It was with great sadness recently that I learned one of my favourite teachers had died. Mrs Brown [name changed – Ed] was my form teacher throughout primary school. She was always fair and only used the cane or slipper for repeat or serious offenders. I only got one dose of each during my years with her as my teacher – both were well deserved and I received them both in my last year, aged 11.
The first occasion was just before Christmas when I was ‘demob happy’ for the holidays. I kept chatting in class despite numerous warnings. Eventually Mrs Brown ordered me out to the front of the class.
I stood and watched in awe as she took a slipper (actually, as traditional in British schools at the time, a large black plimsoll) out of her desk drawer. I had seen it used a few times and started shaking in fear.
Mrs Brown told me to bend over and delivered two hard whacks to the seat of my tight grey shorts, then she told me to return to my seat and see her at the end of the lesson. I vividly remember the walk of shame back to my seat and fidgeting, sitting on my sore bottom, through the rest of the lesson. At the end, Mrs Brown gave me a bit of a lecture about my behaviour. “I sincerely hope I don’t have to slipper you again, Peter, but I will if I need to. Do you understand?” I, of course, nodded obediently and Mrs Brown gave me a bit of a cuddle.
My caning was a completely different experience. The February snow had been falling and we had been warned about the dangers of throwing snowball. Needless to sat, I decided to throw one anyway. It was a perfect shot, straight into the face of one of the other boys. He screamed and Mrs Brown came running.
She asked who had thrown it but none of us kids said a word. ‘Telling tales’ was not in the school honour code, in our view. However, Mrs Brown was not to be denied. “If I don’t get a name now, I will slipper the bottom of every boy in this playground,” she said. Obviously fearing for their own backsides, several boys immediately pointed me out. Mrs Brown asked me if I had thrown the snowball. Fortunately, I had the good sense to at least own up. Mrs Brown took the other boy away for treatment, but not before telling me to report to her at lunchtime.
I duly did as I was told, fully expecting to get the slipper again. Mrs Brown was very displeased – she ranted at me in a way I had never seen before, then walked to a cupboard. To my horror she returned with a cane in her hands.
I begged my teacher not to cane me but she replied: “Peter, do you not remember what I said when I slippered you? I told you I would use corporal punishment again if necessary, and this is a very serious matter.” I began to cry but she said shortly: “If I were you, I would wait until I have given you something to cry about. Crying isn’t going to stop me caning your bottom, if that’s what you think.”
A sickly feeling rose in my stomach. “Right – bend over that stool. This is going to hurt you very much.” I obeyed, shaking with fear. Mrs Brown came to stand beside me and I felt the cane placed against my buttocks. I was summarily given four hard strokes, making my bottom burn.
I cried throughout the ritual. This was my first time being caned and I had never felt such pain before. My buttocks were red hot, and each stroke felt like a branding iron being placed against my behind.
Finally Mrs Brown told me to stand up and face her. “Peter, I don’t like caning children but you can’t say you weren’t warned, can you?” I shook my head, tears still streaming down my face. She put my face into her warm, soft bosom and gave me a cuddle and I finally managed to get myself back under control. Then I was sent off to have some lunch.
The shame attached to my punishment was almost as bad as the beating itself. Everyone knew I had been caned and I was teased mercilessly by one group of girls. I found it extremely uncomfortable to sit down on my hard wooden chair during the afternoon lessons.
I never misbehaved in primary school again. The cane was a harsh lesson in life that doing wrong risks pain. I was also very upset at Mrs Brown having to cane me, because I really believed her when she said that she didn’t like having to punish children that way. Certainly there were no hard feelings between us and when I left for grammar school at the end of that academic year, Mrs Brown took me aside and wished me luck.
I only met her once more and that was after I had left grammar school. I bumped into her in the village and she remembered me. She was pleased I had done well and had a good career. I joked with her that it was due to her timely punishments – though I didn’t dare tell her about the times I was caned at grammar school, or that having my bottom smacked aroused me.
One thing is for sure – the world is a poorer place without Mrs Brown and teachers like her.