It was a few weeks before Easter when the Cubs and Brownies began their rehearsals for the May Pole dance. It was definitely more of a girl thing than a boy thing; skipping around with garlands of flowers and long lengths of ribbon. It was also the time of year when the Brownies would be getting giddy about who would be chosen as this year’s May Queen. The only difference this year is the fact that Brown Owl had made a radical suggestion for updating the selection system and for the first year ever, both girls and boys could be nominated.
Initially we weren't worried because no boy would ever nominate himself nor be chosen over a girl. It was nothing more than an exercise in equality, balancing boy's rights with women's rights, my mother claimed. But during the May Pole dance class one Thursday evening, Brown Owl announced that the eight nominees for this year's May Queen had been chosen. “...and I'm delighted to inform you that we have five girls and three boys!”
We all gasped. The Cubs began nervously grumbling amongst themselves whilst the Brownies began whispering and giggling behind cupped hands. “I hope Roger Fletcher's one of them!” one of the Brownies giggled. Roger countered and suggested one of the younger Cubs. Other names were suggested until the Cub Scout Leader quietened us down. Once we were attentive, Brown Owl stepped forward and began to read a list of names. “Jane Cleaver, Brian Preston...”
A host of gasps and giggles erupted and somewhere in the background noise, one could just make out Brian meekly mutter “Oh no.”
Brown Owl continued. “Paula Baxter, Claire Woolford, Andrew Preston...” more giggles and sniggers erupted. I looked over at Andrew who hung his head. “Amanda Barton, Peter Jackson and Wendy Miles.”
It took a moment for it to sink in. Initially I thought I’d misheard but the sniggers and giggles and all the eyes glancing at me confirmed that I was on the list. “What!?” I blurted. “How can I be on the list? ...I didn't even nominate myself!”.
“Bet you did!” One of the bigger Cubs claimed. “I bet you're as big-a-faggot as those two at home!” he added, pointing towards Brian and his brother Andrew. The Cub Scout leader yelled at him to quieten down. Brown Owl informed me that I had been nominated and had gained enough votes.
I took a deep breath and optimistically told myself that I’m just on the list. Only one of us can be chosen as May Queen and chances are it'll be one of the other seven. Brown Owl called out our first names and asked us to join her before telling all the other boys and girls to continue practising the May Pole dance.
“Congratulations.” Brown Owl said. “And can I just say how nice it is to have some boys involved in this year's May Queen parade.”
Strange, I was just thinking the exact opposite. One of the girls said she looks forward to seeing us wearing dresses. “Only if I'm selected.” I ignorantly stated.
“Mandy's right Peter... you'll all be wearing dresses on May Day.”
“Surely it's only the May Queen who wears a dress.” Andrew said.
“And what about her Seven Sisters?” Brown Owl asked.
All of a sudden it dawned on me. The May Queen is flanked by her 'seven sisters', and seven of us won't be the May queen! “What if we don't want to be involved?” I asked.
“Why wouldn't you want to be involved?” Brown Owl asked. “It's a great honour to be part of the May Queen parade.”
“Because I don't want to wear a dress... only girls wear dresses.” I stated. Andrew and Brian grumbled their agreements. “I didn't even ask to be nominated.” I added.
“My mum nominated us two.” Brian admitted whilst his younger brother nervouslygulped.
“All of your parents approved the nominations weeks ago.” Brown Owl told us. “Your family, friends, relatives, neighbours, teachers and various other members of the community all voted for you.”
“But... no one asked me!” I whined.
“Peter, if you're having second thoughts, then I suggest you speak to your parents first and foremost.” Brown Owl advised. “If you're still having second thoughts, then talk to me at next week's Brownie meeting.”
“OK.” I glumly grumbled. Since the eight of us wouldn't be taking part in the maypole dance, we were allowed to leave early. We exited on mass. One of the girls expressed her hope that it would be she who'd be chosen as May Queen. A few of the girls expressed their hope that it'd be one of us boys. “Shut up!” I grumbled. Other girls claimed it was wrong to have boys involved. These I wholeheartedly agreed with.
We went our separate ways. Eventually I arrived home and my dad quizzed me as to why I was home early. “Because I'm not going to do the May Pole dance.” I grumbled.
“Why so glum son?” he asked. “I thought you didn't want to do it anyway?”
“I don't.. but someone nominated me for May Queen and I got selected.” I mumbled.
“I see.” my dad replied. “Your mother’s going to be over the moon.”
“Did I hear that right?” my sister hollered as she entered from an adjoining room. “You're going to be May Queen?!”
“Not if I can help it.” I muttered. “Where's Mum?” I asked.
“She'll still be at her book club.” Dad replied. “In fact I'd better call her and let her know not to pick you up from dance practice.”
Dad lifted the telephone and routed for Pauline's number (the lady who hosts the book club). My sister began quizzing me about being the May Queen, but they were all questions I couldn't answer. I went to my room and sulked. In previous years, I didn't pay much attention to the May Queen thing so I didn't really know what to expect. I know she leads the parade and is flanked by a group of girls dressed in similar white frocks, but other than that it's all a bit of a mystery. Mum arrived home an hour or so later. She called me down and got over excited that I'd been chosen as May Queen. It took me a while to shut her up in order to explain that I haven't been chosen, but am merely one of the final eight nominees. “The May Queen could be any one of us... we don't know who yet.” I finally managed to explain.
This information took the wind out of Mum's sails, thankfully. “Oh well... even if you don't become this year's May Queen, you'll be one of her Seven Sisters... that's something.” she optimistically told me.
“But... I don't want to be one of them either... that stuff's for girls.”
“Not any more it isn't.” my mother smugly stated. “I think it's great that boys can finally take part.”
“I don't... especially if one of them is me.” I mumbled. “Mum... can you tell Brown Owl that I don't want to do it?”
“But why don't you want to do it?” Mum asked. “It's a great honour for a child your age...”
“Maybe for girl my age!” I interrupted.
“It's an even greater honour to be the first ever boy May Queen.” my mother told me.
“Your mother's right son... in years to come you'll look back on this and...” he paused. “Actually Peter... I understand your reluctance, I really do, but your mother has set her heart on it when we nominated you.. she rallied around and got our friends and family to vote for you... I got the guys at work to do the same.” he informed me. “If you can't do it for yourself, then do it for your mother.”
“But... I really really really really really don't want to do it.” I stated. “Please don't make me.” I pleaded. “Everyone's going to think I'm a right sissy, even if I'm not May Queen I'll still have to wear a dress.”
“I can't wait to see that!” my sister grinned. I told her to shut up. “Hey Mum... he could wear some of my old dresses and practice being a girl!” she suggested. Again, I told her to shut up. Both Mum and Dad suggested that I 'pipe down'. “I'm only trying to help Peter.” my sister smugly claimed.
I pleaded with my mother to tell Brown Owl that I didn't want to do it, but she refused because she wanted me to do it. I begged my father who claimed to understand my reluctance, but ultimately he sided with my mother. There's no point asking my sister. “Well... I'll just tell Brown Owl myself at next week's Brownie group.”
“OK... but at least spend your time between now and then having good long think about it.” my mother said. “And rather than 'tell' Brown Owl what you want to do, talk to her about it, with an open mind.” she suggested.
I spent the time thinking long and hard about it. I also spent much of that time being teased and taunted by some of the kids at school about being nominated for May Queen. So was Andrew who's in the year below me, and I suspect his older brother Brian who's in the first year at high school was also being teased. No matter which way I looked at it, being May Queen or one of her Seven Sisters would be an awful experience... maybe it'd be nice if I was a girl, but I’m not, I’m a boy and boys simply don't do stuff like that. The prospect of having to dance around the May Pole was bad enough, but at least we don’t have to wear dresses to do that! The weekend came and went and I endured my Nana, aunt and my cousins Sally & Sarah all claimed that it would be wonderful if I was the next May Queen. I wasn't surprised when my Granddad, uncle Philip and cousin Paul seemed just as bemused as I at the prospect. “You never know Peter... you might enjoy it.” Uncle Phil told me.
“I doubt it.” I mumbled.
“Maybe that's what he's afraid of!?” my sister suggested. Predictably, I told her to shut up.
On Tuesday at school, I crossed paths with Andrew, one of the other nominees. He asked me if I was going to Brownies tonight. “I'm going to tell Brown Owl that I don't want to be part of it.” I replied.
“I keep telling my mum that.” Andrew mournfully replied. “...but she's set her heart on us being part of the parade.” he sighed.
“Mine too.” I retorted, adding my Dad, sister, Nanna, aunt and cousins to the list of supporters. “It's going to be horrible having to wear a dress in front of all those people.”
“I know.” Andrew glumly agreed. “Going to Brownies will be bad enough.”
“Well... like I say, I'm only going to tell Brown Owl that I’m not going to do it.”
“I guess I'll see you tonight.” Andrew said before we went our separate ways.
I arrived home from school, did my homework, watched TV, had supper and fully expected to be asked to wash the dishes. Instead, my sister was asked. “Isn't it my turn?” I quizzed, knowing that my sister did the dishes last night.
“Well you've got Brownies tonight.” my mother replied. “You can do them tomorrow.”
“I've got Cubs tomorrow.”
“No you haven't.” Mum replied . “You go to Brownies now.”
“No... I’m only going to Brownies to tell Brown Owl that I don't want to be May Queen.” I stated. “..or one of the Seven Sisters.” I added.
I was positively aghast when my mother told me her version of why I'm going to Brownies tonight, and not only tonight, but every Tuesday until May Day. “I've taken the badges off Judy's old uniform... it's bound to fit.” Mum said.
“I'm not wearing the uniform!” I blurted. “I'm only popping in and out again to tell her I don't want to do it!”
“You're going to Brownies and you're wearing the uniform Peter.” my mother retorted. “If you want to talk to Brown Owl about whether or not you want to be the May Queen, that's up to you.” she said. “But you're not going to back out of this without even dipping your toes in the water.”
“Your mother's right son...” my dad interjected. “...nothing ventured, nothing gained.”
“Da-ad!” I whined. “You're supposed to take my side.”
“Sorry son, but your mother comes first.” he replied. “Anyway, you should think yourself lucky... a boy your age getting in with all those girls.” he grinned.
“Oi!” Mum snapped. “Don't put ideas like that into his head.”
“Sorry dear.” Dad chirped before sloping off.
Mum turned to me and said “Come on you. I've got your uniform ready... and I'll drive you there if you don't fancy walking.”
“I don't want to go.” I moaned. “I'll do the May Queen stuff but... not Brownies.. please Mum.” I pleaded.
“Going to Brownies is the 'May Queen stuff'.” my mother replied. “Anyway, chances are you won't be the May Queen... there are seven other nominees after all.” she said.
“Yeah but I'll still be one of the Seven Sisters.” I replied, “I'll still have to wear a dress.” I grumbled.
“Which is why you're going to Brownies instead of Cubs... you'll have a good few weeks to get used to the idea of wearing a dress and eventually, hopefully, learn to be the perfect May Queen... and even you understand that it's better to learn all that from the girls.”
“But I don't want to do it!” I super-whined.
“And chances are you won't with your attitude.” Mum retorted. “You'll just be one of the seven sisters, going completely unnoticed as all eyes will be on the May Queen.” she claimed.
Maybe she's got a point. If I’m not the May Queen then I won't be so prominent in the parade. It's beginning to look highly unlikely that I won't be able to worm my way out of this, so maybe I’m better off simply trying to flunk it? My mother reached out her hand and said “Come on... it won't seem anywhere near as bad when you've got it on.”
My mother led me by the hand to my bedroom. On my bed lay my sister's old Brownie uniform along with a pair of white knee socks. I gulped. Mum told me to get undressed and I did as she asked... very... slowly. “Undies too.” Mum said.
“Why?” I whined.
“Because you need knickers, not underpants.”
“I'm not wearing Judy's knickers!” I yelped.
“They're not Judy's.” mum replied. “They're brand new, just for you.” she grinned.
After donning a pair of frilly white knickers and a lace trimmed vest, I was glad to don the drab brown Brownie uniform. I felt flustered as I fastened the leather belt around my waist. Doubly so when my mother fastened the little yellow tie under the collar of my frock. I rolled the pair of girlie white knee socks up my calves before slipping my feet into my own shoes and finally standing up. My mother grinned and bit her lip. She adopted the posture of a shy five year old and told me that I looked 'so sweet'. I felt myself blush as I requested one last time that she doesn't make me go to Brownies. She told me that backing out of something without even giving it a try is just plain silly.
I hung my head and she drove me to the village hall. Being almost ten years old, I've not held my mother's hand for years, but the moment we got out of the car, I grabbed her hand and didn't let go. Both Brian and Andrew were there and like me, both are wearing the standard Brownie uniform. Brian wore shoes with a small yet noticeable heel. Andrew wore a pair of beige loafers. My shoes felt clumpy in comparison. The girls giggled and sniggered at us from afar. Our mothers briefly chatted about this supposedly 'amazing' idea and agreed that a bit of 'girl' time would do us good. Brown Owl opened the door of the village hall and beckoned the girls inside. “Now you two be good...” Brian & Andrew's mother told them. “...try your best and give it your all.”
“Yes Mum... er... Mummy.” they half-heartedly replied.
“The same goes for you Peter.” my own mother added.
“OK” I glumly replied.
