Discrimination, political games, hardship: the truth about being a Brownie

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

As fondly as I might reminisce on my days spent running rampant around a dusty church hall bedecked in yellow and brown polyester – a recurrent colour scheme in my childhood, for some distressing reason- being a Brownie was a somewhat turbulent an affair.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Being initiated into the Brownies by having to wander awkwardly around my squatting peers attempting – and failing miserably – to resemble toadstools as I undertook my imaginary journey through the woodland to pledge my Brownie promise (weird, I am aware) was only the tip of the iceberg. Being assigned to be a ‘Gnome’ when my other friends were either Pixies, Elves, or Imps was perhaps my first joust with the seeming discrimination of the institution. I know that to include definitions in one’s articles seems to be a shameless inclusion to drag oneself, kicking and screaming, to the word count, but here I cannot omit a definition because it is necessary in order that my readership (however small) can understand the trials I faced as a young Brownie. Quickly googling ‘gnome definition’, I discovered that ‘gnome’ – a noun – is defined as either ‘a legendary dwarfish creature supposed to guard the earth’s treasures underground’ or ‘a small garden ornament in the form of a bearded man with a pointed hat’ and colloquially ‘a small ugly person’ (read ‘a grizzled gnome of a man’) or ‘a person regarded as having secret or sinister influence in financial matters’.

In the light of these definitions, I can now confirm the validity of my disappointment to have been assigned to be a Gnome. Given that the number of eight year old girls whom I imagine wish to be associated with the image of a grizzly, ugly, short, deviant male tax-collector are few and far between, I can therefore pretty comfortably state that my despondency at being affiliated with the gnomely realm was warranted. Sure, I may have had a pretty sizeable overbite, but I don’t really see how that justified my being labelled as something resonant of a) a weird garden ceramic and b) a mythical creature which ought really to live underground.

That isn’t to say that I didn’t have success in my days as a Gnome. I made my way up in the Gnome hierarchy to the position of Seconder (second in command for those not in this particular language game) and then lead the Gnomes to indisputable victory the week after week as a Sixer, winning the fastest ‘Sixer Circle’ and the most bottle tops for Most Likely Team to Pay Their Subs. Thinking about it, my leadership of the Gnomes was probably one of the great successes of my childhood, shortly behind my tendency to win at Musical Bumps basically every single time.

Between the ages of seven and 11, I sacrificed every Tuesday evening (barring school holidays and tummy bugs) to the institution of Girl Guiding. I was a Girl Guiding stalwart. I had been to Rainbows and I followed through diligently all the way through to Guides until I was 14. At this point I decided that enough was enough: I didn’t want to be a Ranger, and so I hung up my Girl Guiding hat.

Goodbye, Brown Owl and your cohorts, none of whom gave off the vibe of either really wanting to be there or even liking children that much. Goodbye, musty church hall. Adieu to your smell and your wide expanse of wooden floor, perennially crunchy with dust. Let us meet again in 20 or so years when I am hastily looking for a last minute venue in which to host my five year old’s birthday party.


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