Guides on Parade 1,231 words I watched, as hundreds of pairs of feet arranged themselves neatly in rows of four, uniforms all clean and ironed, badges earned sewn carefully along sleeves. I counted the rows in our pack, ten. All forty guides were on parade. I proudly walked to the front of the pack. Parades didn’t happen often, maybe three or four times a year, and the pack awarded the privilege of carrying the troop colours in turn. I would walk at the head of our pack alongside Sophie, our mascot. Most packs didn’t have mascots, but we did. I saw Megan walking from the car park with Sophie close by her side. Our mascot looked stunning. Sophie was well known by the other packs of guides and they moved apart for Megan to take her place alongside me at the head of our pack, with our black miniature Shetland pony mascot between us. The marching band at the head of the parade began to make noises as they tuned their instruments and we took this as a sign we would soon be parading through the village streets. Today was the annual summer fayre and we would walk from the church hall, where we met each week, to the meadow at the other side of the village. There would be a fun fair and food stalls, a dog show and best cake competition. Everyone turned out for the annual village fayre. Megan looked nervous as she clutched hold of Sophie’s rein, and I wondered if the pony had been a little mischievous while Megan had been getting her ready for the parade. The little pony was known for her naughty antics, she would often play up to get attention from the other girl guides. She would nibble at their uniform sleeves, eventually chewing a hole if the wearer did not respond quickly enough with a stroke of her ears or a biscuit. Dancing had been interrupted on more than one occasion when Sophie decided to join in and accidentally stepped on a few feet, other than her own. Today was an extra special day for Megan. It was her tenth birthday and she was graduating from brownies. She had left her well-worn brownie uniform at home and today she wore her new blue guide uniform for the first time. Her mum had taken the obligatory new uniform photo and would take many more throughout the day. Megan on her own by the front door. Megan and Sophie on the front lawn. Flash, the camera clicked once more, Megan with Sophie at the head of the parade. “Do we look okay?” Megan never got used to being at the head of the parade even though Sophie seemed to love the attention. “You both look great. Happy birthday, by the way,” I continued, “Mum’s done a cake for the baking contest and she’s put ten candles on it, so we can have some birthday cake after the parade. She said Sophie can have a piece too.” The sound of the band leader calling the parade to attention drifted back to us and we faced front and began to mark time, left, right, left, right on the spot, just as our pack leader had taught us. I lifted the flag and slid the flagpole into the leather holder that hung from my shoulder. The weight was always a surprise at first, but it soon felt comfortable and I gripped the corner of the flag to prevent it flapping about in the light breeze. After a few moments, it was our turn to start walking forward and Sophie’s hooves clip-clopped in time to the large bass drum at the head of the parade. Megan stayed close to her, keeping the rein tight, but she needn’t have worried today, Sophie behaved impeccably. Through the little village we walked, proud as could be, as our mums and dads, friends and strangers all lined the route and joined in the walk behind us. It was the sort of day I used to read about in Enid Blyton books, I’m six years older than my sister Megan, so I don’t read Famous Five books anymore. Once we reached the fayre we waited to be dismissed and then I took hold of Megan’s arm and, along with Sophie, we went to find mum eager to see if she had won the cake contest. “Judging isn’t until later,” she told us. “We have to leave the cakes here in the tent and come back in half an hour. Come on, we can get an ice-cream while we wait. Let’s tether Sophie by the hedge and she can have a rest. She’s probably hungry after her official duties, so let’s give her the carrots you have in your bag, Megan.” Leaving Sophie chomping away on her carrots we wandered arm in arm through the field. We got our ice-creams and stood by the dog show. After half an hour had passed, mum said she wanted to go and check if the judging was finished and walked back towards the cake tent. Megan and I decided to check out some of the other stalls on our way back to mum. There was a falconry display by the show ring and I went over to ask if Megan could hold one of the birds, as a surprise for her birthday. There were several birds and she chose to hold the gorgeous barn owl. She was very calm, even when it fluttered its wings in her face as it settled on her hand. Her face was so happy, I took a photo on my mobile phone, to give to mum for her album. Suddenly, I was aware that mum was by my side, looking all hot and bothered but trying to be quiet so as not to scare the owl. Now, I know this is the part of the story where you expect me to say that my mum didn’t win the cake contest because Sophie had got loose, had got into the cake tent and eaten all the entries, but I’m not, this isn’t an Enid Blyton story after all. No, mum was looking all hot and bothered because she had carried the cake across the field with the candles lit and she had been worried they would blow out before she reached us. We all started to sing Happy Birthday, but very quietly, so we didn’t scare the owl. So you see, Megan’s tenth birthday was a great day for the whole village, but a very special day for her. You see, Megan hadn’t seen anything of the day, she had been blind from birth, but had always had Sophie by her side to guide her. There was a real relevance for Megan reaching the age of ten, she had always needed a guide, and now she herself was one. You see Sophie wasn’t just Megan’s pony, nor just the pack’s mascot. Sophie was a guide pony and, since Megan was a baby, she had been her best friend, her confidence and her companion. We had chosen Sophie as our mascot when Megan joined our brownie pack so that they could still do everything together. Now, it’s time to take Sophie her piece of birthday cake. Megan and I took her the piece with the number 10 in pink icing on it.