Yesterday I wrote about Being a Beastly Sister. Now I have to confess I was also a Bad Brownie.
I’m not sure whether Brownies are called Brownies in all parts of the world. I don’t mean the biscuits so much as collections of little girls who gather together to sing harmless-but-stupid songs like ‘There’s a long, long worm a-crawling (around the pole of my tent…)
Good evening, friend Brownie / How are you this evening? / We’ll dance in a circle / And bow and pass on…
Were you ever in Quebec / Stowing timber on the deck / Where there’s a king with a golden crown / Riding on a donkey (Hey-ho, away we go, donkey-riding, donkey-riding…)
Needless to say, none of us were ever in Quebec or ever likely to be, but ever since I have had this ineradicable vision of Quebec as a mysterious, misty place containing old-fashioned ships, tall trees and a lot of donkeys. The king with the golden crown was a bit of a misfit so he got edited out.
I always wanted to be in Quebec, in that fresh, chilly morning, inhaling that exotic, vaguely-French atmosphere. I was a big, strong man in these fantasies, and always tended to be wearing a XXXX sized red and black lumberjack shirt. I never wanted to be a girl anyway. And anything would have been better than the Brownies.
My mother made me go. Meetings were held in the main hall of the same wee-wee stinking junior school I was compelled to attend during the day. I had no friends, she told me. This wasn’t normal. I must Join Something and the Brownies was handy. It was the same misguided reasoning that led her, when I passed puberty and still had no mates, to arrange for me to be “friends” with a girl I had never met on the other side of town, the daughter of a colleague. I was into the Beatles at the time, as was every post-pubescent girl apart from this Daughter of a Friend. She was into Elvis. Oh, and the Beach Boys.
So I had to go to her house and it was very awkward. She played me her entire Elvis LP (long-player) collection (it felt like) and a good quarter of her Beach Boys LP collection before I managed to escape/she managed to get rid of me. I didn’t have to go again.
The irony of it was, Mum had no friends. Mum was exactly the same as me. Perhaps she didn’t want me to turn out like her. Perhaps she couldn’t see herself, as I could, from the outside. Either way, nobody made her go and listen to Elvis LPs with total strangers. She was allowed to stay at home and listen to Matt Monro and Val Doonican…
Delaney had a donkey that everyone admired / Temporary lazy and permanently tired / A leg at every corner a-balancing his head / and a tail to let you know which end he wanted to be fed …
I have tried so hard to forget all these asinine lyrics (how do donkeys creep into so many songs?) but no, they are etched in my memory.
I was a bad Brownie. I charged about when I should have been sitting still. I got myself stung all over with stinging-nettles playing hide and seek on a Brownie picnic (nobody told me it was OK to move if I was coming up in great swollen weals…). Mum sent me on a Brownies hike/walk thing through woods and over fields with a tin flask of milk instead of the fruit-juice everyone else had got. It quickly went sour in the midsummer heat and gave off a horrible smell. But worst of all…
I jumped over the Toadstool, but landed on it. I don’t know what I was thinking except that here was this massive great red and white spotty Toadstool and it just looked as if it needed jumping over. It was made of chicken-wire and papier-mâché, lovingly and artistically painted by Brown Owl’s husband in their poky little front room in Henry Street. Of course, it was crushed. I was bruised and scratched, but nobody seemed to care about that.
Brown Owl took it very, very personally on Mr Brown Owl’s behalf. She was muttering about it for a full half an hour with Tawny Owl.
Unfortunately, she still didn’t Drum Me Out.