(Post by George Cheyne of Glasgow – October 2021)
Be Prepared. The motto that has stood The Scouting movement in good stead for more than 100 years.
And while Boy Scouts founder Baden Powell would have been impressed with the high level of preparation put in by me and two pals one summer camp, he would have been less than chuffed if he knew what we were planning.
This was 1974 and our Troop had headed to Keswick in the Lake District for a week-long adventure doing stuff like putting up tents, collecting firewood, building campfires, digging latrines and, er, under-age drinking.
That last activity was why three 15-year-olds were standing in a car park just off Keswick’s high street a few blocks away from the Dog and Duck pub, or whatever it was called.
And the rehearsals going on there were as intense as anything you’d see at a run-through for a Broadway blockbuster.
There had been a lot of plotting and scheming before we got to this point – this sort of stuff isn’t just thrown together, you know.
With all the precision of planning a military manoeuvre, we had used the hike into town from the campsite to discuss ‘Operation Getting Served’ over and over again.
The devil is in the details so we talked through who would go first when we walked in the pub, who would ask for the drinks and exactly what we’d order.
Now, just like George Peppard’s Colonel Hannibal Smith character in the A-Team, I love it when a plan comes together so a lot of preparation went into these three seemingly simple points.
In hindsight, maybe we over-thought it – but this was a big step-up from getting a few cans from an off-sales. Been there, done that…now it was time to play in the big leagues.
And as the in-form striker – well, I had been served in a dive of a pub back in Glasgow a few weeks before – the other two decided I was first name on the team-sheet.
This meant I was to be first in the door and the one who would be ordering the drinks.
Two down, one to go. What were we going to drink? We immediately ruled out three pints of lager and lime as being a dead giveaway for under-age drinkers and the same went for three snakebites.
So, and this is where the first bit of over-thinking came in, we plumped for a pint of heavy, a pint of light (well, we were in the Lake District) and a pint of lager with definitely no lime.
Three windswept and interesting young men with their own cultivated taste in beer. What could possibly go wrong?
To make sure the answer to that was nothing, we were holding our car park rehearsal.
One more time with feeling…
“Okay, we walk through the door as we agreed,” says I, “Then I order a pint of heavy and a pint of light and then what?”
“You ask me what I want,” says the baby-faced one of our trio.
If there was to be any suspicion about whether we were the right age, then surely it would fall upon the youngest-looking. That’s why he had a speaking part.
“And you say?”, I prodded.
“I’ll have a pint of lager this time,” says Baby Face.
This time…genius that. It gives the barman the assurance you’ve been served before.
Anyway, the first part of Operation Getting Served goes exactly as planned and I’m face to face with mine host across the beer taps ordering a pint of heavy and a pint of light.
So far, so good. I turn to a nervous-looking Baby Face and – just as we’d rehearsed loads of times – ask him: “What do you want?”
Silence, nothing but silence.
I try to keep cool with a prompt: “Erm, so that’s a heavy, a light and a…”
“Medium,” blurts Baby Face.
Game over. Don’t you just hate it when a plan comes to…nothing?