Sunday, 7 February 2010

Those Dangerous Days of Childhood

The Times this week, reported on the 20 DANGEROUS things every parent should allow their children to do! These activities ranged from: licking a 9volt battery, playing with fire, sleeping in the wild, learning dramatic sword play, exploding a bottle in a freezer and building a rope swing. Each of these activities came complete with its own health warning, and range of safety equipment that should be deployed when attempting the activities. I wasn’t sure if this was a tongue in cheek piece of advice or just a sad reflection of publishing in such a litigious age. However, I was struck by the fact that every one of these so called dangerous activities were things that had been part of my childhood. I was a Boy Scout, and spent many a happy hour engaged in just these so called dangerous activities. I even took part in an in-door archery competition in front of the Queen, which given my poor hand-eye coordination, was probably more dangerous for the queen than it was for me.

Of course the original Scout and eventual World Chief Scout Lord (Robert) Baden Powell, has many connections to nursing, health promotion and the well being of boys. During the Siege of Mafeking in South Africa, for example, his cadet corps (an all white group for boys and the precursor to the Scout movement), were used as health care assistants in the field hospitals. It was his book Aids to Scoutmastership, which illustrates how far ahead of his time he really was. This was a book was first published in 1919 and sets out what Baden-Powell described as the ‘science’ of scouting, which he claimed as being neither abstruse or difficult, but a jolly game to be played – my kind of science. Chapter Two in this book is entitled Health and Strength and is a brilliant blueprint for ensuring the health and wellbeing of individuals. Its scope is fantastic, ranging from taking exercise, eating healthily, no smoking, and good sexual health and even a paragraph on sexuality. In terms of health education and promoting health and well being, it still holds great relevance today. It was last updated in 2005.

Baden-Powell’s own health wasn’t always good however. For example, he suffered from persistent headaches, for which no physical cause could be found. The headaches started very soon after he got married. He received treatment in the form of dream analysis. Freud famously described psychoanalytic dream-interpretation as ‘the royal road to a knowledge of the unconscious activities of the mind’. We don’t know what lay in Baden-Powell’s unconscious, but we do know that his headaches disappeared after he started sleeping on the balcony of his bedroom.

Despite girls also wanting to be Scouts, Baden-Powell did not believe it would be right. Girls formed their own organisation (the Girl Guides) in 1910, some three years after Scouting started. Just like Mafeking, the Guides provided similar help and assistance during the 1914-18 war. Unlike the Scouts, Guides were awarded a War Service badge after working for 21 days in a hospital or if they knitted at least 15 articles, including socks and a bed jacket, for war heroes. Since that time a number of high profile women joined the Guides, including Clare Short, Julie Burchill, Mo Mowlam and Glenda Jackson - have passed through their ranks. Interestingly, the Guide movement now has 650,000 members, which is substantially more than the now-mixed Scouts movement can boast.

I am not sure what Baden-Powell would have thought of Tescos decision this week to refuse to serve a young lady with cigarettes because she was wearing pyjamas. If he was still around today, perhaps his next edition would have advocated that in the interest of promoting health and well being, supermarkets should only sell cigarettes to those people wearing pyjamas