Monthly Archives: April 2014

Royals in the rain, Brownies on a train

Last week’s big guiding events happened without me, but they’re definitely exciting enough to share.

On Friday the Earl and Countess of Wessex (who is, of course, the President of Girlguiding and a Brownie helper) visited town.  We found out less than 2 weeks before, and in the middle of the Easter holidays, but thanks to some speedy communication between my District Commissioner and the town Mayor, and swift messages from leaders to parents, we got together a good-sized group to meet her.  They braved the rain, joined the crowds lining the streets, and a Brownie presented Sophie with a bouquet (beautiful, made by a Brown Owl).  I missed it as I was at work, but it’s brilliant to see the pictures of Sophie and Edward with our girls and leaders.  When people meet the royal family, they tend to remember it for the rest of their lives, so it’s very special to have had this chance.

The next day was possibly even more exciting.  To celebrate the Big Brownie Birthday, and in a wonderful feat of organisation, my county took over an entire train to London.  Hundreds of Brownies and their leaders piled on at the station and into carriages.  There was a competition for the best-decorated carriage (won by a group from my Division!) so the train was full of bunting, flags, banners, cakes, balloons and excited girls.  My Facebook feed has been full of wonderful pictures of this all weekend.  When the train arrived in London the Brownies were met by the Chief Guide, and each group was free to do their own thing until it was time for the train to return.  My local Brownies went on an open-topped bus and the London eye.  It looks like it was a wonderful day out, and again something that the girls will remember through their lives.  I’m in awe of everyone who worked hard to make it happen.

Being a pack holiday assessor

In the middle weekend of the Easter holidays, I did my first holiday assessment in my shiny new capacity as Division Residential Advisor.  I now know from doing my own holiday licence that the assessors’ visit really isn’t scary: they’re just there to double-check everything is running fine, the holiday leader is working through the qualification book and knows what they need to do to finish it, and suggest tweaks to make things even better/safer/more efficient.

I’d been told that one of the good things about being an assessor is that you get to visit new sites and pick up ideas, and that was definitely true.  This pack holiday was at a field study centre not 2 miles from my house, which I didn’t know existed until reading very recently that it might be sold off.  Fingers crossed not, as it’s a great site with lots of indoor and outdoor space, lots of beds and good value for money.

Like my pack holiday, this had a circus theme, and the decorations put me to shame: they’d hung a parachute from the dining room ceiling to make it look like a tent, and there were balloons and bunting and pop-up circus tents everywhere.  They’d had a circus skills workshop (the same company I used, which I’ll mention by name as they’re really brilliant and go all over the south and midlands: Shooting Stars Circus Skills) and were having a party in the evening.  They had also been for a walk, done crafts like making juggling balls and decorating tiles, make and decorated cakes, and were doing a sort of ongoing treasure hunt over the weekend.  It sounded like great fun!

I’d also been told that you can tell a holiday is fine from the atmosphere as soon as you arrive.  When I arrived, the Brownies were outside having a group photo and laughing their heads off, and Brown Owl was rescuing a pair of giant knickers off a flagpole!  In other words, all was well.

When the other assessor arrived (a lady I know from the district next door, which is the same district as these Brownies so she knew the leaders there very well), Brown Owl took us on a tour of the building and we chatted about the holiday and checked the health information sheets, and had a look through her qualification book and the evidence she was gathering.  We spoke with some of the Brownies as they wrote in their diaries and they were obviously having a great time.  We just made a couple of small suggestions about paperwork and we were there for about an hour.  All in all I found it very interesting to visit someone’s else’s holiday and have a nosey round a new site and hope I can do it again soon!


Here’s a craft from Pack Holiday back in February.  We had a circus theme, so we made milk bottle elephants.

Dead simple: take a plastic milk bottle (2, 4, or 6 pints all work, depending on how big an elephant you want), cut through the bottom of the handle, and cut around the bottle level with this, so the handle looks like a trunk.  We did this for the Brownies, but older girls could do it themselves.