The three of us walked toward the door where Brown Owl stood waiting. “Good evening girls.” she smiled as we entered the vestibule. I nervously glanced over my shoulder as Brown Owl closed the door behind us. “Don't be shy... in you go.” she smiled. I turned to face the partially glazed inner door and the gabble of giggly girls within. Brown Owl practically pushed us through it and a heavy silence fell as every last one of the Brownies turned to look at us. “Say hello to our new Brownies girls... and give them a big Brownie smile!” Brown Owl said in a overly enthusiastic tone of voice.
“Hello.” the girls half heartedly muttered in unison. I gulped as I looked at their faces; each and every one smiling in bemusement at the three boys who've joined their pack. Tawny Owl; being Brown Owl's assistant instructed the girls to line up in their 'Sixes'. They formed five formal rows around the perimeter of the hall, each group consisted of between five and seven girls and is led by a Sixer. The first sixer stepped forwards, turned and saluted her pack who in unison recited the rhyme, This is what we do as Elves... think of others not ourselves. The sixer turned and saluted Brown Owl before confidently stating “We're prepared!” Then the next pack did the same and recited their rhyme, We're the Fairies glad and gay... helping others every day. The Imps, Pixies and Sprites all recited their rhymes and declared themselves 'prepared'.
“Very good girls!” Brown Owl said before introducing each of us newcomers by name. “...now they're all experienced Cub Scouts and all being well, by the end of this evening's meeting, they'll make their Brownie promise and become fully fledged Brownies.” she announced. “Now... you go and join the Elves Brian... Andrew, you're with the Imps, and Peter, you join the Sprites.”
I was a nervous wreck as I sheepishly walked towards my group. Melanie, the pack's 'sixer' wore a sleeve packed with badges. She introduced me to her 'second', a girl called Vanessa who's sleeve was also packed with badges, and finally the other three Brownies; Claire, Jane and Sharon. “Jane, I nominate you as Peter's Brownie Buddy.” Melanie announced. She gave me two 'sprite' pack badges which need to be stitched on the left sleeve and left chest of my uniform. “Your mum can do it but if you do it yourself, you'll earn the sewing badge if it's neat enough.” she added. I put the badges in my pocket and buttoned it shut so I wouldn't lose them.
Jane, my 'brownie buddy' smiled at me and I sheepishly smiled back. “Would you help me get some chairs and a table Peter?” she politely asked.
I glanced around and the others were doing just that. “Er... yeah OK.” I mumbled.
“Peter... Brownies don't mutter or mumble their words...” Melanie stated in an authoritative and rhythmic tone. “Brownies' speak clearly so their words can be heard.”
“Er... OK.” I muttered before helping Jane fetch a table, then six chairs. The other 'sixes' did the same. Perched around the table, Melanie and Vanessa took the lead and discussed what being a 'good' Brownie means. I learned about the Brownie promise and Brownie law, the Brownie motto... it's all more or less the same as Cubs but with subtle little differences such as the emphasis on always being neat and clean, smiling a lot and helping our mothers with cooking and cleaning. The girls showed off their badges which are also similar to those we have in Cubs; tying knots, star gazing, reading a compass, building a fire, collecting and so on.
Brown Owl and her Tawny assistant made regular visits to each table to see how we were getting on. I was asked to tell my pack about the badges I’d earned at my Cub Scout group, so I listed them and ignorantly suggested that Brownie badges must be easier to earn than Cub badges. The girls were instantly annoyed with me and I wish I'd kept my mouth shut. “We'll see shall we.” Brown Owl said. She asked me to demonstrate my knot tying skills, which I did with both confidence and dexterity. “Very good.” Brown Owl said. “Do you know how to plait hair?” she asked. “In threes and fours?” she added.
“Er... no.” I replied. I didn't even know what she meant with regards to 'threes and fours'.
“Do you know how to tie an apron?” she asked. “In a neat and even bow behind your back?” she added. I shook my head. “For a Brownie to earn her knot tying badge, she needs to know how to plait hair and tie an apron as well as all the usual knots.” she informed me. “Isn't that right girls?”
“Yes Brown Owl.” the girls replied in unison.
Now I know I should have kept my mouth shut when I said Brownie badges would be easy to earn. She suggested the girls teach me these two skills before asking me about my other badges. I mentioned the stargazing one and Brown Owl asked me to explain to the girls how one can find the North Star. On a piece of paper, I drew the shape of The Plough, explained that it's part of The Great Bear constellation and is also known as The Big Dipper and described how to use it to find the north star. I got the feeling they already knew what I was explaining but I think I impressed them when I demonstrated how to find the Andromeda galaxy using Cassiopeia and the Square of Pegasus. She asked me if I could draw the constellation of Orion which I did. I even added Sirius, the dog star. She left us alone and the girl's had me practice plaiting three strands of rope. After struggling to get my fingers around the technique, I then tried it on Jane's long hair, which was harder still. The girls found it amusing watching me get flustered over something they've all been doing since they were little. Tawny Owl sauntered over and complimented the plait I'd tied in Jane's hair. She described it as 'quite neat' before asking if I have a sister. “Yes but she's four years older than me.” I replied, before sheepishly stating that I’m wearing her old uniform.
“It looks very nice on you.” she smiled. “Why don't you practise on her hair and next week, we'll see if you've improved enough to earn the badge?” she suggested.
“Er... OK.” I sheepishly replied. Tawny owl suggested that the girls teach me how to tie an apron, and Jane escorted me to the dressing up box to choose one. “They're all girlie.” I grumbled.
“Well we're all girls.” Jane smiled. I began to open my mouth to protest but decided not to. I might not be a girl but I'm certainly dressed like one. We chose a yellow apron with white flowers and a frilly hem (it was the best of a bad bunch) and returned to the pack. I can tie a bow behind my back because we occasionally wear aprons at school for art class, but tying a 'neat & even' bow quickly proved to be a lot trickier.
After half an hour we had a short break which involved a weak beaker of orange juice and a biscuit. Us boys gravitated to each other and Andrew declared the experience as 'awful'. “It's not that bad.” I reluctantly admitted as Tawny Owl approached.
“How are our new girls getting on?” she chirpily asked. “Enjoying yourselves?”
“Er... yes.” we muttered, although I'd prefer it if we weren't collectively referred to as 'girls'.
“Now, apart from being polite and helpful, what's a good Brownie supposed to be?” she asked. After a few 'wrong' answers, Brian finally got it right when he suggested 'presentable'. “Very good Brian.” she smiled. “Which is why all three of you need to keep checking your knee socks to make sure they're pulled all the way up, and that the patterns aren't twisted.” she informed us. I looked down at my socks. One is up yet twisted, the other is at half mast. Brian and Andrew's socks are similarly unkempt. All three of us tended to them. “That's better.” she said before sauntering off.
“This is so weird.” I frowned. “I feel silly wearing a dress.”
“Me too.” Brian agreed. “Especially in front of all these girls.”
“It could be worse.” Andrew claimed. “I thought they'd all be laughing... at least they're being nice to us.” he added. I guess he's got a point, but that doesn't make it any less weird. I wonder if they're both wearing knickers too, before swiftly removing that thought from my head. “Do you wear dresses at home?” Andrew asked.
“No!” I retorted. Although in light of my sister Judy's suggestion that I need to practice, a more accurate answer could be 'not yet'.
Brown Owl clapped her hands and the short break was over. The meeting resumed and we rejoined our packs and played a few group games; Mole in the Hole, On the Bus and What Time is it Mr Wolf? Towards the end of the meet we discussed the Brownie Promise and Brownie Law once more before Brian, Andrew and I each made our promise and Brown Owl pinned the gold Brownie badge to our collars. The girls clapped whilst we just blushed. Once again, Brown Owl told the group that before joining the Brownies, all three of us were Cub Scouts and had already earned some badges. “Brain and Andrew have both demonstrated their birdwatching knowledge as well as their knot tying skills.” she said. They stepped forward to receive the badges as the rest of us half heartedly applauded them. “And Peter has demonstrated his excellent knowledge of the night sky.” I stepped forward to receive my badge to a small, underwhelming applause. “A little more practice on your plaiting and you'll have the knot tying badge next week.” she smiled. Other girls received badges for various things such as helping the elderly, laying a dining table and earning a swimming award.
The meeting drew to a close and myself, Brian and Andrew were each given a copy of The Brownie Handbook and the Brownie Badge book before Janet, Paula, Claire, Wendy and Amanda were called over to bring all eight nominees together. Again we were collectively referred to as 'girls' and told that from next Tuesday, we'll be staying on after Brownies for an extra thirty minutes where we'll learn everything we need to know for the May Day celebration. “What kind of things?” I hesitantly asked.
“All sorts of things Peter... you'll be rehearsing the ceremony and making the garlands.” she explained before giving each of us a note to give to our parents. She said we could leave but I loitered. I told her that I didn't want to be the May Queen and she told me that it might not me, since it could be any one of us. I told her that I didn't want to be one of the Seven Sisters either. She asked me if I'd spoken to my parents about it. I told her what they'd said. “Well it's important to do things for others, and by the sounds of it, your mother has set her heart on you being part of the May Queen ceremony.” she replied. We discussed it further, in particular my worries about having to wear a dress, but in a nutshell, I was told that it will be fun and that I should be involved even if I don't want to be.
I left with my head hung low. Mum beeped the car horn to alert me. I ran to the car and climbed inside. “Did you have a nice time?” she asked.
“It was OK.” I grumbled. I gave her the note and she read it, then she enquired after the booklets I held. “It's a Brownie Handbook and a book with all the different badges in.”
“Oh that's something to work towards, you had quite a few badges in Cubs didn't you?”
“I got my stargazing badge already.” I informed her.
“Really?” Mum exclaimed. “That was quick... it took Judy weeks to get her first Brownie badge and that was just for sweeping up!”
“Sweeping up?!” I exclaimed before telling her about learning how to plait Jane's hair in order to get my knot tying badge. Mum asked who Jane is. “She's my Brownie Buddy.”
“Oh... she'll have lots and lots of badges I expect?”
“Not really... the Sixer and Second had loads though, almost a sleeve full.”
We arrived home and both my Dad and sister wanted to know all about my first evening as a Brownie. Judy asked the name of my pack and when I said Sprites, she said I should have joined the Fairies. Suspecting she was taunting me, I told her to shut up. Judy told me that she used to be in the Fairy pack and could have taught me the rhymes and clapping games that are unique to that pack. Mum suggested I apologise to my sister for snapping at her when she was only trying to help. I mumbled my apology before asking if I could get changed. “You may as well keep it on until bedtime Peter.” Mum replied. “Anyway, it's nice having a Brownie around the house.” she grinned. “You look lovely in your little uniform.” she added, before suggesting I straighten my socks. “He's been learning how to plait hair.” my mother informed them.
“Have you?” Judy asked. I coyly nodded and confessed to not being very good at it. “Well you can practise on my hair if you want.” she offered. “You won't get your knot tying badge if you can't plait hair.” she said.
“I know... we have to be able to tie an apron properly too.” I mournfully replied.
I flicked through my Brownie Handbook whilst my sister flicked through the badge book and reminisced about being a Brownie herself. Apparently, Brownies is much more fun than Girl Guides. “Cubs is better than Brownies.” I muttered. My sister claimed the opposite was true, and cited the fact that Brownies need to learn more knots than Cubs in order to get the badge. I couldn't argue with that, but I did maintain that Cubs was better on the grounds that we light fires, go camping, climbing, canoeing and do all sorts of cool stuff. According to my sister, Brownies do all that too and the Brownie Handbook confirmed this to also be true. Regardless, I'd still rather be a Cub.
At school the next day, seemingly everyone knew that I'd joined the Brownies and as a result I received plenty of taunts and teases from both the boys and the girls. The teacher quietened them down and suggested that the boys were only jealous because they hadn't been nominated to take part in the May Queen ceremony. I suspected that they weren't jealous. If anything, they're relieved that it's me and not one of them. I bumped into Andrew at lunch time. He's in the year below me and told me that everyone knows about him being a Brownie. “Me too.” I replied. “Are you going next week?” I asked.
“I have to.” he grumbled.
“Is Brian?” I asked. Brian is two years older than Andrew and is in his first year at high school.
“We both have to.” he replied. “Are you?”
“Yeah.” I groaned. “I tried to get out of it but I can't... all I can hope for is that I’m not chosen as May Queen.” I sighed. Andrew agreed and said that involving boys was the worst idea ever. “Yeah.” I replied. “But try telling my mum that.” I added. A couple of kids who go to Cubs spotted Andrew and I chatting and one yelled something about us being a couple of girls talking about being Brownies. “Come over 'ere and say that!” I yelled.
He did come over and he did repeat himself, putting his nose inches from mine. My moment of bravado crumbled into cowardice. I said nothing as I felt a fearful expression sweep my face. “If you think you're coming back to Cubs you'd better think again... we don't want girls like you in our pack.” he said in a threatening tone. I gulped and backed away. Andrew advised me to take no notice of him, before threatening that he'd set his big brother Brian on him. The boys sneered at us. “I'd like to see 'her' try.” one said before mocking the idle threat. “Oooohh! He's going to set a Brownie on us... I’m so scared!” They laughed as they retreated. They wouldn't have said that last year when Brian was supposedly the second toughest in the whole school.
When I arrived home, Mum asked me if I’d had a nice day at school. I told her about being constantly teased and taunted about joining the Brownies. Mum told me to take no notice of them before suggesting that I have a go at stitching my badges to my uniform. “Can't you do it?” I asked.
