its seventh attempt, and Bruce never again lost an important battle.

Anyway, when I succeeded on my seventh attempt to reach the tree across from the one attached to the end of my string, I enjoyed myself winding a web around all the trees within reach, Robert the Bruce, etc., while shouting high-pitched spider cries of "Wheeee!" But then, as Robert the Bruce, continued  the campfire by leading some complicated comic song about a moose, I discovered I was stuck. Somehow the string inside my clothing had wound itself around my underclothing in such a way that I was permanently attached to my web, and I had to gesture helplessly to a Guide that she cut me out.

"What I like about you, Your Grace," said some Scottish Catholic to some Scottish bishop (Cardinal Winning, actually) in a story frequently repeated by the Schola, "is you've got nae dignity."


However, I made up for this glitch (I hope--campfire is almost a professional affair with this company) with my store of traditional English-language Girl Guide songs, my subsequent lesson on fire safety, and my open-fire cooking. It seems to me that my open-fire cooking has vastly improved since I was 14, probably because I have since then learned to cook at all. Meanwhile, open-fire cooking takes patience and a determination not to serve food that is either half-raw or burnt. It really puts one's theological education in perspective. Nobody really cares that I have an M.Div, but the ability to serve perfectly cooked potatoes can be crucial to the happiness of all around.


  1. Father Rowe was so impressed by those guides while on Chartres that he came back and gave our 'young adults' group a talk on them!
    He is very very keen to fly a leader over and get them started here for all the young girls.

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  3. Hilarious! Thank you for sharing!