I grew up in the 70s and 80s, and before Mum and Dad split up she was the disciplinarian of the house. She believed wholeheartedly in corporal punishment, and both me and my brother accepted the fact that if Mum deemed us naughty enough, we could expect to get a very sore bottom.
I can’t quite remember how we became accustomed to the ritual of her style of punishment, but by the time we lived in our house in Manchester it seemed established. She had always been a hard spanker and had no qualms about marking our behinds but she seemed to relish drawing the punishment out a little, perhaps for dramatic effect. It certainly worked and had an indelible effect on me!
In my memory, such punishments seem a regular thing – but in actual fact the sanction happened probably barely half a dozen times. We were all in that house together in the late 70s, for just over three years.
Not all parents used such methods but a slapped leg or a smacked (covered) bottom was pretty normal at my primary school. The tawse was occasionally threatened but never used, as far as I know. There would have barely been a raised eyebrow if I had complained to anyone about Mum, that’s for sure!
Her implement of choice was an old heavy leather belt of my dad’s, which seemed especially well adapted for this purpose. When Mum decided one of us was to be punished, the command was delivered in a calm matter-of-fact manner: “Go up to your room and pull your pants down.” It was as if she was asking us to get ready for a bath or for bed. There was no need for raised voices or anger – all the fearsome gravity was encapsulated within those words.
Once such an order was given, there was no arguing or pleading. What was coming was an immovable fact set in stone, so I don’t remember making a fuss, as my heart sank and dread filled the void.
I would obediently take myself upstairs, pull my pants down to my knees and lay over my bed with my bottom bare, feeling extremely vulnerable, ready and waiting for my punishment.
This was almost the worst part. Just being made to wait, feeling rather demeaned in such a submissive position, remembering that a strapping hurt but not quite remembering just how much; just knowing it was particularly unpleasant. I’d say I was at least glum, at worst a little petrified.
Eventually, after being given plenty of time to consider my unfortunate situation, I’d hear Mum coming up the stairs and go into her room, where she’d collect the strap which hung on a hook behind the door of a walk-in cupboard. The moment of pain was almost upon me.
The dread I felt as I saw her come into my room holding that awful belt! As she approached, I’d always instinctively cover my bottom for protection – there wasn’t much shame showing your bare bottom to your mum, although it was degrading.
Mum was strong and she quickly got those hands pushed firmly up my back before rhythmically whacking my poor bottom really hard. She took her time, leaving a gap between strokes that was enough for the full pain to sink in, but not enough time to recover before the next tongue of fire was administered.
I was held down like a naughty little boy until she’d finished with me. It was probably only about four smacks but they were quite excruciating on my little eight-year-old bare bum; she wasn’t messing about. She has admitted to me as an adult that she did smack us pretty hard. I also discovered she was the top fielder in her cricket team as a schoolgirl, as she had the best and longest throw by far!
If it was my brother getting it, I would feel an ambivalent combination of glee and vicarious dread. I’d always be in my room next door though, so I could hear the sharp strokes cracking against his bare bottom!
The most memorable occasion that I received one of these beatings was one day after a shopping trip. I had obviously been quite badly behaved and I’d earned myself a good hiding when we got back. This was preferable to her other threat of pulling my pants down in public to give me a smacked bare bottom there and then. That happened once – but that’s another story.
It took some time to walk home so I chanced my arm at pleading with her. I thought that perhaps I could persuade her to show some kind of mercy, or even offer clemency, if I showed her how truly sorry I was. I should have known better. She had no time for my pathetic whining and there was no way she was going to back down once a punishment had been announced.
All I could think of was trying to avoid that dreadful pain across my bare bottom, which grew and grew in my terrified mind. However, each time I pleaded, she just added another stroke to my intended punishment, quickly going from four to ten. I finally realised this wasn’t getting any better and as we neared home, I had the sense to stop whinging.
Of course, as soon as we got in through the door, there was that calm, steely command from Mummy: “Right – straight up to your room and pull your pants down!”
This was going to be awful. My heart raced as I lay there with my bottom feeling particularly exposed. Mum gave me just enough time to wallow in my fear and regret before slowly mounting the stairs and entering her room to fetch that dreaded implement. My poor bottom was going to get a real whipping this time!
Once I was pinned down and getting a good leathering, I just wanted to climb away from those ferocious strokes. They just seemed to keep on coming, rhythmically and relentlessly. I didn’t have the headspace to count them and there was no escape, so firmly held in position as I was.
Mum pasted my bare flesh with blistering, stinging smacks, each sharp blow of the belt a fresh indignation to my howling nerve endings which increased upon the fiery pain of the last, building to an unbearable crescendo. To my little mind, unused to such an extended punishment, it felt like the torture would last forever. Obviously it didn’t, and I was so relieved when at last the tally of my sentence – 10 hard lashes – had been succinctly administered.
Mum tells me that I always took my punishments rather stoically and didn’t make much noise, but I think on that occasion I must have come damned close to letting out at least a little yelp. Once it was over and I was released, I lay on the bed, eyes moist, to nurse my tanned, smarting behind. I looked up at Mum just as she left my room to replace the strap until next time – and I remember that satisfied stern look on her face that said ‘let that be a lesson to you!’
I must admit that I think for short-term behaviour adjustment, this method worked well and as I say, probably wasn’t employed very often. The threat of her getting the strap out for me and my brother was a formidable one – if it was mentioned, we’d usually pipe down pretty quickly!
As adults, Mum and I actually have a very good relationship and can talk about those days, although it’s still a bit embarrassing for me to go into detail. Such punishments certainly aren’t in my toolbox of parenting styles for the 21st century. I wonder if my own children realise how lucky they are!