British Studies Web Pages



A soft bed and too many blankets make a boy dream bad dreams - Scouts in Britain


Nearly a century after its publication, Robert Baden-Powell's Scouting for Boys remains an all-time bestseller in the English speaking world, second only to the Bible. Here are some of the Scout leader's tips for adventurous boys. For more information on scouting in Britain click here.



One of the most important things that a scout has to learn is to let nothing escape his attention; he must notice small points and signs, and then make out the meaning of them. Re­member, a scout always considers it a great disgrace if an outsider discovers a thing before he has seen it for himself, whether that thing is far away in the distance or close by under his feet. A scout must not only look to his front, but also to either side and behind him; he must have "eyes at the back of his head", as the saying is. Often by suddenly looking back you will see an enemy's scout or a thief showing himself in a way that he would not have done had he thought you would look round.


Details of people

When you are travelling by train or tram, always notice every little thing about your fellow travellers; notice their faces, dress, way of talking, and so on, so that you could describe them each pretty accurately afterwards; and also try and make out from their appearance and behaviour whether they are rich or poor (which you can generally tell from their boots), and what is their probable business, whether they are happy, or ill, or in want of help. But in doing this you must not let them see you are watching them, else it puts them on their guard.

Close observation of people and ability to read their character and their thoughts is of immense value in trade commerce, especially for a shop assistant or salesman in persuading people to buy goods, or in detecting would-be swindlers. The way a man (or a woman) walks is often a good guide to his character -witness the fussy, swaggering little man paddling along with short legs with much arm action, the nervous man's hurried, jerky stride, the slow slouch of the loafer, the smooth-going and silent step of the scout, and so on. I was once accused of mistrusting men with waxed moustaches. Well, so, to a certain extent, I do. It often means vanity and sometimes drink. Certainly the "quiff" or lock of hair which some lads wear on their forehead is a sure sign of silliness.

I was speaking with a detective not long ago about a gentleman we had both been talking to, and we were trying to make out his character. I remarked, "Well, at any rate, he was a fisherman," but my companion could not see why - but then he was not a fisherman himself. I had noticed a lot of little tufts of cloth sticking up on the left cuff of his coat. A good many fishermen, when they take their flies off the line, stick them into their cap to dry; others stick them into their sleeve. When dry, they pull them out, which often tears a thread or two of the cloth. I was once able to be of service to a lady who was in poor circumstances, as I had guessed it from noticing, while walking behind her, that though she was well dressed, the soles of her shoes were in the last stage of disrepair. I don't suppose she ever knew how I guessed that she was in a bad way. But it is surprising how much of the sole of the boot you can see when behind a person walking - and it is equally surprising how much meaning you can read from that boot. It is said that to wear out soles and heels equally is to give evidence of business capacity and honesty; to wear your heels down on the outside means that you are a man of imagination and love of adventure; but heels worn down on the inside signify weakness and indecision of character, and this last sign is more infallible in the case of a man than in that of a woman.


Signs round a dead body

It may happen to some of you that one day you will be the first to find the dead body of a man, in which case you will remember that it is your duty to examine and note down the smallest signs that are to be seen on and near the body before it is moved or the ground disturbed and trampled down. Besides noticing the exact position of the body (which should if possible be photographed exactly as found), the ground all round should be very carefully examined - without treading on it yourself more than is absolutely necessary, for fear of spoiling existing tracks. If you can also draw a little map of how the body lay and where the signs round it were, it might be of value. Twice [in recent years] bodies have been found which were at first supposed to be of people who had hanged themselves -but close examination of the ground round them, in one case some torn twigs and trampled grass, and in the other a crumpled carpet, showed that murder had been committed, and that the bodies had been hung after death to make it appear as though they had committed suicide.


Night scouting

A scout has to be able to notice small details just as much by night as by day, and this he has to do chiefly by listening, occasionally by feeling or smelling. In the stillness of the night sounds carry farther than by day. If you put your ear to the ground or place it against a stick, or especially against a drum, which is touching the ground, you will hear the shake of horses' hoofs or the thud of a man's footfall a long way off. Another way is to open a knife with a blade at each end, stick one blade into the ground and hold the other between your teeth and you will hear all the better. The human voice, even, though talking low, carries to a great distance and is not likely to be mistaken for any other sound.


