YOU might have read a message from the 1st Penyffordd Brownies on the Leader letters page recently
Several members of the pack wrote to us as part of their centenary celebrations.
In honour of the intrepid spirit of the group, I decided to revisit my past as a former 4th Mold girl and appear at the Penyffordd pack’s weekly meeting as an honorary Brownie.
It is at least 17 years since I last donned the uniform.
Unfortunately, I couldn’t find my woggle, necktie or sash, but I took some consolation from the fact my hated swamp-green culottes had also gone missing.
In keeping with the changing times, the girls now sport hoodies and T-shirts, and the necktie is saved for formal events, but despite the changes, the evening felt astonishingly familiar.
I joined Brown Owl (Shirley Broadman), Tawny Owl (Hazel Webb), Nightingale (Mandy Ford) and Robin (Gill Hewitt).
Tawny Owl has been leading for 38 years.
She said: “I joined when I was seven and I just never left.
“There’s something nice about it – I don’t know what it is exactly, but there is.”
“This is Rhian from the Leader newspaper,” said Brown Owl, whose name and uniform inspired instant respect.
The moment she started talking, I wanted to sit cross-legged and attentive in the Brownie circle around the toadstool.
It was like being eight all over again, although I was a bit taller than the other girls.
She went on: “Rhian is here to join in with our activities this evening, so I want you to all make her welcome. We’ve got something special planned for tonight.
“There’s something you might have heard of. Does anyone know what the big sporting event is this month? It’s the Winter Olympics.
“We’re going to have a little Winter Olympics of our own. Each Six must choose a representative to take part in our events. But Rhian does not have a Six...”
Immediately, a dozen hands shot up. In my day, the Sixes – a sub-group named for obvious reasons – were called after fairy folk. I was an Elf. Now they are named after woodland animals.
“Join the foxes!” said one girl, while another tugged my sleeve and said: “No, join the hedgehogs!”
The squirrels and badgers were just as friendly, much to my bafflement – I was always last to be picked for a sports team in school.
Brown Owl consulted the register.
“There are only four rabbits in today, so I think Rhian should become a rabbit for tonight.”
This decision was met with a chorus of “yesss” from the four existing rabbits, made up of Isobel Povey, Eloise Winkworth, Esmee Selley and led by Sixer Izzy Scott, nine.
“I’m not very good at games,” I whisper.
“That’s OK,” said Izzy, a born motivator.
“You don’t have to be scared. We’ll work together.”
Bolstered, I deferred to the real Brownies, and they quickly divvied up the events. I was assigned to the skiing and snowballing teams.
You’d think four little girls might squabble over the choice roles, but the whole thing was sorted with admirable diplomacy.
“It’s not exactly fair,” said Izzy. “’Cos one of us has to go twice. But everyone’s happy.”
If only the real Olympic committee had things as straightforward.
To ski, three of us had to stand on two lengths of wood and co-ordinate our steps to outpace a rival Six. I was a complete liability, outweighing my team members and struggling to match their quick little footsteps.
We came in last.
“That’s OK,” said Isobel, whose sash bristled with badges.
In the next three events, sledging (scooting to the finish line on a square of carpet), ice hockey (normal hockey with a plastic puck) and ice-skating (artfully sliding across the floor while wearing socks), the rabbits acquitted themselves well.
Meanwhile, the non-participants discovered my camera and were taking photo-finish snaps of the games.
“Do you think there’s a photography badge?” Esmee asked, as the memory card filled up.
I joined in the last event – snowballing, where we crumpled up paper and tried to score by throwing it past the opposing Six. It was a close run thing, and noisy, as the pack shouted encouragement, but the rabbits won out.
There was no gloating, sulking or after-game analysis; the girls – all of them – were the epitome of good sports.
We retired to the Brownie circle and, to my everlasting pride, one of the Brownies shuffled over to make a space for me.
I showed them a game I remembered from my time at 4th Mold, called The Man In The Moon.
In return, they taught me the gruesome Snot Game, which saw us pass a ball of invisible monkey nose-pickings from Brownie to Brownie while singing a song.
“Rhian was a Brownie a long time ago,” said Brown Owl. “Does anyone want to ask her any questions?”
More hands shot up.“What did you used to wear?” I paused, suffering a flashback to one of my worst Brownie moments.
“I used to wear a hat,” I admitted. “And a necktie, every week, and these things called culottes. They were like shorts, because they had a divide in the middle, but they looked like a skirt.
“For the first two weeks I wore them, I couldn’t work out why they I found it so difficult to walk. It was because I kept putting both legs down the same hole.”
There was a moment of tension, and then a ripple of laughter went round the room.
I felt a weight lift from my shoulders. Seventeen years on, my culottes nightmare had finally been exorcised.
To finish, we sang the Brownie Bells:
Oh Lord our God,
Thy children call,
Grant us thy peace,
And bless us all.
Over the last 100 years, the Brownies (once called the Rosebuds) has altered dramatically. The movement has evolved even in the 17 years since I wore a sash, but some things haven’t changed. The pack was still made up of curious, energetic and bright young girls, led by a group of dedicated adults.
Some of the songs and activities might have changed, but the ethos of co-operation and friendship remains strong.
To volunteer as a leader or find out more about Girl Guiding, visit www.girlguiding