Category Archives: Local events

Happy birthday to Her Majesty

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Back in the summer, my Division held a garden party for girls, to celebrate the Queen’s 90th birthday.

Only one of my Rainbows went, and I wasn’t involved in running anything, but it was fun to attend, watch, and be vaguely useful.

The girls made and decorated crowns to wear, constructed a hobby horse (in teams) and did relay races, and did a trail looking for the names of members of the royal family around the garden.

Then we had a tasty afternoon tea and did group photos with an arch some leaders had made, and a cardboard cutout of Her Maj herself. (We’ve still got the cutout, if anyone has a use for it…)

Bonfire night

Normally this is a glorious view. Today it was just very foggy

Normally this is a glorious view. Today it was just very foggy

My first “back to guiding” activity was with my old district. We had our annual bonfire and I went back to do the singing with QGB.

It was on that day when it was really foggy. I walked up to the place where we were having the fire, and as darkness fell it was…atmospheric. I wouldn’t have wanted to do it if I didn’t know the route well!

It was a good night as usual, lots of girls from all sections, lots of enthusiastic singing, sparklers and tasty sausages, and it was nice to have catch up with people and find out what my Guides have been up to. Their recent highlights include epic amounts of cake baking and fundraising, and the BIG GIG.

World Thinking Day 2015

This year we had our Thinking Day celebrations on actual Thinking Day, since it was a Sunday. We did it as a district, nothing fancy, just a couple of hours of international-themed activities, squash and cake, renewal of Promises, a little singsong, and off we all go.

We had six rotating activities based on the three countries our international trip Guides and Young Leaders are visiting this year:

  • Japan (origami and races moving things with chopsticks)

  • India (making/decorating card elephants and drawing round hands then drawing on henna designs)

  • USA (s’mores and making the Golden Gate Bridge out of marshmallows and spaghetti)

I was on s’mores, along with Queen’s Guide Buddy and our old Young Leader who was back from university for a few days. The girls toasted marshmallows/veggie jelly sweets on skewers over tealights, and smooshed them with a square of chocolate between two digestives. Om nom nom. And only a couple of “burned” fingers. Yes, we did have a handwashing/cooling bucket to hand, and the girls did tie back their hair.

The girls went around in mixed-age and mixed-unit groups, decided by coloured name stickers as they arrived, which meant they got to hang out with some new people and the older ones could help the younger ones.

We also had the second round of the Great Girlguiding Bake Off. The three(ish) winners from each unit brought along another three decorated cupcakes, and our judges (a couple of Trefoil Guilders) named a winner and a runner up from each section. One of my Guides was runner up, but the winning Guide was from the other unit – she’ll be making something else for the Division round in March.

I’m relieved to say I didn’t win the adult competition, as I think my housemates are getting fed up with Victoria sandwich!

As expected, there were a lot of Rainbows and Brownies, but only a few Guides – and most of them were only there because they were in the Bake Off. Maybe a bit of a shame, as Thinking Day should be for them too, but they have more pressures on their time and I can see why a “fun activity afternoon” isn’t enough to tempt them. There were quite a few Senior Section helping out with activities, and some Trefoil Guilders, so we did at least have someone from every section of the guiding family.

A belated happy Thinking Day to my friends in Girlguiding and Girl Scouting everywhere.

A delicious district meal

The adults and Young Leaders in my district enjoyed our Christmas meal in January so much last year that we decided to do the same again.

A couple of weeks ago, about 25 of us gathered in the hall where most units meet and had a two-course meal cooked by a caterer and brought in.  The food was very tasty, and there was enough that everyone got to taste all the options if they wanted to, but more importantly the company was excellent.  It was nice to see quite a few Young Leaders there, as well as some “lesser-spotted” Leaders, those who for whatever reason I don’t often see.

Between courses, our District President told some silly jokes and puns, and gave us a numbers quiz where she said a phrase and whoever know the relevant number shouted it out: for example, if she said “Gold rings”, we would call out “Five”.  It was good entertainment, short and not too taxing!

Community Action

Library poster

Do click on it: it’ll get even larger and more legible.

This week I nabbed my local Trefoil Guild branch and spoke to them about the Community Action part of my Queen’s Guide Award.

