Letters to my sons.

Trying to explain the world to two very small children.

Archive for March, 2012


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Dear Boys,

We recently moved out of East London and to Surrey. You William, love playing football so Mum signed you up for the local team and I’m now assistant manager.

One thing that plays on my mind is nepotism and fun. When I was a boy I used to go to Boys Brigade with Uncle Phil. I enjoyed being in the Anchor Boys but when I moved up to the older boys it started being a chore. I have always had a problem with authority and doing things that don’t have an obvious purpose so marching appeared to be the biggest waste of time ever. If I was going to do marching then they were going to have to make it fun – but they couldn’t even do that. I’m not sure how they derived pleasure from shouting at young boys but they did – because that is all they did.

I remember once doing a figure of eight manoeuvre – we would march towards the head man and the first person would go left, the next right, the next left etc. We would then march round in a figure eight crossing over. This was hard to do because we would inevitably walk into each other but after a few practises we were getting there. I walked to the left, wheeled round and managed to judge gap perfectly but the lad coming from the other side got confused and changed direction by jumping in front of me. Queue shouty man going off on one. I kept marching thinking that shouty man was at least shouting at the right person.

The lad in questions was the youngest of three brothers. The father of the trio of brothers was the best mate of shouty man and these three boys were never shouted at, told off and always won – even when, in the case of the first two, they deserved it, or in the case of number three, they didn’t. I wheeled round again and saw the bulbous red face of shouty man still going on. Slowly my stomach started to tighten as I released that it was I that was being shouted at. I knew that my father was in the vestry so I simply walked out, never to return. I shouldn’t have been surprised as the following stories will illustrate.

The Boys Brigade is a Christian organisation and as such mandated church attendance. We were even issued with Boys Brigade Cards that the Minister or Local Preacher would sign to say that we had attended church. Uncle Phil and I attended church every Sunday including holidays. I remember an over night drive to the Highlands of Scotland and the first thing we did before unpacking was drive around the locality looking for a church and Grandma Audrey making a note of the morning service times.

Every month in the Boys Brigade someone was chosen to be Head Boy or Captain – I don’t remember the exact title. As far as I remember the award was given out based on three criteria:

1. Church Attendance

2. Boys Brigade Attendance

3. Attitude at Boys Brigade

As we attended church every Sunday and Boys Brigade every time it was on then both Uncle Phil and I were ticking boxes 1 and 2. In fact we were the only boys that were ticking those two boxes. I wasn’t old enough to be Head Boy or Captain but Uncle Phil was. And every month, when the award was announced,  we would attend Boys Brigade in the expectation that Uncle Phil would get the award and lead the boys into church at the monthly Family Service. And every month is was the eldest of the three brothers given the award. It didn’t matter that they only turned up for church once a month and missed Boys Brigade when they felt like it. I remember one late summer evening walking to Boys Brigade with Grandma Audrey and Uncle Phil and we saw the three brothers heading out with their fishing tackle on the other side of the road. “Going to Boys Brigade tonight lads?” Grandma Audrey shouted out, knowing full well what the answer would be. “No! We’re going fishing” the eldest replied in a very sarcastic tone. When we got to Boys Brigade my mother made it known to the guy who ran it – shouty man –  that the three brothers thought fishing was more important than Boys Brigade and also reminded him that the three brothers hadn’t been in church for a while. So the next week when the decision would be made on Head Boy, Uncle Phil was the only candidate who could win. Uncle Phil had been to all the church services and all the Boys Brigades meetings. He also ticked box 3 because he had been present at the meetings when the three brothers hadn’t. We were all excited about Boys Brigade that week, Uncle Phil was going to lead the boys into church and Grandpa John would take the service.

I remember the night well. I can smell the main hall at the Haven Methodist Church. The room never really got light because the windows were only on one side of the hall so the lights were nearly always on. We were lined up and I had gone through the usual routine of being shouted at and marching around and not enjoying myself. But that was all okay because tonight I would see my brother become Head Boy. The announcements started, we were told that it was family service on Sunday so everyone was expected at church. “And head boy will be …” and it was the eldest of the three brothers. Uncle Phil kept a straight face but I didn’t. I cried. A frustrated cry that I am powerless. That I would love to take an axe to people like that but I know I never will.

For Halloween one year we had to dress up in costume. Uncle Phil spent ages making a skeleton mask, beautifully painted and detailed. The three brothers came with sheets over their heads and the ball from a toilet attached to their ankles. When the judging was being done the man who ran it said to Uncle Phil “where is the rest of your costume?” And of course the brothers, who had spent the best part of 2 minutes on their costumes, won first prize.

So as you can see Uncle Phil had the rough end of this nepotism more often and much worse than I ever did.


As an adult I have to wonder why shouty man acted the way he did. What did he think he was teaching us by shouting, by sucking the fun out of everything, by showing favouritism to a few and hurting the rest. If my father had a meeting on the same night as Boys Brigade Uncle Phil and I would be the first to arrive. Other kids would drift in and I remember that most were resigned to the fact that the three brothers were the favourites, that they would get nothing but that was just the way it is.


With the football coaching I’m trying to learn the lessons. I want to make it fun and interesting, not a chore. I don’t want any of the lads feeling that, despite their best efforts, they are not getting what they deserve. I do have a role model for this and this came from the Boys Brigade in another place.  The music teacher at Birtley Boys Brigade made learning to march with a snare drum fun and interesting. I hope I can be half the man he was.

Written by Administrator

March 4th, 2012 at 8:05 pm

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