Scouting for boys in the rutting season

Mike Gerrard came across a copy of Rovering to Success, which contained all the advice a 1920s woggle-wearer needed to help him face the fair sex
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If he smokes or talks about football, he's out. The woman who said that in this column recently might like to add another caveat when sifting through the replies to her personal ads. Was he in the Boy Scouts? If so, watch out. Especially during the rutting season.

The Good Lord's advice - and I speak, of course, of Baden-Powell - is contained in his book Rovering to Success, which may have been published in 1922 but goes a long way to explaining why it might be wise to avoid any man who has ever donned a woggle. The book's sub-title is A Book of Life-Sport for Young Men, and it is intended as a personal and philosophical guide through the traumas of growing up into a mature and happy man, using the precepts of Rovering and the Scout movement as its basis. Or, as the author more graphically explains it: life is like a canoe-ride, and the book offers some piloting hints in dealing with the various hazards you might encounter when paddling through your life-ways.

There are five chapters, each dealing with a different "rock" on which a young lad might bash his canoe. These are Horses, Wine, Women, Cuckoos and Irreligion. The horses, cuckoos and the rest will have to wait for another time, while we concentrate for now on how to negotiate those tricky rapids that occur when man meets woman.

It seems that all the problems arise, really, from just one phenomenon. This is - not to put too fine a point on it - the rutting season. Baden- Powell paints a stirring picture of the goings-on in the animal kingdom at this time of year, with the noble stags battling for possession of their hinds: "They seem to go off their heads for a time," he explains, "running hither and thither, restless and excited, for weeks unable to settle down for food or to sleep till utterly worn out." The parallels seem obvious, particularly when we are reminded that it is not only in the animal kingdom where the brightest plumage is worn in the mating season. What about those young mashers, the author reminds us, with their "pink socks, fancy ties and well-oiled hair"? You only need to visit a City wine bar in the early evening to know what he means, and to see that it's not just the hair that's well-oiled.

Baden-Powell points out, though, that there is one extremely important difference between the rutting season of the stags and the rutting season of man. To the stags this period of sexual excitement happens once a year, whereas for the human male it only has to be endured once in a lifetime, when he is growing from boyhood to manhood. The OED describes rutting as "the fact of being in, or passing into, a state of (periodic) sexual excitement", so if that no longer applies you can rest contented in the knowledge that at last you are a man. Or possibly a woman, who seem to be untroubled by such matters.

The author explains that the "rutting season is a very upsetting time, and it troubles some fellows to an alarming amount of depression or excitement, which often lasts for several months." But - and here is the worrying part - "in occasional cases it goes on for a few years".

But what is the cause of this aberration, which Baden-Powell identifies as the time when a lad's muscles become hardened, his organs develop and hair grows where it didn't grow before? It seems that it's all down to fluid. This fluid forms in a young lad's body at childhood and ripens as he grows, until, at the time of impending manhood, it has spread throughout his entire body. This fluid is called "semen", and it also soaks its way into the sex organs where it has a special function: a kind of semen's mission. It carries the seeds by which the miracle of life comes to pass: "It is just the same miracle that you see carried out daily when your hen lays an egg." On occasion, though, the semen forms itself a little too rapidly and may seep out in the night. Fear not, as the author assures us this is just the "natural overflow". Nature's ball-cock in the cistern. "But don't try and bring it on for yourself," he warns: "that would be straining and draining it out of your system. Keeping the organ cleaned and bathed in cold water every day is the best preventive."

The situation is made worse by what the author describes as "Herd Bravado", when "young fellows in the rutting stage are apt to get together to tell smutty stories and look at lewd pictures". Such loose companionship means that whereas the rutting period would normally be over in a few months at the most, "many a fellow gets into the habit of immorality with women or self-abuse with himself, which then goes on after the rutting season is over and when he has grown into manhood". This Herd Bravado, then, is certainly not something to be encouraged. How much better to follow the author's wise advice and seek alternative pursuits, such as joining the Boy Scouts.

It is through the Scouts, after all, that men are likely to meet their ideal marriage partner: a Girl Guide. Lord Baden-Powell tells the story of being in a Rovers' Den one day when one of the members was being showered with congratulations on announcing his engagement to a Girl Guide. Two other chaps then chipped in with the information that they, too, were engaged to Girl Guides.

"I see promise in this," the author states. "You get wives in this way who can be better pals. I feel certain that if I came to visit you in your home later on, when thus mated, I should find not only a happy home but a clean one; for the premises of campers would not be lumbered with piles of old tins, scrap-iron, and other rubbish."

So there you are. If you don't want a living room lumbered with old tin cans, marry a Boy Scout. Though you'd better check first whether his rutting days are over or not.

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