Friday, August 22, 2008

Bertram John Hall

John's name won't be recognisable to most readers of my blog, but in the village of Burley-In-Wharfedale and particularly in the Scout movement, John was a well known and popular figure.

I went to Cubs, Scouts and Venture Scouts and they were among the best times of my life, not schooldays but Scouting. After my parents, there was a group of adults who had a large influence on me as a child, my Scout Leaders. Peter Bennett, Tom Pickard, Mick Penrice, George Hopper, Rob Pawson and John Hall, they were known to generations of Burley kids.

John died last week and I attended his funeral today. I'm glad I went, although I havn't seen John for years it was bitter sweet to see all my old Scoutmasters and say hello to everyone.

John was our cub leader and group quartermaster, if you are familiar with song "In the Quartermaster's Store" then you would understand how John's inner sanctum was run, nothing ever wasted, nothing ever thrown away, everything meticulously cared for and correctly in its place, he wouldn't tolerate berks like us sifting through looking for things we'd like to take on camp, oh no, you asked politely and equipment was doled out and signed for.

John's piece de resistance was the hoarding and re-issuing of dried, canned and bottled foodstuffs. Nothing was too far past its sell by date for John to offload it onto a group of nervous cubs or scouts.

For our terrible foursome of myself, Stuart, Beaky and Ivan, one item in particular went down in scout folklore. One camp we were given a small box of dried vegetable soup already a year or two past its sell by date, we took the soup away with us and at the end of the camp we returned it to John who placed it carefully back into he stores. This went on for a few years, John would uncover the hiding place of the aged soup and issue it to us, we would take it hiking, never even think of using it, and then return it at the end of camp.

Eventually though, daftness struck. We were attending a competition camp at Bradley Woods and coming in at 21st position from 21 teams (our normal status, apologies to our leaders for us being such rubbish scouts). At the end of the weekend we discovered the still unopened, very old and rather tatty box of dried soup. So we held a ceremony for it, with great solemnity the soup was placed atop the bonfire and short memorial service was held for it, detailing its great age and extensive travels with it. Much to our amusement (and I think I'm right in saying that leader Tom was a conspirator soup burner), the soup caught fire and then gently exploded in a dusty puff of fire.

We handed our gear back to John who noted the missing item and asked if we had enjoyed it, we replied quite honestly, if a little disingenuously, that we had very much enjoyed the soup.

John was a good bloke, he was firm but fair, as were all of our leaders back in the day when you could apply a thick ear or kick up the backside to a scout that needed it, and we often did. John cooked at camp, turning our multi-hued vats of porridge and even once a pan of custard so thick it was carved with a knife. He told us that the edges of his fruit pies were crimped with his false teeth, and no matter what sort of soup John had cooked, he always told you it was your favourite kind even if the evidence of your eyes told you different. How do you like your mug of tea ? It didn't matter, tea was NATO standard, milky and two sugars.

On behalf of the inaugral group of 1st Burley Venture Scouts I would like to thank John (and all our leaders and helpers) for all the good you did us, we know we were the most cheeky / useless / skiving / irreverant / daft as brush mob of kids, but we all turned out quite well in the end and that is in no small part due to all the tremendous hard work and care put in by a great group of people.

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