Although a huge fan of technology, there is a bit of me that wants to cry when I see kids sitting outside playing on anything electronic. It makes me turn into my Mum, and I find myself saying ridiculous things such as ‘when I was wee we were happy swinging on a gate’. This is a lie – we did swing on gates, and we were generally happy doing it but it was not our only childhood pastime. Mud pie making, ice-cream van chasing, tight-rope walking on the front path fence, hopscotch and eventually Atari Tennis, were all on the list of a seventies childhood.
One of the best things about being wee though, was Monday night Brownies at St Stephen’s church. I was a Scottish Kelpie. I had a hand-knitted brown hat that I could see through when I pulled it down over my eyes (excellent for spying!) and my first ever badge was ‘hostess’… which will be of no surprise to anyone who knows me!
So, as I was sitting the other week scrolling through my Facebook feed, I spotted my friend Karen’s post about a brand new Brownie Badge called the Wonderland Challenge. Karen is the daughter of my friend Kay (Kay Lamb of Blackberry Jam fame!) and is the Brown Owl at St Matthews Church on Tay Street where, along with three other volunteers, she gives up her time to organise, plan and run the pack.
She is one of those incredible people who has just never left! She was a Brownie, a Guide and a helper when her Mum was Brown Owl. She loves it; it’s in her blood, and as if to prove this point her sister Donna, also a leader, appeared with her brand new baby who stayed for the duration of the night. Third generation leader in the making!
Back to the Wonderland Challenge – there grinning up at me from Karen's newsfeed was a new-style Brownie badge featuring a Cheshire Cat and a Mad Hatter's Hat! Karen’s delight at having ordered in a stack of these for her Brownies was jumping from the screen; I could almost feel the excitement! She was to spend a weekend away with her pack, completing the task that would see them among the first ever Brownies to be awarded this new badge.
Now, I am a HUGE Alice in Wonderland fan. Huge! Quick as a flash, without really thinking, I was on messenger asking how I might get my grubbie 43 year old hands on one!
“Come and be a Brownie” was the reply!
“OOOOOOO!!! I would LOVE to!” I answered!
And so that’s why, last Tuesday I headed for St Matthews in my yellow cardi to join 20th Perth Brownies for a night of Brownie Skills (you can’t head straight to Wonderland you know!)
I’m sure you all know that Brownies in 2015 look entirely different to the Brownies of the seventies. 20th Perth is probably the coolest group of young girls I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting. Rolling around a bit rough and tumble in brown jogging bottoms, yellow and white t-shirts and hoodies covered in brightly coloured, fun looking badges these girls were all about hanging with their pals and having fun.
It was loud and noisey in the best possible way and I thought getting them into any sort of order would resemble herding cats. But a quick hand in the air from our leader and everyone gathered round in relative silence. It was amazing - I want it to work when I go to my next photo call... if only politicians and CEOs were anything like as orderly!
I joined the circle, shouted my name out and within a few minutes we were onto a game of Dodge Ball, all running scared from one Casey Pallister! (You’ll know her Dad Graeme I’m sure!). I looked at the girl next to me…
“I’ve forgotten how to play Dodge Ball.” I confessed.
“Just run fast and scream really loud.” was the earnest reply. So I did.
Now, I’m willing to bet that you don’t ever just run fast and scream really loud. And not just really loud, really randomly. Just squealing and screaming and running from one side of a room to another with wild abandon. No PT instructor telling you when you should shout out, no goal or finish line or PB time to beat. Just running and screaming while a cute girl in a yellow t-shirt throws a ball as hard as she can at your shins. I’m telling you now it was one of the best five minutes I've spent in a long time. Why oh why do we stop doing this? Those too-cool-for-school teenage years have a lot to answer for - it was proper, liberating, just-doing-it-for-the-fun-of-it, fun!!
I held my own, dodging the ball until about half-way through the game whereupon I went to sit with the other Brownies who were out.
‘Why do you like coming to Brownies?’ I asked them.
“Because it’s fun!” was the not unexpected reply. (One girl did look at me like I was an idiot. To be fair to her, why else would you do anything when you were seven!?)