“I could, but if you do it yourself you'll get your sewing badge.” she replied. I told her I didn't know how to sew and she said she'd teach me. First, she tacked my Sprite pack badge to the left chest of my brown Brownie dress and quickly stitched it all the way around. Then she tacked the other Sprite badge to the left sleeve and passed the dress to me. I didn't do very well. Mum took over and stitched one side, then I attempted to stitch the other three sides. Mum said it wasn't bad but could be better, before tacking the stargazing badge onto the other sleeve and passing it to me to finish. Although a bit wonky, Mum described it as 'very good for a beginner'. “Are you going to try it on?” she asked.
“To see how it looks with the badges on.” she replied. “Plus...” she added, wielding her instamatic camera, “...I'd love to get a photograph.” she grinned.
I grimaced and frowned but knew one thing; when Mum says she wants a photograph, there's no getting out of it. . “OK.” I eventually mutter.
“Good boy.” she said, passing me the brown sack like frock. I headed to my room, but before I left the kitchen, my mother said “...and make sure you put some knickers on.”
“Why?” I whined. This is where my mother's logic and my own differ. To her, one simply cannot wear a pair of underpants beneath a Brownie uniform. To me, it doesn't make any difference, no one's going to see them so underpants should be fine. Mum turned my logic around on me, and in a last ditch attempt to get out of wearing them, I said “They're in the wash.”
“I didn't only buy you one pair Peter.” my mother informed me. “There's plenty in your drawer.”
“Really?” I gulped. I went to my room and Mum was right; in the back of my underwear drawer is a small pile of frilly white knickers alongside some matching vests. With a trembling hand and a heavy heart, I removed a pair of knickers and my heart sank even more when I found a name tag had been stitched into them. I donned my sister's old Brownie uniform for the second time. What worries me most is, now the uniform has my badges on the sleeve, all of a sudden it feels like my uniform. I returned downstairs and after straightening my socks, Mum took me into the garden where there was enough light and a nice background. She made me do the salute and took a photo. “Try to smile Peter!” she said. She took another and then another, before she had me wear the Brownie 'beanie' hat.
“We don't have to wear this in summer.” I grumbled as I donned it.
“I know but it is part of the uniform.” she replied before taking another two photographs. Finally I was allowed to go back inside and change my clothes. Mum suggested I keep my knickers on since they're clean. I suggested otherwise. Mum told me that if I continued complaining at every turn, then she'd take my underpants away and all I’d have is knickers. “I'm sure Brian and Andrew don't complain like you do.”
“I'm sure they don't have to wear knickers.” I retorted.
“I think you'll find that they do Peter.” my mother replied. “I had a very interesting chat with their mother after dropping you off last night.”
The conversation was heading into territory that unnerved me so I didn't pursue it. I went to my room and put some normal clothes on before putting my brownie uniform on a hanger and hanging it in my wardrobe. Mum entered. “I was about to tell you to that.” she said.
Sheepishly, I told her that it says in my Brownie Handbook that our uniforms must be hung when not being washed or worn. “It also says that we should learn to iron them too.” I glumly added.
“Oh you don't have to do that.” Mum replied. “I'd rather iron it myself than risk you burning it.” Her eyes dropped to my feet and noticing them still clad in the girlie pelerine socks, she asked if I'd kept the rest of my underwear on. I nodded. “Good boy.” she said. I forced a smile, before asking why she'd stitched my school name tags in them. “So they don't get mixed up with Judy's.” she replied. “You don't want to end up wearing her knickers by mistake do you?” she asked. I gulped and shook my head.
“I thought as much.” she said, ruffling my hair.
Over super, I told my Dad and sister about being teased at school. Dad advised me to tell a teacher if it gets too much. Judy empathised and said it should be OK for boys to do girl things if they want to, since girls do plenty of boy things and that's OK. Judy also suggested that I practice plaiting her hair after supper. I wasn't so keen. Nor was I keen on wearing an apron whilst I washed the dishes, one with a nice neat bow. After drying and putting away the dishes, I went to my room but Judy intercepted me on the landing. Again she suggested I plait her hair and practically pulled me into her bedroom. “I can't do it.” I moaned.
“Which is why you need to practise... then you'll get your badge.” she replied.
“I know but...” I muttered. “...I'll just make a mess of it.” I claimed before describing how wonky Jane's plait was when I’d done hers at Brownies. Again my sister told me I need to practise. I claimed I'd feel silly trying to plait my sister's hair.
Judy is a teenager but she does have a few relics left over from her childhood. “Tell you what...” she said as she reached toward her bookshelf. “...you can practice on Rapunzel instead.” she suggested, handing me the doll. The idea of practising on a doll sent shivers down my spine, so I reluctantly agreed to practising on my sister. First I gently pulled the brush through it, then embarked on the fiddly task of plaiting. It's not easy but after a few tries I did improve. Judy suggested I plait her hair every night before bed. I agreed, but only until I’m good enough to get my knot tying badge. She also offered to loan me her Rapunzel doll so I could practise when ever I like, but I declined. It's bad enough having knickers in my drawer and a Brownie uniform in my wardrobe... I don't want a doll in my room as well!
The taunting and teasing about being a Brownie and/or a potential May Queen did begin to wear off by the end of the week. A couple of kids regularly tease me rather than half the class, which is bearable I suppose. When it's all over they'll soon forget and I'll be able to put this whole ghastly experience behind me.
I arrived home on Friday afternoon looking forward to two days of no school. I was feeling quite chirpy until Mum proudly showed the photographs she'd just had developed. There's five in total of me wearing my Brownie uniform. The first looks like a mug shot, my expressionless face looks gormless and glum. The second was an attempted smile but is more of a grimace. In the third photo I’m just bearing my teeth and in the forth I've just donned the beanie hat and my hands are all blurry. But in the fifth photograph, the one which my mother described as 'by far the best', shows me smiling sweetly and looking like a very happy Brownie.
“Oh don't put it there Mum.” I moaned when she put it in a frame and placed it alongside my Cub Scout picture. “...everyone can see it!”
“So?” she shrugged as she repositioned the frame ever so slightly. “Hopefully we'll have one of you as May Queen to go alongside it.” she grinned.
“God I hope hot.” I grumbled.
“Now now Peter... Brownies don't blaspheme.” she said, smiling and jovially wagging her finger. “Do you want to help me make supper?” she asked.
“I guess.” I replied. It's not rare for Mum to get us helping with supper on occasion, and just like when she wants a photograph, she won't accept no for an answer. “Do I have to wear that?” I grimaced when she passed me Judy's apron.
Mum nodded and said she wanted to see how well I can fasten its strings. “Not bad for a boy.” she said as she faffed with the bow. I spent half an hour 'helping' Mum make supper, although I did little more than pass her things and watch. I braced myself when my Dad and sister returned home, fully expecting them to comment on my frilly apron, but they didn't mention it. It was a relief when I finally removed it because it really did look like a white summery skirt. They did mention the new photograph though and it soon transpired that I'm the only one who doesn't think it's great.
On Sunday we went for a family day out to Dinkdale Crag. It's a beauty spot we visit regularly so Judy and I run ahead whilst Mum and Dad saunter slowly behind. Judy and I were larking about, scrambling over rocks and climbing trees when she exclaimed “Are you wearing knickers?” I instantly became coy and evasive. “You are aren't you?” she said. “They better not be mine!”
“Get off!” I yelped as she grabbed at my top. “They're mine... Mum bought me them for Brownies.” I confessed. The only reason I’m wearing them today is because I didn't have any clean underpants in my drawer, and the likely reason for my sister spotting them is because unlike my undies, all my knickers have a really high waist trimmed with elastic lace.
“Sorry... I didn't mean to tease.” Judy claimed. “I was just surprised, that's all.” she added, before saying that it's 'quite sweet' that I wear knickers too. I said I’d rather not talk about it. Judy apologised again.
As usual, we clambered all the way to the top of the crag where we'd enjoy the view of the valley whilst waiting for Mum and Dad to take the slow route to the top. It's towards the end of March and the weather is changeable. We set off with fleece tops on but by the time we'd reached the top of the crag we were both building up a sweat. Judy removed her fleece top to reveal a vest. She advised me to follow suit. “Nah.” I replied in spite of feeling too warm for comfort. “Because I've only got a vest on and I don't like not having a top on.” was my reason. Judy said I could just wear the vest. “It's a girl's vest.” I grumbled.
“Oh... I see.” she replied. “Well, just take your top off for a minute or two 'til you cool down... no one will see.”
“I've already seen your knickers Peter.” she reminded me.
Shyly I removed my fleece to reveal a white vest with lacy trim and a little bow stitched in the centre of the chest. After a minute or two of enjoying the breeze on my shoulders, Judy asked if I felt better. “A bit.” I replied, glancing around nervously. “I'm just worried that people might think I’m a girl.”
Judy glanced around. “Well, there's no one here so you've nothing to worry about.” she said. “Anyway, wouldn't you rather people think you're a girl than a boy with a girl's vest on?”
“I dunno.” I grumbled. “I guess.” I said. “Not that that'll ever happen coz I've got short hair.” I suggested. Then something dawned on me. “I hope we wear wigs at the May Queen parade. We're going to look stupid if we're dressed like girls with short boy's hair!”
“Plenty of girls have short hair.” Judy replied. “It's called a pixie cut.” she told me. “Anyway I don't think you'll look stupid... you look cute in your Brownie uniform so you'll look even better in a proper dress.”
“I only look cute in one photo. I look stupid in all the others.”
“Only because you were pulling faces.” Judy claimed. “You can look cute when you want to.”
“But I don't want to look cute.” I stated. “I don't want to go to Brownies or be the May Queen but everyone says I have to.”
“That's because everyone will be so proud of you if are the May Queen... of course its a bit weird having boys in the parade but there's a first time for everything.” my sister said. “You could be the world's very first May Queen who's not a girl... you could be on Record Breakers! Imagine that?!”
“It'd be horrible.” I claimed. “Everyone's taking the mickey out of me as it is.”
“Not everyone.” Judy retorted. “You said the girls at Brownies were OK.”
“Yeah but it's the boys at school mostly.” I replied before describing some of the taunts both I and Andrew have received.
“Enjoying the sun?” our mother's voice called. We turned to see our parents approach. “We thought you'd lost your brother and found a new friend for minute Judy.” Dad said as he grinned at me. “Don't put your top back on on our account.” he said as I began to do just that. He cast his eyes to the skies. “It is warm today.” he stated.
“Its windy too.” I added as my head popped out of my fleece top. Judy agreed and put her top back on. Mum and Dad savoured the view for a short while before we headed back down to Dinkdale itself. Dad and I ended up walking a few paces behind Mum and Judy and he cautiously asked me if I was looking forward to going to Brownies this week. “Sort of... not really... it's just like Cubs really but...” was my stuttered reply.
“It's full of girls?” Dad suggested.
“Yeah... they're OK I guess... it'd be better if I didn't have dress like them.”
“Well... when in Rome.” Dad said. “Plus, you get the chance to prove that boys are just as good as girls... I think you'll be a better May Queen than that chubby girl last year.” he added in a slightly mischievous tone. “...but don't tell your mother I said that.”
The poor girl, I thought. She wasn't that chubby but her dress was too small. The photograph in the paper wasn't very flattering. “It'd be better if they just changed it to the May King, then I wouldn't have to do any of this girlie stuff.” I said after a moment's thought.
“True.” Dad replied. “But it's OK when Judy does 'boy' things like climbing trees or clambering up the crag or playing Scalextric... surely it should be just as OK when a boy does 'girl' things” he said. “Like Billy Elliot doing ballet.” he added.
“I suppose.” I grumbled. As we walked the woodland trail, I thought about my sister who, for a girl, does do loads of 'boy' things. She's been proper rock climbing and abseiling too. She even does stunts on her BMX. She also goes to a tap dancing class, gets giddy over dresses and spends way too much time in front of the mirror. She's part tom-boy, part girlie-girl... or maybe she's just a normal girl? I don't know. What I do know is that since I was nominated as a potential May Queen and was subsequently transferred from Cubs to Brownies, I don't feel like a normal boy any more.
On Tuesday I went to Brownies for the second time. Brian and Andrew were there too and all three of us had to show our new badges to Brown Owl. She asked if we'd stitched them on ourselves and both Brian and Andrew said yes. I said my Mum had tacked them on and I’d stitched them. Brown Owl smiled and said I’d done just as good a job as any Brownie. Tawny Owl asked if I'd learned to plait hair and tie a neat and even bow in an apron. “Kind of.” I replied, before being asked to fetch an apron to demonstrate, then plaiting Jane's long blond hair.
“Very good.” she said. “What do you think girls?” she asked.
They all agreed that my plaiting skills had improved enough to ensure I get the knot tying badge. I felt ever so slightly proud of myself but that soon faded as the activities began; after separating into our Sixes we got out the tables and learned to fold napkins and lay the table. God it was boring, I thought. Why are we even learning this?
It was as if Brown Owl had read my mind because with that very thought, the began telling the group how we can help our mothers by laying the table for them whilst they're busy cooking. “You won't realise until you're mothers yourselves just how much work needs to be done... so please Brownies, be helpful and always offer to lend a hand whenever your mother is busy.” she said. Then the inevitable happened and someone dropped a teacup. We gasped as it smashed to the ground and the girl responsible apologised profusely. “It's OK Polly.” Brown Owl assured. “These things happen.” she said, before asking Polly what should be done when some crockery has been broken. “Very good Polly. Did you hear that girls?” she asked before reiterating Polly's reply. She glanced around the girl's faces until she found mine. She asked who my Brownie Buddy was and I replied. Addressing Jane directly, Brown Owl asked her to take me to fetch a dustpan and brush and it was I who cleared up the breakage under the watchful eye and frequent instruction of my Sixer and Second (AKA Melanie and Vanessa). I was wondering why I was clearing the breakage and not the girl who'd dropped it, but all became clear at the end of the meeting when I was awarded not only my sewing badge, my knot tying badge and my laying a table badge, but my sweeping up badge too.
