‘Be prepared’ requires more than it used to from Baden-Powell’s finest: ‘doing one’s best’ now means sacrificing old ladies for a celebrity photo opportunity
Try as you may, there is no escape from the modern world. You can hide, but it will find you, and when it does it will poke you in the eye with an iPod or dig you in the ribs with an invitation to a civil partnership ceremony. The latest victims to wake up screaming and see the spectre of modernity grinning hideously at the foot of the bed are Boy Scouts.
The days when Scouts began each day with renewed hope of prising a stone from a horse’s hoof or starting a fire by rubbing two sticks together live only in the misty recesses of the memory. Today’s Scouts earn badges in computing and public relations (PR) – yes, you heard right, PR.
Fortunately, not all the old skills are lost. Scouts still help old ladies across the road, but – as the following excerpt from their PR badge manual clearly shows – today it is done a little differently.
First, says the book, find your old lady. Bear in mind that she should come across well in the photo opportunity. It’s a good idea to advertise for a candidate in Homes & Gardens or Saga Magazine. While choosing from the applicants look for a bowed back, a walking stick, a slightly crumpled hat and a twinkle in the eye. Most importantly, pick a small one. Since you are probably no taller than 5ft, you should not need to raise your arm to take hold of hers, for she would then appear to be helping you across the road.
Next, choose your location. Apply your common sense. The Hangar Lane giratory system could prove wasteful in old ladies; Acacia Avenue, Cricklewood, would be too far for journalists to travel. Something in between is ideal, preferably – given the requirements of the media – with a pub nearby.
Now prepare a press release. Bear in mind that journalists are busy people with many competing calls on their time. Try, therefore, to arrange your road crossing on what looks like being a slow news day. It will, however, be your bad luck if Madonna’s thighs show signs of cellulite, or Trinny steps out without shaving her armpits on the chosen day.
Face facts: “Boy Scout Helps Lady Across Road” is not going to catch the eye of a busy news editor. You will need either a survey or a celebrity, or both. The survey, which you can compile at home in a spare moment, should focus on a health hazard, since this is a favourite of editors. Try something like, “Old Lady Death Toll Rockets – Shocking statistics released today show that seven out of ten grannies reported missing in London are picked out of the treads of heavy duty lorries in Aberdeen. Scout Movement launches ‘Save an Old Lady Day’. Picture opportunity. Please observe embargo.”
Securing the services of a celebrity presents no problem but will pay dividends. Tara Palmer-Tomkinson, Abi Titmuss or Antony Worrall Thompson may usually be depended on, but just about any celebrity will do. No need to brief the celebrity before the Press arrives since he or she will have plenty to say, possibly along the lines of “Yeah, it’s a good cause. When I was asked to save old ladies from a hideous death, there was no way I was going to say ‘no’. I was like, yeah, count me in.”
Rehearse, rehearse. Position the old lady at the kerbside, approach her from the side, smile facing the camera, take hold of her arm and steer her between the cars, having first briefed the drivers to slow down, grin and wave you across.
Do not panic if, as has happened in the past, the old lady takes a cantankerous turn and becomes involved in an altercation with a tattooed gorilla driving a white van. Should the driver approach, eyes bulging, and scream “Are you bleedin’ blind, grandma?”, step away from the action. Experience suggests that a sharp prod in the beer gut with a walking stick causes nine out of ten van drivers to double up like a penknife and swallow their bridgework.
Far greater cause for alarm would arise in the event of the old lady slipping from your grasp and disappearing with an audible squelch beneath the wheels of a bendy bus. Stay calm. Take off your cap, place it over your chest and salute her memory.
Do not despair. Remember, you are a Scout and for you there is no such thing as an irretrievable setback. Think of your founder, Lord Baden-Powell. What he would have done? Would the veteran of the Siege of Mafeking have trembled at the loss of an old lady? Of course not! He would have rolled up his sleeves, spat on his hands, and earned his Crisis Management Badge.