Corporal punishment was banned in London schools in 1981 — and 1987 in the rest of the country — which was a bit late to be of any good to me as during my school life I was hit by several teachers with a variety of implements.
I was caned twice at Primary School, I don’t remember the reason for one of them but the other was for an impromptu game of football a mate and I had in the playground (when we should have been in class) with some rolls of toilet paper we had nicked from the boy’s loo. We left the playground covered in a web of unrolled toilet paper and on our way up to class, chuckling over what a laugh we’d had, the stairway was blocked by the figure of our Headmistress Miss Bates who had seen everything we’d done from her office window overlooking the playground. Oops. We should have thought of that.
My vague memory of Miss Bates is of a rather stern middle-aged woman with her hair in a bun like some uptight old spinster, and she was red-faced and fuming when she ordered us into her office. There she proceeded to give us a lecture on our bad behaviour, then asked us to hold out our hands and gave us each six hard thwacks on the palm with her cane.
I was only nine years old at the time. I didn’t cry but I do remember it stinging really bad and the quick, whip-like swoosh sound the cane made.
The Headmaster at my Secondary School didn’t go in for caning but some other teachers there had their own individual methods of physical punishment. Our RE teacher Mr. Busby would hit kids over the head with his very big Bible for talking in class (oh, the symbolism: a Religious Education teacher hitting you with the Word of God) and the music teacher Mr. Rogers used to throw blackboard erasers at misbehaving boys. He often bragged about his prowess at this, claiming he could bounce the eraser off a wall and hit you in the back of the head with it. Rogers caned me on the back of the leg once too (for eating sweets in class, I think), but the cane broke and when the whole class laughed he got annoyed and made me stand in the corner facing the wall which, even in the 1970s, seemed like a ridiculously archaic kind of punishment.
Our PE teachers were all bastards of course, not above kicking you if you were lagging behind in a cross country race, and there was one who was a particularly vigourous user of the slipper — one time I saw him take a run-up of about 10 feet before whacking a boy on the backside with his infamous white plimsoll. Turns out he was a bit too vigourous, after I left school I heard he’d been sued by the parents of a boy he hit so hard he made his arse bleed.
It all sounds very brutal and cruel now, like stories from the Dark Ages when kids were forced up chimneys, but it was just one of the (metaphorical) punches you rolled with at school back then and I don’t mean to make a big, woe-is-me deal out of it. It’s just the way it was, and for some kids being caned was often a badge of bad-boy honour — something to be proud of — and preferable to the alternative like detention.
No doubt schools shouldn’t be in the business of hitting children and some kids suffered from genuinely abusive teachers (like the PE variety with plimsolls), but those canings I had at Primary School only left a mark on my hand, not my delicate young psyche. I hate to use the dreaded phrase “it never did me any harm” (probably didn’t do me any good either) but if anything at school gave me psychological scars it was the everyday abuse doled out by other boys who decided they wanted to pick on me or humiliate me in some way, or the PE teachers who treated you like a useless worm if you weren’t sporty. I still hate those bastards, but I have no problem with Miss Bates.
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