11 March 2011


What we remember from our childhoods may simply be psychological signposts to the kinds of people we really are. We don't choose what we remember. So much filtering of memory occurs, till in the end, bobbing on the surface, there's just a relatively small amount of flotsam with the mother ship far below the waves.

I remember, I remember... every time I was physically punished during my own school days and connected with every one of these memories is an echo of the seething feeling of injustice that accompanied those incidents.

Press the rewind button. It's 1962. I'm nine years old. I am in the playground of the village school where my father is the headmaster. Another, older boy has brought a rubber tiger mask into school. He has put it on and he is chasing round the yard, deliberately scaring girls who are screaming. I am in a gang of perhaps six who accompany the tiger boy. It's fun and the girls' screaming is affected. Nobody is really scared.

Miss Ford is on playtime duty. She not only calls an end to the high jinx, she sends the tiger boy and his followers to the headmaster's classroom where we wait in line. He, my father, being supportive of his younger colleague, tells us off and instructs us to hold out our hands. He walks along the line slippering all of us with a black plimsol. It hurts but not as much as the sense of injustice I feel inside. What had we done wrong? We were just having fun. Years later Dad apologised.
Fast forward to 1966. By achieving such a high mark in the eleven plus exam, I have won a scholarship to Hymers College in Hull where the posh boys go. It's a fee-paying direct grant school but each year, probably to ensure some council funding, they allow some plebs like me to join their hallowed ranks. I'm in music with Mr Watson. The room is like a large chapel. We are sitting in rows listening to some rather tedious classical music - Rachmaninov. Behind me one of the posh boys begins to rock his table on the hollow hardwood floor. Mr Watson calls out "Stop that!" above the soaring violins but the rocking noise continues. With his black academic gown splayed behind him, he surges up my row, comes to The Pleb's desk and cracks me hard across the temple with his open palm. He explains himself - "I said stop it!"

My anger boils over. I yell in my best East Yorkshire brogue, "It wasn't me you bastard!" and exit stage left. I am blubbering with shame and hatred and an overwhelming sense of injustice. I want to kill Watson. Put my muddy rugby boots on and jump up and down on his oily head. "It wasn't me you bastard!" Later no more is heard about the incident. Watson sweeps it under the carpet as if it never happened and I am grateful that I got away with swearing at him. If music be the food of love, play on Rachmaninov!

Onwards and I am sixteen. I don't want to wear a school cap. I feel stupid in it and my head is so big they don't make caps to fit me. I ride to school from the countryside. Thirteen miles there and thirteen miles back. I'm the only Hymers boy on the bus. At home I am listening to Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen, Sgt Pepper's and Donovan and I saw Judy Collins on "The Simon Dee Show" singing "The Circle Game" and I have smoked marijuana, been drunk, known girls and I'm interested in Trotsky and Seurat and "Oz" magazine, Hull City and the civil rights movement in the USA. And they want me to wear a cap! Black and red with the school badge in the middle. I mean..

They have warned me. But now it is too late. I am in the office of Harry Roach, the much-feared headmaster. He is holding a thin bamboo cane. The room smells of polish and chalk and fear. A clock is ticking. I notice leather-bound books on the shelves, a large blotter on the oak desk, boys outside on the rugby field. He is lecturing me but I am not listening because I know what is coming. He tells me to bend over. I hear the cane swishing through the air then it hits my buttocks - one - two - three - four - five - six in rapid succession. The pain emerges like fire. My rump is ablaze and Harry is puffing after the exertion. All I can feel is the fire. I am like a whipped dog. I stumble from that dreaded chamber and my deranged hymn-singing torturer, determined to leave his horrible posh school in the summer.

And there were other times which I will not trouble you with now. Admittedly, I was no angel. I am sure there were occasions when I deserved the punishments I received but memory has chosen to let those bits of videotape settle on the ocean floor. Yet that plimsol, that open hand, that cane - I recollect those moments as if they happened just last week, remaining unsure what this says about my psychology.


