It was 1965 and I was fifteen years old in fifth form at Newquay County Grammar School in Cornwall. In fifth form you had certain privileges like wearing a black blazer instead of the maroon one for junior boys, and you could leave the school gates at lunchtime and go into town as long as you were back for the afternoon lessons. We felt like we were treated more like adults, without orders being barked at us like junior boys had to put up with. It was a mixed school, and boys and girls were allowed to mix more freely in the school breaks such as lunchtime.
I was often late with homework, or didn’t do it at all sometimes. In this instance, I had copied the English Literature homework from a girl called Elizabeth C, and she didn’t know I had. I’d copied it after it had all been handed in, and no one saw me. Mr R, our English and French teacher, had marked the homework the night before. We were in the classroom and Mr R looked at me and said: “Your homework is exactly the same as Elizabeth C’s. You made the same mistake as she did. You copied it, didn’t you?”
“No sir,” I stammered, red faced.
“You’re a liar, boy,” he shouted. My face went redder. “Stay behind after class.”
I thought I was for it now. He’d probably give me plenty of lines and detention. After all, cheating was quite serious.
When the bell rang, the class left and I stayed at my desk.
“Come here,” Mr R said.
I got up and sullenly walked over. He opened the drawer of his desk and pulled out a large plimsoll. Seeing it was a bit of a shock. He had used it to slipper me in front of the class when I was twelve. I’d got three whacks on the backside for playing up. He hadn’t slippered me all that hard, not nearly as hard as the six my father had given me the same year for stealing. My older brother had slippered me hard as well when our parents had gone on a break and I’d argued with him and been a pest. Corporal punishment was common in those days. Mr R had only ever used it on one other boy in my class. It was quite rare for boys at my grammar school to be slippered, and never after form two.
Mr G, the headmaster, used the cane on recalcitrant boys regularly, but it was almost unheard of for a teacher to use the slipper, and they weren’t allowed to use a cane.
“All right,” Mr R said. “Take your blazer off and touch your toes. You’re getting six.”
I stammered: “Are you going to use corporal punishment on me, sir?”
I felt a bit uncomfortable about this. I was fifteen, not eleven or twelve. I knew I wasn’t very big for my age, but I still didn’t think I should get the slipper like a little kid. I thought if I’d done something really serious I’d get sent to Mr G for the cane.
“You heard me, touch your toes.”
I reluctantly took off my blazer and put it on his desk.
“Now face the back of the classroom and touch your toes.”
I did as I was told. Even at fifteen you’d never question a teacher. It was a long stretch to my toes, and I waited for the first one, my face getting redder all the time. I’d got six strokes of the cane from Mr G the year before when I was fourteen, and I remembered how excruciatingly painful that was. I knew the slipper wouldn’t be so bad, but it would still be painful. I wondered how hard he was going to hit me. I soon found out.
He delivered a hard whack, which I was pretty sure was as hard as he could. I could hear the loud thwack as it hit my backside. It rocked me on my feet. Then another one. My backside felt like it was on fire. This was definitely harder than the last time he’d used the slipper on me, and harder than the six my father had given me. Then came the third, then fourth, then fifth. I was counting them off, thinking it would never end. I gave a little cry after each one. I could feel tears in my eyes. Finally the sixth, and I got up. My backside was throbbing terribly, but I was determined not to rub it. However, the pain welled up and I succumbed, massaging it with both hands. Then I just stood there red-faced, with my hands firmly clasping my behind.
Mr R glared at me and put the slipper back in the drawer. “Now don’t let me catch you cheating again. You can count yourself lucky I didn’t send you to Mr G, and you know what that means.”
I said “No sir. Yes sir. Thank you, sir,” not sure what to say. All I knew was that my backside felt like it was burning.
Mr R left the classroom and I stayed behind, contemplating what I’d just been through. Being slippered at my age, I could hardly believe it. Still, I knew it was better than getting the cane from Mr G, and for that I was thankful. Mr R’s son was in our class and I wondered if his father would tell him later at home that he’d slippered me. Then the whole class would know. How embarrassing that would be, one of my younger sisters and older brother were in the same school and they would find out and then tell my parents.
I found out later that they did find out, but thankfully I don’t think they told our parents. My older brother didn’t let me forget about it though. He’d slippered me a couple of years before and told me I’d never learn.