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Wednesday, 25 September 2013

Selection Weekend

On Friday 20th September 2013 around 170 Scouts and Explorers, myself included, from all across Oxfordshire descended on Youlbury Scout Activity Center for a weekend camp. The aim: to be selected for 1 of the 36 places in the Oxfordshire Unit to the 23rd World Scout Jamboree in Japan, 2015.

After being given a numbered vest, which was used for us to be marked, I was introduced to my patrol who I would be camping with for the next 2 days. I recognised a few from previous District/County events but the majority I had never met before. Within seconds I had tried to identify any fellow cricket fans, my textbook conversation starter, but in a move that I suspected was planned by the selectors I was surrounded by 'non-lovers'. Despite this barrier, we quickly began to form bonds and my very poor knowledge of Oxfordshire's geography became far too apparent as we exchanged which Scout groups/Explorer units we all came from. Once we had erected our tents, which is far more difficult in the dark and without enough pegs (my fault entirely), all the applicants came together for a big welcome from Unit Leader, Mike Suggate. I 'got to know' some of my new friends, in a giant human worm with some rather cosy moments. It was only then, whilst nearly suffocating in one pretty rowdy conga line, that I truly grasped how many of us there were! Already, though, I felt completely at home and all initial awkwardness had disappeared entirely.

The challenges began on Saturday, we were put through our paces with a huge range of tasks. Volleyball became particularly competitive and three-legged football resulted in me spending most of the time crawling around on all fours, trying not to be trampled.  Our schedule was jam-packed, we were challenged physically and mentally whilst being marked by assessors on our teamwork, communication skills etc. Hands sore from a particularly aggressive defeat in a war of tug, we returned tired but smiling to our camp for lunch. A classic Japanese dish of noodles was on the menu, but after 30 minutes with us the noodles resembled something quite different from anything fit for human consumption!

In the evening, we all came together for one of the best campfires I've seen. Old classics, joined with some very modern and relevant sketches made it a very entertaining evening. I am glad to report that all were done tastefully and within the realms of appropriateness, I suspect this might be because the assessors were still marking us. 'We like traffic lights' seemed to become the anthem of the camp, although it did become rather grating when renditions were still ringing out late into the night and the next day.

 'The Gang'
Sunday morning saw more challenges, the first of which was to wake my fellow camper, James Bushrod, which is far harder than it sounds. Demands for bacon, which some of us had gone without for over 36 hours, became widespread and there were fears of some sort of Lord of the Flies situation. Fortunately, a substitute of ham was given to us for Sunday's lunch which quelled any tribal uprisings. I also got my first true insight into Japanese culture from Paul Thompson, CMT for Japan, who helped us make Japanese origami cranes and shared the story of Sadako Saskai. Sadako was a Japanese girl who lived near to Hiroshima and was exposed to radiation from the atomic bomb when she was 2 years old. She developed Leukaemia and whilst in a nursing home began to make a 1000 cranes as according to Japanese legend you will be granted one wish if you create a 1000 cranes. She sadly died before she could reach her target, and now people leave cranes at her statue in her honour. Part of the Jamboree program is a day visit to the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park, and to see her statue. I think I can speak for all of us when I say how touched we were by this story, and it gave us an insight into the history and culture of Japan. It was a sobering way to end the fantastic range of activities for the weekend.

In what felt like a graduation ceremony, we ended the weekend by throwing our numbered vests in the air, liberated of the confounds of just digits. Cries of "I am a person, not a number" rang out. Looking back, it refreshed my passion for what Scouting is about. To see so many of us work together so well and form new friendships was, I feel, a tribute to the quality of young people in Oxfordshire. It was one of the best camps I've been on, if I was successful in being selected or not!