The Baden Powell Merit Badge Fiasco

It just feels wrong. Although technically speaking I’m entitled, there’s something not quite right about the fact that I have them. I am (I suspect) not acting in accordance with community expectations. It’s a shame; I was so proud when I received them. Amidst the pomp and ceremony, I couldn’t contain my glee. But the harsh truth is, these days I couldn’t tie a sheepshank knot if my life depended on it. That’s why I’ve decided to return my Scouting merit badges.

It may seem unlikely now, but I was once a Scout. ‘Be Prepared’ was our motto. The key requirement of being a Scout was endurance. You had to be able to turn up to the Moorooduc Town Hall every Wednesday evening wearing shorts, regardless of the conditions. There were nights where I begged my parents for a reprieve, wanting instead to stay home where it was warm to watch the latest installment of ‘The Fall Guy’ starring Lee Majors. These erstwhile pleas fell not on ears that weren’t deaf, just determinedly unsympathetic. Later, as I stood at attention, the goose bumps on my legs were big enough to be seen from the moon.

There were merit badges for pretty much everything. From woodwork to physical fitness, I pursued them with an enthusiasm that was not so much unbridled as unhinged. Those badges that looked overly difficult, however, were quickly eliminated from consideration as I doggedly pursued the path of least resistance. Having selected the merit badge I wanted (cooking, personal cleanliness, Twentieth Century pre-revolutionary Russian Literature etc), I would then begin a relentless campaign of harassment directed at my father. He’d be busy doing work around the yard (which always involved a mattock, the wheelbarrow, tatty nylon tracksuit pants and a ‘Wham!’ t-shirt he picked up on sale) when I’d beg for help.

Ultimately, my father would concede and agree to assess whatever it was I was supposed to be doing in order to earn my merit badge. I recall him timing me as I raced down the driveway to test my fitness. Most likely, I was wearing gumboots as I tore across the gravel at a rate of knots. Other activities were less physical and more of a technical nature. It was here that my father’s patience was sorely tested.

I have never been very handy. My brother, however, was good with his hands and quickly progressed from Lego to knocking up a greenhouse during the course of an afternoon whilst I puzzled over how to get the lid off the super glue. Despite this, I would often attempt technically oriented scouting tasks. Without exception, these attempts were disastrous and would transform a pleasant Saturday afternoon into something far more excruciating for me, my father and everyone in a four-kilometer radius as my howled cries of anguish were hurled heavenwards. Ultimately, I would succeed or, at least, get within sniffing distance; enough for my father to declare that some base level of proficiency had been achieved.

The merit badges were awarded during the parade ceremony. The event bore little resemblance to the opening ceremony of the Moscow Olympics and mostly consisted of having your name called out before stepping forward to collect your merit badge. I doubt I have ever felt as proud as the day I was awarded the merit badges for short crust pastry and atomic fusion (beginner level). Once awarded, these bright little patches would then be sewn on to the sleeve of my shirt as a reminder to my peers of my general awesomeness. Within a short period of time I’d earned a slew of badges. Impatient when my mother claimed she had better things to do, I began sewing on my own badges; an act of intemperance that somewhat ironically earned me another merit badge.

The most elusive merit badge for me involved knots. Knots were, and remain to this day, my nemesis. Whole evenings at Scouts would be dedicated to the art of the knot. We’d be handed two pieces of rope and spend the entire night trying to do something useful with them. I can still picture the troop leaders explaining how one end of the rope would be folded, tucked, tugged and tightened. They may as well have been speaking another language. But determined (k)not to let two bits of rope get the better of me, I practiced all kinds of ropey configurations – the granny knot, the reef knot, the sheet bend and (if I was feeling especially game) the double sheet bend. Perhaps the one I should have learned was the ‘Forget Me Knot’.

After what felt like several decades of practice I was assessed and duly awarded a merit badge. I then used my exceptional sewing skills to affix it to my shirt. But however monumental this achievement, it’s lost to me now. The only knot I can tie is the one I use for my shoelaces and, even then, it’s a day-to-day proposition. I have failed to live up to the scouting motto of ‘Be Prepared’. My motto at this point is probably ‘Outsource Early and Often’. So please, accept these merit badges along with a personal apology from me to Lord Baden-Powell. My Scouting achievements should now be considered expunged, stricken forever from the record. Dib, dib, dib; dob, dob, dob; blah, blah, blah; etcetera and so forth.