It was…ahaha…not my finest performance ever.  I need a lot of practice and preparation to be a decent speaker, and I did not do enough practice or preparation.  I would rather have led them in some campfire songs.  On reflection, perhaps I should have taught everyone a song explaining all my findings about volunteers in public libraries.

Things started off woodenly, but got a bit better once I gave everyone a sheet with statements to consider and the rest of the time turned into a discussion/conversation rather than me rambling at them.  Everyone was very nice about it, and said things like “it’s not easy”.  I felt 15, not 25.

But that doesn’t matter.  It’s done, and that’s another bit of my QG book signed off (or will be when I get the book back).  And my Trefoils are some of the kindest, wisest, brightest, most inspirational women I know, and I’m sure what I know of them is only the tip of the iceberg.  I’m privileged to have spent an afternoon in their company, and part of me wishes I could take time off work to join them every month!

Marathon Challenge 2014

Back in November, I helped at an incident hike run by my old university Scout and Guide Club.

For those interested in incident hikes, I highly recommend Marathon.  I am of course biased, and I’ve never been to any other incident hikes (oh, apart from the Malvern Challenge, now I come to think of it), but every year it’s well-run and well-attended.  It’s open to Scouting and Guiding teams aged 14+, including adults.  Essentially, teams are given grid references for 26 checkpoints (hence the name “Marathon”) and have 9 hours to visit as many as they wish, to win as many points as they can.

It’s a bit strategic: if a team doesn’t plan to visit all the checkpoints (which would usually mean walking about 25-30 miles), they have to decide whether to go for ones that are closer to HQ but worth fewer points, or ones that are further away and worth more points.  There are also four manned checkpoints, where they can do an activity to win more points, scored for teamwork as well as completion of the challenge.

It takes a lot of volunteers to run an event like this: helpers are needed to brief and debrief the teams at HQ, monitor the radios, keep track of scores, man the checkpoints, drive minibuses and cars, and cook dinner for everyone.  I didn’t realise it when I was a student, but seeing it now, it really is a huge achievement for students who you might expect not to have the time, resources or experience to run a complex large-scale event.  (Gratuitous plug: they run another hike in spring for 10-14-year-olds.)  Having co-ordinated it myself a few years ago, I know all too well how much they rely on alumni (aka “fogies”) coming back to help and pass on the dubious benefit of their wisdom (and their cars), so I try to go back as much as I can.

This year I was based on a checkpoint, along with a couple of other fogies whom I already knew, and an amicable first year whom I hope we didn’t frighten too much.  Our task was to set ourselves up in the designated place, wait for teams, and offer them water refills, hot drinks, and the chance to do a challenge.  When there were no teams (i.e. most of the day: on average we got a couple of teams every hour) we sat, chatted, cooked on a stove, and generally entertained ourselves.  I always find it very peaceful to spend the day resting in the outdoors and knowing you don’t need to be doing anything else.  When I was a student, I really appreciated it as a calm interlude in the middle of an intense term, and a chance to break out of the city bubble into the “real world” and see some of the local countryside.

We were lucky to have dry, relatively mild weather.  We were given a tent, but decided not to put it up, since we weren’t likely to need shelter and it would just be a pain to take down at the end of the day when we were tired.

The challenge at our checkpoint was “sheep herding”.  Everyone in the team was blindfold, except for one member who had to guide them through a course using only a whistle.  As fast as possible.

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We set up the course with ropes tied round trees – it included a hairpin bend, a slalom around logs, and a tight passage between some bushes.  When it got dark, we put glowsticks on the ropes to help the sheepdogs.

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It was interesting to see the different teams’ techniques.  They tended to either work out a complex signalling system (“one whistle blast for left, two for right, three for stop, four for duck…”) or go for a simple “follow the sound” approach.  Both approaches worked well for some teams and less well for others.  I winced at times, when the sheepdog herded his or her teammates into the logs, through branches, or into a complete U-turn!

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Altogether it was a most enjoyable day – everything seemed to run smoothly as usual, with no disasters for helpers or teams, which as I recall is the main objective.

