It was 1959. I was eight and in my last term at primary school before moving on to the lower school of a large boys’ grammar.
My friend Valerie and I were playing a silly game in class, paying no attention to the lesson. The game involved each of us in turn holding up a hand while the other tried to touch the hand with their tongue, while the first child tried to avoid it. Amazingly, the teacher, Mrs Roberts, didn’t notice.
The lesson ended, it was morning break and I went out into the playground. But after a few minutes Valerie came looking for me. “I’m afraid we’ve got to go and see the headmistress. Janice [I forget the wretched girl’s real name] has told on us.”
When we got to the headmistress’s study, both the head – a frumpy spinster named Miss Howse – and Mrs Roberts were waiting for us. We got a terrible dressing down, then Miss Howse said: “Thank you, Mrs Roberts – I’ll deal with these two now.”
Miss Howse went to a cupboard and took out a big old gym shoe. She told Valerie to face the wall, then ordered me to touch my toes. I got six whacks across my shorts. Despite the protection, it hurt horribly and I was crying by the time she had finished.
Then we had to change places and it was poor Valerie’s turn. It must have been worse for her, because she had only her summer gingham dress for protection. Then we went back to our classroom in tears and rubbing our bottoms. We spent the next lesson squirming miserably on our hard benches, but nothing was heard of the matter again.
Except that’s not what actually happened.
The story is completely true – up to and including the dressing down from the headmistress. But we weren’t spanked, nor did we receive any other formal punishment.
Instead, Miss Howse and Mrs Roberts humiliated us in front of the rest of the class for days on end. Whenever we said or did something it was ‘here come the thumb-suckers’ or ‘that was one of the thumb-suckers’. As well as being very humiliating, these comments were irritating because they showed that the teachers hadn’t understood the game we were playing.
Surely a slippering of the kind I have described would have been better, more effective and less cruel than what actually happened?