Our local Guide district runs a volunteer shop, which manages to make a profit and every year, we put that profit back into the district by funding a day out. Usually it pays for a coach for a day trip somewhere – coaches being obscenely expensive but this year we put it towards an activity day at our favourite local campsite. Remember “Girlguiding – give girls adventure since 1909” from the other day? Well, we gave our girls – from five-year-old Rainbows up to our teenage Young Leaders – a day of adventurous activities.
The Rainbows, who are only little (5-7, 4 in Northern Ireland), had their first chance to try proper climbing. The sessions are two hours but since we only had four Rainbows, we thought they’d be tired and bored long before two hours were up so we booked only an hour’s session and when only three turned up, the site owner gave us the climbing session for free, which was very kind. I think we were expecting them to be scared and get tired quickly but they loved it! They all got to the top of the wall, several times, there was much giggling and much excitement, and then they came back to base – where we’d set up four Patrol tents – and they cooked marshmallows over a campfire and made bracelets and then stayed for lunch with the bigger girls before going home. I think they all had a very enjoyable morning and quite apart from having the opportunity to do some real climbing, they also demonstrated to the bigger girls that Rainbows can do more than just crafts. We don’t actually have enough leaders in our district to run a regular Rainbow unit so we have Division Rainbows, who meet once a month on a Saturday with one leader and a rota of helpers. It’s an experiment in breaking away from the “once a week for an hour/hour and a half” model that we’ve always employed in the district and while it’s not really as good as regular contact with the girls, it’s giving them a Rainbow unit they wouldn’t otherwise have.
The Brownies were there for the whole day. They did abseiling in the morning (under the supervision of their own leader plus my other Guide leader, to encourage them to get to know the section we want them to move up to) and then archery in the afternoon. I assume they either had a better instructor than the Guides did or their own leaders kept them busy, because they did their two hours shooting and enjoyed themselves too.
Finally, the Guides had archery in the mornings and tunnelling in the afternoon. I supervised the archery, with a couple of Young Leaders and I don’t want to criticise the staff but the archery instructor was terrible! Even when he was greeting us, I had trouble understanding him and once he’d established that some of them had done archery before, he didn’t bother with any teaching whatsoever, or any instructions beyond “please keep behind this line until I call you forward to shoot”. It drives me crazy to see kids standing with their feet crossed and missing the target hopelessly because the instructor isn’t even bothering to correct their stance, the most basic bit of instruction beyond “don’t shoot anyone” – and out of the ten Guides we had, I saw at least four with their feet hopelessly crossed. But you can’t go and override an instructor and go up and start explaining to the girls what they’re actually supposed to be doing. I have an archery certificate myself but it’s not a teaching one – it’s a beginner’s course, the one you have to do to make sure you know the basics before you’re allowed to join a club. All the same, even with such a very basic qualification, I could have taught the girls a few things and done a better job than he did. There were ten girls and four targets set up – four girls per group, which left two spaces blank. Our Young Leaders – reluctantly, and clearly with a feeling that they weren’t supposed to be joining in – took those two spaces, because they might as well, they were only going to go unused, they weren’t stealing the Guides’ turns and we had paid for twelve people, and when they got fed up with it, I had a couple of goes. The first one went really well, I grouped my arrows beautifully, if not quite in the gold, but the second time, I had a left-handed bow. The instructor shrugged and went “it doesn’t make any difference.” Well, it does. My first two arrows, trying to sight around the bow, missed the board by about two feet and when I switched hands, not only did I struggle to get the arrows nocked in the first place, I couldn’t aim them at all. At the very least, I’ve now learnt that any girls who seem incapable of hitting the target despite endless attention from a half-decent instructor might well do better with an other-way-round bow.
I’m the only adult in the district – possibly in the Division – who’s willing to go in the tunnels. For tunnelling, in the artificial tunnelling complexes, you don’t need any qualification to lead, which you would need in a real cave. And this is the best artificial tunnelling complex I’ve ever been in. It’s 3D, there’s places you can climb up and slide down and criss-cross over lower passages and there’s even one flooded tube. The Guides are always nervous, so I give them the speech about emergency exits (there are escape hatches in the ceiling of most of the chambers) and as long as they give it a go, I have no problem with them departing via the first hatch they find if they need to, and “if I can fit, you can fit and I can fit in everything” and “here are the practice tunnels, please have a go, they’re harder than anything inside the real thing” and so on. I did have one girl escaping from a very narrow tunnel in a panic and fleeing up the emergency hatch like a rat up a drainpipe but then she encountered the rest of the group on the surface – while I was stuck below, trying to coach my neediest Guide into going down the tunnel and meanwhile losing the rest of them, who got bored and escaped. But they all went back in again and that was the end of the problems. I more or less kept them out of the smallest tunnels, they all loved the wet exit and having the outside shower turned on them and they all enjoyed the slide, which is one of the smallest tunnels but at an angle so you can slide down it. Of course, you can actually slide and I went first to demonstrate that even I could fit in it – they found my “shuffle shuffle shuffle!” the most hilarious thing they had ever seen and they all came down quite happily. The second group were even easier and by the time we came back out, I’d converted ten girls to the joys of crawling around underground.
As we had two tunnelling groups, they occupied their other hour by doing some Trangia cooking, making eggy bread, and when they’d cleaned and put away the Trangias they ran across to the campfire and cooked some smores before they were presented with a certificate for the day’s achievements and went home.
It was the first time our Young Leaders, and one of our young Leaders, had taken part in the practical side of running a day like this and as they helped us put up tents an hour and a half before the kids arrived, they pointed out that they’d never considered the work that went into each end of activities before they got there. We had four tents up, one each for the Rainbows, Brownies and Guides to leave their stuff in and one base tent for the adults, a gas cooker, food and cooking equipment and cups and plates and groundsheets and First Aid kits and all sorts. Some of the little darlings tore one of our tents on camp this summer – a real clean cut as if with a sword, which went through outer and inner, and although we’ve photographed it and we’re going to claim it on insurance, I did some reading online and a rip six inches long is apparently no big deal, so I’ve patched it and next time we pitch that particular tent, I’ll seal the seams. There was some seam sealer in the repair kit but it appears to have been in there for eight years and is absolutely solid and totally unusable. In the meantime, the tent is repaired and more or less waterproof and I’ll also sew up the inner next time we pitch it (we didn’t bother with the inners yesterday). One of my Rangers, acting as Young Leader, pointed out that I like to fix things, when she subsequently witnessed me sewing a handle back on our unit parachute – Guides treat them roughly and a handle falls off every single time we get it out.
And finally, we were all presented with a badge and after a very long day, we went home.