Parents’ groups were shocked last week to discover what the Guides have been getting up to. That’s not a set-up for an off-colour St Trinian’s-style joke from an era when people took a more relaxed attitude to paedophilia. I’m talking about Girlguiding UK’s officially sanctioned activities. Instead of lighting fires and tying knots, today’s Guides are eschewing arson and bondage in favour of giving each other makeovers and massages, and talking about celebrities. Such pastimes, with names like “Parties, Chocolate and Showtime”, “Passion 4 Fashion” and “Glamorama”, can even count towards badges – the Scouts’ and Guides’ time-honoured currency of achievement.
As the nation’s womanhood polarises into anorexia and obesity – a minority miserably struggling to emulate the unattainable and bizarre bodies of catwalk models, and a majority defeatedly guzzling McFlurries in loose-fitting clothing, unable to express their aspirations other than by getting their toddlers’ ears pierced – this is surely the last thing we need. Guide patrols are supposed to be fresh air-loving paramilitary groups, not weird self-pampering prepubescent hen parties, throwing their childhoods away learning feminine wiles. They should, as Margaret Morrissey of Parents Outloud puts it: “get dirty, look scruffy and do anything they want”. As long as what they want is to get dirty, look scruffy and sing round a camp fire, rather than get a facial and bitch about Adele.
What is the world coming to? First, that shooting spree in Afghanistan and now this. If we’re going to put a stop to our 150-year experiment in protecting the innocence of British childhood, we’d be better off sending the kids back up chimneys and into factories rather than letting them give each other boob jobs. At least child labour contributes to the economy. All this objectification of girls only pushes up the sales of blusher and leads to more teen pregnancies. The same sort of twisted precocity once made Lancastrian cotton competitive. In China, they use it to make iPhones.
So you won’t catch me questioning the justification for getting cross of all the people who got cross. Still, you can’t deny that putting on makeup is a skill most women will use more often than starting a fire without matches. I’m a sort of man and even I’ve needed to apply lipstick on more occasions than I’ve had to light an outdoor fire, tie anything more complicated than a shoelace or recognise a songbird from the colour of its shit. Isn’t Girlguiding UK just responding to the realities of the modern world?
I never joined the Scouts. Growing up in 1980s suburbia, I was convinced that fresh air and the outdoors were dated concepts. Tron provided proof. Soon such things will be obsolete, I thought, as I played Froggeron my BBC micro while simultaneously watching Metal Mickey – an early example of multi-screening. But had the activities on offer seemed more relevant, I might have been tempted to don a woggle and try for my dot-matrix printer maintenance badge.
Here are some other activities that the movement should encourage in order to prepare kids for a less wholesome world.
Texting while you’re supposed to be talking to someone in real life
It is very rude, we can all agree, to be constantly texting when you’re supposed to be socialising in “meatspace”. On the other hand, when you receive a text message, it’s often preferable to read it and reply immediately rather than continue listening to the droning of someone who happens to be physically present. People call this hypocrisy, when in fact it’s just caring more about your own feelings than another person’s; that’s something we’re evolved to do.
The Guides could resolve this apparent contradiction by teaching kids to text by feel. The message-sending hand could dangle covertly beneath the pub table while sympathetic eye contact is maintained with the real world companion throughout their anecdote about builders/divorce/a friend who won’t stop texting.
Stopping someone sitting next to you on a coach or train
Only a psychopath would happily stretch out over a double seat while someone else has to stand. But only a saint doesn’t mind losing their own luxurious double seat before other people. Clearly, the optimal path is for the empty seat next to you to be the last to go. The trick here is to look like you might possibly be a maniac, but not to the extent of attracting wider attention. In terms of a lifetime of travelling convenience, learning these techniques has got to be a higher priority than fording streams.
Suppression of the awareness
Our society has a new scourge: awareness raisers. We are surrounded by people, organisations, companies and charities desperate to raise our awareness of whatever they’re concerned with. But if we become intensely aware of everything, comparatively speaking we’re no more aware of anything. We’re just hyper-aware – paranoid, terrified, our heads buzzing with issues that don’t concern us directly. We need to be schooled, from an early age, in obliviousness – in being able metaphorically to stick our heads in the sand. The relevant badge could have a picture of an ostrich on it.
Always having a pen
“Be prepared!” But how is this state of preparedness to be maintained? We live in an environment of apparent pen plenty – they’re given away as freebies, left lying around, found down the back of sofas. This is all designed by a malevolent God to lull us into a false sense of security that can leave us penless in a crisis. The myth that you can ever have the right amount of pens is key to this problem: in truth, you’ve always either got none or too many.
The trick therefore is to steal pens. Not from shops, I hasten to add, but from each other. Never use your own pen when you can borrow one and neglect to return it. In any circumstances where pens are left lying around, snaffle a fistful. Only when boxes and rooms in your house are filled with unwanted Biros, can you have any confidence that you’ll have a pen when you need one.
No young person should go out into the world without a robust schooling in both ignoring and hurling online abuse. In the fraught ecosystem of the web, the demoralising effect on your rivals of anonymous bile may give you a vital competitive edge, as may an ability to ignore their retaliatory insults. Just as Scouts of old could forage and survive in the forest, the cyber-Scouts of the future must learn to be ruthless predators in the online jungle.