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Thursday, 3 September 2009

Putting ‘Pow’ Into ‘Wow’!

I’m unsure why the attractive Girlguiding UK website shows these lovely kids hangin’ around upside down.
Never mind, it began looking batty the second I realised the Guides had been around for a century and I remembered being there, in an older cousin’s hand-me-down uniform, as a ‘Seconder’ with The Gnomes in the Birmingham Jewish Brownie Pack.
It was during the early 60s and we met at a school in Mosley on Sunday afternoon for regular pow-wows around an outsized plastic toadstool under the beady eyes of Brown Owl Evelyn Brand and her ‘Tawny’, Muriel Hassell.  One week  my Ma was press-ganged into duty as an assistant ‘Snowy’  and didn’t like the experience a bit.
“Mummy”, I asked innocently, “why are you being called ‘Snowy’? She gave me a shot of her magnificent choppers and replied with a hiss that could be heard the other side of Solihull: “Because I’m white!”
I understand that traditional guiding values have not changed a jot although the movement makes a valiant effort to keep abreast of the times.
I remember playing games that ensured our hands and fingernails were clean and supposedly learning to sew buttons and darn socks. But  I always made a mess of the most basic tasks. So little wonder that to this day I wriggle out of even the simplest sewing jobs, leaving them to the man of the house, who’s a dab hand, having been brought up in the Manchester rag trade.
The movement website recalls how members “have always risen to the challenge in times of national crisis. During the First World War, they worked in munitions factories and in the Second World War, young women in the Guides International Service worked alongside British soldiers to help Jewish inmates liberated from Bergen-Belsen concentration camp”.  That definitely put  ‘pow’ into   ‘wow’!
What’s more, I bet these girls had learned semaphore – just as we did some twenty years later – and I wonder if it’s something still taught.
Both Jewish Guides and Scouts would be intrigued to discover - as I just have – that the  practice of lighting bonfires on hilltops in Ancient Israel to signal the start of a new month is regarded as an early form of semaphore.
Now I’m sorry that I spent three hours earlier this week looking for a Jewish interpretation to the awful TV adaptation of Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights. If only I’d remembered the classic Monty Python version, everything would have come clear at once.
It's a great shame, in my view, that typical of the North Manchester Jewish community, the concept of guiding on one occasion became a political football. When they discovered that their daughters were unwelcome at a brownie pack hosted by a nearby Orthodox synagogue, two women established one at our synagogue, Sha'arei Shalom North Manchester Reform Congregation, which ran successfully for many years. My step-daughter was a keen brownie there and so far as I'm aware one of my close friends and her own daughter are both very active in the general guiding movement.
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