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Friday, 17 July 2015

Are we nearly there yet?

Firstly, I must apologise for the rather long gap since my last blog post; unfortunately, the joys of AS level exams have kept me entertained in recent months. However, they are now over and the long and winding ‘road to Japan’ is coming to an end. If you’ll allow me to extend the metaphor, we’re coming up the driveway after one of the longest road-trips I’ve ever had. Looking back to when we set out, to that fateful weekend in October 2013, a disheveled group of scouts and explorers thrown together from across Oxfordshire for their first unit camp. We have come so far; new friendships forged, fundraising targets smashed (and missed - don’t tell anyone!) and a unit well and truly formed. 

There have been times, usually at one of our long and exciting fundraising meetings, that my inner 7-year-old has tugged the seatbelt in front and yelled ‘are we nearly there yet?’ But I soon manage to refocus my attention towards the fascinating exchange of views regarding our most recent fundraising idea, most notably a crossdressing fashion show. I would be lying if I said there haven’t been challenges. Most obvious has been the opening of my eyes towards the difficulty Scouting and other charities face in fundraising and how one goes about attempting to raise £120,000. However, it seems very apparent to me, with only 7 days remaining, that it most definitely has been worth it. All the hours of making small talk with customers whilst you fail to pack their shopping in quite the way they wish (colour/weight/smell coordinated) and them giving you money not to pack their shopping, or the repeated (and I hazard to say failed) attempts to explain to someone what precisely a ‘world jamboree’ is, or researching Rick Astley’s top hits (a punishment in itself) for the fundraiser quiz music round and now, finally, here we are. The adventure of a lifetime is around the next corner and we have our foot to the floor (Ok, I’ll stop with the metaphor). There is still a lot I yet have to do: pack, learn some basic Japanese, acquaint myself with chopsticks, master my crane-making technique and learn the lyrics of that Disney-inspired World Jamboree song. 

All attempts at humour aside, what’s in store will, I have no doubt, be incredible. Scouting has provided all 33,000 of us with a simply astounding opportunity and we now have to grab it with both hands. No doubt each of us has our personal fears and apprehensions concerning a whole plethora of topics; how exactly to use a Japanese toilet or what if I don’t know the correct etiquette for a particular social occasion. Of course, we will all experience low points whilst we are in Japan. Spending over 2 weeks in the company of the same people with a relentless itinerary and hot, humid temperatures guarantees falling-outs at some point. Fatigue and exhaustion will hit us all at one time or another. However, these challenges will dwarf in comparison to the memories we create, new friendships we forge and the extent to which our horizons widen and eyes open to the world around us. Stepping out of our comfort zones is a necessity for this process. So enjoy the nervousness, the excitement - it shows just how much this opportunity means to you. 

See you all in Japan!

Wednesday, 3 September 2014

Iceland Jamboree - Landsmót Skáta

From the 18th July to 27th July, 67 Scouts & Leaders from Oxfordshire visited Iceland to attend 'Landsmót skáta 2014' - the International Iceland Jamboree that takes place every 2 years. It was a brilliant experience! Iceland is a beautiful country; a geographer's dream! Glacial erosion has sculpted dramatic valleys which made the long drive from Reykjavik to the jamboree site at Akureyri, in the North, a very enjoyable experience indeed. However, the return journey through the highlands of Iceland proved somewhat less enjoyable thanks to the ridiculously bumpy roads which meant all of us clinging to our bags in the overhead lockers to prevent any serious injury. The Jamboree itself lasted a week: Sunday to Sunday. The atmosphere was indescribable. It felt like I had just bumped into 3000 long-lost friends. Before we had even fully erected our tents some lovely Swedish Scouts had joined us and wanted to know all about the UK. From the moment we arrived to when we had to sadly leave, everyone was so friendly.

It was at the Jamboree that I had my first experience of the dark side of Scouting. An ugly side which has been covered up for too long. I witnessed Scouts (myself included) become addicted to the buzz of exchanging one's badge for another's. What's known to the outside world as badge swapping. I thought I'd been overenthusiastic by bringing about 100 badges to swap. I couldn't have been more wrong! Michael from Texas had brought a rucksack full of badges and neckers that he had mass-produced especially for the jamboree. It's a dog-eat-dog world. The Hong Kongers were becoming desperate in their hunt for a UK Contingent necker, even resorting to attempting to swap a young Scout (after some serious thought I decided their offer). I now know that I'm going to have to seriously buck up my ideas if I'm going to stand a chance in Japan, next year!

