taken from "life"
But i had other preoccupations. One of the best things that happened to me at that time, believe it or not, was joining the Boy Scouts. It's leader, Baden Powell, a genuinely nice man who was well tuned in to what small boys liked doing, did believe that without the scouts the empire would collapse. This is where i came in, as a member of the Seventh Dartford Scouts, Beaver Patrol, although the empire was showing signs of collapsing anyway for reasons that had nothing to do with character and tying knots. I think my foray into scouting must have happened just before the guitar really set in -or maybe before i owned one-because when i really started playing the guitar that was my other world.
Scouting was a separate thing from music. I wanted to know how to survive , and I'd read all of Baden Powell's books. And now I've got to learn all these tricks. I want to know how to find out where i am; I want to know how to cook something underground. For some reason i needed survival skills and i thought it was important to learn. I already had a tent in the back garden, where where i would sit for hours , eating raw potatoes and such. How to pluck a fowl. How to gut things. What bits to leave in and what bits to leave off. And whether to keep the skin or not. Is it any use? Nice pair of gloves? It was kind of miniature SAS training. It was mainly a chance to swagger around with a knife on your belt. That was the attraction for a lot of us. You didn't get the knife until you got a few badges.
Beaver Patrol had its own shed-one of the other dads' unused garden shed, which we took over and where we had planning meetings about what the patrol was going to do. You're good at that, you're good at that. We'd sit around and talk and have a smoke, and we went on field trips to Bexleyheath or Sevenoaks. Scout Leader Bass was the scoutmaster, who seemed ancient at the time but was probably only about twenty. He was a very encouraging guy. He'd say "All right, tonight is knotting. The sheepshank, the bowline, the running bowline." I had to practice at home. How to start a fire without smoke. I'd practice in the garden all week. Rubbing two sticks together-forget about it. Not in that climate. It might work in Africa or some other un-humid area. So it was basically the magnifying glass and dry twigs. Then suddenly, after only three or four months, I've got four or five badges and I'm promoted to patrol leader. I had badges all over the place, unbelievable! I don't know where my scout shirt is now, but it's adorned, stripes and strings and badges all over the place. Looked like i was into bondage.
All that boosted my confidence at a crucial moment, after my rejection from the choir, especially the fact that i promoted so fast. i think it was more important, that whole scouting period, than I've ever realized. I had a good team. I knew my guys and we were pretty solid. Discipline was a little lax, i must admit, but when it came to "This is the task for today," we did it. There was the big summer camp at Crowborough. We'd just won the bridge building competition. That night we drank whiskey and had a fight in the bell tent. It's pitch-black, there's no light, everybody's just swinging, breaking things, especially themselves-first bone i ever broke was hitting the tent pole in the middle of the night.
The only time i pulled rank was when my scouting career came to an end. I had a new recruit, and he was such a prick, he couldn't get along with anybody. And it was like "I've got an elite patrol here and I've got to take this bum in? I'm not here to wipe snot. Why'd you dump him on me?" He did something, and i just gave him a whack. Bang, you cunt. Nest thing i know I'm up before the disciplinary board. On the carpet. "officers do not slap" and all that bullshit.
I was in my hotel room in Saint Petersburg, on tour with the Stones, when i found myself watching the ceremony commemorating the hundredth anniversary of the Boy Scouts. It was at Brownsea Island, where Baden-Powell started his first camp. All alone in my room, I stood up, made the three-fingered salute and said, "Patrol leader, Beaver Patrol, Seventh Dartford Scouts, sir." I felt i had to report.