30 December 2011

My Heart Would Be A Fireball...

I wasn't a good scout.

Years ago in Brighton, looking up into the July night sky, my then girlfriend was incredulous of how ignorant I was of the constellations.
'Weren't you a scout?'
'Well, yes...' I said, 'but not a very good one. Not like you. If you were one of the kind of scout that had "be prepared" carved into your heart, I was the sort with "ah, it's grand" scrawled across my chest.'
'"Ah, it's grand"?'
'Yeah. I was basically our motto. As in "There's grass on my burger!" "Ah, it's grand," or "Are you sure we can put up a tent without a middle pole?" "Ah, it'll be grand."'

I spent last night with my oldest friend, the two of us sitting up chatting till six in the morning, catching up on a year and a half of time having passed. Along with tales of building dams from lard, and other childhood memories, we got to talking of our scouting days, reminiscing of campcraft competitions in Rathdangan, where we were picked up on for mocking some passing Guards, practiced songs in a bluebell grove, and felt scandalised by other scout units being far too polished.

To my astonishment, Diarmait couldn't remember my first trip to Larch Hill. Not that he ought to have remembered it because it was my first time there; no, he ought to have remembered it, I thought, because it should have been unforgettable.

We can't have been more than thirteen. I was a new scout at the time, and hadn't yet been invested, when our troop spent a day working on skills at Larch Hill, the CBSI's official site in what we so optimistically call the Dublin mountains; this was my first experience of the potent brew we call camp tea, and also saw me being tutored in the art of knots and lashing.

So far so unremarkable, but what amazed me was that Diarmait couldn't remember what we got up to with the fire.

Our patrol leader, who was of course just a couple of years older than us, thought it'd be fun to see what would happen if we started putting things on the fire. Things? You know the kind of things you're not meant to put anywhere near fires? Yep, those things. The contents of the first aid kit, basically, and some unusual items he'd brought along himself, just for the craic.

The first thing onto the fire was the Burneze, the very stuff we'd need to spray on ourselves if we got burned. And, of course, it exploded, to our delight. With that promising start, aerosol after aerosol was hurled into the very fire we'd fermented camp tea on just an hour or so earlier. Eventually our patrol leader reached into his bag and took out his last explosive-in-waiting, a huge cannister of some kind of spray-on glue. Into the flames it was dropped, with all of us running away and ducking down behind a bank of some sort to wait for the blast.

We waited.

And waited.

Until eventually, as we were getting a bit concerned, we heard the cannister finally go... 'pfutt'.

Hugely disappointed, we looked at each other, until eventually a couple of the lads put on heavy duty gloves and stood up to take the can out of the fire.

And then it exploded.

There was a massive boom, and a fireball that shot straight up, scorching the branches of the trees. We all stared, as impressed by the explosion as we were relieved by the two lads who'd gone to retrieve our bomb not having been burned to death. And, as you'd expect, we exploded in laughter.

Diarmait has no memory of this, whereas I remember it clearly. I can picture exactly where it took place. I realise that it sounds a bit unlikely, in that there were actual leaders there that day, but they could have gone off with the other patrol for some reason, presumably to another field, there being no shortage of such on Larch Hill. I suppose they must have.

Still. Memories are funny things, as I've said before.

I gather it's different now in the scouts. Unsupervised weekend patrol camps -- and I could tell tales of those too -- are most definitely a thing of the past. Perhaps it's for the best, in that it reduces the likelihood of a bunch of young teenagers setting themselves on fire, but I can't help feeling something's been lost.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I had forgotten about Iris Murdoch. There was a time I read her all the time. I think A Word Child was the one I liked best.