I can't begin to capture our adventure in a single blogpost. There were countless highlights: watching Will perform oasis in the talent contest, raving hard into the early hours in the rover tent, singing 'wonderwall' over and over again, taking countless selfies with leader Claire or introducing the Danes to the complex sport of cricket!  The memories we made will last the rest of our lives. Here are some photos to try and give you just an idea of our adventure:

Sunset over the jamboree site (well not quite, as it's 24hr daylight in the Summer!) 

Participants enjoying some quality Icelandic music.

One of the most impressive Jamboree gateways.

A look down onto the Jamboree site.

William and I dine with Michael from Texas. The Americans introduced us to "S'Mores" - I highly recommend them!

A truly international campfire.

The Unit went out humpback whale watching. The whales loved us!

Hilmar from Iceland receives a box of Yorkshire Tea. He was over the moon; as you can see!

Tea break!

Whether it was trying some delightful Haggis with the Scottish Guides, dancing to Icelandic pop songs with local Icelanders or dining with the Americans, it was this genuine friendliness that made the biggest impact on me. In times when there is so much suffering, intolerance and division in the world to see young people from around the planet sharing stories of their countries and having fun together reinforced to me how important Scouting is in creating peace and spreading tolerance at an international level. 3000 Scouts return inspired by one another and the beauty of Iceland!

Thursday, 29 May 2014

What on earth is a 'Jamboree'?

The last month has not been dedicated to fundraising, instead to another seemingly impossible challenge: GCSEs. For any of my international readers, GCSEs are exams that you have to sit in the UK when you're 15/16. There are around 10 subjects which are covered by approximately 20 exams. They're pretty important so scouting has had to take a backseat. Fortunately, I have just managed to crawl my way through them and reached the half-term holiday in one very stressed and tired, but complete piece. I only have 4 exams left and then I am looking forward to a beautiful long summer of cricket and scouting - the perfect combination!

The Oxfordshire Unit to the 2014 Iceland Jamboree
I'm off to the National Iceland Jamboree in late July as part of the Oxfordshire Unit. Also, Sri Lanka and India are touring the UK this summer in what's going to be some truly thrilling test match cricket. But I don't think you've come here to hear about the great Lasith Malinga or legendary Virat Kohli. Around 45 Oxfordshire Scouts are spending 10 days camping 25 miles from the Arctic Circle at the National Iceland Jamboree and touring Iceland which is going to be fantastic. This will give us the opportunity to share with foreign scouts our own scouting experiences, and to take part in some pretty unique activities.

Hopefully, I'll be able to meet some Scouts whilst we're in Iceland who are also going to Japan, next year. The Japan 2015 Oxfordshire Unit have managed, despite my constant unhelpful pessimism (which you would've picked up if you are a fan of the blog!), to exceed the £30,000 mark in our fundraising. Many, mainly me, told us it would be impossible but we reached it. Now we only have another £100,000 to go!  If you're interested about the 'road to Japan' and want more up-to-date updates in junks of 140 characters then follow us on twitter: @OxonJamboUnit - An account, which as an administrator of, I unashamedly misuse to retweet my own tweets.

Whether talking about Japan, next year, or Iceland, this year, many people will ask me "what on earth is a 'Jamboree'?".  It is to those unfamiliar with it a rather odd word. It comes from the 19th century term for a 'boisterous gathering'. This definition for me doesn't truly capture what a Jamboree is. It is very difficult to define it and the definition usually given by scouts is 'you just have to go to one to understand', which does convey the extraordinary nature of the event but doesn't help in defining a jamboree to the wider public. For me, a jamboree sums up all that is amazing and outstanding about Scouting. The genuine friendliness of young people; the ability to communicate, share and exchange ideas on an international platform and to have fun: It's simple. A jamboree captures the capability of young people from opposite corners of the globe to put aside differences and come together to celebrate life and their scouting. A great example of this is the creation of 'coexistence circles' by Israeli Scouts to break down the barriers between the Jewish and Muslim communities within Israel. If there's one video that I would want everyone to see that sums up Scouting for me it's this: Israel Scouts - Coexistence circles. This is why scouting is so much more than an 'after-school club'.

If you have read previous posts you would be familiar with my scout friend Andres from Colombia. We met through the annual JOTI (Jamboree On The Internet) event. Andres has been very kind and sent me some lovely Colombian gifts which are pictured to the side. I'm sporting a Colombian Football shirt as I write this post. Thanks Andres!

