Things people don't say on their deathbed:

* I really wish I'd spent more time at work.
* I had too much sex.
* I should have worried more about what other people thought of me.
* Too many new experiences, they weren't good for me.
* Everything my parents taught me was absolutely true.

And of course,

* You can't get into too many arguments with morons.

Cub Club (Part 3)

In Part 1, I joined the cub scouts and learned nothing. In Part 2, I joined again and learned to use a needle and thread. I learned one other thing.

This second time, the nominal leader Mr Moustache (who possibly had a real name which I might even have known) was barely seen. He'd effectively demoted himself to shuffling papers in a small anteroom, while a shifting team of ex-soldiers took care of the boys.

The only time I saw him for more than a minute was while carrying one end of a banner, while he walked in front dressed as Father Christmas, and behind us was a junior marching band and a team of majorettes. This last was two dozen pubescent girls dressed in flesh-coloured lyotards - glaring with hostility at the two boys.

We walked/twirled/blew/beat around the streets for 90 minutes. What were we doing? What was on the banner? I have absolutely no idea.

But the first evening of rejoining. Eighteen boys of around 10, arranged on three sides of a square, while in the middle... ...a tall man with a short crew-cut.

Wearing full camouflage.

Screaming and bellowing about how we lacked "discipline".

Apparently we were a "disgrace", with our little green caps, woggles with neck-kerchiefs, regulation pullovers and grey school shorts.

I almost never questioned or resisted adult imbecility - there was never any point. But on this occasion, for some reason, I decided to try an experiment.

I sneered at him.

I kept the sneer until his gaze reached me...

...and he flinched.

Just momentarily, because he immediately looked far away, and never looked at me again.

I think I attended for two more weeks, and have no recollection of anything about them. Sometimes there's nothing more to habit than momentum.

I never told anyone about this, but the one thing you realise when you reach middle age...is that whatever you think you worked out as an adult...you already knew as a child.

Cub Club (Part 2)

In Part 1, Mr Moustache (who had been something low ranking in the British army) met my father (who had been a corporal in the British army and never fired a gun).

Together they decided the 10 year old Kapitano would love to join the scouts, and discover things like:

  • Communing with nature

  • Learning survival skills in the wild

  • Helping old ladies across the road

  • Doing household chores for strangers in return for pitiful amounts of cash

  • Donating the pitiful cash to never-specified charities

  • Helping old ladies across the road

  • Something about god

  • Promising to serve the queen our entire lives

  • Keeping clean

  • Never telling lies (except when it would hurt someone's feelings or embarrass an adult)

  • Helping old ladies across the...yes, that one came up quite a lot

  • Oh, and:

  • Learning how to tie sailors in knots. I might have misremembered that one.

  • In fact, the budget stretched to one occasion of:

  • Cooking baked beans and sausages by gas in the wild, untamed empty building site next to the scout hall. Except it rained, so we did it in the hall itself.

  • I stopped going pretty quickly.

    But then...it happened again. Once again Father and me bumped into Mr Moustache outside the hall, and once again decided I wanted to join. But this time it would be better, because instead of eight bored boys, there were eighteen.

    I have a few memories of this time. The third is of a plump, red-bearded, red-faced scoutmaster with an abiding passion: Amateur Dramatics.

    Every week or so, he spent an hour bullying the boys into learning everything he knew about one or another aspect of stagecraft.

    Mr Amdram: Can you guess what we're going to learn about today?
    Boys: Is it...Shakespeare?
    Mr Amdram: Um, no.
    Boys: Putting on makeup?
    (Other Boys: Yeah! Cool!)
    Mr Amdram: No.
    Boys: Swordfighing?
    (Other Boys: Swordfighing!)
    Mr Amdram: No.
    Boys: What then?
    Mr Amdram: Guess.
    Boys (after a long pause): Uh, no idea.
    Mr Amdram: DANCING!
    Boys: Oh god no! Dancing's for girls!
    Mr Amdram: We Are Going To Learn Dancing!
    Boys: Ugh! Eurgh! No!
    (Continue arguing until there's no time to learn about dancing.)