Before long the others left and eight of us stayed behind. Brown Owl described the procession which is partly on a float where we'll be sitting, smiling and waving, then the Seven Sisters will be on foot accompanying the May Queen's carriage and walking whilst smiling and waving. “...but it's a bit more complicated than that.” Brown Owl said. “I want you walking so gracefully that you'll be almost dancing.” She demonstrated what she wanted us to do by walking slowly around the hall, her arms and hands accentuated every slow graceful turn. “Head held high, broad Brownie smiles... and should you receive a bouquet...” she said.
“Oh God.” I thought as she slowly yet gracefully pranced around the hall. Even the girls seemed a little daunted by what she had in mind. After twenty minutes of trying to emulate her elegant dancelike walk, I began to think that maybe being the May Queen might not be so bad after all. All she does is sit on a chair whilst the rest of us will be prancing about, curtseying and laying bouquets of flowers at her feet. After thirty minutes we left. Dad was waiting for me in the car. He asked me what we'd been doing so I told him in my driest, most honest voice. “Folding napkins, laying the table, cleaning up broken crockery, playing balloon volleyball, then learning how to walk gracefully, how to curtsey and how to hold a bunch of flowers.”
“Oh dear.” Dad said. “I'm sure you'll be lighting fires before long.... and your mother will be pleased that you've learned to lay the table.”
I really wasn't proud of them but when we got home, I showed my mother the new Brownie badges I’d earned. Mum was extremely proud that I’d got four more badges to stitch on to my uniform. I asked her if she'd stitched them on this time, but Mum said I should do it myself. “Ooh but you're better than me, and quicker.” I said. “Anyway I've already got my sewing badge.” I added.
“All good reasons why you should do it Peter.” my mother replied. “The more you practise, the better and quicker you'll get.” she added. “What did you do after Brownies? Was it fun?” she asked.
“Not really.” I grumbled before describing what we did, or tried to do.
“Hmm... doesn't sound very engaging.” Mum frowned before suggesting that it should become more fun the closer we get to the event.
“I just want it to all be over.”
“I can understand that.” Mum relied. She looked into my eyes and smiled at me, before saying “It's an improvement on you not wanting to do it.”
I went to my room to find something to do between now and bedtime. I perched on my bed and straightened my knee socks before digging into my pocket and removing the four small badges. We had some lame badges in Cub Scouts such as the sewing badge, but none so underwhelming as a sweeping up badge. “Whatcha got there?” my sister's voice said. I looked up to see her leant against the door frame. “More badges?” she asked.
“Yeah.” I replied. She stepped into my room and perched besides me. “They're not 'good' ones.” I said as she peered into the palm of my hand.
“Well they're better than nothing.” she said. “I remember being proud as Punch when I got my first Brownie badge... it took me weeks.” she told me, before congratulating me on earning so many after attending only two meetings.
I told her that Brian and Andrew also gained their table laying and sewing badges this evening, and also got two last week. “I think they're being generous because we're boys.” I assumed.
“Hmm... I don't know.” she said. “They don't just hand them out willy nilly.”
“Maybe.” I said. “What other badges did you have?” I asked.
“Er...” Judy began before listing those she could recall. I grabbed my Brownie Badge book and began flicking through it. The images of all the badges jogged her memory and she could recall a few more. I enquired as to what she did to get the 'helper', 'agility', 'shopping' and 'conversation' badges. Judy grinned and corrected me. “That's conservation... protecting the countryside.” she informed me. “A group of us helped clear a load of hog-weed from the canal bank.”
“Sounds boring... just clearing weeds.”
“Yeah but it was fun... and I liked the little panda patch.” she replied, tapping he finger nail on the image. She went on to tell me about the other badges. “We helped out in an old people's home to get the helper badge; cleaning, tidying, making cups of tea, washing dishes, chatting, that sort of thing.” she said. “Agility is jumping, skipping, vaulting, doing cartwheels and stuff... and shopping is self explanatory.”
“What... you just buy some shopping and get a badge?” I asked.
“Well... you're given a list and have to go to the greengrocers, butchers, bakers, fishmongers, haberdashery, homeware and hardware store to get everything in all the correct weights so you don't go over budget.” she explained. “It's not just a case of buying some sweets.” she said, turning her head toward the door. “Hi Mum.”
“Hi.” Mum smiled. “I must say... it's nice seeing you two sitting together and talking instead of bickering and sniping.” she told us.
“We were just looking at the badge book.” I said. Mum asked me which one I hoped to get next. “I don't know.” I shrugged. “The same ones as my Cub badges I guess.” I suggested. I don't want an arm full of easy badges such as sewing, sweeping and laying the table... I want pathfinder, map reader, fire maker, climber and the like.
“Hey do you want to borrow my old Brownie books?” Judy asked.
“I've got my own.” I said, pointing out my handbook and badge book.
“I don't mean those ones.” Judy replied before exiting and returning a moment later with two Brownie annuals, the Brownie Adventure Book, the Brownie Book of Things to Do and Fun Crafts for Brownies and Guides. I took them from her and thanked her. “You've got to look after them.” she said.
“I will.” I replied, knowing that I probably wouldn't even open them. Mum gave me a glance and prompted me to say 'thank you'.
“You're welcome.” Judy smiled. “It's nice that we've got something in common, even if I'm not a Brownie any more.” she added.
She left and so did Mum. I looked down at my uniform and pale pinky knees again, then at the pile of Brownie books besides me. One the cover of one of the annuals is a group of Brownies around a selection of flags from around the world. One of them appears to have short hair and I wonder if she, like me is really a boy. I begin to flick through the pages filled with Brownie propaganda, puzzles, stories, craft ideas, stories from summer camp and all sorts of other things. My eyes linger on a page titled Be the best Brownie you can be. It tells us to wash our hands and faces every morning and every night, how to trim our finger nails and why we shouldn't bite them, why we need to brush our hair one hundred times before going to bed, how to polish our shoes and belt, how to wear a ribbon, slide, clip or band in our hair. “In order to do her best, a Brownie needs to look her best.” it states, “...so practice your big bright Brownie smile ten times a day because nobody likes a miserable face.” I cast my mind back to the Brownie meeting and all the times we were encouraged to smile. It was same afterwards when trying to walk/prance with grace... we were encouraged to spend every moment smiling and reminded that 'everyone' will be watching us on the day of the parade.
At school the next day, one of my former Cub pals asked if I’d enjoyed Brownies last night, before telling everyone that he'd seen me and that I was wearing the uniform and that I looked 'a right sissy'. Half the class giggled and sniggered at me but knowing that all of the class knew that I'd joined the Brownies last week, I suggested he tell them something they don't know. “Did you dance around the toadstool?” he asked in a sneering tone.
“No.” I replied.
“Bet you did... sissy!”
“We don't have a toadstool.” one of the girls stated. She's the one girl in my class who's in the same Brownie troop, although I don't know her very well at all. The boy claimed that all Brownies have a toadstool and that all Brownies dance around it, like 'prissy sissy girls'. “Well, you're wrong.” the girl retorted. “Our Brown Owl is progressive and we don't dance around a magic toadstool.” she stated, before suggesting he join.
“Only girls join the Brownies!” I blurted, just as our form teacher entered the class. “And I'm not a girl!” he added.
“You know full well that boys can join the Brownies these days Michael.” the teacher stated. “Now if you're teasing people for going to Brownies, maybe I should write to your mother and suggest she enrols you?” she said, causing everyone to giggle. That shut him up.
The following week, Mum took me to Brownies but instead of going in the car, we walked. It was a nerve racking experience since the route took me past several of my classmate's homes. We did activities and played games, then after Brownies had finished and our May Day practice began, Brown Owl wheeled in a video player and monitor because she had a video that she wanted us to watch. A few of us groaned when the footage of the Disneyworld Princess Parade began to play “See how the princesses are walking... that's how I want you to walk when you accompany the May Queen's carriage; with grace, elegance, always smiling and waving and almost dancing.” Brown Owl told us. We spend the next twenty minutes practising the dance-like walk, but we showed little improvement. I guess we're mostly too shy and too self conscious; girls included.
The next day at school, a handful of my classmates took great pleasure in telling the rest of the class that they'd actually seen me wearing my brownie uniform. “He ever had white knee socks on!” one announced, before speculating that I was probably wearing knickers too. I neither confirmed nor denied this. Instead, I continued to insist that I’m only going because I have to go and maintained that I don't want to be any part of the May Queen parade. “Well in that case... don't do it!” was the advise given.
“But I have to.” I groaned.
I can't wait to break up for Easter and have a couple of week's respite from the taunts and teases I receive at school. To any ten year old, two weeks of no school feels like a good few months so we all looked forward to it. No school also means no Brownies, but we do all have to go to Church and Sunday School on Easter Sunday (this was also the case when I went to Cubs). The letter Mum received from Brown Owl stated that we should attend wearing either our uniform or best dress. I wasn't happy about wearing my uniform to church, but when mum suggested us having a look through Judy's old clothes to see if there was nice dress I could borrow, wearing my uniform didn't seem so bad after all. Apart from the religious shenanigans, chocolate eggs and epic bank holiday movies, Easter also involves a couple of family gatherings. On Good Friday we went to my Uncle and Aunt's house for a barbecue in the garden where my involvement in the May Queen parade was a hot topic, as was me attending Brownies instead of Cubs. Predictably, the girls thought it was great that a boy is doing 'girl' things but the boys seemed puzzled and bemused.
On Easter Sunday I donned my Brownie uniform for the annual Easter service. Mum, Dad and Judy also attended and I joined the rest of the Brownies. Some wore their uniform whilst others wore 'Sunday' dresses, and no one was more surprised than I when Brian and his younger brother Andrew arrived wearing Sunday dresses too! I quizzed them about why they didn't wear their uniforms and glumly, they told me that they 'always' wear a dress on a Sunday. “It's one of Mum's rules.” Andrew added before telling me that this is the first time they've worn their dresses in such a public place. It wouldn't have been so bad for them if it was just Brownies and Guides in attendance, but the Cubs, Scouts and plenty of other local kids attended church on Easter Sunday too. The fact that I attended wearing my Brownie uniform was somewhat over shadowed by Brian and Andrew's dresses.
I paid more attention to Brian and Andrew than the teacher as we endured the boredom of Sunday school. Each wears an identical dress in all but size; cream in colour with a sparse floral print of pink blooms with green foliage. The sleeves are short and puffed, the collar is broad and white, trimmed with lace. Beneath their skirts I spy petticoats, and their legs are clad in thin white tights. On their feet is pair of low heeled strappy sandals and each carries an identical off-white handbag. Neither looks too happy about their attire and if it was me, I don't think I’d be too chuffed either.
As the boys sat through the annual Sunday school class with the rest of their Brownie pack, their mothers wait outside, chatting. Peter's mother is impressed to learn that Brian and Andrew's dresses are entirely handmade by their mother, who proudly states “I make most of their dresses.”
“I wouldn't know where to start.” Peter's mother replied. “I did suggest he wears one of his sister's old dresses today but... he wanted to wear his uniform.”
“So did Brian and Andrew... they feared they'd be the only ones not in uniform but quite a few turned up in proper dresses.”
“Thankfully Peter isn't the only one in uniform either... but I would like to see him wearing a proper dress, I think he's just reluctant.” she said, before asking if she had a preference as to which of her sons might be crowned May Queen.
“To be honest dear... I have a feeling it'll be neither of them.” their mother replied. “Allowing boys to be involved is a welcome break from tradition but I suspect that tradition will prevail and the May Queen will be a girl.”
“I suspect the opposite to be honest.” Peter's mother retorted. “A boy will be May Queen simply because a boy can be May Queen.”
“Possibly.” their mother replied. “If that is the case then I hope it's Peter.” she claimed, explaining that she doesn't want one of her boys to feel left out should the other be chosen as May Queen.
“I hope it's Peter too.” his mother stated. “But that's a mother's prerogative.” she bashfully added. “This looks like them now.” she said as the children began to filter out of the church hall.
“Where's Dad and Judy?” I asked as we joined our mothers.
Mum told me he'd taken her home after the Easter service, before bidding Brian, Andrew and their mother farewell and telling the boys how lovely they both look. Bashfully they thanked her and we went our respective ways. Mum informed me that Brian and Andrew wear dresses every Sunday, and I told Mum that I already knew, adding “They don't like wearing them much.”
“It's nice that they do though.” Mum replied. “Their mum makes them herself you know.”
“Mm-hmm. She also says that by giving them a bit of girl-time helps them to not be too boisterous or unruly the rest of the time.” she informed be. “Apparently Brian was getting a reputation for being a bit of a bully at junior school, so when he started secondary school she began their weekly petticoating regime.”
“Weekly what?” I asked.
“Petticoating regime... putting boys in pretty dresses.” she replied.
“I wouldn't like that very much.”
“You wear your Brownie uniform once a week.” Mum replied. “That's not so bad is it?”
“No but my Brownie uniform isn't pretty.” I replied. “I don't think I'd like to wear a proper dress.”
“You'll be wearing a proper dress for the May Queen parade.” Mum reminded me.