Also, Unit member Peter has been bugging me for months for me to give him a 'mention' on here in what I can only imagine is some desperate attempt to boost his ego: I'm complimented he thinks so highly of the blog. Peter, consider yourself 'mentioned'!

If you're going to Japan (or Iceland) then feel free to comment below or contact me via Google+.

Monday, 31 March 2014

2nd Training Camp

On the weekend of Friday 14th March, the Oxfordshire Unit came together for our 2nd training camp at Horley Campsite, near Banbury. It had been months, for most of us, since we'd last seen each other and there was plenty to catch up on. Fundraising dominated conversation, as we compared each other's efforts and results. Unit member Chris suggested 'sponsored cross-dressing' - an idea he was a little too proud of and far too keen to implement. Although we are going to have to be rather creative to reach that staggering figure of £130,000 by July 2015!

As the name suggests 'training' was the main objective of the weekend. To ready ourselves for the challenges we would face when in Japan and to make us all the best of friends before we got out there. In terms of how friendly we all are, I am pleased to report that there are no issues on this front. The 'Jamboree Family', or #JamFam, is very much established.

The team with our new, more safe design
We were put through our paces with some gateway building - each unit's site at the Jamboree will have a personalised gateway. We used poles and our expert knowledge of knots to produce some rather sturdy constructions. So sturdy in fact that one of the beams fell and hit unit member Erin on the head. After quickly making sure that everyone knew I was in no way, shape or form responsible for the beam falling (and therefore not to blame for any serious injury that could have been inflicted) I ran over and checked Erin was OK - a tad concussed she decided to rest and let us continue with the building. After disciplining my team over their very shoddy handiwork and the blatant shortcuts they'd taken in the construction process, we moved forward with a new, more caring and considerate health & safety strategy.

Tsunami Drill!
To introduce us to the possible dangers we may face in Japan, the Unit leadership team decided that in their usual sadistic manner we should practise 'Tsunami Drills'. This consisted of leader Mel setting her phone alarm which gave us 5 minutes to grab all of our gear from our tents and pack up - because, of course, the first thing one would do when faced with a 10 metre high wall of water racing at 400mph towards you over the North Pacific Ocean is wait for your inflatable roll matt to deflate and roll up your sleeping bag. Despite questioning the leaders' motives - perhaps, they actually just wanted to irritate us by making us pack up? I quickly dismissed such a ridiculous thought and began to pack up. I decided that to save time (and effort) I would just cunningly throw my sleeping bag and roll matt behind the tent so they were hidden from the leaders. Sadly, the pedantic leaders saw through my plan and accused me of 'cheating'!

Watching the rugby
Rain stopped play temporarily on Saturday evening - when I say rain it was actually the Rugby. The deciding 6 Nations match between France and Ireland, to be precise. I will never forget (as a proud Welshman) watching Ireland's win (which meant England did not win overall) on my iPhone in front of the campfire with everyone crowded around.

Being invested in to the unit
A particularly special moment, and one that I will never forget, was when we were invested into the Unit. We were presented with our beautiful UK Contingent neckers and the marvellous unit badges. A proud event for all of us. Just to be in the unit was an amazing achievement and now we truly were on the path to Japan. Unit leader Alec gave us some time to reflect about what this was all about, as he led in a very special Scouts' Own - an activity where we explore what Scouting is all about. To some this trip could sound like a '3-week jolly' - how wrong they would be! The Jamboree is the largest gathering of people for peace in the world. As Alec put it so greatly, "It's a global platform". A platform for us to meet and share ideas with people from all over the globe. To understand the power of Scouting and how we can be a force for good. It also dawned on us that we had somewhat of a Dylan Thomas or William Wordsworth in the form of unit member James. His one liners were intertwined with beauty and a philosophical depth that was quite outstanding.

Alec leading Scouts' Own

All in all, it was a fantastic weekend. Plenty of laughter and fun, as well as the odd moment of pure understanding about what this journey is all about. The more I think about it, the more excited I get!

A bit of yoga to wake us up on Sunday morning

Sunday, 2 February 2014


After the warm feeling in the heart that Christmas so beautifully induces had been snuffed out by the cold, harsh days of that dreadful month, January, it was time to go back to the enjoyable past time of fundraising. In case any of you have missed my desperate moans and groans on this delightful topic; we have the unenvious task of getting £130,000 by August next year (that's right: next year!). So it was decided, a car wash was to be our next fundraising event. We chose the location of my local scout hut (1st Bodicote) and the date: Sunday 2nd Feb. 
It's not flower arranging! Tough work from the Unit.

