More gin, Brown Owl?


After waiting for a year and a half after leaving Rainbows, my 8 (nearly 9) year old has finally got  a place in Brownies. She’ll have all of a year there before having to move up to Guides because the waiting list was so long – and I worry now if she’ll be able to go smoothly from Brownies to Guides, or will there be another gap like this.

I realise why it’s like this of course – my mother was a Guide leader, and eventually had to close down her Guide unit 10 years after she’d first wanted to retire. Simply because there were NO others willing to take it on and run it, despite wanting their girls to be involved.

I’ve grown up in a Guiding family – was in Brownies, Guides, Ranger Guides and then Rangers before I left Australia. I know the struggle to get parental help and involvement, so I was perfectly happy to get involved again here in the UK. When I let the district co-ordinator know that, she immediately asked me which night I wanted my Brownie Pack to meet on.

Er… overkill much?

I am happy to help out and run an existing one, but the idea of starting a whole new one up fresh seems slightly out of kilter. Aren’t there experienced people for that? I may have a background in the system, but I’ve never been the leader of a group before. I’d rather the girls have a quality experience than suffer under my misguided (no pun intended!) tutelage. I’d probably turn to alcohol with a few medicinal G&Ts. That could go either way.

The Brownie pack that Miss Trouble Pants has joined is fairly small. Despite the long waiting list, the leader didn’t get around to filling the increasing spaces until just recently. They also don’t do a lot of badges, and after watching one round of games on the night she made her promise, I am thinking that the first aid badge – particularly how to handle broken bones might be an asset!


It seems a far cry from the Brownie pack I was part of as a child. The brown tunic with the leather belt and money bag and yellow crossing skarf with the badge pinning it in the centre are gone. The Brownie uniform today is a mish mash of t-shirts and leggings. I’ve got her a t-shirt, but I refuse to buy leggings on the grounds that they always look like you forgot to put your skirt on, no matter what your age. To illustrate my point, the girls who were wearing them that day all looked as if their knees and buttocks had been made with built in balloons, the leggings being saggy and shabby looking.

The traditional badges – footpath, roadway and highway are gone, with two new equivalents in their place – adventure and adventure on. The interest badges have changed shape, and are a massive diamond. Presumably so that girls can do even just one or two and still look like they’ve done something substantial. Or perhaps it’s truly to discourage to the over achievers (like me) from making the rest feel bad, simply by making sure they can’t fit many on.

I have bought her a sash for her badges, despite the fact that none of the other girls wear them. She’s keen to do some of the badges – and I’m keen for her to do them too.

I was looking through many of the badges on offer now, and there are a vast amount of similarities. We woman’s libbers joke about the sexist nature of  a homemaker badge, and how folding napkins is a pointless art. And yet my daughter adored making a bishop’s crown and a strange flaggy looking blog at her meeting.

Basic home skills are an excellent vehicle for confidence and further interest in different things.

The idea of my 8 (nearly 9) year old making a cup of tea, learning how to handle the stove and boiling water (we don’t have an electric kettle) is actually very liberating for both of us. I can imagine the pride she’d feel on this accomplishment – a thing that to date has been branded “a bit too dangerous” for her. And obviously the liberation for me is when she successfully carries the tea up to me in bed… I may never get out again!

After she got into Brownies I had many forays into google, looking for information on what Guides is like back in Australia these days, and I was horrified to find that Brownies were abolished, and are now Junior Guides. No brown uniform, no brown owl, no brownie bells. But at the same time it did seem like the association was very modern in other respects. So much so that I couldn’t understand the badge system at all – it appeared to be an enabling system that allowed the girls and their leaders to create their own badges – at which point it all started going over my head.


Here in the UK, Guides are celebrating their centenary – 100 years as the UK’s largest voluntary organisation for girls. Girl Guides was formed in 1910, a year after they’d shown up at the first rally Boy Scouts held at Crystal Palace. They now have half a million members on their books, and 50,000 girls languishing on waiting lists – because there simply aren’t enough adults.

I guess I need to get involved – I can’t read those statistics and not feel guilty. They may have changed a lot since I was one, but it’s still a fantastic thing for girls to be part of. I may have to start up that new Brownie Pack afterall! Pass the gin will you?

Photo credits – black and white unformed photo is from the uniforms in Guiding pdf, well worth having a look at! Find it on the History of Guiding page. Girls holding balloons is from the centenary website.

Categories: kids running wild


  • Salt says:

    This is so exciting for her! I used to be a Brownie when I was her age and then a Girl Scout for a little while later on after I “graduated”. Those were some seriously fun times!
    We had the brown tunic type thing too. I had no idea the uniform had changed so much!

  • Jen says:

    Hi, I am a Brownie Guider, who stumbled across your blog today.
    I’m really pleased your daughter has got into Brownies and I hope she has a blast, that’s awful that she had to wait so long between Brownies and Guides.
    I actually became a Brownie Guider because my daughter couldn’t get into Brownies, and I DID set up a unit from scratch, there were 5 of us set up a joint Brownies and Guides for a term while we worked out who liked doing what and I ended up leading the Brownies with 2 of the others and the other 2 ended up leading the Guides.
    So yeah, the girls did suffer from the fact we were all learning at once, but they also benefited from the fact that we were really enthusiastic with no experienced person to crush our plans! So our girls have done stuff like go to London for the day and overnight four or five times (over the space of five years, so not the same girls), met JK Rowling at the launch of the last Harry Potter, helped other units in the division to raise over £1000 for Water Aid, taken their First Aid badge, all sorts – have a look at my blog if you want to see more of the things we’ve done. And as a result, we’ve had 24 Brownies pretty much every term since we opened 5 years ago.
    My daughter has long since gone to Guides but I still do Brownies, for me, because I think it is important to volunteer, and because it gives me a healthy balance between work, family and a bit of time for me. Also, because I can act like a big kid and abseil, and camp, and all sorts of stuff I would never have done if I wasn’t a Guider.
    I’d definitely recommend it, one thing I would say is if your daughter is already nearly nine, and you’re worried about Guide space, maybe get involved with a Guide unit rather than a Brownie one so she has somewhere to go then?
    Feel free to message me through my comments, either for publication or if you mark it please don’t publish and include your email, I will just reply and delete it.

  • Sara says:

    I LOVED this post lots and posted your link on the unofficial (I tried to do the trackback link but it hated me – sorry!)
    We were all wondering if you have started your own unit yet or started helping out – personally I think you would be brill! 🙂 xx