The Great Chessington Wicker Basket Badge Scam
As a Senior Scout in 1960s I abandoned my Scouting chums and tumbled headlong into becoming a Scout Leader, attaining wood badge hardly out of my teens and have spent just about every Friday night of my life and a lot of weekends passing on scouting skills to local kids.
My first great challenge was to come face to face with the rough and tumble of the 2nd Chessington Scout Troop, and quite quickly learned of the effect of living under the enormous shadow of the all mighty 1st Hook Group just up the road, who had their own massive HQ and dozens of well badged kids hanging out of every one of their many windows. Our scouts even kept their own top buttons undone, "Because 1st Hook do it." And so was born a cunning plan!
1st Hook had perhaps four times our number of scouts, they won every District competition and gained more badges, as regularly published in the District Newsletter, but I devised a way of beating them, just to show we could! The scheme required all of our scouts gaining a dozen badges over a six month period in the run-up to the next District total so lists and requirements of all the badges were distributed and pressure was applied! First the low fruit; Cyclist, Artist, Sport, Music, Swimming etc. with notes brought from schools, piano teachers, football team managers and so on. Then we needed to make the pips squeak and kids who had never cooked started wrecking their kitchens, bedroom painting wrecked carpets all over Surrey. Notes came from harassed teachers saying the kids had, "Tried hard."
And still we needed more! One scout came up with the Rope Spinning Badge, (which existed) and his fraught-looking mother told us of her son's frantic attempts to lasso the cat with the clothes-line, of near strangling himself in his bedroom and wrecking the living room lamp shade. As luck would have it my dad told me that his brother had been a scout in Portsmouth giving rope-spinning demonstrations at campfires - jumping in and out of the swirling rope and lassoing the DC. My uncle showed us where to buy a specially woven 'spinning rope' which had a brass loop at one end. My scout actually managed a few twirls, enough to please an ADC and reduce pressure on the family's home insurance policy with another badge!
This is where the Great Wicker Basket Scam was finally revealed; we discovered that for some years the older scouts were boosting their patrol points' totals by forcing young scouts to obtain the Basket Maker Badge quite fraudulently! There existed some ex jumble sale wicker baskets, the scout was told to take a couple to a near-blind elderly lady in Tolworth who was the Basket Maker Badge expert. The kid was primed with what she would ask: The basket took a month to make, the reeds needed soaking, they bought the base from a hobbies shop. Always be polite, eat her biscuits and say thank you. She must have been our busiest badge examiner.
To both my pride, and with a little shame, we beat 1st Hook. Only once. But it was enough, 2nd Chessington had come of age.
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