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Remembrance Sunday

No apologies that this post is a couple of weeks after 11th November.  If it’s worth remembering, it’s worth remembering on any day of the year.

A couple of weeks ago, my district took part in our town’s Remembrance Sunday parade and church service.  The local uniformed organisations and the silver band meet at the civic hall and march round the corner to the church.  We stand outside by the war memorial and listen to the bells striking 11am, then representatives from the organisation raise and lower flags, and other representatives lay poppy wreaths on the memorial.  We go into the church and have a service.  We come out, re-form the parade, and march around the market square and back to the civic hall, finishing shortly after noon.

Every year it is the same, and I love that.  Many things in life have changed in the almost 20 years since I was first in the parade, but this is one thing that has remained constant.  Well, almost the same: of course, the people in it have got older and come and gone, and some of the hymns in the church service have been replaced (the old ones were better).

Of course, continuity isn’t always a good thing.  A prime example is that the sermon in the service is consistently poor quality.  The parish priest has a good clear speaking voice, so he sounds convincing, but his sermons are too long, unstructured, lacking a theme to bring it the whole thing together, and pitched at the wrong level for the congregation, or rather pitched at too many levels, as they’re full of references to scholarly theological texts and programmes that were on television last night most people probably haven’t watched.  And this is on what must be one of his most crowded Sundays of the year, and what is for many one of the only times in the year when they go to church.  What a missed opportunity.

I should add that I don’t hear many sermons, so sometimes I doubt myself and think, “Maybe this is actually good, but I’m not capable of appreciating it.”  But another leader, who hears lots of sermons delivered by lots of different people, assures me that they can be much better.  Hear endeth the rant.

A great benefit of the almost-unchanging format of the parade and ceremony is that it gives me something to focus my thoughts on during all the moments when there is opportunity for thought.  I am very fortunate not to have been personally affected by war, so it can be hard to reflect on it without feeling detached, theoretical, hypocritical, helpless, and all sorts of other things.  Instead, I remember remembrance days gone by, here and elsewhere, and what my community and I were like then.  Another interesting reflection is to mentally dress everyone around me in period costume and imagine that we are doing this in, say, the 1990s, or the 1970s, or the 1950s.  Or, heaven help us, in wartime.  And with that it becomes much easier, and terrifying, to imagine the effects it would have on my beloved community.

All told, we had about 40 Rangers, Young Leaders, Guides Brownies, and their leaders marching.  I wonder, in 20 years’ time, which ones will be leaders like me, still Guiding in our town, and remembering Remembrance Sunday 2014.

District bonfire

District bonfire 2014 (1)

The district bonfire is an annual tradition, stretching back…hmm, at least 11 years that I can remember, but it might well be longer and I either didn’t go or don’t remember!

We meet at a hostel/study centre up on the downs above our town (the same one where I led campfire songs for another district in the summer), where the views down across the vale are glorious by day or night.  At night, it’s much easier to locate all the towns and roads, because of the lights, and at this time of year you can sometimes see tiny fireworks going up in the distance.

The evening is quite a smooth operation by now.  Some volunteers build and light the fire; others bring sparklers and water buckets; others bring flasks of hot chocolate, trays of sausages and rolls, ketchup (very important!), tables, cups, napkins, and serving tongs; Queen’s Guide Buddy and I lead the singing; and everyone looks after their girls.

This year, it was the perfect night for a fire: cold, dry and clear.  Everyone met their girls in the car park, then we gathered in a semicircle round the campfire and sang for about half an hour.  Then everyone got a hot dog and hot chocolate, followed by a sparkler, then we said goodbye to the Rainbows, did another half hour of singing, and rounded the evening off with Brownie Bells and Taps.

I was really pleased with the singing this year.  I think the Guides, especially the older ones, can set the mood, so when they’re a bit don’t-want-to-join-in it makes the whole thing less fun, whereas when they join in enthusiastically, the younger girls respond to that (and so do I).  Luckily we had some nice keen ones bouncing off each other!

At the end, I showed another leader around the hostel (it felt sneaky because we didn’t see anyone inside) – it was a good chance to get an idea of it, as we’re helping to plan a leaders’ sleepover there in a few weeks.

All in all, it was a lovely bonfire night, and I’m sure it’ll be on the cards again next year.

