A term in the life... the 20th Gillingham Explorers
As the end of the Summer term draws to a close for the 20th Explorers, I have two options. The first is to panic about buying sausages for our end-of-term BBQ; the second is to wistfully reminisce about the last few months. Whereas the first would probably be more productive, I'd struggle to fill an article with my banger procurement deliberations. So sit back, relax, and enjoy the journey that has been Summer 2008 for 12 teenagers in the 20th Gillingham Scouts. Easter term starts well; it's a Saturday afternoon at Easter Camp, the sun is shining, and we're playing rounders in shorts and t-shirts. This is an image ingrained upon my mind, largely because I cling to it for salvation throughout the rest of the weekend. Why? Well, we awake on Sunday morning to find several inches of snow layering the tents. And to think we had rescheduled the camp from February such that it was "warmer"... oops. Still, Scouting spirit shone through (even if the sun didn't) and all have a great time. Snowball fights, climbing, snowmen, abseiling, shivering, and camp fires are the name of the game - with permanently etched grins compulsory. It's May, and it's snowing! :-)
A suitable amount of thawing later, and we're back to our usual Thursday evening meetings at the HQ. Of late, we've adopted the "plan-it-yourself" approach to programme planning. The first meeting is a brainstorm session, where everyone contributes and votes upon ideas for meetings and activities, with just a small amount of leadership guidance to ensure that the Scouting essentials are covered and "create mayhem" doesn't appear on the list. Let's have a glance at some of our joys... Everyone's decided that aeroplanes are cute, so we embrace the concept of aviation. Firstly, we're off to Lasham Gliding Club for our first foray into the air for some years. Two flights a-piece make the 6am rise worthwhile; meanwhile someone makes the mistake of saying that it was "one of the best mornings of (my) life" and the leaders all grin like loons. This is what Scouting's all about - 8 youngsters have just had a cracking experience that probably wouldn't have materialised outside of Scouting, and have left absolutely fired-up as a result. We're not done yet though - the next two evenings are back at the HQ, building model gliders and recreating the Lasham rush with some elastic-powered bungee launches at the local country park. A certain leader gets the priviledge of maiden voyage with an Explorer's glider, which (predictably) ends in complete carnage and a sheepish look... but all the others flew!
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Not all life is spent in the air, so we return to reality with a Ready Steady Cook recreation. The challenge: prepare three courses for a fiver! Expectations are low - after all, our university days were powered by dry pasta - but the youngsters shine through and we have some outstanding nosh placed before us. Quickly we decide that we must up the ante with our menus for the next camp; we're being beaten!
Another camping opportunity arises: this time alongside the Scout Troops, for it's the County Air Camp. Three of our Explorers join us for the weekend, and experience the delights of parascending - the art of being towed up into the air beneath a parachute. Cue fun and bruises of learning and practicing parachute landing falls. The excitement as we get kitted up with parachute harness and helmet. The slight look of trepidation as we're strapped into the parachute... then no more time for thinking... the land-rover's moving, the cable tightens, wingtips release, parachute inflates... and we're up!
We're back home again, and everyone's got the itch to brush up on their map and compass skills. Well, maybe. A quick evening's planning yields a rally - everyone into cars for an search around the local countryside for clues! Or, in the case of the older Explorers, in the search for escape - they drive into the local DIY store while the security gate is open, only to be confronted by a rapidly-closing gate upon exit. A mistake indeed... but a great opportunity for learning negotiation skills: the lads wangle their way out of a £20 fine when the security guard lets them out 2 hours later!
The penultimate meeting before sausage procurement becomes reality is a water fight. We play our usual wide-game format of "capture the cone", with the twist of losing a life if you're shot. Or have a bucket of water emptied over you. Or, indeed, a DUSTBIN of water emptied over you. Maybe its my paranoia, but I'm sure I receive more than my fair sure of soakings. Still, a small price to pay for the genuine joys of Scout leadership! What's on the menu from here? Well, term may be closing but our Summer is full. 5 days in Oxford for our summer camp will include a trip to another gliding club. Hot-air ballooning arrives mid August - an Explorer Scouts first - followed by a blast around the Brands Hatch racing circuit in a Caterham for those feeling brave. Finally, offshore powerboating with Kent Scouts awaits us in September... before we ramp up again and try to better ourselves for the Autumn term. Can it be done? Watch this space... or even better - if you're between 14 and 18 years old - come and experience it yourself! Richard Chipperfield, 20th ESL, 14nd July 2008