If you’re a Brownie or Guide or Senior Section member – or the parent/guardian/keeper of a Brownie, Guide or Senior Section member – going on camp for the first time, this is the first in a series of posts on the subject of the kit you’ll need. First up, the “plate bag”.
There are assorted names for this thing – cutlery bag, ditty bag, pot bag, dishes bag etc. Whatever your local unit calls it, if the name implies kitchenware, this what it means.
It’s just a drawstring bag big enough to put crockery in – not a plastic supermarket bag please! Guides tend to use the plasticky drawstring bag that came as their welcome pack when they started, which is ok if you don’t mind never knowing which one is yours. PE bags are fine. The plasticky ones don’t drain very well, though, and chances are your stuff will be put in damp at some point.
Lots of people have homemade ones and indeed, some units do this as a craft in a meeting shortly before camp. Tea towels are popular because they’re absorbent. My first bag was made from a pair of old curtains and when it fell to pieces, I made a new one from some slightly stretchy fabric left over from my sister’s ballet costume. It’s hand-sewn but that’s only because I can’t make a sewing machine work. Feel free to use a sewing machine. I’m not delighted by the bright pink fabric but it does the job. The string also has a leather tag on it which I made on my very first Guide camp in 1998. Other good options are cut-down pillow cases. Basically, any fabric you can get your hands on. You can decorate your bag however you like – it needs to be easy to spot among thirty others. I don’t know about other units, but we make a tripod from three broom handles and hang everyone’s from it. Size-wise, approximately A4 (30 x 21cm) is about right. Open along one of the narrow sides – we’ve had bags that open up the wide side and they don’t hold the stuff properly. The top edge needs a narrow sleeve for threading your string (stick a safety pin through the end to help you pull it through before tying both ends together). For string, some sort of cord will do nicely – your local camping shop will sell paracord for a couple of pounds and you can use the leftover to make half a dozen bracelets, or I bought a packet of spare guyline when I made bags with my Guides last year.
Inside, you will need a plate, bowl, cup, knife, fork and spoon. The crockery must be unsmashable – good solid plastic is good (although I’ve lost count of the number of plates I’ve trodden on and broken – better than china though! Please don’t take china to camp! Also, please don’t take paper plates!). Enamel is also good, but it doesn’t taste good in a mug and it also gets painfully hot, plus it tends to only come in the same blue-with-silver-edging as everyone else’s. Cups with handles are best – do as I say, not as I do. You only need one of each but I find it’s handy to have two, so you can have dinner on one plate and cake afterwards on the other without having to wash up in between and so on or one cup for cold drinks and one for hot. As a leader, I take spares because I know how often I break plates and I also know that there’s always one girl who forgets/can’t find hers and turns up without anything to eat from, so I always have spares just in case.
Metal cutlery is fine, plastic tends to snap. Borrow one of each from the cutlery drawer (but beware that it might not come back/might not come back in the same condition). Otherwise, you can pick up individual items of cutlery in all sorts of shops. Camping shops make special sets that clip together. You just need a knife, fork and spoon – maybe teaspoon and tablespoon, if you want – they just need to not be breakable. Many a Guide I’ve seen struggling with a plastic fork that’s down to one prong.
My cutlery is plain IKEA cutlery with Fimo-wrapped handles. Yes, it’s funky. Want a closer look?
It doesn’t really serve any purpose other than making it easy to spot. To be honest, bits of it crack off from time to time, it needs to be revarnished regularly to stop it feeling sticky and it weighs about five times as much as it would plain. The white bits are glow-in-the-dark which is great but again, doesn’t actually serve much purpose. But it looks great!
(To make: as many colours of Fimo – polymer clay- as you like. Roll out to long thin sausages (ideally much thinner than mine – mine are far too fat really), wrap around handles, bake in oven as per instructions on packet. Coat with multiple layers of varnish to make it tough and shiny and waterproof. It comes in any colour you like, plus effects – glow-in-the-dark, glitter, stone effect, metallic etc)
We wash up in tent groups, often on our homemade draining boards. Your stuff needs to be identifiable, so if there’s a chance that someone else has the same plates as you, put your name on it. Marking them with a particular colour nail varnish is a good way, especially on cutlery, which has limited writing space. If you’ve got room – ie on your crockery – you can paint your initials or preferably your name. Sharpies tend to hold up for one camp, if you don’t mind relabelling every year. I’ve never really found an ideal way of marking my stuff, so let me know if you’ve got the secret. However, one metal knife looks very much like another and chances are you’ll come home with someone else’s and you’ll probably never even know it.
Some units also ask you to keep a tea towel in your plate bag (my unit provides them, so no need) and a previous Ranger who was allergic to latex kept her own non-allergenic rubber washing-up gloves in there – we always took latex-free ones because of her but she preferred to be sure, which is fine.
I also have a few items really not recommended for Brownies, Guides or Senior Section members. I have a good sharp knife, a penknife and a firesteel – these I carry as an adult, my plate bag mostly lives in my tent or with the Rangers, who are old enough to know about not playing with knives. We’re going to have a campfire this week and as we won’t have our full camp kitchen with us, my plate bag is going to serve as kitchen.
I usually keep a wooden spoon in there too, it’s a handy place to keep my stove – just the little metal bit that screws onto a gas canister – and I usually have an insulated travel mug too but mine has lost its lid, hopefully only temporarily and has thus been removed.
Give me a comment if you’ve got any questions I haven’t covered and I’ll try to answer them.