I think I have described before how it was that Scottish mothers were such firm believers in maintaining order and discipline by the regular administration of a good smacking.
Despite the fact that they used to be in almost constant contention with each other to be at the top of the league for regular, hard and effective administration of punishment, they all used to act as if it was an unheard of scandal if anybody was ever present when you engaged in any kind of misbehaviour.
One might wonder what kind of sense it made that any time you got a smacking in the privacy of your own home, you knew that anybody who engaged your mum in conversation in the next day or so would receive a full blow by blow account.
It would be related with all the details – whether it was knickers on or off, what it was given with, how you cried, whether you were sent to bed or not, and so on. It was almost a kind of boasting about the naughtiness of your child, and the story would be related with great self-satisfaction.
As the members of the ‘mothers union’ one by one acquired their belts, the acquisition would be proudly related and the new belt brought out. The first application of the new belt would provide a major talking point, as would the question of its first application on the bare bottom.
In my case, the first time I got the belt it was with a borrowed strap and it was on the bare bottom – but that was really due to the special circumstances.
Right after that, when mummy got her own belt, it was generally applied to the seat of the knickers or quite often the pyjamas. For a time, when I was to get the belt, I would be sent up to get my pyjamas on, ready for bed after she was done.
Since I was such a genius, I hit on the idea of keeping my knickers on under the pyjamas, or even padding up with a couple of extra pairs – a couple of pairs of navy pants with the double back panel actually made a major difference to the effect of the belt.
Needless to say, that didn’t last for long as two or three pairs of school knickers under a pair of thin pyjama trousers is relatively obvious, and the result was a relatively rapid graduation to getting it regularly on the bare bottom. Of course, that became an interesting subject of discussion for the ‘union’.
The point of all this background is the odd contradiction between the smug, rather self-satisfied way in which mothers would recount tales of bad behaviour and the resulting smackings, in contrast to the unbridled fury resulting from ‘public’ misbehaviour.
My mum always talked about ‘getting a showing up’, by which she meant that she would, in some sense, be disgraced by any ‘outsider’ observing me in any kind of misbehaviour. Of course, she reckoned that the only way of wiping out her ‘shame’ at getting a showing up was to be convincing about the retribution that she would then visit on me.
Sometimes (thankfully, most of the time) this would be done by an exhaustive account of what would happen ‘when I get him home’, followed up by an after-the-fact account of what was actually done. From time to time, however, the retribution would be immediate.
As a little boy, I remember many times, while out visiting, going over her knee for a bare bottom smacking in public. I have also had it in places like shops (in the changing rooms of the school uniform department of Aitken & Niven in Edinburgh, for example, on at least two different occasions).
Another place where I had it several times was the ladies toilets at the St Andrew’s Square bus station in Edinburgh. You can imagine that a long day of frayed tempers while shopping resulted in an irresistible temptation to make use of the 15 minutes or so at the end of the day waiting for the bus.
By the time I was 12, I was certainly still subject to getting my bottom smacked but it was far more likely that it would be kept until I got home. There was still a significant risk of getting it in somebody’s house but I would be more likely to be taken out into the bathroom or somewhere for it rather than having my trousers taken down in, for example, the living room.
One other bit of background was the way in which mummy used to act as if I was an infant about going to the bathroom. One of the things that used to really irritate her was when I would have to go to the bathroom while shopping, or at mealtimes. It was always: “Why didn’t you go before?” or “Can’t you wait until …?”
As a result, I was always being ‘supervised’ in this regard. If out shopping, I would be told to go before and/or after lunch, and more or less whenever we would pass a toilet. Of course, not everybody can pee on command and mummy would get really furious if I had been sent to the toilet and then ‘five minutes later’ I was asking to go again.
I mentioned the bus station and the smackings in the ladies toilets. We would have about an hour on the bus after that and so, after being smacked, I would be ordered to go to the bathroom. But for some reason, I never could go after a smacking. To this day, I hate travelling on a bus because it seems that the bus just starts and I immediately need to pee.
On those shopping trips I wet myself more than once, and one of the results of that was that, whether I needed a smacking or not, we would make a visit to the bus station toilets and I would be ordered to go – which usually I could not – and then I would have to put on a pair of plastic pants over my knickers “just in case”.
Anyway, we come now to the actual details of the story – one of my last major “public performances.” We were visiting some friends of my mother for lunch on a Sunday. The lady’s name was Mrs Fullerton and she had two daughters – Helen, who was 12 (the same age as me), and Margaret, who was 14.
I did not want to go. I didn’t like Mrs Fullerton or either of her daughters, as I considered them all ‘snobs’. The girls both went to a private school (they wore maroon knickers) – but I had been threatened with dire consequences if I didn’t behave myself.
I was wearing a T-shirt and khaki shorts (very short, button front and very wide legs). I had on white underwear – for a change, actual boys’ underpants as opposed to knickers.
Things didn’t start well at all. Helen and Margaret were sitting together on the couch facing me. They kept making faces at me and whispering and giggling to each other. At one point, Helen passed behind me and leaned down to whisper to me. “We can see your knickers,” she said – which was probably true because of the length of my shorts.
With a great show of control, I made no reaction – just scowled and sulked. A little later, I happened to drop something on the floor and bent down to pick it up. I happened to glance innocently over towards Helen and Margaret as I stooped. Margaret smirked at me and made a little ‘o’ with her mouth – then she piped up: “Michael just looked up my skirt.”
I had done no such thing, and had not even thought about it. But mummy was ready to believe it, as I had been in trouble for something similar in the past.
Very calmly, mummy stood up, took me by the arm and pulled me out into the hall. I was sure I was in for it right there and then. I thought: “Well, at least I ‘m not getting it in front of them.”
