In the troop to which I belonged, his influence was incalculable. He could rave, jump up and down with frustration at modern youth, but he was one of the steadiest and best people I have ever known. He did things which these days would be frowned upon; on his own he took thirty or more scouts out every week on foot or on bicycles into the wilds (or as wild as the Surrey hills and heaths got, anyway) using public transport; with only one or two other adults (and sometimes without), he took up to forty boys away camping for a fortnight, the responsibility being shared with 16-18 year-olds who were expected to exhibit a level of maturity unimaginable these days. And we all responded. Given respect and responsibility, we lived up to it, (well, most of the time). John 'Skip' Clifford would speak to us as nobody else did; as being small adults who simply lacked experience. He would (you couldn't imagine this now!) look the other way if we went to the pub (as those of us in the Senior Scouts frequently did from 16 or so years old) while at camp or on the weekly hikes or cycle rides. He taught us to discern good from bad, and not simply to run with the herd. He knew just why a Fuller's cake was so much better than a Mr Kipling cake, and Terry's chocolate so much better than Cadbury's. He would, walking along a high street, teach us to look above the boring shop windows and look at the fascinating building above. He taught us about Routemaster buses, trams, took us on train cruises, taught us knots. We learnt how to cook on open fires—something we always did on the camps, disdaining stoves of any kind. He taught us to respect quality rather than novelty, and to look beyond the obvious. And he loved the Latin Mass.
I didn't always enjoy being a scout—it was very constraining at times for a teenager, and he would insist on us wearing the old khaki scout uniform when shorts were absolutely the nadir of fashion because, he very reasonably pointed out; the new uniform was very smart, surely, but hopeless to hike in, or cycle in, or do anything really interesting in.
By now you will have gathered that I think that this was such a good influence on my life that I am sorry that boys now do not get this experience much. Scouting still exists in the UK, but even when I was a scout, John Clifford came under very strong pressure to change it to conform to the less robust pattern that was then (and I think still) official policy. He strongly refused, because, according to his own principles, the modern version was not as good as the old, and if a thing ain't broke, don't attempt to fix it. I think that time has shown him to be right. The old principles of self-reliance and activity have disappeared now from our youth, on the whole. There is sport, for the sporty, but very little else to occupy a boy's mind (or a girl's, for that matter) that does not involve a computer or naughty substances. Since scout troops must now admit girls, there is no space really for a boy to be a boy except in football teams, which do little towards the moral and psychological development necessary if a boy is going to turn into a happy man. I don't think that constant mixing with girls is helpful: some is of course a good idea, but I think that separate groups too can be very useful in providing a space for growth without the complication of trying to impress the other sex. If women need their space, then so do men.
I have long been impressed with much French scouting. Going on retreats at monasteries in France, I have found that it is a rare weekend that does not have a troop or two camping in the grounds and attending Mass on Sunday, and even many of the other offices. These scouts are scouts as I remember them; there is strong and active esprit de corps, and the religious element is much stronger than in the English scouting movement. In fact French scouting was founded by two priests, and the faith is written into the law and promises of the movement.
Particularly impressive in my experience is the Scouts of Europe movement, which exist in most European countries outside the UK. I wish there were more hours in the day, and/or that I was twenty years younger, or that I could find other people willing to give it a try, but I would love to try a troop of the Scouts of Europe here in Shoreham. Consider these Scout Laws (rather different from the UK Scout Laws) as principles for a young man's life:
The European Scout Law:The Scout is on his honour to be trustworthy.
The Scout is loyal to his country, his parents, his leaders and his subordinates.
The Scout must serve and save his neighbour.
The Scout is a friend of everybody and all other Scouts.
The Scout is polite and chivalrous.
The Scout sees God's work in nature. He loves plants and animals.
The Scout obeys without arguing and does nothing by halves.
The Scout is his own master, smiling and singing during hardships.
The Scout is sparing and takes care of what is others.
The Scout must be pure in his thoughts, words and actions.
The European Scout Promise:
On my honour, with the grace of God,
I promise to do my best to serve God, the Church, my Country and Europe,
To help my neighbour in all circumstances,
And to obey the Scout Law.
John Clifford died about five years ago, and at his funeral there were so many of his surrogate sons, many in tears. May he rest in peace.