Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Baden-Powell's Era is Gone

And he sang as he sat, 
And waited while his billy boiled,
You’ll come a waltzing Matilda with me.

From the song, Waltzing Matilda

Eleven of the twelve men who walked on the moon were Boy Scouts.
source: Rocket Men

Hello Reader,
Got service ethic?

…Sir Robert Baden-Powell, retired British army general, also known as Lord Baden-Powell of Gilwell, also known as Chief Scout of the world, was the founder of the international Boy Scout movement… 

Recently, as a tourist in southern Alberta, I came upon an older man, a tourist from New Zealand. We had both been in Boy Scouts, and we had both used a billy tin. I said I had been to the Baden-Powell House in central London; and he said, “I am struck by how Baden-Powell was from another era.” Later, after I went away and thought about it, I was struck too.

Today I would like to tell you a little about the Chief Scout, and give you a two glimpses of a vanished era, glimpses of ‘serving your country,’ and ‘thrift.’

Robert Steven Smith Baden-Powell was born in 1857 in England, and attended a boarding school, like in Harry Potter, except that in those days, but not now, his school was all-boys. (Like in the novel Goodby Mr. Chips) Most boys at the time would have attended regular schools and gone on to, say, work in shops and factories around London, or gone off to be private soldiers in the army over in India. Meanwhile the richer middle class, from their boarding schools, would have gone on to, say, be office workers and bankers in London, or gone off to be colonial police officers in Burma, as George Orwell did, or be commissioned army officers in India, as Baden-Powell did.

B-P, as he is affectionately known to modern Boy Scouts, served in India, and then in Africa where he scouted against three First Nations. The Africans called him Impeesa, “the wolf who never sleeps” for his courage, tracking and scouting.  In South Africa he was a general during the Boer war against the Dutch settlers. It was a war the British kept losing, until they won, a war where the only time church bells rang all over Britain was for a success by Baden-Powell.  Afterwards, stationed in England, he was a celebrity. His book for adults in the army, Aids to Scouting was a big success, even being stocked in British schools as a textbook. I suspect the schools were not teaching scouting, rather, as with today’s Harry Potter books, it was probably to give boys who would otherwise never read a chance to do so.

One day, old B-P came upon some boys in the woods, and asked what they were doing. The boys, who didn’t know who he was, enthusiastically replied they were scouting: like in the book Aids to Scouting. Well, that gave B-P an idea. He spent a few years collecting books, talking to educators and scouts, and at last he conducted a field test, taking twenty boys of diverse socio-economic status on a camp out. Everything went well. He then published Scouting For Boys. Immediate success! Scouting grew by leaps and bounds all over the world!

(And back when all the Scout Troops in the British Empire were listed in a corner of one newspaper page, one of them was led by my friend Brian Gregory’s grandfather; Brian once took me to see the old Scoutmaster. We found him doing a little wood project in his garage)

At the request of King Edward VII, General Baden-Powell resigned from the army to give scouting his full attention. This was a few years before the Great War, two and a half decades before the Great Depression of my dad’s youth. When I was in Wolf Cubs B-P’s widow was the Chief Guide.

From B-P one can glimpse a vanished era. What do you suppose was the opening line of Scouting For Boys? It was this: “I suppose every boy wants to help his country in some way or other.”

Here is an except from later in the book:
…Don’t be content, as the Romans were, and as some people now are, to pay other people to play your football or to fight your battles for you. Do something yourself to help keep the flag flying.

If you take up Scouting in that spirit, you will be doing something. Take it up, not merely because it is good fun, but because by doing so you will be preparing yourself to be a good citizen not only of your country but of the whole world. 

In the Doctor Who TV series there are episodes where the doctor is disguised as a teacher in a pre-war boarding school. One of the boys  has “the second sight,” visions, and he sees himself and a fellow student in a shell crater in Flanders Fields, just as a shell is coming right down on them. Tragic. Viewers know he will not dodge the coming war. That is what service meant, in those days.

And what of thrift? Today one hears of snowshoes and snowshoe bindings, various skis and ski bindings. When I was young, you heard of packs and packframes. (My first pack had aluminium tubing, to support a nylon pack) You could buy a sacklike pack in the army surplus store, made of webbing. Very common in my postwar youth. When I was in Wolf Cubs the local Scout troop made their own pack frames by joining two side boards, making slits all up and down them, and wrapping string all around. This was their frame, cheaper than getting a store-bought frame. 

The Scouts were as thrifty as possible: A billy tin was cheaper than buying a cooking pot; using blanket pins you could make your own sleeping bag, as shown in my Tenderfoot to Queen’s Scout manual. In that manual, along the path to Queen’s Scout (Eagle Scout) was a requirement: You must show your Scoutmaster you were regularly putting money aside as savings. I had no allowance, but I could save some of what I made by collecting beer bottles from parks and ditches. Later I had a paper route, still saving.

