I have always been a staunch believer in democracy.
Many years ago, when I was Brown Owl to the 3rd Staplehurst Brownie
Pack (the dads, as I think I may have told you, called me Brown Ale) I ran the pack on strictly democratic lines. One of my favourite parts of any pack meeting was the “pow-wow” when we all sat, cross-legged, in a close-knit circle to debate all
the most important decisions. I can’t actually imagine I sat cross-legged along with the young’uns, never having been particularly bendy, don’t you know, but I am pretty sure I sat on the floor with all my assistant leaders (variously named
after owls, birds and small furry animals - but I will get onto that in a minute...)
Did we need a theme for our carnival float? Where should we go for our Pack
Outing? Who was in favour of supporting the village’s bid for success in the Best Kept Village competition? Which species of tree should we plant at the front of the school where we held our meetings? Ideas and opinions would be tossed about then solemnly
Ah, yes, the voting. In the interests of democracy, we made a set of voting paddles out of lollipop sticks and beer mats painted red and green.
I can’t recall how I laid my hands on so many beer mats but presumably it wasn’t too difficult for one nicknamed Brown Ale. Sitting in the pow-wow ring, every child clutched their paddle, ready to vote red for “no” and green for “yes.”
I like to think (though it might be presumptuous of me) that it might have been my Brownies’ first taste of true democracy.
It did mean that we came to some
unusual decisions. The tree the pack decided to plant, back in 1978, was somewhat out of the ordinary - a tulip tree, no less. A year or so ago I went back to Staplehurst with the Eldest of the Darling Daughters (or “Rabbit” to the Brownies when
she became their Pack Leader) and her two daughters and the tree is still there, magnificently tall in all its glory. I am sure, however, that being invested in the decision-making meant the whole Pack would get behind any initiative. Why, did Staplehurst
not win the large village category in the Best Kept Village competition? I was working as a journalist on the local paper in those days and remember writing (lyrically, I thought) about our success, finishing my report with the shamelessly partisan comment
that “Staplehurst has proved that big can be beautiful too.”
On occasions it was necessary to apply some common-sense and never more so than when it
came to choosing names for new helpers. One Brownie, I remember, always suggested that “Cow” would be the perfect monicker, protesting that cows were lovely, kind creatures, thus embodying all the characteristics one would look for in a Helper.
My answer to this situation was to say that the Pack could agree on a certain number of names (I think it was three but I may be wrong) but it would be up to the newbie to choose the name by which she would be known. That’s how my eldest daughter came
to be known as “Rabbit” and a dear friend who cooked for us on Pack Holidays opted to be called “Squirrel.” Leading a holiday for another Pack one year, I chose “Kes” as my name - I have always been prone to flights of fancy.
I guess I inherited my belief in democracy from my mother who apparently, when expecting the birth of my Little Sister, had a family vote on what her name should be. Funnily
enough, my sister has never really liked her name - but having heard about the family vote, she has somewhat warmed to it.
I can’t remember whether I had
a vote or not, being only three years old at the time - but, true to form, when I was expecting my fourth child, I did invite the three Darling Daughters to suggest names. Most of their suggestions, it has to be said, bore witness to their love of current
children’s TV programmes. Fresh from watching one of these which went by the name of “Crystal Tipps and Alistair”, they surrounded me in the kitchen and declared they had all decided on the perfect name for The Unborn - “If the baby
is a girl, we want to call her Crystal,” they informed me, stoutly. “It’s such a lovely name - Crystal Ball!”
Such a very good thing that
The Unborn was a boy...