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Editor's Comment: February 2019

PUBLISHED: 09:25 17 January 2019

"I remember winning my Cook's Badge by making a tea of sausages, beans and boiled potatoes."

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Reflecting on his experiences in the Cubs as a young boy, editor Mike Lowe asks do we need to congratulate the younger generations on all their achievements? And are we making things too easy for them? He also discusses the 'creaking, money-sapping bureaucracy' behind the NHS...

When I was in the Cubs we learned to tie knots, send messages by semaphore and cook ‘dampers’ on a stick over a campfire. We also competed for badges, many of which weren’t that easy to come by. I remember winning my Cook’s Badge by making a tea of sausages, beans and boiled potatoes for a stony-faced invigilator who sat waiting in our dining room at home while I was locked alone in the kitchen. I think I was eight.

I never did get the Observer Badge, which required you to know the names and appearance of 20 British flowers and trees and the history and habits of five British wild animals – mainly because in inner-city Manchester we didn’t have 20 British flowers and trees and five British wild animals. So no-one in our pack, not even Akela’s favourites, ever accumulated more than half a dozen or so badges, never mind a sleeveful.

Compare this with the battle honours of eight Cubs from the 1st West Hoathly pack in West Sussex who have managed to ‘win’ a full house of badges – all of the 472 now available. Obviously the fact that the Cubs now admit the viciously competitive female gender has something to do with this, but I doubt any of them had to season their sausages while Rosa Klebb drummed her knife and fork on the table just yards away. No, this lot got their adornments by making Diwali lanterns (Artist), mastering basic computer programming (Digital Citizen) and understanding how to load and unload a dishwasher (Home Help). That fearsome Observer Badge is now re-named Naturalist Activity and requires four visits to a piece of outdoor space and the recording of changes. (It was spring; it was summer, it was autumn, etc...). Gone altogether is the requirement in the Swimming Badge for the applicant to be able to “take off a pair of socks in the water”. I’m not sure that is altogether wise in this age of climate change.

Now obviously the Cubs and Scouts need to move with the times (the manual Lord Baden-Powell wrote in 1916 would make many a millennial faint with its colonial tone and language) and these children should be congratulated on their achievements. But I do have a nagging feeling that we sometimes make things a bit too easy for our younger generations.

I’m not suggesting that we should still send them up chimneys or replace their Christmas Xboxes with a tangerine and a shiny penny, but success in something should surely involve a degree of difficulty greater than loading a dishwasher. That attitude spawns the stupid situation at school sports days where “everyone is a winner” and medals are handed to all and sundry. Well, I’m sorry small boy, but for there to be winners there have to be losers as well. And you’re one of them. Wipe your nose and try harder next time.

Of course, I’m just an old fart and I would say that, wouldn’t I? But if anyone wants to pop round for a tea of sausages, beans and boiled potatoes...

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There is so much right about the frontline care offered by the NHS and so much wrong with the creaking, money-sapping bureaucracy behind the scenes. Did you know, for instance, that the NHS is the world’s biggest purchaser of fax machines? (Google them if you’re under 40.) Imagine that. In the operating theatre, robotic surgery and (literally) cutting-edge technology puts us ahead of the world in many disciplines. Meanwhile, in the admin department, someone is going to miss their next critical appointment because Angela the Temp has jammed the fax machine and is stood there with printer ink all over her fingers.

Even the ongoing use of this piece of antiquated office kit pales into insignificance when you realise how your personal medical records are handled. The last time I went to see the doctor I gazed with wonderment at this battered, yellowing folder on her desk which contained every detail of my medical history from a teenage appendectomy to a recent blocked ear. It was all there, in letters, forms, test results – dozens and dozens of bits of paper which had followed me around the country for decades and were now transported from Tetbury to Gloucester to Cheltenham, presumably by mule train, as required.

“I would have thought all this would be on a computer system by now,” I ventured. She just snorted disdainfully and stuck her finger up my bottom. (Yes, I know I’d arrived with a blocked ear but, as gentlemen of my age know, such embarrassing invasions seem to be a matter of routine.)

I mention this because despite constant claims of the lack of proper funding for the NHS, I have a deep suspicion that there would be plenty of money to spend on the brilliant frontline services if only the back office would stop wasting cash on fax machines and mule trains.

For more of Mike’s musings, follow him on Twitter! @cotslifeeditor

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