It later became clear that the humiliation era at school was the only time when I wasn’t happily accepted by those around me. In my local Scout group, I was a bit of a leader. Every Wednesday evening until 16, Neil and I turned up in our kit at the local hut where the 1st Bowers Gifford troop hung out. Learned knots and camping skills, played crab football, and took various proficiency tests. Could never get my beret straight.
We were often told by our Scout leaders that 1st Bowers Gifford was seen as the country bumpkin of all the Basildon troops. One mad evening we smashed up parts of the Scout hut with axes. We were overseen by one of the Scouters (a kind of upgraded helper). Everyone denied all knowledge, and it was attributed to a break-in. Another time we were chucked off a camp site for hurling our choppers into a piece of wood. At a country fair, so many of us piled onto the branch of an old tree that the thing snapped, to the disdain of surrounding adults.
We had certainly never come anywhere near to winning an Essex County Marathon. This was a weekend test where you got a map, a tent, some food and cooking equipment and were told to go to a series of compass points, keeping a log book of the trip and getting your arses to the final destination on time, with your kit clean and your woggle straight. About 200 teams from across the county took a crack at this. The winning team was adjudged to have both presented themselves very smartly and to have written the most vivid and accurate log of the journey.
Steven and Nicolas were my companions. Both a year younger and less motivated. We camped in a farmer’s field on the Saturday night and ate a Vesta meal. A horse pawed at the tent in the night.
We got up late on the Sunday. With two hours to go, we had run out of time to even get to the penultimate compass point. Looking at the map, I thought we might just reach the finish in time, going as the crow flies. A deeper scan indicated a church and a farm at the penultimate point, and so I wrote lyrical descriptions of these in the log book. Highlighting several types of bird in the farm fields along this stretch, and making careful note of various trees in blossom. We set off for the finish and got home with about 8 minutes to spare. Three days later we were told that we had won. Get in there! I still see it as creative cheating. We basked in the glory of this for years.
My Scout days could have taken a darker twist, at a camping weekend in Laindon, just outside Basildon. I must have been about 12, and had hurt my ankle mucking about in the woods. While the other lads played soccer, I went for a walk with a Scouter named Fred, who had lost all his hair and wore a wig. He had always been a friendly sort, and acted as a kind of social bridge between the scouts and the men in charge of us, whose titles I can never remember.
We ended up at a camp fire site, and sat down on some logs. Fred asked me if I was ticklish. He had asked before, and knew that I was. He upped the ante by offering sixpence to let him tickle me. It sounds positively grimy now, but at the time meant nothing to my innocent mind. Because Eric had taught the value of earning, I demanded ninepence. Fred tickled me gently around the waist, before moving his hand down into my shorts. My perception was very much that this was just another sensitive area, and that he wanted to have me shaking with laughter. Nobody had warned about such things. But when his fingers alighted on my penis, something innate told me to get away. I jumped up and said: “I want to stop this”. He replied: “Come on Kevin, I’ll give you the money,” but I was off and away, down the track and back towards the camp.
I later discovered that Fred had tried this on with most of the other lads, and I think that we protected him by never telling of his advances. I also pray that he never found a willing victim, but fear that persistence may have done the trick.
Another memory of Scouts was camping in Dorset, and having my head cut open in the sea at Weymouth by the blade of a surf board. Hospital stitches for me. We kayaked in a river, and my friend Ralf took a dump in the woods when caught short. Bear Grylls must have started off similarly.
The option at 16 was to move onto Venture Scouts, but I declined. It didn’t seem particularly trendy.