Easter Monday meant a trip to my grandparent's house for a special roast dinner. Mum got a print made of my Brownie photo and took it to give them. Nana said I looked very sweet but didn't hesitate in pointing out the fact that I wore boy's shoes. My Grandfather, on the other hand, said I looked like a girl and questioned why I'd joined the Brownies at all. Mum and Nana explained that it's because I’m going to be part of the May Queen parade and possibly the May Queen herself. Granddad felt it was too out of the ordinary and muttered something about 'in my day' it'd never be allowed. Dad told him that the world is changing. “No one bats and eyelid when Judy goes rock climbing or plays football, so in this day and age, it's fine for boys to do girl things if they want to.” I should have piped up myself and made it clear that I don't want to do any girl things, especially take part in the May Queen parade... but with so many people encouraging me, I felt the right thing to was to keep my feelings to myself. It'll all be over before long, I reminded myself.
The rest of the Easter break was filled with playing with my pals and going for family days out to the coast and countryside. My pals don't seem to mind the fact that I go to Brownies. Of course they teased me at first but they've kind of got used to it, as have I. When school resumed after the two week holiday, my classmates wasted no time in reminding me that they'd seen me at church wearing my Brownie uniform, which left those who haven't seen me wearing it in the minority. They also made fun of the fact that I was with Brian and Andrew Preston and they were both wearing dresses, with tights and girl's shoes too. I expect Brian and Andrew are experiencing the same treatment, or worse, since they both wore 'proper' dresses on Easter Sunday. I couldn't help but wonder what it would have been like having to wear girl's shoes with heels, tights, petticoats and pretty dresses in front of so many familiar faces. Come May Day I'll find out, I suppose.
Brownies resumed on Tuesday, as did our preparations for the May Queen parade afterwards. Tawny Owl showed us how to make paper flowers which would ultimately be threaded together to form garlands that would decorate the float and throne. We half filled a huge plastic tub with all the paper flowers we'd made. There must have been almost a hundred of them. Brown Owl praised our work and told us we'd need hundreds more, but right now, we need to practise for the parade itself. We spent the last ten minutes prancing around the hall in an uncomfortably ladylike manner. “Stop looking at your feet Brian!” Brown Old advised. “Smile Janet … Very nice Wendy … Head up Clare … Slow down Paula or you'll get dizzy!” she'd say. “Keep an eye on Wendy.” she suggested. Wendy was almost waltzing whilst the rest of us meandered around. We moved our hands and arms around whilst she gestured with elegance and grace. Wendy goes to ballet, it transpired... no wonder she's a natural when it comes to this elegant prancing malarkey. As we all prepared to leave, Brown Owl and Wendy were chatting.
Mum was waiting in the car and asked if I'd had a nice time. I told her it was OK. She asked if I'd earned any new badges, I shook my head. “Oh that's a shame.” Mum said. “Maybe next week eh?”
I informed her that we don't get a new badge every week and that Brian, Andrew and myself probably only got so many so quickly just to help us fit in and feel like part of the group. I told her about the paper flowers we'd been making and how they'll be made in to garlands, and how we had to practice our prancing again. “Why we can't just walk normally I've no idea.”
“Because it's a parade.” Mum replied. “Anyway, if you are the May Queen you'll spend much of the parade sitting down.” she added.
“Yeah.” I glumly agreed. “Now I know what the Seven Sisters have to do, I think I'd prefer being the May Queen.”
“That's good to hear.” Mum said. “I've got my heart set on that.”
As usual, I spent the remainder of the evening milling around the house wearing my Brownie uniform. Mum said it was 'sweet' how I keep tending to my white knee socks, making sure the tops are even and the patterns are straight. “How's about we go shopping on Saturday for some new shoes?” she suggested.
“OK.” I said. The toes of my brown school shoes are getting a bit scuffed. However come Saturday, it quickly transpires that Mum wants to buy me some new shoes to wear for Brownies and not for school. She was keen on me getting some T bar sandals because they're a unisex style, but I’m yet to see a boy over the age of six wearing them. Mum browsed around all the high street stores before taking me back to the first one to try on the style she liked the best. They're clearly girl's shoes, having heart shaped details cut out of the toe section, a detail that is echoed with a heart shaped silver buckle too. The lady in the Debenham's school wear department asked if I was a petticoatee. Mum told her that I wasn't but she did tell her that I've recently joined the Brownies, which is why I’m getting girl's shoes. The correct size was boxed and given to my mother who wanted to browse the rest of the department before paying. “What's a petticoatee?” I asked.
“A boy who wears girl's clothes.” Mum replied. “Brian and Andrew are petticoatees because they both wear dresses every Sunday.” she reminded me. “Would you like some new undies?” she asked, picking a pack of girl's 'boy' shorts from the display.
“I'd rather have boy's undies.” I said. Mum said I’ve got plenty of boys undies and claimed that girl's are nicer. “I know but I’ve got loads of girl's ones too.” I claimed.
“You've not got that many.” Mum said. She picked me up a pack of socks too; white, knee high and clearly very girlie. I'd have preferred boy's socks but I don't mind my girlie ones so much... I only wear them with my Brownie uniform and I know that boy's socks wouldn't look right.
When we got home, Mum had me try on my new shoes. Dad said they were 'smart' and Judy said they looked 'cute'. Mum unpacked my new knickers and admired a pair. Then she routed in a drawer for my roll of name tags, cut seven off, gave me a needle and some thread and told me to stitch one into the back of each pair. “Can't you do it?” I asked.
“You're perfectly capable of sewing them in yourself Peter.” she replied. “You can do it in your room if you prefer.”
I did prefer, but even in the solitude of my bedroom I felt like I was betraying my boyhood as I stitched my name into a pair of frilly white knickers. When I'd done all seven pairs, I put them in my drawer and made the uncomfortable realisation that I now have more pairs of knickers than I do undies.
After the next Brownie meeting, we concentrated on making more paper flowers with which to decorate the float and thankfully didn't do any prancing practice, but at the end of the session, Brown Owl did make an uncomfortable announcement. “I've got some excellent news girls... Wendy's ballet teacher has agreed to coach you all in the art of graceful walking.” She handed out a letter for us to give to our parents, and explained that we've been offered a free class, one hour a week for the next four weeks at Miss Jarovski's School of Ballet. “Don't worry if you don't have any dancewear...” she said, glancing at the three boys. “...because the procession fund can pay for that.”
When Mum collected me, I gave her the letter and with a heavy heart said, “I have to go to ballet on Saturday.”
“Oh how lovely!” Mum said. “Will you have to wear a tutu?”
“I hope not.” I moaned. My parents and sister have all told me that it's fine for boys to do girl things if they want to. But going to ballet is just another thing the kids at school can tease me about, I figured. When we got home, Mum read the letter properly and wasted no time in measuring me and telephoning Brown Owl with my sizes.
Saturday arrived and since Mum and Dad were busy, my big sister Judy accompanied me to Miss Jarovski's School of Ballet. We arrived and were met by Wendy in the foyer who wears a pink leotard with white tights and pink ballet shoes. She's in charge of our dance wear and from a large plastic box, she retrieved a carrier bag with my name written on it before directing me to the changing rooms. It came as a huge relief to discover that my leotard wasn't pink like Wendy's. I sheepishly emerged feeling like a rank amateur. I'd donned the white tights and black leotard, but the shoes hung from my trembling fingers because I wasn't sure how to tie them. Wendy sat me on a bench and tied them for me. “The others didn't know either.” she told me before looking up at my sister and asking if she was staying for the duration. Judy was, so it was she accompanied me to studio number 3 whilst Wendy waited for the others.
Inside was Janet, Claire and Amanda as well as their mothers; all sat chatting on a bench whilst the girls chatted amongst themselves. I was disappointed that Brian and Andrew weren't here yet as that makes me the only boy in studio number 3. I sheepishly sauntered over and said hello, before introducing my sister to them. I felt like such a dork in my black strappy leotard and thick white tights, but so did the girls. It was a small relief to learn that they felt as self conscious as I did. We loitered nervously for a while until the others arrived. I coyly greeted Brian and Andrew before looking nervously at Miss Jarovski; a tall slim woman who wears a purple leotard, a thin see-through skirt and woolly leg warmers. She clapped her hands and welcomed us, collectively referring to us as 'girls'. “They're not all girls!” Amanda's mother said in a dry tone.
Miss Jarovski gave her a look of disdain, before telling the parents and Judy that they were welcome to stay and watch our dance class, and asked them not to interrupt the class. She lined us all up, making sure we were stood upright, still and attentive before giving us a brief lecture about ballet. “I'm not going to teach you point, pirouette or a perfect jetté, but you will learn the basics...” She went on for a while using terminology that meant little to most of us. She also demonstrated the moves and I've never been so disinterested. After a short warm up, we learned the basic positions and I know that I wasn't alone in feeling like a complete dork. Apart from Wendy, we all felt out of place and the moves we were practising seemed to bear no relevance to the prancing we're here to learn. Having my sister sitting at the edge of the studio, watching my every move and smiling wryly didn't help either... nor does the huge mirror on one wall, in which I witness every dorky position. I'll never know what Billy Elliot saw in this. After half an hour of what I assumed was 'proper' yet very basic ballet, Miss Jarovski and Wendy demonstrated our next lesson; the art of graceful walking... but before we could have a try, we were each given a tutu! Thankfully it wasn't big flat tutu but the style that's called a 'romantic' tutu. It falls a good few inches below the knee, is very light and very see through. It swishes and sways with every movement as we try to follow Miss Jarovski's direction. She counts a slow time signature, instructing and encouraging us all the way. “One two three, one two three, very good Claire, one two three, one two three, one two three, grace-fu-ly, beautiful, one two three...” and on and on we went. We were only there for an hour but it seems that time moves very slowly in a ballet class. Thankfully it was finally over and Judy took me home. My sister used words like sweet and cute to describe my ballet class whilst I used words such as boring and stupid. Mum preferred Judy's perspective and said she couldn't wait until next Saturday when she'd be taking me instead.
With little more than four weeks until the May Day celebrations, things stepped up a notch or two. The procession route had been confirmed and the two floats had been secured; one is a flat bed truck on which we'd all be sat, the other a horse drawn carriage alongside which the seven sister's would do their dance like walk whilst receiving bouquets of flowers to lay at the May Queen's feet.
At my next Brownie meeting we were all awarded the dancer badge which features an embroidered ballerina. I was also awarded the fire and map reader to my collection so at least I had some 'cool' badges to stitch to my sleeve. After Brownies we continued making the garlands and other décor for the procession and on Saturday morning I returned to the yawn inducing ballet class. Mum accompanied me and went all gooey when I exited the changing room wearing my leotard. Afterwards, she talked endlessly about how much she enjoyed watching us. “You seemed to enjoy it after a while.”
“It's really boring.” I whined. “Especially doing the five positions for like... ever.”
“Well practice makes perfect.” she replied.
The following week my mother took her camera. I wasn't impressed and suggested that Miss Jarovski might not let her take photographs. Mum told me that she'd already asked and assured me that it's OK. “Great.” I thought. “Just don't put one in a frame where everyone can see it.” I requested.
The class began and followed the same routine as before; warm up and stretch followed by the five positions (for ages and ages) then prancing, curtseying and pretending to receive bouquets. “Remember to smile girls.” Miss Jarovski frequently reminded us as we gracefully pranced around the studio. We all felt uncomfortable except for Wendy, but thanks to the attractive, engaging and exotic Miss Jarovski, we did begin to feel a bit more competent and confident whilst doing the slow graceful walk that Brown Owl feels is so important.
Predictably, my mother enthusiastically asked if I'd enjoyed myself as she drove me home. “It was OK I guess.” I glumly replied, before admitting that I don't feel quite so much of a dork as I did to begin with. “I wish she wouldn't keep saying 'smile girls', 'gracefully girls', 'well done girls'” I moaned. “It's obvious that three of us are boys.”
Mum suggested that I shouldn't worry about it and reminded me that we're collectively referred to as 'girls' at Brownies too. “At the end of the day, the May Queen parade is a girl's event, so it sort of makes sense.”
“No it doesn't.” I retorted. “Judy doesn't get called a boy when she does boy things.”
“True.” Mum replied. “I suppose it's a case of when in Rome.” she added.
“Yeah I guess.” I muttered. The route home took us along the town's main street. Bunting for the May Day celebrations is already going up and it won't be too long before I'm taking part in the May Queen parade. The more I think about having to perform the slow fancy prance all the way down the Main Street, receiving bouquets of flowers and executing numerous curtseys in front of my classmates, friends and neighbours... the more I think I’d rather be the May Queen than one of the Seven Sisters. All she has to do is sit, smile and wave.
We arrived home and Dad was in the lounge reading the Saturday broadsheet. He dropped its corner, threw me a smile and asked how my ballet class went. “Boring.” I moaned. He asked what I was up to now. “Nothing much.” I replied. “Can I put the TV on?” I asked.
“Sure.” he replied, passing me the remote control.
There wasn't much on so I sat through the weekly sports round up which included soccer highlights, cycling, tennis, snooker and the Argentinian rally. “I think I’d like to be a rally driver when I grow up.” I said as the powerful cars churned their way through a rugged landscape. Saying that, the coverage switched to the Chinese Grand Prix and I said I’d like to be a Formula 1 driver too.
“You could be anything you want if you put your mind to it.” Dad replied, before suggesting he take Judy and I go-kart racing one day.
“Really?” I yelped. “That'd be so cool.”
“What'd be so cool?” my mother asked as she entered. I replied and Mum said that sounds like fun. “Better than ballet eh?” she added.