    My second memory is of the lady who poured the half-time soft drinks. And did pretty much everything else.

    Someone had noticed that Kapitano avoided playing the games which the adults devised to fill up the empty dismal hours of each meeting.

    One of these was a convoluted game of pure chance, which Kapitano was the last to play...and won. And got a round of applause for doing so.

    I had spent most of my early life being puzzled about what people did and said, so this was just one more way they made no sense. Why were the boys being prodded into congratulating me on being lucky? I shrugged and went back to my seat, alone.

    I think the adults noticed the shrug.

    They'd also noticed that Kapitano didn't have any badges sewn onto his uniform. Badgelessness and not-being-a-team-player. Two aspects of the same problem perhaps?

    So the lady spent 20 minutes listening to me talk about variables, graphics, conditional branches, and how to program a Sinclair ZX-81 personal home computer. With 16 kilobyte RAM extension.

    I don't think she listened, but she presented me with a "Hobbies" badge. I got Mother to teach me how to sew, so I could attach it to my uniform.

    And that's the story of how I learned to sew.

    But the first memory...that's the formative one. And that's in Part 3.

    Cub Club (Part 1)

    I was a cub scout. Twice.

    The first time, I was walking back from some errand with my father, when we passed a half-derelict community hall - a single-room building, maybe 5x5x20 meters, a relic from a time when the upper middle class went to church in the morning, then chess societies, knitting circles and local choirs in the evening.

    Outside was a short, thin man of about 60, in a beige uniform decorated with scattered sewn-on badges. He smiled cheerfully through a greying moustache, and affected an avuncular, Kris Kringle-like manner, which I thought at the time must be calculated to put young children at their ease.

    It had always puzzled me that adults lied so transparently to children.

    Somehow, he and my father got talking, and it turned out he ran the local cub scout troupe - which met every Thursday evening in the very building behind us.

    He said I should join, my father thought it was an excellent idea, and I tried to be diplomatic about my complete antipathy to the idea.

    He said no I really really should join, because...something something something, it would be fun and jolly good for my character or something somehow. My father said yes I'd definitely be at the next meeting. I stared off into the middle distance, waiting for them to stop.

    And so, after a few days of Mother dragging me round the clothes shops to spend far to much money on a uniform I had no interest in wearing, there came Thursday evening.

    This consisted of:

  • Inspection: I think eight boys standing in a row while Mr Moustache pretended to check our uniforms for creases or stains

  • Pledging: The oldest cub haltingly reciting an archaic promise to serve queen and country, while we all performed an occult-looking three fingered salute.

  • Sport of some kind: Most likely four-a-side soccer, which involved me standing around for half an hour, making sure I was never anywhere near the ball.

  • Break: Orange squash and biscuits, and the only time when the boys showed any sign of animation, chatting about TV shows and the then-new phenomenon of home computer games.

  • No idea: Maybe more sport, or an improvised lecture from an adult. I've a vague feeling there was prayer involved at some point.

  • Some kind of finishing ceremony, then going home.

  • I went a few more times. I don't recall learning the names of anyone there, though I remember a slightly overweight woman who did all the physical work - setting up for soccer or table tennis, making and serving the orange squash drinks...

    ...and on one occasion treating me for an inexplicable nosebleed. She taught me that it was a myth that one should tilt one's head back to stop a nosebleed, and that actually one should tilt forward. I later learned that both are myths.

    I always had the impression that she was constantly telling herself that her duties weren't the boring, demeaning waste of time they seemed, and that she was keeping up a noble tradition of...something something something.

    After six weeks or so, my parents finally realised I was never going to develop an enthusiasm for the scouts - or indeed stop loathing every moment of it. So they stopped trying to persuade me I already loved it.

    But, as with bad marriages and profitable movies, the end wasn't quite the end.