I go back a long way with the girl guide movement, spanning the years 1964-1979. I began as a Bunnie (now a Rainbow Guide) and swiftly progressed to the Brownies, where I became a sixer in the Sprites, and then to the guides, where I became Patrol leader of the Marguerites. I then became a Ranger Guide and, briefly, a Tawny Owl. We wore our own clothes to meetings of the Bunnies at Saintfield Road Presbyterian Church but I will confess that I joined the other movements largely because I looked great in the uniform—brown for the brownies, bright blue and navy for the guides, and seafoam and navy for the rangers. All great colors for a redhead. Each organization also required that its members wore fetching hats–always a weakness of mine.
As a pudgy girl with no hand-eye coordination and poor spatial awareness the ball games were always torture. There were girls whose last names I never knew–Avril and Lesley–who could play two ball against the wall of the old church hall and in whose company I could never be comfortable. In the early days at guides I stuck close to my patrol leaders Katherine McMeekin and Carolyn Andrews because they were big on scrapbooking, or writing important lists, or, later, talking about tricks played on teachers at their own schools, or plans to get off with boys we liked from church. In my very early days, when,due to an August birthday, I was the youngest guide in the 151st troop,I remember lying in my tent at camp in Lorne, North Down, all of 15 miles from home and listening to my patrol leader and second, Gail and Glynis talking about when they got their periods. I liked the ritual of camp “Come to the cookhouse now girls, come to the cookhouse now”, the big breakfasts and the goodnight song sung to the chimes of Big Ben at the end of meetings and around the fire at camp “Oh Lord our God, thy children call, grant us thy peace, and bless us all. Good. Night.” I liked the outdoor loos less, perhaps one of the reasons I had a damp accident in my sleeping bag and needed the kind attentions of Mrs Archer (Heather’s mum).
Mrs Shaw and Mrs Stewart (Linda’s mum and Cathy’s mum) were particularly big on singing and the words of many of the songs stay with me still. I taught my own kids Ging gang gooly and the ideologically unsound We are the Red Men (feathers in our head men, down among the dead men. Pow Wow) and the one about the jay bird with the whooping cough and the eskimo song that involved sitting on the floor and slapping your own thighs and those of the two girls next to you. I didn’t bother much with knots or scavenger hunts (“please Brown Owl, I have asthma”) and when I got a badge I usually tried to stick in on with Uhu instead of attempting to sew it on the sleeve of my uniform.
By the time I got to Rangers I helped out with the Brownies. I will never forget the tiny twins Sonia and Nicola singing a song where they had to hold lit candles ” We too are like candles. We have the potentials” they would intone, cherubically. No-one could persuade them to drop that final S. Strange to think they must be 40 now. Valerie McGuffin (Lemon as was) led the Rangers and I will never forget her big hearty laugh and the way she was able to take lightly all sorts of things that other adults seemed to fret about. She’d talk about politics and work and her husband and children and I am sure I wasn’t the only one to want to do things just like her..when I was middle aged of course. She might have been 30 then. Our Ranger meetings involved cooking spag bol in the wee kitchen room of the old church hall, complaining about our parents, and laughing about everything. Cathy and Linda and Alison and Barbara and Joan McQueen were part of the group. I was the youngest and could hardly believe I belonged.
I am reminded of all of this because in October the 151st Girl Guides, Saintfield Road Presbyterian, Belfast, Northern Ireland celebrate their 50th anniversary and are trying to round up their old girls for a party in the new church hall ( I have written about the difference between the old and new church halls before–check it out here). Carolyn Andrews lost her life to cancer a few years ago and I am in the States–I hope someone from the Marguerites can make it because we were, of course, a highly superior patrol. I have no doubt that Mrs Hamilton (Jill’s mum) will be presiding over the sandwiches and orange squash and I hope that Daphne Robinson and bossy Doreen and some of the other stalwarts will be there. My wee sister plans to go. She was an Imp in the Brownies. I don’t know what patrol she was part of in Guides, but I am sure that she remembers very well.