When you are a pupil at boarding school the evenings can be long. Especially if you have problems. Most children find certain lessons hard and certain teachers difficult to get on with. At a boarding school you have also got the added problem of not being able to escape from school life when the bell goes at 3.30pm. After all, the stresses of falling out with other pupils and even bullying does happen occasionally within a school with disabled children.
In order to make you feel at home activities were put on in several of the evenings. Not to say that the teenage children on the senior dormitories didn’t get up to most activities you would expect from them. There is no need to worry, I am not going to mention any girlfriends I had at school just in case they get to read my blog!
The staff put on activities as varied as school discos, archery, swimming and film nights in the school hall in the darker Autumn and winter nights. Volunteers came in to lead the scout and guide troop.
The one I was attracted to most when I went up to the Senior dormitory was the Scout Troop which took place on a Thursday night. The only draw back with being in the scouts was I missed Top of the Pops as the two things clashed.
When I joined the troop’s Seagull patrol the troop was run by two men. Mr Stan Hansell and Mr Les Michael. Mr Michael was known to my family as he was an elder at Bethania Chapel, Craig Y Don at the bottom of the road where our school was situated. He then became known years later for his son Alun becoming an MP in Penarth, Cardiff before becoming a member of the Welsh Assembly and then First Minister.
Like my Father and I Alun and Les Michael were the spitting image of each other. From the start I enjoyed scouting. Even if the leaders made fools of us occasionally. On one Thursday they got us to build a haggis trap. I was just one of the lads who believed a haggis was an animal! I dread to think would have happened if I ever went to Scotland.
Mr Michael was a very special man. He had been a prisoner of war of the Japanese during World War 2. He must have seen and suffered some horrible things but he said he didn’t hold grudges. The young boys in his care should have learnt that from him. Not sure we always did.
As with every scout troop one highlight of the year was going away on camp for the weekend. One year we went on to Bryn Bach on the Denbigh Moors. As part of the itinerary we went on a treasure hunt. Thanks to some of our terrible directions we got lost. Thankfully Mr Michael would only follow our instructions for a short time. After all, he wouldn’t want to arrive back in school with fewer scouts than he started with. That would take some explaining.
In 1976 I was given the honour of representing the county at the Queen Scouts Award Parade at Windsor Castle. I couldn’t understand how as was not a Queens Scout. It seems that the county sent other representatives too. That year the Queen was represented by the Duke of Kent at the parade.
My Uncle Willie was a very hard line Welsh Nationalist and was not impressed when Dad told him I had joined the scouts. He said he didn’t like the idea of me swearing an oath to the Queen. He was equally unimpressed when he heard I was becoming a leader. I went for the hat trick as far as Uncle Willie was concerned by going to meet the Duke of Kent!
At the time of the parade it was the run up to the FA Cup final. It was between Manchester United and Southampton. On the two armrests of my wheelchair I had a sticker. On one side one for STP oil and on the other one saying United For The Cup. At the time the Duke of Kent was President of the FA. On the day of the parade he walked along the part of the quadrangle all the disabled scouts were and tapped the Cup sticker on the side of my chair. ‘Are you going to the match’ he said, before thinking I replied, ‘I will if you can get me a ticket’. He laughed and carried on his way. My scout master was not best pleased. As they say, ‘Before opening mouth, engage brain.’
Even though it caused a rift between Dad and Uncle Willie for a while I really enjoyed scouting. It encourages boys to work as a team and learn self discipline.
When you are an only child teamwork can be a difficult concept to grab. Scouting also gives you a work ethic through events like ‘Bob a Job Week’. For those who are reading this blog and were born after the 1970s, a Bob is slang for a coin called a Shilling which is worth 5p today. During the week you did odd jobs for people and got a Shilling for each one. I am not sure if the event is still going. My parents wanted me to be as independent and as rounded person as I could be and through an organization like the Scouts it certainly helped me along the way.