Cattle-driving and slaughtering

Scouts should also know how to kill and cut up livestock. Cattle are generally poleaxed, or a spike is driven into the forehead with a mallet, or a shot or blank cartridge is fired into the forehead, or a big sharp knife is driven into the spine just behind the horns, the animal's head having first been securely tied down to a cart wheel or fence. Sheep are generally killed either by being laid on their side and having their head drawn back and throat cut with a big sharp knife or by being shot in the forehead with a revolver or blank cartridge of a rifle. The animal should then be gutted by having the belly slit open and the inside taken out, liver and kidneys being kept.

A scout should know how to milk a cow or a goat, else he may go thirsty when there is lots of milk available. A goat is not so easy to milk as you might think. You have to keep hold of its head with one hand, its hind legs with the other, and milk it with the other if you had a third. The way a native does it is to catch hold of its hind leg between his big toe and the next, and thus he has a hand to spare to milk with.



To carry out all the duties and work of a scout properly, a fellow has to be strong, healthy, and active. And he can make himself so if he takes a little care about it. It means a lot of exercise, like playing games, running, walking, cycling, and so on. A scout has to sleep very much in the open, and a boy who is accustomed to sleep with his window shut will probably suffer, like many a tenderfoot has done, by catching cold and rheumatism when he first tries sleeping out. The thing is always to sleep with your windows open, summer and winter, and you will never catch cold. Personally I cannot sleep with my window shut, and when living in the country I always sleep outside the house, summer and winter alike. A soft bed and too many blankets make a boy dream bad dreams, which will weaken him.

Scouts breathe through the nose, not through the mouth; in this way they don't get thirsty; they don't get out of breath so quickly; they don't suck into their insides all sorts of microbes or seeds of any disease that are in the air; and they don't snore at night, and so give themselves away to an enemy.

A short go of Swedish or jujitsu exercises every morning and evening is a grand thing for keeping you fit - not so much for making showy muscle as to work all your internal organs, and to work up the circulation of the blood in every part of you. A good rubdown daily with a wet rough towel, even if you cannot get a bath, which of course is preferable, is of the utmost importance. Alcohol is now shown to be quite useless as a health-giving drink, and it is mere poison when a man takes much of it. A man who is in the habit of drinking wine or spirits in strong doses every day is not the slightest use for scouting, and very little use for anything else. Similarly a man who smokes much. The best war scouts don't smoke because it weakens their eyesight; it sometimes makes them shaky and nervous; it spoils their noses for smelling (which is of great importance at night); and the glow of their pipes or the scent of tobacco carried on them at night gives them away to watchful enemies. They are not such fools as to smoke. No boy ever began smoking because he liked it, but because he thought it made him look like a grown-up man. As a matter of fact, it generally makes him look a little ass.


Football (a note for instructors)

One of the causes of the downfall of Rome was that the people, being fed by the State to the extent of three-quarters of the population, ceased to have any responsibility for themselves or their children, and consequently became a nation of unemployed wasters. They frequented the circuses, where paid performers appeared before them in the arena, much as we see the crowds now flocking to look on at paid players playing football.

Football in itself is a grand game for developing a lad physically and also morally, for he learns to play with good temper and unselfishness, to play in his place and "play the game" and these are the best of training for any game of life. But it is a vicious game when it draws crowds of lads away from playing the game themselves to be merely onlookers at a few paid performers. I yield to no one in enjoyment of the sight of those splendid speci­mens of our race, trained to perfection, and playing faultlessly; but my heart sickens at the reverse of the medal - thousands of boys and young men, pale, narrow-chested, hunched-up, miserable specimens, smoking endless cigarettes, numbers of them betting, all of them learning to be hysterical as they groan or cheer in panic unison with their neighbours - the worst sound of all being the hysterical scream of laughter that greets any little trip or fall of a player. One wonders whether this can be the same nation which had gained for itself the reputation of being a stolid, pipe-sucking manhood, unmoved by panic or excitement, and reliable in the tightest of places. Get the lads away from this - teach them to be manly, to play the game whatever it may be, and not be merely onlookers and loafers.


26 June 2004 The WEEK

Produced in Poland by British Council © 2005. The United Kingdom's international organisation for educational opportunities and cultural relations. We are registered in England as a charity.