(Post by John Allan, from Bridgetown, Western Australia –April 2021)
It must be written in some ancient Glasgow City charter that all children should receive varying degrees of pain and punishment throughout their childhood and adolescent years. All through the late 60s and early 70s I remember some form of assault usually inflicted by someone in authority.
Proverbs 13:24 does state “Spare the rod and spoil the child” though some more moderate biblical scholars may argue that the rod was actually a shepherd’s crook gently steering the flock. That would be the Church of England of course. The old C of E (Christmas and Easter). The cucumber sandwich of world religions and who in the West of Scotland would listen to them !
It started fairly innocuously at home with your Mum slapping the backs of your legs to stop you fidgeting, or cuffing your ear if you were cheeky or said a sweary word. And then the ultimate deterrent – your father’s slipper. The “Wait ’til your father gets home” had probably more effect than the deed itself which only happened a handful of times in my early years.
Before you go off running and screaming to Child Welfare, it wasn’t that bad. I’m 62 and I’m over it – apart from the restless legs, cauliflower ear, tourettes and irrational fear of bedtime foot apparel !
Primary school’s punishment started with detention. That was just a matter of sitting it out. Although you were itching to get home for ‘Blue Peter’ your teacher was probably more anxious to get back to feed the cats and catch up on ‘Emmerdale Farm’.
The next level were lines. Meaningless ‘I must not……….’ over rows and rows. You could take a 50:50 chance, complete a couple of pages top and bottom in the hope the teacher would go all dramatic on you, rip up the paper and drop it in the bin with a flourish. Risky, but thems the odds !
Then finally the belt or tawse. A leather two pronged strap for inflicting maximum pain to the cupped palm of a child. Thankfully it was rarely used in primary but prominent in secondary schooling. What malicious and sadistic education authority came up with that idea ? (One my father was prominent in !)
I received the belt a few times in my schooling thankfully from lesser experienced female teachers. In the hands of some of the more demonic male staff it could inflict untold damage. It was reported that some teachers soaked the leather in vinegar to make it more rigid and would demonstrate its force by pulverising pieces of chalk on the desk. We’re dangerously straying into sado eroticism here so enough said.
It wasn’t just the classroom. The sporting ground was also designed to injure. It took me several attempts on Google to discover the red ash that was literally ingrained into every school child’s limbs was blaes and not blaze or blaise.
The powers that be, in an effort to get the young to run around and exercise, decided that the spoils of compacted burnt colliery waste would make an ideal playing ground for football and hockey. Apart from lacerating your knees, the claggy blaes created it’s own poultice so you had every hue of red running down your shin to darken in your little grey socks. Add to that the gritty eye gouging sandstorm on a hot and windy day or winters equivalent, the stinging kiss of a Mitre Mouldmaster on a tender frozen thigh (or worse) turned sporting field to battle ground.
The swimming trip was no safer. Wading through the icy foot baths with the toxic chlorine fumes searing the back of your eyes just to prevent some snotty faced kid pointing to his upturned sole and saying “I’ve got a verruca and I know how to use it”. And keep your mouth closed when swimming. Those aren’t bobbing corks !
The school toilets weren’t a safe haven either what with carbolic soap and the greaseproof/sandpaper toilet paper combo. Everything seemed to be designed to remove layers off your skin. It would be quicker if they whipped out a penknife and whittled us ! First aid was the janitor with a bucket of sawdust after all.
Shouts of “You’re claimed” or “You’ll pay for that” may well sound innocent enough at a Loss Adjustors conference but took on a darker meaning in the playground. Someone or something was always close by to inflict pain and suffering.
We lived it. We accepted it and we got on with it.
That inevitably leads to the conversation “The kids of today…….” but I’ll leave that one with you.