When they arrived at the scout camp near Maidstone, the manager gave them an American flag which he had in his collection. It was very old, having only 49 stars on it.
They ran it up the flagpole and stood to attention doing the sea scout salute, which is the same as a normal salute, only using three fingers instead of four. Whenever the leader wanted their attention she would hold up three fingers and everyone would go quiet.
There were sixteen of them including the adults. I know this because they had a routine: whenever they had gathered together they would each call out their number with varying degrees of energy and enthusiasm. I quickly became number seventeen.
I had booked a holiday from work, and tried to spend as much time as possible with them. My nephew, Isaac, was there. They called my brother “Mr Stone”, and me “Uncle Mr Stone”.
On the Monday they were supposed to have gone out on the Greta, a working Thames barge moored in Whitstable. Unfortunately the manager forgot to put it in the book and the Greta was in dry dock at the time.
Instead they spent the day in Whitstable with the local sea scouts. My niece, Beatrix, who lives in the town, joined them after school. They went out paddle boarding and also took turns on the back of a jet ski. The driver was showing off, skidding across the water and doing somersaults over the waves.
Afterwards Beatrix decided she wanted to join the sea scouts too. She was breathless with excitement. I could see why. It looked like a lot of fun to me.
Other trips included a visit to Chatham dockyards, home of the British Navy, as well as to Dover Castle and to Greenwich Observatory. Being sea scouts it was Naval history they were most interested in.
The highlight for me was a day out in Canterbury. We went on a punt along the River Stour, which was a revelation. It was the first time I had seen the city from this unusual angle, ducking under the low bridges and seeing the backs of all the old buildings. The talk was entertaining too.
I think the women were far too distracted by the sleek, tanned, muscled legs of the young men doing the talking and the punting, however, to notice the backs of any old buildings.
We also visited the Cathedral and, despite the fact there were works going on, and the nave was shrouded in scaffolding, they were still hugely impressed. Most of them had never seen anything so old before.
They drank in the story of Saint Thomas Becket and the murder in the Cathedral with a kind of hushed awe. It reminded me how deep and compelling our history can be.
Afterwards I took a party of them round the cloisters, where there was a rehearsal going on. A choir were singing to the accompaniment of tuned glasses full of water, which made an eerie, ethereal sound. It was really moving, and a privilege to have witnessed it in the historic atmosphere behind Canterbury Cathedral.
I asked one of the lads what he thought. “Cool,” he said.
You can’t get a higher accolade from a teenage boy.
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From The Whitstable Gazette 24/08/17
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