Whilst my younger sister Charlotte could be unashamedly disobedient, defiant and downright naughty, I can honestly say that I tried my very best to behave myself as a child. I think this was largely because my parents’ praise and approval was hugely important to me, while Charlotte seemed not to care about this so much, or indeed at all!
While avoiding the pain and humiliation of being told off or smacked was obviously a big factor, in many ways avoiding parental disapproval was an equally big motivation for me to behave myself. Mum in particular could have my tummy in knots and tears of shame running down my blushing face just from her pursed lips and disapproving glare. It would be at that point that she would probably say something like: “Oh, Laura! You’re supposed to be setting a good example for your little sister. You’ve let me down with your behaviour.”
So it was that most of my own smackings were for misunderstandings or silly mistakes rather than intentional naughtiness.
One striking example of this came when I was seven years old. While this was a very severe smacking, in the years that followed I received one or two more that were even worse. However, this one sticks in my brain so vividly (25 years later) due to the frankly ridiculous circumstances, and the fact that it came in the midst of a very difficult period of time that is seared into my consciousness.
My dad had moved out of the family home some months prior, and had immediately moved in with one of the district nurses from the local health centre, where he worked as a GP.
As a naive child, I remember thinking that it was nice that Daddy had found a new girlfriend so quickly, happily oblivious to their obvious affair until it was pointed out by an older cousin a few years later.
The strain of this infidelity and divorce proceedings, paired with the stress of single-handedly looking after two small children for five days out of seven, did nothing for Mum’s already very short temper. Charlotte and I often found our bums paying the price for this.
A few weeks after my father left, when we realised he was gone for good, bedtimes became very difficult. Looking back, it’s clear that this sudden change in behaviour was because Dad used to be the one to read us a story and tuck us in, but at the time I couldn’t explain why I suddenly found myself compelled to disobey Mum by getting out of bed several times each night.
Because of these frequent disruptions to the bedtime routine, Mum finally adopted a ‘zero tolerance’ approach. Teeth were to be brushed, cups of water collected and bladders emptied before lights out (7pm for Charlotte, 7.30 for me). Anyone found out of bed after this time would get five or seven firm smacks (one for each year of our respective ages), with Mum accepting no excuses for any infractions.
On the night in question, I found myself unable to get to sleep, due to the uncomfortable pressure of a full bladder. I couldn’t understand it – I had done a wee just before lights out but now, not even 30 minutes later, I felt the all too familiar sensation of desperately needing to urinate. Lying in bed, I started to realise that holding it in until morning would be nigh on impossible.
I distinctly remember lying there (my eyes still screwed shut in faux sleep, in case Mum came in to check on me), running through the options in my head. I recall feeling increasingly trapped by my predicament, as each potential solution seemed worse than the last.
If I was caught out of bed after lights out, Mum would never accept my excuse that I needed to use the toilet, and seven firm smacks were guaranteed to come my way.
Worse, if she thought that I had just not bothered using the toilet before bed, or that I was lying about needing the loo to excuse being out of bed, then I might get even more smacks for being disobedient or for telling lies.
If I called her to my bedroom to explain my predicament, the same risks applied – along with the fear of being in a whole lot more trouble if my shouts woke Charlotte, or if Mum was cross that I was still awake. Yet my pride (even at my young age) just wouldn’t allow me to knowingly wet the bed. I felt hopelessness rising in me, with the realisation that there was no way out of my situation.
Then I had what was (to my seven-year-old brain) a lightbulb moment. I remembered the previous year being in my father’s surgery and seeing the grey cardboard bowls that Charlotte and I were messing around with, pretending they were silly hats.
When I asked why dad needed all those cardboard bowls, he laughingly explained that they were in fact called bedpans and some patients used them to catch their wee so that it could be tested for bugs.
Feeling very proud of my ‘eureka moment’, I crept out of bed to find a suitable container for my own wee. Then I could simply empty it down the toilet in the morning, and mum would be none the wiser. I figured she would never hear me, seeing as I wouldn’t be venturing out onto the landing.
I quickly chose my bright pink conical wastepaper bin, which I had so excitedly chosen by myself on a previous trip to IKEA. Initially I tried to sit on it like a toilet but the rim dug into the backs of my thighs. What’s more, I felt frightened that the opening was too big and I would fall in and get my bottom stuck.
So I decided to squat above it, and after removing my pale purple ‘Beauty and The Beast’ pyjama bottoms, I straddled the bin, squatted down and began to wee. The relief of emptying my bladder, as well as the hilarious idea of getting one’s bum stuck in a wastepaper bin, suddenly set me giggling.
Between the sound of my wee gushing against the hollow plastic bin and my stifled giggles, I didn’t hear Mum enter my room. I bet that when she opened the door (seemingly alerted by the sound of my feet on the old house’s squeaky floorboards), she would never have predicted she would see her eldest child, legs akimbo over a wastepaper bin, happily urinating whilst giggling to herself.
“Laura!” Mum’s shocked exclamation snapped me from my reverie, interrupting my stream of consciousness, as well as my stream of urine. I automatically jumped up from my position over the bin and in my haste I got my legs tangled it. I knocked it on its side, spilling the contents in an incriminating dark puddle over my cream bedroom carpet.
Mum dashed across the landing, returning within seconds with a hand towel from the bathroom, as well as a wad of toilet paper. As she dabbed the carpet with the towel in an effort to soak up the spilled urine, I stood in stunned silence, the dregs of my wee pathetically dribbling down my legs.
