I attended a primary school in the 1950s, where a tyrant of a headteacher ruled with a long, three-tailed tan-coloured tawse. On my first day, at the age of seven, I joined the rest of the school to witness a boy being given four strokes on each hand for stealing sixpence. This frightened me, as I had never seen or heard of this punishment implement before.
Although tawsings were commonplace, I was never a victim and started to get rather cocky. In my last year, at the age of 11, I had a female teacher who often smacked us. Sometimes, boys were sent to the headteacher for the tawse. On one occasion, the head had to go out of the school and left the tawse on our teacher’s desk, with instructions to beat any boy sent to her.
We were often trusted to get on with our work unsupervised and during the afternoon, our teacher left the room to tawse a boy in the corridor.
We immediately stopped work and started flicking paper about; some of us used elastic band catapults. I was unfortunate enough to hit a girl on the side of the face with a piece of paper bent round an elastic band and projected across the room. I begged her not to tell the teacher, but as she walked back in with the tawse, my victim told her what had happened.
For the first time in my life, I was called to the front of the class amongst a great deal of giggling. The teacher picked up the tawse and lectured me on my stupidity for what seemed like ages. It was going through my mind that I might get two strokes on each hand and that they wouldn’t hurt because it was a woman. To my shock, she pronounced: “Four on each hand. Hold out your right hand!”
I held out my hand at a right angle to my body and waited. Instead of the tawse being held in one hand and being brought down from over her shoulder, my teacher held the strap with both hands, almost as if she was chopping wood. The crack of the leather seemed deafening and then the burning pain reached my brain. Just as the pain died down the second stroke came. I held my breath for the third and fourth, and my teeth were clenched tight.
“Other hand!” she demanded. The sequence was repeated with the same severity. “Back to your seat and get on with your work,” she finally said.
I returned to my seat, determined never to get the tawse again – and, thankfully, I didn’t.