“Anything's better than ballet.” I claimed.
Later, I'm sat in my room reading when Judy popped her head around the door. In her hands is a bundle of laundry; half hers, half mine. She passes me a pile of T shirts, pants, knickers and socks, on top of which is my leotard and ballet tights. She loiters as I put them away. “What are you reading?” she asked. I was a little embarrassed to be reading a story in her old Brownie Book of Adventure titled Susan and the Secret Scroll. I justified my choice of story by claiming that I’d read all my own books. “There's nothing wrong with reading girl's books.” Judy said. “Just like there's nothing wrong with going to Brownies or ballet or being the May Queen.”
“Hey!” I announced. “Dad said he'd take us go-karting.”
“At Speed Demons?” Judy asked.
“Er... I dunno.” I replied. It turns out that Speed Demons is a new circuit in Dunstanton and apparently it's 'ace'. Judy hadn't been but some of her school friends have. She described their experience and it sounded great.
The very next day, our dad did indeed take us go-karting and it was indeed 'ace'. Judy won one of her races and the best I achieved was a third place position. But it's not the winning that matters, it's the taking part. “That seems like the first 'boy' thing I've done for months.” I said.
We rejoined Dad in the viewing area. He congratulated our driving skills and gave us the choice of watching a few races or going for a burger. We decided to watch a few races then go for a burger. As we ate, Judy and I recalled every corner and every overtake of our five races. It was a pity that we didn't actually race each other since we're in different age groups, but at least we got to watch each other's races. “Can we come again next week?” I enthusiastically asked.
“I think you'll be busy doing other things next weekend Peter.” Dad reminded me.
“Oh yeah.” I groaned. “The week after?”
“Probably not.” he smiled, before explaining that it's not a cheap day out and that we can have too much of a good thing. “Maybe in a couple of months eh?”
Neither Judy nor myself wanted to wait that long, but we didn't argue with Dad's reasoning. When we arrived home we wasted no time in telling Mum about our great day out and insisted that next time, she'll have to come too. “They have grown up races for Mums and Dads.” Judy said. “But Dad chickened out of entering.”
Dad said he had a great time just being a spectator but hinted that he might get more involved next time he takes us. The next day at school I had something cool to boast about for a change and in spite of the fact that I didn't win a single race, I felt like the next Lewis Hamilton. But that didn't stop a few of my classmates from taking the wind out of my sails by reminding me that next weekend, I'll be dressing like a girl in the May Queen parade.
Tuesday evening is my last time attending Brownies. Today's task is learning how to arrange flowers. I enthusiastically told my pack all about going go-karting as I pushed dried flowers and foliage into a lump of oasis and cheekily asked Brown Own if there was a racing driver badge I could have. “Unfortunately not Peter.” she grinned before advising me how to improve my display. “...but looking at this...” she said as she carefully placed my display into a small wicker basket, “...you will have earned the flower arranger badge.”
I know which badge I'd rather have. I considered all the other badges that adorned the sleeve of my Brownie uniform; Sewing, stargazing, knots, laying a table, sweeping up, shopper, dancer, fire, map reading, card making and now flower arranging. “Will I have to put all my Brownie badges on my Cub Scout uniform when I go back to cubs?” I glumly asked.
“Well that's up to the Scout Master.” Brown Owl replied. “I didn't think it was fair on the other girls to bring your Cub badges when you joined Brownies... so don't be disappointed if you're not allowed take your Brownie badges back to Cubs.”
It's going to be bad enough going back to cubs after two months of Brownies without having my new badges stitched to my sleeve. I don't really want to explain why I’ve got a badge with a ballet dancer on it, or a dustpan & brush, a shopping basket or flower arrangement. Brown Owl asked me if I was looking forward to going back to Cubs. “Yeah!” I enthusiastically replied. At the end of the meeting, those of us who'd earned a new badge were formerly awarded them, before Brown Owl said how nice it's been having myself, Brian and Andrew joining them over the last couple of months. “...but if any of you would prefer to stay on at Brownies, then we're all more than happy for you to do so.” I glanced around and the other girls all seemed to be nodding in agreement.
“Now as you all know, it's May Day bank holiday on Monday.” Brown Owl said. She asked all eight of us nominees to form a line at the front of the hall. “You've all worked ever so hard over the last few weeks and choosing just one of you to be this year's May Queen has been no easy decision...” she told us. She seemed to drag the announcement out for a long as possible and whilst fearful that I might be selected, I was quietly confident that tradition would be adhered to and a girl would be named. However my confidence was quickly shattered when she said, “...since this is the first year we've allowed boys to be involved, it should come as no surprise that this years May queen will be a boy.” Some of the girls gasped, some grumbled whilst some giggled. “...and that boy will be...” she paused. I had a feeling it'd be Brian or Andrew, since both are 'part-time' petticoatees. “...Peter Jackson!” My heart sank and I nervously glanced around the faces all staring at me. Brian and Andrew both looked relieved whilst Paula and Wendy both cast me a dagger like stare. I bit my lip and smiled as I received a small round of applause.
The Brownies left leaving myself and the Seven Sisters behind to make the final preparations for the parade. Collectively referring to us as 'girls', Brown Owl told us that the local sewing circle has been busy making our costumes and stressed just how pretty we're going to look on May Day. “When will we get our dresses?” Wendy asked.
“On Saturday at ballet class.” Brown Owl replied before prompting us to get on with the task at hand; that being stringing the paper flowers into long garlands which will decorate the float and carriage. Eventually we changed back into our Brownie uniforms and prepared to leave. “I'll see you all at Miss Jarovski's on Saturday where we'll have a full dress rehearsal.” Brown Owl said, “...and I’m certain this year's procession is going to be great success!” she added.
As usual, my mother was waiting for me outside, as was some of the other girl's parents. Brown Owl accompanied me and I told my mother that I'm going to be May queen. Predictably, Mum was over the moon, but I was surprised to discover that she already knew. It later transpired that the parents of the eight nominees decided amongst themselves which one should be selected and the vote was split between myself and Paula Baxter. Brown Owl cast the deciding vote and since it was her initiative that lead to the inclusion of boys, she opted for a boy. “And what's this?” Mum asked when I presented her with the basket of dried flowers.
“I made it.” I replied.
“It's beautiful!” she said. I suspected she was only saying that because it really wasn't that good. “It'll look lovely on your windowsill.” she added.
“I don't want it in my room.” I retorted. “It's for you.”
“Well that's very sweet Peter.” Mum smiled. I felt like such a ninny as we walked home with me carrying the small basket of colourful dried flowers in one hand and my mum holding the other. “Are you going to miss going to Brownies?” she asked.
“A bit.” I replied. “...but I am looking forward to being a Cub again.” I added.
“I bet you are.” she smiled. “And after Monday, it'll all be over... I bet you're looking forward to that too.” she knowingly added.
We arrived home and Mum prompted me to tell my Dad and sister Judy the news. Dad said he was very proud of me and Judy said she couldn't wait to see me wearing a proper dress. “Will he get to keep it afterwards?” Judy asked.
Three words sprang to mind, being 'I hope not'. “Of course!” Mum replied, before showing off the dried flower arrangement I'd made at Brownies. “He's got a new badge too.” she added.
It seemed like a waste of time but Mum insisted that I stitch my new badge to the sleeve of my Brownie uniform. “It'll only take five minutes.” she stated. So I took myself to my room, removed my brown frock and sat in my underwear tacking and stitching the badge on. I felt quite proud that I’d got eleven badges in only a couple of months. It took me well over a year to get that many in Cubs. Once stitched on, I donned my nutty brown frock and returned downstairs. “I'm going to miss having a Brownie around the house.” Mum said after inspecting my new badge.
“Brown Owl did say we could stay if we wanted to.” I informed her, before restating that I can't wait to go back to Cubs. Judy suggested that I transfer all my Brownie badges to my cub scout uniform, which would give me an impressive sleeve full. “I don't want my dancing, shopping and sweeping up badges on my cubs uniform!” I grumbled. “They'll tease me enough as it is after going to Brownies.”
“Well stay at Brownies then.” Mum suggested. I reminded her that I'd rather go back to Cubs.
At school the next day I received the usual handful of taunts from the kids who'd seen me in my Brownie uniform, carrying a basket of flowers “...and holding his mummy's hand!” Carl Bradshaw revealed. I made it clear that I'm no longer a Brownie and would be returning to Cubs the following week. One member of my Cub Scout group told me that I wouldn't be welcome and called me a sissy. Although annoying, such taunts are water off a duck's back to me now. Word had also got around that it'll me who'll be crowned as May Queen, something my teachers claimed I should be very proud of. It's hard to be proud of something I never wanted to do, especially when it garners a certain amount of animosity from my fellow classmates. Some of the boys think I'm becoming a sissy and some of the girls think I’m trespassing on their turf.
On Saturday I endure the final ballet class which feels a bit pointless for me because all I'll be doing is sitting, waving and smiling whilst the others lay bouquets of flowers at my feet. I'm accompanied by both my mother and sister who observe from the side with the other parents. When we first came to Miss Jarowski's School of ballet I was very self conscious about having to wear a leotard and dance tights, but now it doesn't bother me so much. However today is the day we're introduced to our costumes and mine is by far the most elegant! As I'm buttoned into the floor length gown, I feel somewhat envious of the shorter, plainer dresses the others will be wearing. “Now you've got to be very careful Peter...” Brown Owl tells me, “...because it's easy to trip over such a long dress.” She shows me how to lift it when I'm climbing steps or curtseying, and how to arrange when I sit. “And don't forget to keep your knees and ankles together.” she states. “May queen is traditionally a girl so remember to act like one.” I sit on a chair in the centre of the studio whilst the Seven sisters gracefully prance around me. They lay imaginary bouquets at my feet and I'm encouraged to smile and wave for the duration. I can't help but glance at my mother and sister who's beaming grins express the pride they must be feeling. All I feel is embarrassed, but it's far too late to get out of it. Thankfully my mother hasn't brought her camera. She's saving the rest of the film for May Day.
I figured all I'd be doing is sitting and waving, but it soon dawns on me that I'll also have to make a speech. Flanked by my Seven Sisters, I nervously read the words which Brown Owl has written. First, I thank everyone for attending and wish them an enjoyable day. Then I thank everyone who's organised the event and those who are participating. I thank everyone for the beautiful flowers and thank my seven sisters for all their hard work and support, before formerly declaring the May Day celebrations open. I'm encouraged to deliver the speech loudly, confidently and clearly ...and most importantly, with a smile. “And as the crowd applauds, you smile, curtsey left, curtsey right, and curtsey to the front, before sitting on your throne.” Brown Owl instructs.
“Oh god.” I think as I perform the trio of curtseys. I'm given a copy of the speech so I can rehearse it. All of a sudden, I think I’d rather have been one of the seven sisters rather than the May Queen.
Afterwards, Mum tells me that I was 'perfect' but adds that I mustn't sound too nervous on the big day. My sister tells me that I look great in my dress. I tell her that I feel like a dork as she unfastens my buttons. “Well it's how you look that matters.” she replied as I carefully stepped out of the dress and handed it to Brown Owl. I looked myself up and down; pink ballet shoes, white tights and black leotard. I noticed my sister also looking me up and down. “What?” I asked.
“Nothing.” she replied, before telling me that I look 'cute'. I honestly don't know if she's teasing me or being honest, either way... this is the last time I'll have to wear my leotard.
We bid the others farewell and as is the norm, go for lunch in a burger bar. Mum asks if I'm going to miss going to ballet. I tell her that I'm glad it's over. “I thought you were getting into it?” she suggested.
“Not really.” I replied, although I have become used to the routine. “I'll miss going to Brownies more.” I said. My mother reminded me that I don't have to leave Brownies if I don't want to. “I know but I want to go back to Cubs.”
“Why don't you go to both?” my sister suggested. “Brownies on Tuesday, Cubs on Wednesday.”
“That's a good idea!” Mum stated. I wasn't so sure. I don't think I'd be allowed to be a Brownie and a Cub. Mum suggested I ask Brown Owl. I said I might, but was mostly worried about what my classmates would think if I decided not to leave Brownies. Mum changed the topic and said that she's in two minds whether to buy me some new shoes or to dig out an old pair of my sisters. “You've got some white Mary Jane's haven't you.” she stated.
“What do I want shoes for?” I asked.
“To wear with your dress.”
“Won't I be wearing my ballet shoes?” I said, since I wore them in the dress rehearsal. Both my mother and sister told me that ballet shoes aren't suitable for outdoor use. “But you wear ballet shoes for school.” I said.
“I know but they're different.” Judy replied.
“Those Mary Jane's would be nice.” Mum said.
“But they might not fit him.” my sister replied. “Plus... he might not want to spend all day wearing heels.”
“He'll be sat down most of the time.”
“Only for the parade.” Judy stated. “After that he'll be on his feet.”
“Well he wears Mary Jane's for Brownies... he's more than accustomed to the heel.”
“True.” Judy replied.
“Is anyone going to ask what I want?” I groaned. Mum and Judy gave me their attention. “Well...” I began, not really knowing what I want. “...I didn't want to be May Queen in the first place.” I said. “I'm only doing it because everyone tells me I should... and given the choice, I'd rather not wear shoes with heels all day long. It's bad enough wearing them at Brownies.”
“OK.” Mum replied. “We'll have a look for some flat shoes if that's what you prefer.” she said. I frowned and nodded “But you'll have to try them on.” she added.
“I know.” I mumbled.