Of the ten parts of the Scout Law, the ninth reads simply, “A Scout is thrifty.” That’s it. Short and sweet. How many boys and girls today know the word “thrift?” At most, they’ve heard of a thrift store. How many adults, today, have in their vocabulary “being thrifty?” Many people are living pay cheque to pay cheque, but one should have enough saved to live on for a few months, for in case anything happens to your employer. So many folks buy on credit, or live a life style of being permanently in debt; while so few understand the horrors of credit card quicksand. The Japanese laugh at us, saying if Americans ever stopped buying on credit for even a single day, our whole economy would collapse. 

 Today maybe we daren’t, out loud, say the old words “citizen” and “serving our country,” but at least we can, barely blushing, say lesser things like “community service.” I remember when my toastmaster club moved into having evening meetings at Unity Church. For our first meeting, a man from that church donated his time to showing us where things were, and what to do. I recognized him as a retired city alderman, John Lord. “John! You’re doing your service work.” He smiled, replying, “Isn’t that what life is about?”

I miss the old era of Baden-Powell.

Sean Crawford,
Once a patrol leader,
Still singing,
Footnotes: NONE today, because I am holding back—But to be polite: do you wtant footnotes?

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Icebreaker Speech

Hello Reader,
Who are you?

I wonder if those youthful bloggers at Live Journal (blog) still do those self-quizzes, such as “Which Harry Potter character are you?” Or if the women’s magazines still have “What is your style of X?” Probably. 

One evening, years ago, I was in the student bar with a lady. Although both of us had jobs in the real world, we were in a student bar, hence our typical student meaning-of-life conversation. “I feel,” she said “like making a list of my accomplishments.” Being a man with a back pack (for my layers of clothing, books and working papers) I pulled out big sheets of paper for each of us, and we “went to it.” Then we shared. 

Her list included things from her entire life, such as the time she sneaked aboard a box car and rolled across the time zones. And me? I covered just the last month or so. My life had led up to such things as being able, that night, to have the self confidence and social skills to talk with the bartender. Something that was once impossible for an abuse survivor. My list reflected my life style of feeling gratitude for the moment.

A few months later I joined the public speaking organization Toastmasters International, headquartered in (where else?) California. At one’s local club, the first speech that everyone has to do is the one to introduce themselves: the dreaded “icebreaker” speech. “If you don’t know what to say,” someone advised me “you can tell us your family tree.” Not helpful. So I resorted to telling my club about my last week or so, and where my current accomplishments came from. I’m sure some of my listeners were miffed—they said so—but that was the best I could do.

This year, Toastmasters is having a big shake up: The headquarters has moved  to Colorado; now you have to have a computer; and everyone has to do some new “paths”… starting with re-doing the icebreaker speech. Easy in theory, since now I have years of doing speeches under my belt, very hard in practise. This week I was ready, I hoped, to stop hiding quite so much. I called it, “Things It is Time to Tell.”

Luckily the icebreaker time limit is only four to six minutes. Unluckily, we had a lack of speeches that night, so I was scheduled for seven to nine minutes: My actual time was nine minutes and two seconds. The best speeches, like good fiction, avoid generalities—instead, they put in “the telling details.” Me, details? About moi? That’s hard. At least I didn’t have to worry about being too immodest or too boring, because I know one thing for sure: Humans like to hear about other humans. Hence blogs and Live Journal. Hence published diaries like Go Ask Alice

I wanted to say that I left home early, not as early as Alice, but I didn’t have time to go there. I wanted to say, as I said in January of 2016 to a friend, (and later on this blog) that I lived through the final scene of Bladerunner, but I didn’t trust my voice, so I didn’t. That’s because I always speak in the moment—I even laugh at my own jokes, which you “aren’t supposed to,” but how can I help it? If I am in the moment? I did manage to say that I was once in a self help group where we could tell each other stuff that society wouldn’t believe, “and we would believe each other.”

How to begin? I stood on stage and said, “Economy.” I told my fellows that my dad drove a tiny Volkswagen beetle where the gas cap was under the trunk, where there was no gas gage because instead there was a reserve tank, and for a sun visor, instead of a stupid cloth rectangle there was a transparent green pull down, like a giant sunglasses screen. After my dad drove that little car into the ground he bought another two door beetle to be driven for many years, this one with an outside gas tank flap, a gas gage, and a silly cloth visor. And these were the cars where, if our family went out to have a Chinese dinner, we fitted in two parents and six children. Mother was a housewife. We were poor.

A young lady once told me of the time she nearly cried from being scolded by her teacher. The girl was in Home Economics class, sent to the back to fetch a mixmaster or a blender, I forget which, and she didn’t dare ask, lest people realize that at her house she had neither one: She guessed, and brought the wrong one—and since no one else in the whole class would make such a mistake, the teacher assumed she must be lazy and not listening. I think she cried after class. I told my fellow toastmasters, “If you’re poor, you don’t know.”

