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Part One in a series of articles on my years in Scouting

Issue 2

Life before it became hectic

I really started in Scouting when I met my current (just to keep her on her toes) wife. She was an Akela in a local Scout Group (note the capitals - this means they are important - I need to remember this). At the time, the Group (still important) was having troubles - their Executive committee was not functioning - probably because it didn’t really exist - and the leaders were (to be blunt) mostly old fogies who should have retired years ago.

At an AGM that I attended, Norma (for it is she who is my wife - also very important, thus starts with a capital N) asked for volunteers to help. One post was that of Chairman. And I was hastily volunteered for the post by one Andy, who used to be my friend before he did that. As there were no other nominations I thought I ought to be seen to be supportive, so I accepted the role. Thus was the start of my Scouting life.

For the next few years, I was very happy bumbling along being a Chairman. I had to attend meetings 3 times a year, go to the AGM and say a few words and generally be a figurehead if needed. This was fine - I could do this. So what’s all the big fuss about Scouting? It’s easy if you are a Chairman.

But over time, I came to realise that my job was easy because Norma (remember her?) was actually doing the Akela job (running a Cub pack), the GSL job (managing the Group and the leaders) and also making sure the Exec. ran properly - which I think was supposed to be my job. Oops. Maybe I should think about doing a bit more. So, I did. I started to take an interest in what was going on in the Group and then came the first fatal mistake!

"Norma, what else is going on outside the Group?"

"Well, could you attend a County Media evening at County HQ?"

"Of course I can. Umm - what’s a County and where is County HQ?" (Thus, displaying an incredible lack of knowledge.)

Once I’d been educated as to the Scouting structure I attended this course and came back enthused. (No, seriously, I was most impressed with what was going on.) And then came my second fatal mistake.

"Okay - I’ve done that - so how else can I help?"

"Did you know there’s a vacancy for a District Commissioner? How about you applying?"

"Oh, okay. Umm - What’s a District Commissioner?" And so came to pass the second phase of my Scouting career.

Interlude - where I came from

I haven’t always been a Scout. In fact, I’ve never been a Scout. I did spend three weeks when I was eight as a cub but as I couldn’t do my knots I quickly gave that idea up. After that I joined an alternative organisation called Woodcraft which didn’t require me to do knots or say the Lord’s Prayer so that was alright. That lasted until I was about thirteen.

My teen years were dominated by badminton (I was quite good), motorcycles once I got to be sixteen and girls. So no time for schoolwork or anything to do with Scouts. Sorry but there were some of us who didn’t see the advantages of sleeping in a muddy field.

I did the normal things that most lads growing up do - played hard, nearly failed my A-levels, went to some sort of higher education (in my day, it was called a Polytechnic) and then got a job. No such thing as unemployment in the early 70s. I had no idea that Scouts even existed, never mind that it was a worldwide organisation. Occasionally I might hear about a "Jamboree" but it didn’t register that it was anything important. Girlfriends, wives and children were the way forward for me. (Okay, I had one wife and one child followed closely by one divorce and a few more girlfriends.)

Growing up lessons over, I met my current wife Norma as we were both working at the same place for a while and we seemed to hit it off well. She, of course, had been in Scouting all her life and was just returning to the North to take up a position as an Akela from her Mum who wanted to retire. Norma’s enthusiasm was infectious and I began to get an inkling of a completely new lifestyle - that of helping children become good citizens which does seem to be a good thing and I did wonder why no-one had told me before. And so, back to the story.

The Interview Process

Not knowing anything about this, I just assumed I would volunteer for this position (which had been vacant for some time) and start "doing things." Ha ha ha ha. Silly me.

Of course there was a formal interview process which I had to 'pass' so some planning was in order. Given my background as a reasonably efficient professional, this wasn’t too much of a burden. I asked around, had a couple of chats with the County Commissioner and started to write up what I hoped to achieve as a DC. (And was I naïve or what?) Remember from before, when I said I knew nothing about districts? Well that ignorance passed straight onto paper. But the CC was impressed that I’d actually written something down.

The day of the interview approached. Was I nervous? No, not really. I can, if given the opportunity, talk the hind legs off a donkey so I was just worried that too much of what came out would be classed as rubbish - but not that concerned.

The interview itself seemed okay. I was "interrogated" by three people who had been sent the write up. I must have impressed them because I walked out feeling that I had held myself together. In hindsight, once I had got to know everyone, the three who interviewed me were all very nice people - but at the time, they were the gods who held my future existence in their hands.

A week later I heard I’d got the job - and the next phase was up and running.

Starting off as a District Commissioner.

I think this phase is known as "Drop you in the deep end and see if you can swim."

My first official engagement was a district GSL meeting.

Now, a GSL is a Group Scout Leader (I knew that). These people run each of the Scout Groups and are generally very busy sorting out all sorts of issues that they would love to offload onto someone else - like a newly appointed District Commissioner.

I was not asked to chair the meeting but I was asked to make a decision. You would think that it would be something which materially affected the lives and work of our GSLs but no. What was it?

"Now that we are one district, are we still allowed to wear our old township badges and, if so, where should they be on the uniform?" Huh? Is that really important? But before I go into my answer, you, my dear reader, need some background.

Our newly formed district was made up of three old districts, each a separate township in the borough of Rochdale, each of which hated the other. I’ll just call them D1, D2 and D3 to preserve their anonymity. D1 knew they were the best and didn’t really see why they needed to merge with D2 and D3. D2 thought D1 was full of rebels and old fogeys who had no idea what scouting was all about. D3 relished their independence and didn’t want to talk to D1 or D2. Of course, merging the three district accounts and choosing a DC was fraught with political danger and anything you can imagine ended up three times worse.

So that’s where we came from. Three completely dysfunctional old districts merged into one larger dysfunctional district with members who really didn’t want to recognise the new district. I could see this was going to be fun. And my decision (see the question above - the most important thing a new DC could decide). Well as far as I was concerned, what badge you had on your uniform was so minor it was untrue so I let them have their township badges and they could wear it below the new district badge, but only for those who already had a township badge. It seemed to keep them happy.

First meeting over and a DC had MADE A DECISION! Something unheard of in past times. And for now, that will do for this article.

Alan Sharkey


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