We finished our meal and headed down the high street. The search for shoes began in John Lewis but the suitable styles were deemed too expensive for just one day. We exited the store and Mum deliberated which shoe shop to try next. Judy suggested the bridal shop, since the style I'm looking for are essentially bridesmaid's shoes, but Mum said they'd be far too expensive in there. “He'll only be wearing them once so lets try Primark.” she suggested.
With a vast selection and inexpensive prices, we soon found something suitable in the discount clothing store. The shoes I ended up with are almost identical to the black ballet style shoes my sister (and many other girls) wear for school, only the ones I ended up with are white and are decorated with a little white bow on the front. Judy got some new shoes too; a pair of lilac baseball style plimsolls with powder pink laces, and once again, the cashier assumed both pairs of shoes were for my sister. “Have you tried these on?” the cashier asked. Mum and Judy nodded and the cashier pointed out that each pair was clearly a different size.
“Oh, er... yes.” my mother sheepishly replied, glancing at me before returning her gaze to the cashier, then she dropped the bombshell.
“I see!” the cashier replied. “You're the talk of the town!” she said. “Are you looking forward to it?”
“I guess.” I gulped. Although more specifically, I'm looking forward to it all being over.
“We're very proud of him.” Mum smiled. “Although he is a little nervous.. aren't you.”
“Very.” I replied.
“I'm not surprised!” the cashier retorted. “But don't let that bother you... my sister was May Queen a decade ago and she was nervous too.”
My mother had previously claimed that everyone who's selected as May Queen gets nervous because it's such a great honour. Maybe she's right. Maybe if I was a proper girl I'd still be nervous? All I know is I'm not a girl and that fact is why I'm crapping myself. The cashier wished me the best of luck on Monday and politely, I thanked her. We left the store and finally made our way home.
Dad asked if I'd enjoyed my ballet class and I half-heartedly told him about the full dress rehearsal and that I have to make a speech too. “It'll all be over on Monday son.” he said.
“Yeah I know.” I mumbled.
Mum showed him the shoes she'd bought me. “I hope these weren't expensive.” Dad said. “He'll only wear them once.” he added.
“Eight quid from Primark.” Mum replied before informing him that she'd bought Judith a new pair of plimsolls too. She was full of airs and graces as she told my dad how pretty and delightful I looked in my dress and claimed that she even felt a little bit tearful. “It's just a dress Mum.” I told her.
“It's more than just a dress Peter.” she stated. I know she's right.
On Sunday, the day before the big day, I felt a bit down. The weather was over cast and so was my mood. In the back of my mind I hoped it'd rain and rain... and rain, and rain... so much so that the May Day parade would be cancelled. Mum asked me why I was being so quiet and I told her the truth. “Do you think Brian and Andrew are as nervous as I am?” I asked.
“Probably.” Mum replied. “I expect the girls are nervous too.” she added.
“I know but... they're used to wearing dresses and everyone's seen them wearing dresses.” I glumly claimed. “Everyone's going to laugh at me.”
“I assure you they won't Peter... and plenty of people have seen you in your Brownie uniform.”
“I know but that's not really nice like my May Queen dress.”
Mum smiled and agreed. “It's nice to hear you admitting that it's nice... you never know, you might even enjoy wearing it at this rate.” she smiled.
“I doubt it.” I gulped.
Later in the afternoon, Brown Owl calls around with my dress. Mum offered her a cup of tea and Brown Owl gratefully accepted. My mother asked me to put the kettle on. “I think I can finally stop for the day now.” Brown Owl said as she pulled out a dining chair and sat herself down.
“Busy day?” Mum asked as she hung my dress from the pantry door. Brown Owl said she'd spent the morning helping to decorate the float and carriage, and has just been delivering the dresses to each of the Seven Sisters, including Brian and Andrew Proctor. “Were they wearing their Sunday dresses?” Mum asked.
Brown Owl smiled and nodded and said they both looked nice. “What were they like?” I asked. I don't know why I asked and didn't really know what to say other than “oh” when Brown described Brian's lime green frock and Andrew's royal blue one.
“Are you looking forward to tomorrow?” she asked.
“Er... yeah I guess.”
“I think he's bit nervous.” Mum said.
Brown Owl said that's understandable and claimed that every May Queen gets nervous. “...even the girls.” she smiled and asked if I'd been practising my speech.
“Yeah... a bit.”
“Good boy.” she replied, “Although I only realised last night that I'd made one glaring omission.”
“What's that?” I asked.
Brown Owl dipped her hand into her handbag and removed a sheet of A4 paper, seemingly identical to the one on which my speech is printed. She handed it to me and asked me to read it aloud. I thank everyone for attending and wish them an enjoyable day. Then I thank everyone who's organised the event and those who are participating. I thank everyone for the beautiful flowers which will be distributed to the local care homes and day centres and thank my seven sisters for all their work and support... “This is the new bit.” Brown Owl said.
“...and I’d like to thank the ladies of the sewing circle for all their hard work making my beautiful dress.” I paused, gulped and glanced at my dress hanging from the door frame. “I hereby announce that the May Day celebrations are open, and wish each and every one of you a wonderful day.”
Mum and Brown Owl clapped their hands. “Very good Peter.” Mum said.
“Yes... excellent.” Brown Owl agreed, before suggesting that after thanking the ladies of the sewing circle for my dress, that I should pause, hold out my skirt and “...do a little curtsey.”
“OK.” I gulped. I re-read the line, mimed holding my skirt out and curtseyed before completing my speech.
“Wonderful!” they declared. I blushed and asked if I really have to curtsey afterwards. “Of course.” Mum claimed.
“But... I'll be curtseying at the end anyway, when I get my round of applause.”
“You'll be curtseying a lot more after that when everyone wants to meet and greet you.” Brown Owl said. “We're expecting a huge turnout... especially now word has got around that this year's May Queen is a boy!”
I bit my lip as a little swarm of butterflies fluttered in my tummy. Brown Owl advised me to throw my original speech away, since I don't want to read the wrong one by mistake and forget to thank the ladies of the sewing circle. Mum asked what the order of play would be tomorrow. I know the May Queen procession begins at 10.30am, but am surprised to hear that I need to be ready by 9.00am. I ask why so early. “Because we need plenty of time to make sure that everything is perfect.” I'm told.
“Why don't you take your dress up to your room ready for the morning?” Mum suggested.
Getting to sleep that night was like trying to sleep on Christmas Eve. The butterflies in my tummy wouldn't cease their fluttering and I feared that I might not sleep at all. But inevitably I did. I peeled my eyes open and the first thing I saw was the dress hanging from my wardrobe. I looked at my bedside clock. It's 6.45am and my alarm is due to go off at 7.30. I'd have liked to have had a lie in but I felt far too anxious. I went downstairs and had Chekkies for breakfast. Mum appeared around 7.00am. “You're up early.” she said.
“Couldn't sleep.” I replied.
“You were fast asleep when I checked on you.” she told me. “Have you had a wash and cleaned your teeth?” she asked.
“Not yet.” I replied.
Mum suggested I do just that whilst she 'gets things ready'. I went to the bathroom and five minutes later, returned to my room where Mum had laid my dress on my bed. I gulped. “Still nervous?” Mum asked. I nodded. “Don't worry... it's just excitement.” she claimed. I know excitement and this isn't it. This feeling is one of fear and dread. “I bought you some nice undies.” Mum informed me. “To wear with your dress.”
Unlike my plain white cotton knickers which have a bit of lacy trim... these are shiny satin with lots of lace. “Er... I guess.” I meekly replied when Mum asked me if they were pretty. “Do I have to wear a bra?” I sheepishly asked.
“It's only a training bra.” Mum replied. It doesn't have cups like a proper bra, just a flat satin panel like a crop top, decorated with a little satin bow and broad lace trim. It's straps are adjustable, just like a proper bra and it also fastens like a proper bra too. Mum helped me into it and adjusted the straps. “How does it feel?” she asked.
“OK.” I gulped.
She handed me the knickers and I stepped into them. I'm no stranger to wearing knickers since I've been wearing them since I joined Brownies, but these are different. Mum smiled whilst I felt myself blushing. I asked for my dress, if only to cover up my underwear. “Not yet love.” she replied, handing me my robe. “I need to do your make-up first.”
“Oh Mu-um.” I whined as Mum took me downstairs and sat me at the kitchen table. “Where's Dad and Judy?” I asked as she put a band around my head to hold my fringe off my face.
“Still in bed.” Mum replied. I glanced at the clock. It's 7.35am. I nervously watched as she began removing various items from her case. “Don't look so worried.” she advised. “Just close your eyes and relax... you're only going to do this once so you may as well enjoy it.”
I closed my eyes and Mum began to gently apply a layer of powder all over my face and neck. It tickled my nose. She told me to keep my eyes closed whilst she applied my eye shadow. Her gentle touch felt really relaxing. I opened my eyes so she could apply some mascara. “Well done.” she said.
“You didn't flinch.” she smiled as she twisted a lipstick. I gulped as its pale pink stick emerged but remained silent as she applied it. “There you are.”
“Can I see?”
“Of course.” Mum replied, handing me a vanity mirror.
“I look like a girl.” I said.
“And so you should.” she grinned. “You are the May Queen.”
“Do I have to get dressed now?” I asked whilst deliberately frowning.
“Not yet... I haven't quite finished.”
I hear footsteps and turn towards the door. It's Judy. She stopped and stared, then smiled and said. “Is Peter still in bed?”
“No.” I coyly replied. Judy asked where 'he' was. I grinned and told her to stop being silly.
“Sorry little bro... you look well cute.” she smiled.
I blushed and turned to face my mother who was removing the lid from a tiny bottle of nail varnish. “Fingers or toes first?” Mum asked. I opted for my fingernails and quizzed why my toenails needed painting too. My shoes aren't sandals so no one will see my toes, I figured. “It's just nice to know they look nice, even if no one else knows.” Mum replied as she began to paint my fingernails.
I remained silent whilst she did the first hand. Just like having my make-up applied, I quite enjoyed the process of being pampered. Mum commented on the colour. “Is it the same colour as my lipstick?” I asked.
“It is.” Mum replied.
“How long does it last for?” I asked.
“Well...” Mum shrugged. “...until you remove it.” she replied before telling me that I could keep it on for a few days if I wanted. I reminded her that I have school tomorrow.
“You could borrow my old uniform.” my sister grinned. I knew she was joking so responded with nothing but a smile and a polite refusal.
I kept my palms pressed flat against the tabletop whilst Mum panted my toenails. She asked my sister what she'd be wearing today and Judy replied with a handful of options including shorts & leggings, a skirt & top and this or that dress. “I think you should definitely wear a dress... seeing as your brother will be.” Mum replied, grinning and winking at me. Once finished, Mum told me not to move so my toenails could dry for a few minutes. “Do you want some scrambled egg or a bacon butty?” she asked. I told her I’d had some Chekkies but Mum said I needed more than that. “You won't get chance to eat anything else until lunchtime.” she stated.
The scent of eggs and bacon must have woken Dad up. He appeared as Judy and I were chomping down a bacon and egg sandwich. I'd more or less forgotten that I was wearing make-up but his presence reminded me. I half expected him to tease me but he didn't. He just smiled and yawned and made small talk as usual. “What time do you need to be at the Village Hall?” he asked.
“Nine.” Mum replied. “So the sooner we get this one dressed the better.” she added as she smiled down on me.
By eight-forty I had my dress on. Mum and Judy kept telling me how nice I looked and I kept saying how silly I felt. Mum led me downstairs. I held my skirt to avoid tripping as I shyly followed. The delicate, almost weightless garment felt like it floated around me. I know I feel like a dork but... my dress does feel special, much more so today than at the rehearsal when I wore it over my leotard and tights. Maybe Mum's right about the 'special' underwear? I glanced at myself as I passed the hallway mirror, but I didn't see my reflection. Instead I caught a fleeting glimpse of a girl with short hair. I might have got way with it if the whole town didn't know that this year's May Queen is going to be a boy. I followed my mother to the kitchen. “Doesn't he look pretty?” she announced as I stepped through the doorway.
“You look fine son.” Dad replied. “We're all very proud of you.”
“Thanks Dad.” I coyly groaned.
“How do you feel?” he asked.
“Like a girl.” I replied. I looked down at my dress, then back at my Dad. “But I guess that's the idea isn't it?”
“It is.” he smiled. “You enjoy it while you can... you've put a lot of time and effort in to today. You should be proud of yourself.”
Maybe I should be proud of myself? I thought. I've endured many weeks of teasing for being part of the parade, but at least I've done something! All they've done is snipe at me. Maybe my teachers are right too... maybe they are jealous?
“Can I get a photograph before we go?” Mum asked, wielding her camera.
“Oh Mu-um.” I coyly replied.
“Here, put your gloves on.” she said, handing me a pair of white lace gloves. I carefully pulled them on and my sister fastened the two mother-of-pearl buttons for me. “OK... stand over there.” Mum said, before taking numerous photographs of me. This one, she declared her favourite and it would later grace the mantelpiece for years to come.
It goes without saying that I was a nervous wreck as we drove the village hall. The gaily decorated flat bed truck is parked outside and Mum asked if the garlands that decorated it were the ones we'd made. “They look very pretty.” she said. “It's hard to believe it's just a truck.”
“It's hard to believe I’m just a boy.” I dryly retorted.
My mother grinned and agreed. “It'll all be over after today.” she said, “Then you can go back to being 'just' a boy again.”