There were some new girls from Rainbows who’d only been there a few weeks and some proper old Brownies who’d been there for yeeeeaaaaarrrrs (two). I told them I used to be a brownie, and went on to explain my brown dress and yellow criss-cross tie which was met with great amusement and cries of ‘My Mum Had That One’.
I asked the girls about the Wonderland Challenge and was given a full blown run-down as to the amazing day that had resulted in the award of the first Wonderland Badges. This was followed by plenty of great chat about other cool badges, with t-shirts being pulled up to my eye-line and limbs tearing across the hall to find hoodies adorned with these little cloth medals fo honour. At this point I’m in the middle of the bubble of chatter and excitement and I can see exactly why Karen and Donna Lamb have remained steadfastly attached to these girls – they are quite simply intoxicating!
A big 'Well Done' cheer was sent out for our Dodge Ball Winner and I was trasnported back to 1979, hands clapping behind my back and then out in front while chanting Well Done, Well Done.... whereupon the recipient chanted back, Thank-You, Thank-You, Thank-You Very Much! If it sounds like I’m amused by simple things, it’s because I am. And you would be too!
I was put into the Hedgehogs for my Brownie Skills Badge (no pixies or kelpies here, Hedgehogs, Squirrels and Foxes) and every one of my glorious group of five girls chatted and welcomed me into play! We started with sewing a button onto a piece of cloth (I chose giant and purple), moved onto map reading, addressing an envelope properly (I am SO happy they still teach that) and reading a bus timetable. In other words, proper skills that a girl might need!
On the way round I discovered that Jessica was the Hedgehog group chatterbox; it started with her telling me how strong she was and doing her Atlas pose to prove her point. She insisted on lifting me up (from the knees) and not wanting to be a Brown Owl’s pet I went with the flow. Cheers from the other four girls as she pulled me up to my tiptoes followed by everyone taking it in turns to be picked up by the strong girl. We decided if there was a Brownie Strong Badge her face would be on it.
As we moved on to the map reading, my little group spun me tales of being on stage at the concert hall, who their best friends were, what school they went to, what their favourite food was, what colour they hated, what music they loved and all the other crucial chat that you just stop having when you grow up.
There is something wonderful about the innocence of childhood and the freedom that organisations like Brownies give our children. I think you sometimes forget how important it is for a child to run wild and be a bit bonkers. The Brownie Movement has moved with the times, modernising itself to ensure it appeals to the young girls of the 21st centuary. And yet somehow, it has managed to keep its core values in tact, which is a wonderful thing in a world where all too often these things are forgotten in a haze of angry birds and candy crush.
This isn’t about girls being princesses or being pretty or falling into a gender role. It’s about being kind, looking after yourself, helping others and being the best person that you can. I think its becoming harder and harder for girls to stand tall and be counted as individuals and I applaud the volunteers like Karen and Donna and Sarah who take time out of their lives to make this possible.
Karen came round with the camera as we were studying our bus timetables, and as Jessica showed us all her Strong Girl Pose, my other hedgehogs photobombed the frame, giggling with simple glee. I was grinning like a mad old fool!
Sitting at the end of the night, I asked one of my new friends if the promise was still the same and proceeded to recite "I promise I will do my best...". She stood shaking her ponytail from side to side after line two. Today’s Brownies are much more inclusive, with different cultures and religions all united under this one glorious banner.
I was invited to hand out the Brownie Skills badges at the end of the night and it was a privilege to award these amazing girls a big, fat well done for being great. Karen gave me mine, and a 20th Brownies label and I plan to stitch both onto my yellow cardi before I go back in October to help the pack with their writing badge.
When I set out to look for the people who make our Small City great, the most obvious of choices just hadn't crossed my mind! If your daughter is looking for something to do, something that will help her grow into an independent, fun-loving, kind-hearted young girl, then go have a look at the Brownies.
I’d go back in the wink of a Cheshire Cat’s eye!
Thank-you to all the awesome Brownies of 20th Perth - I couldn't have done it without you all!