Welcome to the planet of Blanket, complete with hand-stitched and lined extensions, hand holes and the all-important gravitational field!
Those people who follow me on Twitter will see me talking about my blanket quite a lot, because it's a huge part of me. I honestly believe that camp blankets reflect our lives in more ways than one - they are a physical accumulation of our experiences but also reflect us in our arrangement of our badges and novelties.
Another thing that I love about blankets is that a good blanket has a story before you even sew on the first badge. For my original blanket (the middle section), I got my uncle's old one from when he was a Scout. My grandparents took off his badges and gave it to me when I was ten, something really special because he had not long died at that point. It belonged to someone else in the family before him too. But not everyone's blanket is old, it may be that it was an official Brownie blanket bought as a gift by someone close, or maybe the act of finding the perfect blanket was arduous. Or it could be that you bought the fabric and sewed the entire thing yourself. I know a Guide unit who went on camp and made their own first camp blankets... a good blanket has a story and a connection.
Because a camp blanket, ultimately, is about love and about you. There are no two identical camp blankets on this planet, and rightly so - because no two people are the same. I often think that dating would be much easier if we all wore our blankets on the first date - we could instantly see what we had in common and it's a great discussion starter!
I wanted to show off every badge on my blanket, because every single one has a story. Even the random swaps and things have connections with those people, even the fundraising badge I bought from the lovely Kirsty was an absolute pig to sew on and sort of became a funny blanket addition for that reason alone! However, realistically, no-one is going to read through over four hundred badge pictures and stories, so I've just chosen some of the most special ones to me. Some are from when I was a child, some from my experience as an adult, but these are probably my most treasured items on there.
This is my service flash from when I was a Guide. We either had to do forty hours of service in the community or regularly for six months (though I may have got those figures wrong). I don't know quite what prompted me to do it, but I'm so glad I did. I spent a year working every Monday evening in the children's section of my local library, shelving books, recovering them, cleaning them, all sorts of things. It was a wonderful experience for a 12 year old!
Also a Guide badge, this was the arts and crafts emblem. To get an "emblem", you had to do at least five badges from a set themed list. No-one really got emblems in our unit and I fell in love with this one, so I identified all the badges I could do and went through them one by one. I did musician, band, writer and I'd have to look closely at my blanket for the others. I was so proud of this one and still am!
It's a set of four badges this time, because I couldn't really choose between them. Our unit leader always laughs at me because when pointing out favourite badges, these are almost always the four I gravitate to. These are the Guide interpreter badges, as were. They used to be staged and I worked so hard to get them. I did different stages in different languages (yes, I was a show off even then) and I used to panic at speaking in front of other people, so it was a fight to gain enough confidence to do this! I still remember sitting in the classroom at school with my teacher who said she'd never heard me speak so much French (or German or Dutch!). I did stages three and four a little later, when I was a Young Leader - the beauty of staged badges was that you could start as a Brownie and finish later stages when you were in Senior Section; real skill progression!
Not a badge this time, but a McDonald's Happy Meal toy! I have two of them sewn on my blanket and they're a little reminder of my days as a Young Leader with Guides. We had a brilliant weekend in London in 2000, staying at BP House and we even went to the Millennium Dome for the day. We ate at McDonalds twice, and so I still have the toys which I've sewn on. I think they're probably the Brownies' favourite thing on the blanket!
Though I was pressured by my district to leave Guiding in 2002, I sort of rejoined in 2004. But not in the "traditional" way. When I moved to Germany, I was determined to immerse myself in the local culture and improve my German by actually making friends and integrating. So instead of joining BGIFC, I joined the Rovers / Rangers of my local DPSG, and this was the badge. I never got a uniform, but wore a grey necker (because I was over 18). It was a really strange experience, coming from UK Guiding!
Onto adult experiences now (but not like THAT- heads out the gutter!) and this was a thank you badge from the leader of a local Senior Section unit. She had been messed about and was desperate for a second leader for her camp so it didn't fall through. I was terrified, because I hadn't been camping since I came back from Germany in 2005 and the thought of no lockable doors sent me into blind panic. I survived the weekend and, not only that, but the Senior Section unit is now my lovely group that I took over that September!
Again, a little bit of a cheat as I've chosen a section of my blanket (and not all of it is shown on here). These are my badges from Roverway 2012 in Finland. Well, the official contingent badges rather than random swaps. It became my mission to try and get a badge from every contingent and I pretty much did it. The Spanish contingent had multiple badges and I didn't get all of the variations, the Icelandic contingent ran out of badges whilst on paths, so had none left by the time they got to the site, and the Italians were only given a badge for their uniform and were banned from swapping. I came up with a really productive system whilst serving dinner (I was on catering); If they had badges, they left one of theirs and picked up one of mine. That way, I got to see and speak to everyone! I became a little bit badge obsessed, sadly. Finland was also special as it was my first Guiding international, and had me in the middle of some woods for almost two weeks. And not a proper panic attack at all! Was so proud of myself.
This, again, is not actually a badge as such, but it was a special memory and made of fabric, so it got stitched on. In December 2012, I was lucky enough to be one of 25 women attending WAGGGS Europe's Stop The Violence seminar in Belgium. On the last day, we got to visit the European Parliament in Brussels and have a talk from a female MEP about the Istanbul convention and the importance of advocacy in VAWG. It was a great experience, and I wanted to keep this as a reminder.
This summer, I took part in the Soroco Speak Out blog competition. My entry was about violence against women, particularly sexual violence and based on the work I did in Belgium. It was a difficult and personal entry to write and record, and marked a certain step in both my own journey and the advocacy one. Each entrant to the competition was given a set of the Soroco badges, which are immensely special to me. In fact, when asked, I described these as the most important badges I've ever earned.
This last badge also marks something brilliant. My Senior Section unit had been desperate to volunteer at the local women's centre for a long time now, and we finally got to go and repaint the kitchen and one of the counselling rooms upstairs, used by the Nottingham Rape Crisis Centre. Whilst there, they got a talk by the helpline supervisor and also did several Girls In Action activities to complete the badge. I was so proud of their maturity, involvement and passion, and the ladies at the centre feel the same way. I never thought I'd actually have the strength to go in with them and have these discussions, do this work, but I did and - given everything they learnt that day - I know it was a challenge well faced!
Some people say I couldn't possibly remember every badge on there or the story behind it. Admittedly, I don't remember a lot about most of my Brownie or Guide badges. But my camp blanket is a tapestry of me. It's my friends, my journeys, my camps, my interests and hobbies. For me, my blanket isn't restricted to Guiding, but those are often the memories I treasure most.