In the mid-1970s I was in the fourth year of an all-boys grammar school in Essex. It was a good school with a good local reputation, and my group of three friends and I were well-behaved and quite bright academically. At that age, with cigarette and tobacco adverts all around, we became attracted to the idea of trying smoking for ourselves. Of course, we were too young to legally buy cigarettes.
However, in those days almost every newsagent had a vending machine outside their premises where you could buy small packets of cigarettes just by inserting the correct coinage, thus avoiding having to convince the person behind the shop counter that you were older than you looked.
So, one day after school, we went to a nearby parade of shops that we knew to be fairly quiet, put our money together, and approached the outside vending machine. We looked all around to make sure there was no one about, and then one of us went into the shop to buy a box of matches. We thought this would distract the shopkeeper long enough for us to put our coins into the vending machine and get our cigarettes. The plan almost worked. As we walked away from the parade of shops, we had our cigarettes and the means of lighting them.
What we hadn’t noticed was the dark blue Morris Oxford saloon car parked on the opposite side of the road, the one belonging to Mr J, who taught mathematics and was one of our games teachers. The first we knew of his presence was when we heard him calling out to us and wagging his finger for us to go across to him.
Of course, we were in big trouble. It was well known throughout the school that being caught smoking, or even in possession of smoking materials, was an automatic caning offence. We might not have been in school, but we were in school uniform, and that made it equally serious. Mr J was quick to point out that he really ought to report us to the headmaster. There could have been only one outcome; the dreaded cane.
There was a certain irony. Mr J had probably stopped off on his way home to buy cigarettes for himself. He confiscated our cigarettes and matches and put them on top of the dashboard.
Maybe Mr J had some small sympathy for us, because he offered us the choice of being reported to the headmaster or being dealt with by himself. If he dealt with us then it would be five good solid whacks with the slipper. The majority of teachers at our school used the slipper, and Mr J was no exception. He kept a large white plimsoll in his briefcase and used it both in the classroom and in gym and games sessions. He didn’t use it often, and mostly just threatened to use it, but we had all seen him in action.
We looked at each other, but we were all of one mind; getting whacked with a slipper sounded a lot better than getting whacked with a cane. For one thing, I think all of us had received the slipper before, although not five whacks, so it wasn’t a totally unknown quantity. We accepted Mr J’s kind offer to slipper us and were told to report to him in the changing rooms underneath the gymnasium after school tomorrow.
Of course, we bemoaned our bad luck at getting caught, without even having lit up a single cigarette, as we made our way home. At least it wasn’t the headmaster’s study that we had to report to. That would have been truly frightening. None of us were looking forward to getting slippered, but the fear element was less.
The following day after school, as the rest of the school left for home, the four of us duly went to the changing rooms underneath the first-floor gymnasium. These changing rooms comprised about eight rows of benches with clothes hooks above. The entrance was quite wide, maybe eight feet across, and protected by a lockable iron grid sliding gate. This meant anyone passing by could look in and see boys changing, but there were only five females at the school, one secretary and two teachers. I guess they just had to use their discretion.
Mr J arrived, unlocked the gate and slid it back for us to enter. There was a small storeroom to one side of the changing rooms, and Mr J opened the door. Having used these changing rooms many times, we all knew this storeroom contained a few old pieces of furniture, some old gym equipment and a couple of old metal lockers.
We were told to strip to our underwear. This came as a small surprise, but nothing more. It simply meant we would not be receiving our whacks with the protection of our grey uniform trousers. Mr J went into the storeroom while we undressed, and we could hear him moving stuff around. As we sat on the bench below the hooks where our uniforms now hung, all of us in just white Y-front underpants and white vests, no one seemed in the mood for talking.
When Mr J came back out into the main changing room area, he asked who would be first. We all hesitated. I remember trying to think quickly whether it might be better to go first and get it over with, but I guess we all were doing that. A boy called James got in first. He was told to go into the storeroom, and Mr J followed him in. There was very little conversation and only a small delay before we heard the sound of five hefty slipper whacks being applied to James’s bottom.
Moments later, James emerged rubbing his bottom and grinning ruefully.
I was about to volunteer to go next, but a boy called Derek beat me to it. While he was being dealt with, we asked James what it was like. He didn’t say much, just that it was a firm slippering. Derek then emerged, and he also rubbed his backside quite rigorously.
When Mr J asked for the next boy, I was poised and got to my feet first before the final boy, Ian. I was ushered into the storeroom and straight away I noticed an old gym horse ahead of me. It had been set fairly low, and its purpose was obvious.
“Pants down and bend over,” Mr J said coldly as he picked up his large plimsoll from a small table.
I remember stopping in my tracks for a brief moment, a little surprised by the instruction to lower my underpants. In those days, though, you just did what you were told, so I slipped my underpants down and dived across the gym horse. I immediately felt the tail of my T-shirt being pulled right up to my shoulder blades, and then, after just a moment or two, the slipper slammed across my bottom. It was a seriously hard whack that really hurt. Four more equally hard whacks crashed across my bottom and then Mr J was telling me to get up and rejoin the others.
I managed to get to my feet and instinctively rubbed my bottom briefly before pulling my underpants back up. My legs felt a little shaky as I staggered out of the storeroom. My eyes met with those of the final boy, who looked very nervous. While he went into the storeroom, I started getting dressed.
After Ian had been dealt with, Mr J gave us a brief lecture about the evils of smoking and the dangers of being caught by him or any other member of staff. Then he told us to get off home.
I had already arranged to go to James’s house for tea that evening, so we headed off together while the others went their separate ways. James’s mother was a lovely lady, and we found her in their front sitting room with James’s older sister who was in the upper sixth form at the local all-girls grammar school. I was quite surprised when the first thing James did was to tell them both we had been slippered. I was never that open with my own parents, and never told them about any of the punishments I got at school.