It was 1974, and I was 12 years old. It was considered to be the normal thing to be physically punished by our parents for wrongdoings. For me, it would usually be dad’s belt which was referred to as ‘The Strap’, and for my sisters it would be ‘The Brush’ which hung in the hallway, and would be administered by mum.
It was a Sunday afternoon and I was playing out with friends when somebody suggested we cross the railway line and go onto a neighbouring estate. I was hesitant because my parents had always warned me not to go near the railway.
However, I went along with the group. We climbed over the fence, then slid down the embankment, at which point we heard a voice. It was a dinner lady from my school walking her dog who was warning us to get off the railway. She shouted out a couple of our names, including mine. At this point, I realised that we would be in trouble at school on Monday.
Monday came and nothing was said until the afternoon, after the dinner lady had spoken to the headmaster about seeing us on the railway line.
Me and two other boys were sent to the headmaster’s office and questioned about being on the railway. We all admitted it and expected to be dealt with there and then, but the headmaster said that as this was out of school on a weekend he could not cane us, but would inform our parents. This sent chills down my spine because being caned at school was a much lesser punishment than dad’s belt.
After school, I took a slow fearful walk home, and upon approaching the house my younger sister said, “Mum had a phone call from school and you’re going to get belted.”
I already knew this, but it was now reality.
When I went through the front door, my mother sent me to my room and said, “When your father gets in from work we will both be wanting a word with you!”
I waited in my room and heard my father come through the front door. Mum told him what I had done. It was normal for my father to have a wash and change his clothes when he came in. The strap was actually the belt on my dad’s work trousers. This was used because it was wider and thicker than a normal belt. It was well worn. This might be why it was called ‘The Strap’ rather than ‘The Belt’.
After changing, my dad’s work trousers were placed at the end of the banister on the hallway landing because they had an industrial smell about them.
Soon I was called downstairs to be questioned by both parents about the railway line. My father started off by saying those five words I dreaded hearing because they always resulted in me getting The Strap.
“You’ve been a foolish boy.”
I was informed that I was to be strapped for going on the railway line and for defying my parents rules about being warned not to go on the railway. My parents had a discussion in front of me about the severity of what I had done. The most strokes of the strap I had ever received before was 18; that was for swearing at a neighbour. 18 was extremely painful and I could not imagine being able to take any more than that.
However, it was decided that I would receive 12 for going onto the railway, 12 for defiance, and 6 extra as an additional reminder never to do this again.
The procedure was simple from here. I would go to my room, change into my pyjamas and wait.
It was not long before my mother came into my bedroom with an extra pillow and placed it with my pillow in the centre of my bed so that my bottom would be a raised target area for The Strap.
Eventually, I heard my father coming upstairs. He walked past my door to get the belt off his work trousers and then came into my room with that terrifying belt in his hand.
When I was strapped, it was not done quickly in a beating fashion. It was delivered hard, accurately, and slowly with at least 30 seconds between the strokes. After each stroke, there was time to regain my position. If I moved or rubbed, or dared to block it with my hands, I was given an extra stroke on the backs of my legs. That was the rule, so I had learned to take it.
I was told to get into position and very soon received the first of the 30 lashes. It seemed to go on for ever. Each stroke made me whimper and cry out loudly, but afterwards I was proud of myself for not getting those extra strokes on the backs of my legs.