Cut out semicircles from the base to make leg shapes.  Leave a tail dangling at the back if you remember!  If you keep the semicircles you’ve cut out, you can stick or slot them on to make ears.  Then decorate with googly eyes, tissue paper etc.

You could also do something with the screw top of the bottle, like dangling a bag of sweets inside and screwing the lid over the top of the bag to secure.

Without further ado, meet the Brownies’ elephants.  Most didn’t bother with ears, but they’re still rather sweet, I think.

Elephants as described above

Elephants 2

Elephants as described above

Elephants as described above

Elephants as described above

Elephants as described above


Chain reaction: or, how I learned crochet for my Queen’s Guide Award

No Guide meeting this week as it’s the Easter holidays, so today’s post is about the “personal skill development” part of my Queen’s Guide Award.

“Over a minimum period of 60 hours over 12 months, take an existing skill to a new personal level or start a new skill and develop it.”

This was the first section I started, as I knew what I wanted to do it was easy to get going straight away.  My new skill was (drum roll) crochet.  Like many crochet beginners, I already knew how to knit and was curious about the other thing that people do with wool.

Armed with wool, hooks donated by my boyfriend’s family, library books and YouTube video tutorials, I learned how to make a chain and do double and treble stitches.

Crochet 1

My first attempt.

Learning treble crochet.

Learning treble crochet.

At first I felt clumsy, but gradually muscle memory got established.  For the first couple of moths I was commuting on the train for an hour twice a week, and I found those journeys a good opportunity to practise: using my time and abilities wisely!  I immediately realised that crochet is more public transport-friendly than knitting, as you’re less likely to poke your neighbour with elbows and needles, and you can shove a piece of crochet in and out of your handbag without worrying about losing stitches or making holes in the bag.

Some early attempts at round crochet.

Some early attempts at round crochet.

Round crochet

As soon as I felt comfortable with double crochet, I was keen to make something useful right away.  I made myself some handwarmers by crocheting rectangle and joining them up one edge, leaving space for my thumbs.  They were really simple (and a bit wonky), but I wear them all the time when it’s cold, and they’re still intact a year later.

My first handwarmers before joining the seams...

My first handwarmers before joining the seams…

...and after.

…and after.

Since then I’ve made several more pairs of handwarmers for friends and relations.

For my friend Beth: Aran thinkness wool, a big chunky hook, and alternating lines of double and treble crochet.

For (and on) my friend Beth: Aran thinkness wool, a big chunky hook, and alternating lines of double and treble crochet.

For my friend Jojo: crocheted in the round rather than as a rectangle, alternating black double crochet and coloured treble crochet.

For my friend Jojo: crocheted in the round rather than as a rectangle, alternating black double crochet and coloured treble crochet.

Making sure they work!

Making sure they work!

For (and on) my mum: alternating lines of double and treble crochet (every other treble with a 3-chain gap between stitches).

For (and on) my mum: alternating lines of double and treble crochet (every other treble with a 3-chain gap between stitches).

My Queen’s Guide Buddy gave me a book of crochet patterns for my birthday, and my big project of the year was making her a cardigan out of the book.  It was originally going to be for her birthday in April, but I took too long and it ended up being her Christmas present!

I started it in plain green wool, but after finishing the sleeves I decided it was too dense and stiff and was using up wool too quickly. I’m still waiting for inspiration for what to do with all that wool.

The first cardigan attempt.

Part of the first cardigan attempt.

I restarted in a thinner wool in a nicer colour, teal/purple self-striping stuff from Hobbycraft.  The finished product was alternating lines of double and treble, and every other treble had a three-chain gap between stitches.  It also had lacy edges:


And a chain to tie it together:



The finished cardi!

Queen's Guide Buddy is happy to receive it.  I'm happy that it fits!

Queen’s Guide Buddy is happy to receive it. I’m happy that it fits!

After Christmas, I had a few weeks left before the year on this skill was over, so – inspired by this post by Amy – I learned to make granny squares, from the same book as the cardigan pattern.  I completed six before my 12 months were up.