  1. I think I probably did my fair share of misbehaving in class but only remember getting the cane once at primary school and I can't remember what it was for. However, we did have one teacher, also in primary school who used to line up his favourites among the girls (excluding me, then!)and spank them with a plimsoll, which, looking back, seems to indicate a less than savoury aspect to his character.

  2. Gosh, you've taken me back. To a warm afternoon beforer "Pop" Gilbert, my dad's old secondary teacher and now headmaster at my junior school.

    Loved and feared in equal measure, I stood accused of unravelling the wool on a chum's jersey. He was their with his mum, as I was with mine -- a Mexican stand-off.

    I swore I hadn't done it, and indeed I hadn't, but the injustice of the accusation still rankles.

  3. I'm not sure whether to think, "what a terrible thing that was!" or "he's a wonderful fellow now, so maybe it was worth it."

  4. In typical American fashion, we've got news coverage about the earthquake in Japan only in terms of how it affects our own west coast (almost negligible). I just was looking at a map and it struck me that you and a significant portion of the world are much closer to Japan than Crescent City, California, and we have heard nothing about your welfare. Just hoping that you're fine and will stay that way. XOX

  5. The fellow in the photo looks a bit too eager, if you ask me.

  6. "what this says about [your] psychology"....

    The doctor is in.

    You have a keen sense of justice and fair play, and abhor violence in all forms, especially when it is aimed at defenseless children. You are a champion of the underdog, and you will travel halfway around the world to spread your message of dignity and respect to all mankind. You don't mind having an occasional pint with your mates, but essentially you prefer the peace and quiet of your own solitude. You are an eager learner and an equally eager dispenser of what you have learned. You like puppies and little kittens. If you ever met your former tutors in an alley on a dark night, you would beat them senseless in a heartbeat, doing unspeakable things to them with a cane of your own.

  7. JENNY If you feel you missed out, ask Keith. I'm sure he'd be happy to spank you you naughty girl!
    SHOOTING Thank heavens I am not alone in this kind of memory.
    JAN BL. No shaking here. No tsunami. Given your forthrightness, I imagine you were regularly chastised at school. Jan! Stop that you bad girl!
    RHYMES Your summary of my psychology made me chuckle! You know me better than I know myself sir!

  8. I was beaten on numerous occassions during the sixties in school from the ages of about 8 upto 15.The majority of times because I had done something wrong but Like Mr.Pudding,when I was innocent it was really upsetting.Anyway it's quite clear that it didn't work.

  9. Hi. Amazing the stuff you stumble across...I was a Hymers Scholarship boy in 1963. In my first week, Mr Watson got me to the front of the class and asked me to draw a treble clef, I didn't have the faintest idea what he was talking about, said so and was barred from active participation in music lessons thereafter. Don't get me started on Harry (Roach)...:-) I'm sure it's a lovely school now but I hated every day I spent there.

  10. I was at Hymers from 1958 to 1966 and I hated Harry Roach. He was so unpredictable - the rumour was that his bad days were due to gout but I don't know if that was true. He would hold whole school years back in the hall after assembly and send home any boy whose hair was a bit too long. This used to catch out some boys who had never broken a rule in their lives and it wasn't unusual for them to leave in tears.
    One recollection I have is that the one good thing he did was to abolish the cane, but either I'm wrong or he must have re-instated it after I left. In 1965 he certainly had a different solution for boys seen without their caps. A friend and I were chatting to some other lads on the way to school one morning, literally a yard outside the school gates, without our caps, and Roach saw us. It was the morning of our Latin O level GCE and fifteen minutes or so later we were sitting in the gym with all the other boys, waiting to start our exam, when Roach stormed in, threw the two of us out and apparently lectured the rest for ten minutes on the subject of school uniform. Not a great way for them to prepare for an O level (the Latin master was apparently furious) and the two of us had to sit ours a year later.


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