My tummy seemed to repeatedly yo-yo from high in my chest right down to my bottom, feeling like it did in the car when we went down a particularly steep hill. My heart was pounding in my chest so violently that I was reminded of a cartoon I had once seen on TV where the character’s heartbeat was depicted as an entire heart rhythmically protruding and receding several inches from his ribcage with each beat.
I stood trembling for a few seconds, feeling the rage silently radiating from Mum, even as she was kneeling down with her back to me.
“Mummy, I…” I started to try to explain myself but was quickly cut off by Mum whipping her head round to face me. “Wipe!” she hissed, thrusting a wad of toilet paper towards me.
The look on her face killed any residual hope that I could explain my way out of the situation. I was in for the worst smacking of my short life. All of the dread and shame and fear I had been desperately suppressing came flooding out, and I began bawling as if I had already been smacked.
“Wipe!” mum barked, clearly unmoved by my sobbing. I reached down and wiped any residual wee from my front bum (as we called it when we were little), as well as the drops that had dribbled down my inner thighs.
I was gulping for air, desperately trying to calm myself down, as my whole body heaved with sorrowful sobs. I felt so foolish for ever thinking my plan was a good one. “Sorry!” I wailed out loud, mainly to Mum but partially to myself, apologising to us both for having been so stupid.
“You needn’t think your hysterics will work on me, young lady,” Mum said. “The money for the carpet shampoo will be coming out of your pocket money.”
This produced even louder sobs – not for my pocket money, but for the knowledge that my stupidity had given Mum all this trouble. I wasn’t sure what carpet shampoo was, but I felt racked with guilt and shame that my actions had necessitated it.
My little tummy and chest visibly shook under the fabric of my pyjama top, as my entire body shuddered with shameful sobs.
“I’ll give you something to cry about, madam,” snapped Mum, quickly rising from the ground and turning to face me. I must have looked a pathetic sight: standing there bare from the waist down, my red, tear-stained face contorting with sobs, one of my balled-up fists clutching the damp toilet paper.
Mum tightly grabbed the top of my arm and dragged me over to my bed. The duvet was still pulled back from where I had exited a mere five minutes ago. How things had changed since then!
I heard the springs in the mattress creak as Mum sat on the small single bed, still retaining her vice-like grip around my upper arm. She roughly pulled me across her knee and immediately began smacking my bum with all the force she could muster.
The sound of her hand sharply slapping my bare buttocks reverberated around the room, as she smacked me over and over again. I squirmed and wriggled, desperately trying to escape the barrage of hard smacks sorely raining down on my little bare bum and legs.
I can remember the confusing feeling of the friction between my soft skin and the rough fabric of mum’s trousers, as I frantically writhed around on her lap. However, the main sensation I remember feeling was the rising pain and heat in my bum and legs, which seemed to be radiating from deep inside my body, all the way to the outside and back in again.
My shuddering sobs had developed into a continuous wail of anguish, as I felt the worst pain of my little life. Clearly fed up with my constant squirming, mum clamped her right leg on top of my legs. She simultaneously grabbed both of my flailing arms with her spare hand, holding them together at the wrists and pushing them tight against my lower back, holding me down much more effectively than her usual arm hooked round my waist means of restraint.
Her smacks came with renewed fervour, communicating her annoyance at having to pin me down in such a way. My inability to wriggle away allowed (or rather forced) me to feel the full pain of every single smack that struck my little bare bum and legs.
I couldn’t see anything for all the tears flooding my eyes. I could no longer even consciously hear the sharp slapping noises or my own howling. No more could I feel my emotional turmoil of shame and regret. The whole world had melted away. All that was left was my blazing bottom, and the burning agony being inflicted upon it.
Eventually Mum stopped smacking me, coldly pushed me from her lap on to the bed and walked out of the room. My little hands clutched my bottom as I bawled and wailed. Eventually my surroundings gradually came into focus once more, although the room still seemed to vibrate and blur in time to the pulsating throbbing in my bum and legs.
My wailing turned to great, racking sobs before eventually dissipating into low level whimpers and cries. Still my face was soaking wet with fresh tears and snot as I dragged myself up the bed and buried my face in my pillow, crying myself to sleep.
When I woke up the next morning I was still on my tummy, with my bare bum still aching and throbbing. I can remember Charlotte laughing at me having to eat my Coco Pops standing up, although her giddiness at her big sister having been well skelped was replaced with horror when I later let her see my bum, still beetroot red and glowing hot from the night before.
While I agree I did deserve to get smacked, I do think Mum went too far that night, and took some of her anger at my father out on me. I remember Dad going berserk when he saw my bruised bum that weekend, and feeling so guilty that I was the cause of the resultant bitter arguments between him and Mum.
I was on the receiving end of a lot more smackings over the next five or six years, mainly from mum, but also a few from Dad and his new wife Claire. However, this one remains the most significant.
My feelings about smackings had always been conflicted until this point. Mostly, I hated them but I was still vaguely aware of a confusing thrill of excitement and flutter in my pants when smacks were mentioned or after they’d been administered.
After this particular punishment, most nights in bed I would slip a pillow under my tummy, lie face down and fall asleep by rocking rhythmically while thinking about this smacking and others. Of course, looking back, I can see this was a childish form of self-pleasure, but at the time I wasn’t sure what I was doing; just that it felt nice. Smacking remains a large part of my sex life to this day.