I said, “Remember when all of America stayed up to watch the moon landing, the first man stepping onto the moon? I stayed up watching the vacuum tubes on the kitchen radio.” Our radio set had no casing, for an arial it had a wire that went up the wall and along the cupboard. We used to have one television set, black and white, so my dad could watch his hockey games; it sat glistening in the rain out in the yard for years because Dad threw it out. Because the kids were fighting over which channel to watch.

You might think we would have some sort of protocol, or prime directive, for peacefully watching TV, but my family believed in being dysfunctional. (No telling details today)

Jump ahead years, and there I was: enrolled full time in the one year Professional Writing Certificate Course. Not to get a job, (because you don’t) but to have a year of improvement by being edited. One day I’m in the bar talking to Shawna. At the end of the year, when we booked a room on the third floor for our graduation, inviting parents, teachers and some colleagues from the field, Shawna had tears in her eyes. On her big day, her parents had criticized her. 

In other words, I’m not the only one from a dysfunctional background. But at least I have learned a few things. I can still remember my age that year, that night in the bar, because in order to ensure Shawna didn’t feel patronized, I had said, “This is stuff I can know now that I’m 36, that I wouldn’t have known when I was 26.” Her age.

As a writer, Shawna observed people. What I remember her saying, one night, is that she saw me as wearing a good mask—but peering out at people. That, and she hated how I could get inside her head and mind read her so easily, “because of your abuse issues.” Whoah! At no time had I used the A-word to her. But yes, rolling the word around in my mouth I had to say it: I was an abuse survivor. It had taken me until age 36 to say it.

During that writing year we had to all interview someone as a feature magazine article exercise. (not for publication) I interviewed Shawna. Meanwhile, when the assignment was given, just as soon as the class over, the cool lady whom the class elected to be editor (for our magazine) rushed right across the room to claim me as her interview subject. Who, me? Well, ain’t that nice? And her story, which was seen only by our teacher and me, started off “Talking… with Sean Crawford, it is hard to believe that this warm and witty man—” hey, I am warm and witty!— “once had (no emotions), not even anger.” That was true. She quoted me saying, “One of my hobbies is getting cured.” Also true. Also known as “getting into recovery.” 

Many years ago, one dark night, as I was trudging the hill from the river to the university campus, I remembered how a memory had once popped in. And then I was angry. Angry all the way up the hill. This was on the weekend, the student bar was all but deserted, and I went in for a draft beer. Still angry. Finished it, still angry. Ordered another. Now, I don’t want to offend any recovering alcoholics, but one of my small joys in life was going into the student bar and happily watching the music television video channel on the giant screen. I didn’t want to waste another good beer by being angry instead of happy, but—I did. All the way to the bottom of the glass I was still was unable to get back to normal. I decided not to waste a third beer. 

On Monday I went across the road from the campus to the rehabilitation research institute and asked a good man I knew, explaining that I had been unable to turn off my anger. I asked, “Is that what normal people are like?” When you’re dysfunctional, you don’t know. Speaking slowly, he thought he could see how I would have repressed anger “… if the only time you saw anger was when someone was having their head torn off…”

… At this point in my essay, dear reader, I’m at well over a thousand words. (over 1,500) Time to end this piece. Now you know a little more about me, as much as I can tell in only nine minutes and two seconds. And by the way, no little Volkswagen for me: I drive a four door—so disabled people can get into the back—hybrid Prius. And, as a happy ending: Today I have a fine job where people say I’m a fine fellow.

Sean Crawford
Under a blue, blue sky

~Update: Volkswagon is ceasing production of the beetle in 2019. Link. 

~In my link to a CBC radio feature on sibling abuse, is someone who, like me, was well over age 30 before someone else used the word “abuse” —and then suddenly things made sense. See my essay Abuse Science, archived November 2017. 

~ Here is a half-paragraph cut and pasted from my essay on Oblomov, archived June 2016:

QUOTE “… due to your abuse issues.” Such a jolt. I filed the phrase away, a phrase I had never applied to myself, and didn’t much think about it. Until last week when I caught that CBC show on sibling abuse. And now I’m looking back; trying to admit things. As far as I can see, society may at long last, since the Columbine school massacre, realize that bullying can lower self esteem, but we aren’t ready to realize that ongoing abuse, as a man on the radio was careful to say, is utterly destroying of “soul” and “self-esteem.” He said it destroys “right to the core.” When he hitchhiked as a minor he was AMAZED that people were nice to him. (Yes, of course normal people at his school and in his community were nice, but soul-destruction cancels that out) I can relate. This may not sound logical, but such is the empirical evidence: Hail, flood and fire do not destroy people at the core. Abuse does. UNQUOTE