Granny squares

Of course, I didn’t have to stop crochet just because it no longer counted towards my Queen’s Guide, and since then I’ve been a bit mad on granny squares.  I’m currently joining up my first blanket (7×8 = 56 squares, in the four colours above) and have started squares for another.  They’re so easy and portable!

In one year, I went from zero crochet skill to knowing the basic stitches and a few techniques, using a range of thicknesses of wool and hooks, being able to follow a pattern and work some things out my own way, and having made four garments and the start of a blanket.  I think this counts as development.

Have I done 60 hours?  I logged my time at first, but lost count.  I’d estimate I took 3 hours for each set of handwarmers (12), 1 hour for each granny square (6), and spent 12 hours just practising and unpicking early on (12).  That’s 30 hours so far.  I’m sure I spent over 30 hours making the cardigan, including (and even excluding!) the two sleeves which didn’t make it into the final garment.  I got through quite a few TV series while working on it, anyway.  So I’d safely say that I’ve completed this section of my Queen’s Guide Award to satisfaction.  I’m very pleased that doing the award gave me the push I needed to start crochet, as I’m now…(puts on sunglasses)…hooked.

Bag packing

Shopping trolley full of packed bags

Time for some fundraising!  My Guides went bag packing in our local Sainsbury’s from 9am-1pm one Saturday.  Altogether, 7 Guides and 4 adults helped, and by chance we managed to have quite even coverage over the morning, with some arriving as others left.  Not loads of people, but more than we expected based on uptake the week before.  It was enough to have a definite presence, with one person to every 2 or 3 checkouts.  We also had an adult “floating” near the exit, keeping an eye on our pile of coats and bags and handing out flyers for forthcoming events.

Everyone who helped was a credit to guiding, and for a fairly small number of people in just 4 hours, we did very well to raise £300, plus lots of Active Kids vouchers.  Hurrah for the generous shoppers and accommodating Sainsbury’s employees!  The money will be divided between our unit’s camp funds and one Guide’s international trip.

Shopping trolley full of packed bags

One of our forthcoming events is a tea party for anyone local who has ever been a Brownie (anywhere) to celebrate the Big Brownie Birthday, so we tried to ask all the female customers whether they had been Brownies, and if so we told them about the party and directed them to the leader with the flyers.  For some customers, enough to make it worthwhile, this question opened up some nice little bits of conversation, e.g.

“Yes, and I loved my uniform with the brown dress and bobble hat.”

“Yes, I was Sixer of the Imps.”

“Yes, and I still have my camp blanket!”

“No, but I was a Brown Owl!”

“No, but my granddaughters are and they love it.”

It showed how being a Brownie is often a very formative experience and really sticks in the mind decades later.


A hall full of people sitting ready to play bingo

The crowds gather.

Officially there was no Guide meeting this week, as it’s the Easter holidays.  To fill that hole in our Monday evening, a Guide’s parents very kindly offered to run a bingo night (again: they did it with great success last year) to help International Trip Guide with her fundraising.

The parents designed a poster, provided books, pencils and prizes, and did the calling and checking and handing out prizes.  Unit Leader did the co-ordinating of venue, helpers, refreshments and raffle, and said a few words the beginning and end of the night.  Other leaders from the unit team and the district helped with publicity, baking, making teas and coffees, selling raffle tickets, refreshments and other odds and ends, and handing out flyers for our forthcoming Big Brownie Birthday tea party (for anyone who has ever been a Brownie).  International Trip Guide was there with her family and said some words of thanks at the end – her first of many public speaking engagements about the trip, I’m sure.

We had a pretty good turnout – I reckon about 60 people – a mixture of leaders and Guides with  their families and friends, and avid bingo players who’d got word of it.  The hall we used has regular bingo sessions (and a number generator machine that they let us use) so it wasn’t too much of a stretch for them to come on an extra day.  The total profit was just shy of £400, a definite boost to the international trip funds.  Whoop whoop!

