I attended an English primary school in the early 1970s. In some ways, it was very progressive but unlike similar schools of its type, it did retain the use of corporal punishment in exceptional circumstances. When I was seven, I managed to be one of those who found themselves in the headmistress’s office in just such exceptional circumstances.
It all started with a boy called Stephen, He was a vegetarian, as was his entire family. You have to remember that in 1970s Britain, this was still a highly unusual state of affairs, particularly in a small Midlands village. So myself and several other boys unmercifully took the piss out of Stephen on many an occasion about his diet.
The trouble came after a lunchtime when we saw Stephen get out his sandwiches. As a rule, these would usually be Marmite (it was sort of a running joke with us) but on this particular day, they were filled with something that looked a bit like cress. “What the hell is that?” I asked. “It’s alfalfa,” Stephen replied.
Well, again that wouldn’t raise many eyebrows today but back in the 70s, it was incredibly exotic! So Stephen had to endure yet another bout of teasing while he ate his lunch. “It looks like grass!” I scoffed. “It’s nice!” Stephen shot back.
A few days, I had what I thought was a bright idea. If Stephen liked grass so much, I would add some to his sandwiches. During break time, I grabbed a handful from the playing field, snuck back into the locker area and grabbed Stephen’s lunch box. This time, his mum had made him Marmite sandwiches again but I just stuck the grass into them anyway.
“What on earth is going on here, Julian?” I spun around, guilt written all over my face, to be greeted by the sight of Mrs Morrison, the head teacher. She had obviously come over to the mobile classrooms to consult with one of the two teachers there and instead found a naughty little boy in the cloakroom area.
She snatched the lunchbox out of my hands and examined my recent efforts at cheffing. “Is this your lunch?” she asked but before I could even answer, she added: “I think you’d better come along with me.” She took me by the hand, and with Stephen’s lunchbox in the other I was paraded through the playground, into the main school and finally shooed into her office.
“Now, Julian, I think we’d better have the whole story.” Looking back, I could have got myself into worse trouble by lying, but at least I had the sense to own up. I stressed that I didn’t dislike Stephen, it was just a bit of fun as far as I was concerned.
In my naivety, I had imagined that my explanation would cause Mrs Morrison to have a good laugh, tell me off a bit and send me on my way. But of course, it didn’t. She became very serious. Mrs Morrison explained to me that the grass I had put on Stephen’s sandwiches might well have had lots of germs on it, that a dog might have done a wee on it, and that Stephen could have been made very ill had he even accidentally eaten a bit. Plus, of course, I had deprived him of his lunch – and remember, this was at a time when a replacement vegetarian meal wasn’t something easily rustled up like it could be today.
“I think it had better be the slipper, young man.” My blood froze in my veins when I heard those words. Then I started to cry and plead for mercy.
“Don’t be so silly, Julian – I don’t suppose this is the first time you’ll have had a smacked bottom.” She was right there at least. Like most children of the time, I was most certainly accustomed to being put across mum or dad’s knee and having my bottom tanned. But that was home, not some awful, formal punishment in school from a relative stranger.
However, I was to have no choice in the matter. “You’ll bend over and take it like a big boy.” Mrs Morrison opened a drawer of her desk and took out an old black plimsoll. It was a child’s size but still able to cover most of my bottom, and was evidently kept especially for the job.
She drew out a chair from a corner of the room. “Take down your trousers and pants, and bend over there,” Mrs Morrison instructed. I felt my jaw drop. I didn’t want her to see my bottom, let alone my willy. I don’t suppose she had official sanction to smack children on the bare bottom but I later found out from several other kids that they too had had their pants taken down for the slipper.
As I hesitated, Mrs Morrison said: “Come on now, quickly – or do you need me to take down your pants myself?” That would have been the final humiliation, so I quickly fumbled my zip down, unbuttoned my trousers and took both them and my pants down in a single move. “Bend!” Mrs Morrison repeated, taking me by the arm and forcing me down with her non-smacking hand firmly in the small of my back.
I felt the slipper being placed against my bare buttocks. It felt massive compared to what I had seen in her hand. Then the rubber sole was taken away and brought back down with an almighty whack, straight across the crack of my bum. I had meant to try not to cry, but gave up all thought of that the moment I felt the incredible burning spread across my rear end.
I was given six of the best, and in retrospect I deserved at least that for my stupidity. After the initial stroke across the centre of my bottom, Mrs Morrison applied the next four on alternating cheeks, before ending with yet another blow which bridged my bottom crease.
At last I was ordered to pull my trousers and pants back up and treated to another few minutes of severe lecturing, which ended with Mrs Morrison telling me that she would be informing my parents of my misbehaviour, and subsequent punishment, the moment I had gone back to class.
Of course, back in those days, in trouble at school meant in trouble at home. Sure enough, Mum ordered me straight to my room, her face a study of disapproval, with the classic threat: “Wait till your father gets home!”
All too soon he did, and about five minutes later, he and Mum came up to my room, Dad carrying the belt. Mum bared my bottom again and held my hands down while Dad administered a brisk leathering across my already sore backside. I was then ordered to bed without any tea, and cried myself to sleep.