Car Washes seem to be romanticised by the general public, who picture a bunch of laughing and smiling children jumping around pleasantly and throwing sponges at each other. I can assure you, this is not the case. Once you have taken off the rose-tinted sunglasses, the true nature of the profession is revealed. A world of freezing cold hands; water dribbling down your sleeve and an aching lower back. It's certainly not pretty. The majority of the village had been leafleted and posters were up. I made the regrettable choice of adverting us as a 'crack squad' (no inverted commas!) which, without beating around the bush, was a plain lie. I hadn't washed a car in years, and our lack of attention to detail became very apparent as we practised on my dad's car before the first customers arrived. It was a shoddy job and you could tell. But after a frank pep talk from Leader Ian the team united in an outstanding force. We organised ourselves into roles and the 3 Stage Plan© was developed. Our speed and the quality of the wash increased, and so did the stream of customers. By 1PM a queue of cars had built up. My (may have been my mother's idea) ticketing system swung into action. 
Worst nightmare.

We washed expertly outside whilst customers enjoyed a wide selection of refreshments inside the hut and found out a bit more about our adventure to Japan. All was going well until a rather large van turned up. A shudder ran through my back. Every amateur car washer's worst nightmare. It was dirty and it was huge! We all looked at each other with a knowing nod. This was it. We knew the time had come for us to either shine (if you'll pardon the pun) or fall. James started on the wheels. He had a knack for them - a talent he was born with. Orlando began phase 1 of the 3 Stage Plan© ; hosing the van down. Ben and Anais started on the back which was so dirty that people had written witty (but inappropriate) jokes on with their fingers. Peter and I made it look like we were doing something important. Parents were called in and the gang bonded with some messing about. Not the light hearted fun described at the beginning of the 2nd paragraph. This was serious and professional messing about.

By the end of the day, we had validated the previously fraudulent statement of a 'crack squad of car washers'. In the process we raised £267 which is a fantastic amount. Thanks goes to all the helpers and lovely people of Bodicote who came and supported us.

Sunday, 1 December 2013

Money, Money, Money...

Must be funny in a rich man's world. Abba's dress sense might not have always been on the money, if you'll pardon the pun, but their lyrics certainly ring true! In terms of fundraising we are looking at around £140,000 by Summer in 2015. Some have described it as "impossible" and have told us to "jog on" (both me actually) but we, well... the group, seem to think we can do it! Part of the money we raise for the 36 Young People and 4 Leaders in the Unit goes towards helping Scouts from less advantaged backgrounds in countries, such as Kenya, join us in Japan.

So this weekend the mammoth task  began with 2 Xmas fairs: one at my school in Warwick and the other in my village, Bodicote. With a stall booked at each all we had to do was decide on our product. Although the idea of selling off Scouts and Explorers to the highest bidder seemed to be very popular, mainly with the parents in the unit, we settled with chocolate apples and biscuits. On Friday night we met and worked late into the night creating and wrapping our chocolate apples. James and Orlando showed some outstanding initiative, even Lord Sugar would have been amazed, by creating a new product: The Diet Chocolate Apple. Unlike its full fat brother, the apple is only half covered in chocolate. Some have called it "revolutionary in the world of chocolatey fruit" and "it will change the way we look at food" (I really must stop quoting myself) I should point out it had absolutely nothing to do with the fact that I had not bought enough chocolate to fully cover all the apples.

On Saturday, we were off to Warwick. James, Harry and I were behind the stall. After a slow start, not helped by me constantly buying and eating our own stock, things began to heat up. Loads of people were interested in our adventure and donated generously to  our cunningly placed money bucket. The stock we had left over I then sold at 1st Bodicote's Xmas fair. Overall, I think we raised around £230 which isn't too shoddy. As they say "every little helps"! (Other supermarkets are available)

"Morgan, is that you on page 6 of the Banbury Cake?"

"Yes, yes it is!" - Sadly this is only a hypothetical conversation (at the moment). But after the past few weeks' media frenzy around the unit I'm sure it will become a reality soon. With a nice, cheesy photo of me Young Leading at 1st Bodicote Beavers (not Cubs as it reads in the papers) I was rather chuffed with the article!

If you missed them check the articles out:

Banbury Cake
Oxford Mail
Oxford Journal

In other news, the Oxfordshire Unit logo has been unveiled. It looks pretty awesome!