SCMP Saturday, December 9, 2000


On the march as leader of the pack


I am not the marching type, but I have lately found myself conspicuously on parade for the sake of after-school fun for my daughter.
It started when my eight-year-old asked if she could become a Brownie. I dredged up vague recollections of best friends, mud-brown dresses and a lot of fun from my memory of 20 years ago, all of which seemed like good reasons to let her join.
Brownie packs are for girls aged seven to 11, run by the Girl Guides Association, and teach worthy things like building team spirit, helping the less fortunate, charity fund-raising, personal growth and having fun.
So I called her school to enrol her in yet another activity. But Brownie places are much sought after, and there is a one-year waiting list. I could not make her good intentions wait so long, so on the spur of the moment I suggested forming an extra pack.
My enthusiasm was pounced on by the current Brown Owl, eager to find a successor to take over when her daughter leaves the school. My daughter began Brownies that week, and I began the Brown Owl training.
The archetypal image of a Brown Owl is a staid, portly, tweed-wearing churchgoer, so it was with trepidation that I went along to the first of four training sessions.
It turned out to be fun. We were shown ways to entertain girls of differing ability using the same activity. Then came the history and rules of Guiding, but the real surprise was when we had to march. I am sure I never marched in Brownies, and the singing in high voices really made me wonder. I kept my head down and tried not to giggle or catch anyone's eye. I felt like a Brownie myself under Brown Owl's beady eye.
The uniform is still a turn-off: hospital-green trousers or skirt and McDonald's-style striped shirt, but luckily it is only worn on special days. A polo shirt and jeans is the norm. But don't get me wrong. I stayed the course and was left impressed at how committed these women are to the girls - their personal development, their growth within the pack and the fun they should have.
Fun is stressed as an integral part of being a Brownie. Through activities, from rambling and making environmentally friendly bags to games in the school hall, many valuable lessons can be learned. It may be "old-fashioned", but the Brownie pack still rules in my book, its popularity proof that the modern world can still learn from the past.