We got out of the car and headed inside. Brian and Andrew were already there, as was Paula. “Peter you look beautiful!” she exclaimed. “It's hard to believe you're really a boy!”
Coyly, I thanked her and said she looks nice too. I turned to Brian and Andrew who also wore make-up and in spite of their short hair, also looked very girlie in their white knee length dresses. Andrew complimented my dress. “Thanks.” I said. Brian remained sheepish and shy. “You OK Brian?”
“Yeah I guess... just looking forward to getting today over with.”
“Listen to them.” my mother said to his. “It's almost as if they're completely elusive to how honoured they are.”
“I know.” Mrs Proctor replied. “But they are only boys after all.”
“True.” Mum agreed. “I'd have thought you'd have been used to wearing dresses by now Brian?”
“I am... I just don't like wearing them in public.”
“You'll get used to that.” his mother told him. “Andrew's not so bothered are you?”
Her youngest son looked up at her with puppy dog eyes and said, “No Mummy.”
“Could I get a photo of all of you?” my mother asked, wielding her camera once more.
“Oh Mu-um.” I moaned.
“I can't let a day like today pass without documenting it.” Mum replied.
Mum assembled the four of us in a group and took a couple of snaps. Brown Owl appeared behind her and said “Big Brownie smiles girls!” in a chirpy tone of voice. Paula's mother was also present. “Don't they all look delightful?” Brown Owl asked her.
Her mother looked at us a frowned. “Well... as you know, I've been against letting boys be involved right from the start.” she replied. She looked at us again and her stern expression softened a little. “But seeing them now, I must admit, they do look rather sweet.” she admitted. “Especially you Brian.” she added.
Mum put her camera away and began chatting with the other adults. One by one, the rest arrived, each wearing the same white knee length frocks and plenty of make-up. I got the feeling that being girls, they were clearly far more comfortable with the whole looking pretty thing than myself or the Proctor boys, but they were also clearly nervous too.
Brown Owl handed out various last minute tasks to our mothers before making sure I and my seven sisters knew exactly what we should be doing throughout the procession. “Right girls!” Brown Owl led us outside to the float and directed us where, and how to sit. The seating was fashioned from bails of hay covered in a canvas tarpaulin and I, being the centre of attention have to sit on the middle bail with my seven sisters around me. “Remember your big Brownie smiles girls, and make sure you're all looking at the crowd, not each other.” she explained. “Peter... you need to grab the attention of both sides of the route... so wave with your left hand to the right hand side, and with your right hand to the left... very good.”
I felt like such a ninny as I sat on the stationary float, smiling and waving to a non-existent crowd. I guess the others did too. Brown Owl told us how we should get off the float when we reach the village green where I'll be crowned. I'm the last to alight and am to be helped down by my sisters in a graceful rather than clumsy manner, taking care not to trip over my long dress. We rehearse this several times before Brown Owl is happy. “Very good girls! Have you got your speech Peter?” she asked. I nodded, showed it to her and assured her that I'd been rehearsing it. “Good boy.” she said. Sometimes I wish she'd make her mind up... one minute we're 'girls' and the next, I'm a boy. I must admit though, I certainly feel more like a girl than a boy today.
We return indoors where refreshments have been made. Mrs Proctor hands out glasses of orange juice. “Thank you Mrs Proctor.” we say, except for Brian and Andrew who both address her as 'Mummy'. My own mother hold a tray full of cup cakes. They address her as Mrs Jackson except for me, who calls her 'Mum'.
“It's a bit weird that you still call her Mummy.” Wendy says to Brian as we chomp into our snack.
“She doesn't like being called 'Mum'.” Brian replied, glancing at me.
“Is it true that you wear dresses every Sunday?” she asked. Brian gulped and nodded. “Why?” Wendy asked.
Brian shrugged. “'coz she likes us to.” he bluntly replied. Ever inquisitive, Wendy asked if they'd always worn dresses on a Sunday. “Nah... it started about a year ago.” he replied. Again, Wendy asked why. “Because she thought I was turning into a bully.” Brian confessed.
“And was you?” Wendy asked, reminding him that he supposedly 'second toughest in the juniors'.
“I dunno... maybe... I don't think I was second toughest but I kinda felt that I had to live up to it.” he replied. “Now everybody thinks I'm the school sissy so I keep my head down.” he gulped.
“I don't think you're a sissy.” Paula said.
“Me neither.” a handful of us added. I pointed out that none of us (myself, Brian and Andrew) chose to be part of the parade and that we're just going along with what our parents want. It quickly transpired that out of all of us, only Paula and Wendy nominated themselves. Janet and Amanda both expressed how they hate wearing dresses and were both coerced by their mothers in to doing something that girls should do. They'd rather go paint balling and get muddy than prance about in a pretty dress.
“You could always do both.” Paula suggested. “I don't mean going paint balling wearing a pretty dress...” she grinned. “...I mean, you can be girlie and do things like paint balling too.”
“I quite like the idea of going paint balling in this.” Janet said, holding out her frock. “I'd never have to wear it again.
“It's not exactly camouflage.” Brian dryly added.
“Yeah but the paint splats would look cool!”
Brown Owl sauntered over and asked if we were all OK, if we were looking forward to the parade, and what we were talking about. She grinned. “I think that's a great idea... although I don't think the ladies of the sewing circle would be too happy.” she collected our glasses and told us that it was almost time to leave. “Now make sure you all go to the toilet before we go.” she insisted.
The girls headed for the ladies and us boys headed for the gents. “How am I supposed to pee in this?” I asked when faced with a urinal.
“Like a girl.” Brian suggested as he headed to the cubicle.
“Oh... Brian.” I said, stopping him in his tracks. “Can you help, please?” I said. I couldn't pee with my lacy gloves on and I can't unfasten the buttons myself, so he unfastened them for me. “Is it horrible having to wear a dress every Sunday?” I asked as he fiddled with the single button.
“It's OK.” he replied. “I hated it at first but... I just got used to it.” He unfastened the other button and said, “I tends to depend on the dress... some are better than others.” I thanked him and removed my gloves. He looked at his reflection and said “This isn't so bad.”
“I prefer yours to mine.”
“Yeah... I hate my socks though.” he said. I looked down at his feet. He wears a pair of ivory Mary Jane's with white ankle socks that feature a frilly lace trim around the ankle. “I'd have preferred tights.”
“I'd have preferred normal socks to these.” I said, lifting my dress up to my knees to reveal my thin white pop-socks.
Andrew exited the cubicle and Brian entered. Eventually it was my turn
I didn't have this issue with my Brownie uniform. I hitched my ankle length dress up to my waist and pulled my knickers down to my knees and sat. “Now I really do feel like a girl.” I thought. I washed my hands and rejoined the others, asking Wendy to help with my gloves. She asked if I was enjoying wearing such a nice dress. “Kind of.” I replied. “I know I'm going to get teased for the rest of my life but... it feels kinda nice being a girl for the day.”
“You're more than just a girl Peter... you're the May Queen.” she said with a broad smile. “...but I must admit, I’m still jealous that it's you and not me.”
“Soz.” I coyly shrugged.
A small garland of daisies was pinned to each of the seven sister's heads. Brown Owl made sure they all looked perfect whilst my mother re-applied my lipstick before we all took our positions on the float. A small crowd had gathered. We waved and they cheered. The engine chugged into life and we began to move... slowly.
Small crowds of people were few and far between on the residential streets, but as the float turned onto the main street, there was a steady line of spectators on each side of the road. I did my job of smiling waving, first to the left, then to the right. The float went no faster than walking pace so it took about twenty minutes to travel a single mile. My arms were beginning to ache from all the waving. My jaw was beginning to ache due to holding a constant smile. Even when I spotted kids from my class and Cub Scout group laughing and sneering at me, I managed to smile and wave. What else could I do?
We eventually arrived at the village green where a small stage had been erected. A brass band played The Lord of the Dance as we alighted the float and made our way to the stage. A mantra was going through my head; smile, wave, don't trip, smile, wave, don't trip. The music stopped and the Mayer took centre stage. He tapped the microphone before welcoming the modest crowd to the annual crowning of the May Queen. “...and I'm proud to introduce Peter Jackson.” A hoard of butterflies erupted in my tummy as I stepped forwards. He took my hand and I curtseyed before waving and smiling at the crowd. “Doesn't she look lovely!” he said, causing half the crowd to laugh. I could feel myself blushing as the throne was moved in to position. I gathered my dress and sat myself down, making sure I kept my knees and ankles together, and making sure that I continued smiling and acknowledging the crowd. The mayor introduced last year's May Queen who stepped forwards and curtseyed, before turning to me, smiling and lifting my crown from a velvet cushion. I gulped as the floral crown of white blooms was lowered on to my head... I've never felt so special before. Everybody clapped and cheered. I stood and a satin sash with May Queen written on it was placed around me, hanging from shoulder to hip, then a large bunch of flowers was placed in my hands. I curtseyed, smiled and waved. The mayor said a few more words before stepping aside.
I stepped up to the mic and fearfully looked at all the faces, forcing myself to at least look happy in spite of the fact I'm as nervous as hell. Brian stepped forwards and took my bouquet. I unfolded my speech, perused the first few lines before speaking into the microphone. It was strange hearing my voice booming out over the Tannoy system. Everyone fell silent as I tried to deliver my speech as best as I could. “...and finally, I'd like to thank the ladies of the sewing circle for making my beautiful dress...” I paused, held out my frock and performed my little curtsey. “...as well as all the dresses my seven sisters are wearing...” I gestured towards them and smiled. I finished my speech and performed my trio of curtseys as the crowd clapped and cheered. Brian handed my bouquet back to me. I waved once more and finally stepped away from the mic and returned to my throne.
The Mayor stepped forwards once more to address the crowds. The main celebration is hosted on the show ground on the outskirts of our small town. There's a traditional fair, stalls, equestrian displays, a mongrel dog show, live music, poetry, all sorts of things going on. He gestures to me once more, states my name and says. “...I hope you'll all give her a big cheer as she leads the procession to the show ground.”
The clip-clop sound of horses hooves drew my attention from the small crowd of spectators. “Oh god!” I thought as my carriage approached. “I'm never going to live this down.”
All eyes were upon me as I approached the carriage. “Smile, wave, knees, don't trip” I said to myself as I cautiously climbed on board with a huge bouquet of flowers in one hand and holding my dress with the other. I sat myself down, looked around and bit my lip. I don't think I've seen such an effeminate space, let alone been in one. The wrought iron sphere has love heart shapes everywhere and some of the paper garlands we'd made hang from its gloss white frame. I look down at my feet and my dainty white satin shoes. I arrange my dress and can't help but feel more than a little bit special. All of a sudden I'm beginning to understand why some girls get giddy over all this 'princess' stuff. "You look beautiful Peter." my mother's voice says, dragging me from my thoughts and back to reality. I gulp and thank her. "Don't forget to smile and wave, and most of all, don't forget to enjoy yourself!" she grinned. I glanced at all the faces that looked in and heeding my mother's reminder, I smiled and waved. The driver climbed on board and the people stepped away. Wendy appeared to be directing the others, putting Brian, Andrew and Paula on one side of the carriage and Janet, Amanda and Claire on the other. The carriage began to move, the crowd clapped, I waved and smiled.
I'd expected more people to have attended the crowning ceremony, but as we made our way to the show ground, it soon became clear that most of the townsfolk were lining the route of the procession. A marching band followed with a troupe of baton twirlers behind, and behind those, morris dancers. On either side of my carriage, the seven sisters did the slow graceful prance that we've been practising each Saturday morning. The seemed to be doing well, although my heart went out to Brian and Andrew having to prance about in such a girlie manner. They received bouquets of flowers, graciously curtseyed and delivered them to me. By the time we were halfway to the show ground, my carriage was filled with god knows how many pungent blooms. My arms were tired from all the waving. My jaw ached from all the smiling, but at least I didn't have to walk the mile-and-a-half route.
Mum, Dad, Judy, Brown Owl, Miss Jarovski and all the other parents greet us when the carriage draws to a halt. About a dozen bouquets had to be removed before I could alight. “Did you enjoy that?” my mother asked. “You look like you did.”
“Oh yes.” I gleefully replied. Brown Owl said I was 'perfect'. “What are we going to do with all these flowers?” I asked as I looked back into my carriage.
“They're going to be donated to the old people's homes and day centres.” Brown Owl replied. “...but it'd be nice if you gave one to each of your seven sisters, since they did such a sterling job of delivering them to you.”
“Yes, of course.” I replied before presenting each with one of the bigger bouquets and thanking them for their help and support. Brian didn't seem too keen on being given a bouquet but he thanked me for it none-the-less. When I gave Wendy hers, she said she was still envious that it wasn't she who'd been chosen as May Queen, but she did say that I'd done just as well as any girl. “Thanks.” I coyly replied. “I still think the May Queen should be a girl though.”
“Oh I wouldn't say that.” she replied. “If a boy enjoys doing girl things then why shouldn't it be a boy?”
“Yeah I suppose.” I replied. I cast my eyes over the faces of my seven sisters, my parents, sister, Brown Owl and our ballet teacher Miss Jarovsky. It's been a jong journey to get this day and I've had new experiences and made new friends along the way. It hasn't been easy but in a lot of ways, it's been worth it. I turn to my carriage and pick another bouquet before stepping towards my sister and handing it to her. “I couldn't have done it without you Judy... you're the best sister ever.”
She took the bouquet in one hand and slung the other around me. “So are you.” she grinned. “...and I hope this isn't the last I've seen of my new little sister.”