Meanwhile back in the UK – Bob-a-job Comes Around

This is a column from the excellent Expatriate Lifestyle magazine. It first appeared in July 2012.

They’re bringing back bob-a-job week! Marvellous! I can’t stop smiling. For those of you who don’t know, the clue’s in the name. During one designated week, Cubs and Scouts knock on neighbourhood doors, and, instead of running away before they are opened, carry out tasks requested of them by the residents. Washing up, tidying, gardening, cleaning windows and the like. And the householders pay them a bob, which is what they used to call a shilling; 5p in today’s money. It was called a bob because of the way the value of the currency kept going up and down. Or something.

Anyway, that’s not the point. The point is they are bringing it back, and it pleases my heart to see it. It is a long overdue return to the community values which we used to hold so dear. One can argue that it is Mr Cameron’s Big Society in practice. One could go so far as to state that it represents a reconnection with the bedrock of the traditional British way of life that underpins this great country. But one would be overlooking the most obvious and fundamental factor in its favour; it represents the long awaited chance for me to get my revenge.

I was a Cub Scout. I attended meetings on a Tuesday evening, despite having to miss “Bewitched” in order to do so. (And this was in the days before video recordings. My mother used to make a series of sketches of the show and relate the narrative to me when I got home. It wasn’t the same.) I strove to get badges, like Cooking and Camp-fire Starting, but since my very best effort still required at least two of the emergency services – the police were just vindictive overkill in my view – I ended up only with Attendance, which commemorated no more than an inability to formulate persuasive excuses. And every year, for bob-a-job week, I submitted myself to the whims of elderly neighbours who, in the guise of harmless octogenarian women, were clearly sadistic, Scrooge-like harridans. There was one – her name, if I recall, was Evans, Obergruppenführer Evans – who said that she had specifically saved a bit of gardening for me to do. God knows how long she had been saving it, but I was not a small child, and I felt like I’d walked onto the set of “Honey I Shrunk the Kids”. Madame de-Sade wanted this wilderness cleared. By me. In a week. For a bob. It seemed to me that most of the bobbing would be that of my head appearing periodically above the elephant grass as I jumped up and down in an attempt to find out where the hell I was.

I don’t know what it is now, but the Scout Code then was that we would “Do Our Best”. It was not, sadly, that we would pithily inform our neighbours exactly what they could do with their giant yucca plant and, by way of mitigation, advise that a combination of doc leaves and Preparation-H were the best way of dealing with the resultant condition.

So I did my best. But I swear it was only the fact that bob-a-job week had an unarguable eponymous time limit that stopped the old bat getting a complete home makeover. The whole experience left me, you might say, somewhat traumatised, and not a little bitter.

Bob-a-job week was cruelly cancelled before I got to own my own front door, but now they’re bringing it back, and the jack-boot is on the other foot. I have immediately downed tools on everything that needs to be done around and about the house, to the consternation of Mrs J., who is threatening to stay with her sister until the whole sordid episode is over. Now I await the presence on my doorstep of a bunch of fresh-faced, eager Cub-Scouts, the light of anticipated philanthropic endeavour shining in their innocent, unsuspecting little eyes. Oh, have they got a surprise coming! It won’t do them any harm, though. Hard work is good for the young, and they will probably turn out as well-rounded contributory members of society, just like me. And contribute, I will. They’ll get a bob each.

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