Flagging a dead horse


Before email, people would communicate with one another using semaphore flags.   Luckily for me, in the late 60s (just before the invention of email) one of the badges available for attainment within the 3rd/14th Balham & Tooting Cub Group was a Signaller’s Badge.   There was an option of learning how to work an Aldis lamp, but we were poor and couldn’t afford the giant light bulb.

Having created two flags out of an old pair of red and yellow pants (they were never going to become fashionable) and a couple of Mivvi lolly sticks I was sent by Akela (the she-wolf who ran the Cubs) to a house in Holdernesse Road, Tooting, to learn how to spell out H-E-L-P-M-Y-B-O-A-T-I-S-S-I-N-K-I-N-G.

The house was owned by the father of a fellow pupil at St Mary’s, Balham, and the dad’s ability to send messages using flags meant there was no ostensible need for a telephone (there were, however, several discarded yoghurt pots and bits of string strewn around the house – in case of emergencies, the father would say).

The badges available these days for Cubs are manifold: Entertainer (I’ve done 50 stand-up gigs, so feel over-qualified); Home Help (I bought a duster on the doorstep last week and have almost mastered how to use it) and Local Knowledge (I pointed out where the Gents was on Ewell East Station the other day). If I were a Cub today I’d have an armful; as a Cub in the 60s, I achieved two badges – Signaller and Collector (dad was a prolific smoker and acquired boxes of matches which I would collect and stick in a scrapbook).  It was the smelliest submission ever, said Bagheera (Akela’s deputy).

I never graduated to the Scouts as cooking was introduced towards the end of my Cub career and this looked potentially quite dangerous with sausages clearly having a mind of their own.

As you get older, you hark back to the “good old days” and I sit in my office praying for the Internet to go down, because I never need an excuse to get my semaphore flags out. This is not a euphemism.

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