I had a good time, though I didn’t win anything.  Queen’s Guide Buddy got a full house and chose as her prize a hamper of scones, jam and clotted cream: perfect for her birthday tea party in a few days.  There were lots of leftover cakes (I think everyone baked extra, worrying there wouldn’t be enough) which the Guides will use this weekend when we serve afternoon tea at a local day centre, so everything works out well, hurrah.

PR for the Unit Leader

Recently I went to a midweek evening training session on “PR for the Unit Leader”.  I decided to go on impulse when I received an email about it, since it was not far from where I live, I was free, and I’d learned from my experience helping to organise a publicity event that I could use some advice on selling guiding to people and liaising with the press.

It was a small and intimate gathering with just 5 people: me, the trainer, her Training Qualification mentor, another participant (a Guide leader from another town in the county), and a Guide leader who let us into the hall and then stayed to take part.  I think it was one of those situations where lots of people say they’d be interested in training on a topic, but for one reason or another they don’t actually come when it’s offered.  No blame: you can’t do everything, and I certainly don’t.

Actually, I liked the small size, as it made the session informal, like a semi-structured chat.  I always enjoy meeting new leaders (two I’d met before but didn’t know well, and the other two I’d never met) and having a good share.  It helped that, by chance, everyone was a Guide leader, as we had a lot of common ground to discuss.

The trainer was one of those amazing women who can talk anyone into volunteering for anything.  We have a couple of those in my District, who have singlehandedly recruited dozens of volunteers over the years.  She also seemed to be good at starting up new units and then moving on and leaving them in capable hands: good succession planning.

The training covered various topics, such as wider recruitment incentives (Growing Guiding and a county badge for new members and the people who recruited them), being prepared with short selling points about guiding (like an elevator pitch), ideas for where and how to find new members, both girls and adults, how to present yourself in the press, the importance of an exciting girl-led programme in attracting new girls, and making use of the free promotional materials from Trading.

It was one of those sessions where I learned one or two new facts and tips, but the main benefit was being refreshed and inspired by speaking and sharing ideas with new people.

Guide Dogs

For our last meeting of term, we had two special guests: a guide dog (actually a former breeding bitch for guide dogs who hadn’t been a guide dog herself) and her owner, who spoke about the charity Guide Dogs and the work they do.

This wasn’t part of a badge or challenge that we’re doing, but I think the visit happened through one of those offchances where he got talking to one of our leaders and offered to visit, and they accepted because you don’t refuse when someone offers their services to guiding!  Anyway, it was a really interesting evening and we all learned a lot.

We knew he was due to arrive half an hour after our meeting started, so we started off with a quiz about Guide Dogs.  I made some multiple choice questions using the information on the charity’s website and this unofficial quiz, printed a copy for each patrol, and gave them to the patrols to work on as they arrived.  When they finished the questions, they wrote down ideas for questions to ask our visitor.  He arrived just as we were going through the answers, which worked out well as during his talk he referred to some of the answers, and clarified a few answers which didn’t give the full picture.

I was mightily impressed with the Guides, who sat and listened brilliantly for an hour – I’ve never seen them so quiet!  A lot of this was due to the dog, who was the real star of the evening.  It was very relaxing just watching her snoozing, scratching and pottering around the room.  Her owner said that he’d found having a dog around had great effects: for example, it makes people donate more money and makes school children better-behaved.  The Guides (those who wanted to) got to give her a treat at the end.

Our visitor had a lot to say about the charity, and it made me appreciate just how many people and how much time and money it takes to provide guide dogs to blind and partially-sighted people.  He also had some entertaining stories, such as dogs he had known who were afraid of wheelbarrows and telephone boxes.  His main role as a volunteer now is to do talks like this, and I’d recommend it for anyone interested in learning more about this charity.

The timing was good, too, as the Guides are helping out at the “blind club” at a local day centre in a couple of weeks’ time, so it’s got them thinking about this topic and hopefully will encourage them to come (although dogs are not guaranteed).