But mummy was in a state of icy fury. She closed the door and slapped me hard on the face. “When we get home, I am going to thrash your bare bottom and if I have to speak to you again this afternoon, I will take your trousers off in front of everybody.”
She gave me another slap and we went back into the living room. The girls were delighted at the success of their ploy, though disappointed that they hadn’t been treated to the sight of a public smacking.
The next ‘ordeal’ was lunch itself. Of course, when it was announced, mummy had to tell me that I needed to go to the bathroom first – and gave me detailed instructions. “Lift the seat afterwards, make sure you flush and (this really made me blush) make sure you wipe your bottom and wash your hands.”
Of course, I didn’t need to go, so I didn’t. I just went in, ran some water, flushed the toilet and came out. Typically, I had just sat down when I found I really did need to go, but I didn’t dare to ask. So I just sat there and jiggled and was soon being told to sit still. What’s more, I could see mummy becoming more and more irritated.
I don’t recall what kind of meat it was for lunch but it was tough and full of fat and I wasn’t about to eat it. But I had to do something with it, so I cut it up and pushed it around. Mummy’s eye was on me, so finally I decided I would stuff it all in my mouth, then go to the bathroom and spit it out.
Eventually I had it all in – then I realised that with my mouth full, it was a bit difficult to speak. I did the best I could but my mumbling was indecipherable. At this point, mummy was getting really angry. Eventually, she couldn’t restrain herself any longer. She got up, pulled me to my feet and I knew I was about to get smacked.
Just as she pulled me up and dragged me back from the table, she gave me another of those full-blooded smacks on the face. The result of this was I expelled the mouthful of stuff I had been concealing and it sprayed all over the table.
There was a minute of shocked silence as everyone looked on in horror. After a moment, mummy pulled me back from the table into a position where she had room to work. I was fully expecting to end up over her knee, trousers and pants down, but she had decided on a leg smacking. She took hold of one leg of my shorts, yanked it up and went to work.
Now, anybody accustomed to receiving leg smackings knows that it is, in a sense, better to have your trousers taken off. Then you are most likely to be held by the arm while the smacks are applied all over both legs. This is a serious smacking but relatively bearable, because you don’t have the build up of smack after smack landing in the same place.
When you keep your trousers on, and you are being smacked with a trouser leg pulled up, then the area where the smacks land is pretty limited – it’s smack after smack landing on the same place, with the heat building up like fire. You have such a feeling of hopelessness as every smack lands and seems to be sorer and sorer, and you know that there is absolutely nothing you can do about it.
Then – remember the state I was in? I had desperately needed to go to the toilet before mummy had started and as the smacking proceeded, I just started to lose control.
If you are going to wet your pants, khaki shorts are probably the worst possible choice of outer wear, as the damp patch of wee is so visible. The big dark stain had started to appear on the front of my shorts just as mummy went to to change legs.
Margaret piped up: “Oh look, he’s done a wee-wee!” The proceedings paused for a moment as everyone watched with horror. I lost the last vestiges of control and the flood was released.
Mummy collected herself, grabbed me by the other trouser leg and smacked me out of the room. We were headed to the bathroom, where she now recommenced the smacking with renewed vigour.
Then she realised she was holding a handful of sopping wet shorts and underpants, so she got them peeled off. She filled the sink with warm water, had me stand up on the WC and started to wash me down.
While this was in progress, there was a tap at the door and Mrs Fullerton put her head round the door and asked for my ‘wet things’, saying she would rinse them out.
Mummy had finished washing me and was just drying me off when the door opened again and Mrs Fullerton came back in with my knickers. She held them up, turned inside out, to display a (very small) ‘skid mark’. “I thought you would want to know,” she said, and went out again.
I was sat down on the toilet and mummy said: “Right – we’ll have no more accidents.” Of course, by this time, I had no need to go but I sat there, being encouraged with hard smacks on the side of my legs until I finally managed to produce something. I even had my bottom wiped before being put – backside now up – over the toilet bowl.
Mummy looked around her and her eye hit on the bath brush – a good, solid wooden implement which she then proceeded to apply long and hard. I went through the screaming stage, followed by floods of tears.
Eventually it came to an end and mummy went out. “You wait there.” I heard voices outside but couldn’t make anything out until I heard Margaret’s raised voice. “He’s not getting any of my things.” That was followed by a couple of sharp slaps and a yell. “You’ll do what you’re told, or you’ll be the next one.”
Eventually, mummy appeared with the clothes that had been found for me to go home in. There was what must have been Margaret’s oldest and rattiest pair of maroon school knickers. The size was reasonable but the elastic in the waist was almost gone. To replace my shorts was a pair of those grey ‘split skirt’ netball shorts. It actually is a pair of shorts but it looks like a miniskirt.
It was a reasonable fit but far too short and there were no buttons at the waist. I had to come out into the living room, holding the shorts up, while there was a search for a safety pin. The shorts were pinned at the waist and, of course, yanked well up, which left the knicker legs on show.
And that was how I went home. I was too miserable to think of the sight I presented, walking along the street with my thoroughly-smacked legs on show and the maroon knickers half on display. I have previously explained that navy and bottle green school knickers were at least a little bit ‘unisex’ in those days, but maroon were absolutely and unquestionably 100% for girls.
I didn’t get any more smacking when I got home but I was sent straight to bed. It was not the last time I wet myself or got smacked for it, but it was the last time I left skid marks and I ended up almost with a phobia about proper careful wiping of my bottom. If not, I had the threat of mummy doing it for me – which she did a number of times in the next week or so.
As a final postscript, we also then had a period when part of being dressed for ‘visiting’ would be plastic pants.