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Fun at the fête

Fête stall

Unit Leader (who is also Division Commissioner) arranged for us to have a stall at a nearby village fête to raise funds for the division.  This is something we don’t do a lot – usually fundraising is for units and districts – but she’s keen and working hard to make us feel more unified and the proceeds will be spent on something that helps that.

I went along to help, along with our District Commissioner and UL’s mother and sister.  I felt both very unprepared and very loved: I rocked up on my bike in uniform with just a banana to sustain me through the day, but the others had brought chairs, packed lunches, a thermos of coffee, mugs, a bottle of squash, and beakers for everyone.  That’s my guiding family.

We put up our new gazebo (purchased with Sainsbury’s Active Kids vouchers, and extremely fast and simple to pitch) and filled it with tables, signs (some showing the old branding; naughty of us, I know), promotional materials, a tombola, guess the number of sweets in the jar, and miscellaneous items to sell.

The crowds arrived, and we had a steady trickle of people passing our stall all afternoon.  The most popular thing by far was the tombola.  It’s simple to run and it’s not very original, but it works.  The other things we had to push a bit more, but by walking around the fête a bit with the jar of sweets, we managed to fill a page with guesses.  Altogether we raised a very respectable £215.

We also had some good chats with past, present and hopefully future members of Girlguiding, and with anyone else who was vaguely interested.

I enjoyed looking round the other stalls and soaking up the great British village fête atmosphere.  I bought some future birthday cards, threw cricket balls at crockery, admired the entries for the photography and miniature garden competitions, and ate some tasty home-made cake.  We also had a good view of the singing, dancing and hoop-spinning going on in the performing area.

Big Brownie Birthday Starquest

I’ve been enjoying reading about other guiding bloggers’ Starquest events, and now my turn has come!  My county held its Big Brownie Birthday celebration/sleepover a couple of weeks ago in the grounds of a stately home.

They were very grand grounds.  I commented that it would be a good site for a county camp, and the veteran Guiders I was with said that there had indeed been a county camp there a few decades ago.  There was then some debate about whether it had been in 1985 or 1990.

Brownie hordes gather in the distance

Brownie hordes gather in the distance

The plan was for the Brownies to arrive in the early afternoon, have three hours to wander freely between the various activities on offer, collecting star stickers for completing them, and then have a picnic tea together, followed by campfire songs.  Then the Brownies who were there for the day left, and those who were sleeping over had some kind of band performing and slept in three marquees, all 1600 of them.

Not having any Brownies of my own, I was there running an activity with other leaders from my Division.  When we arrived to set up, it was rainy and gloomy and we all got our feet soaked on the grass.  Just as the Brownies arrived, it cleared up and turned into a hot, sunny afternoon.  What a relief!

Some of the leaders from my Division were helping the Brownies to make star wands.

Starquest 2

Starquest 3

And I was helping another leader to run an activity where the Brownies had to make a shape out of tent pegs using compass instructions (one step north, two steps south west etc.).  If they got it right, it looked like a rocket.  Both our activities were busy all afternoon.  It was great to meet lots of Brownies and leaders from around the county, and see some familiar faces too.

Starquest 4

Starquest 5

I didn’t get to see much of the other activities, but there was a lot going on.  There had to be with 2000 Brownies there for the afternoon!  There were several kinds of dancing, a planetarium, a recyling bus, “synchronised swimming” (the Brownies decorated shower caps and learned some moves), traditional games, and no doubt much more.

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The Trefoil Guilders next door to us were doing semaphore

After picnic tea time, and the cake-cutting, Queen’s Guide Buddy and I led campfire songs for everyone.  It was a good half-hour slot, just right for doing all the best songs.  (There was one awkward moment when I started Princess Pat without enough warning and no one joined in, but fortunately QGB rescued it!)  From where I was standing, I could see Brownies joining in with the actions even in the back ranks, which was encouraging.

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I got close to the cake!

We both left after that, but I hear that the sleepover part went well.  It was a huge day, and I take my hats off to the volunteers who organised it.  It’s sure to be something the Brownies will remember for life.

Starquest 8

This picture doesn’t do justice to the number of Brownies there