I attended an Ayrshire primary and secondary school in the 1960s, when corporal punishment was still in vogue. On this particular morning, as an eight year old, I was playing by myself in an area that was technically out of bounds for pupils. It was on the main pathway leading to the main reception area for the primary end of the school, and was immediately adjacent to the playground separated by a knee-high wall.
I was only there for minutes when the main reception door opened and I was beckoned by the headmaster to come into the reception area. He, Mr Reid, was a very tall man who had a reputation for being strict, and I was gripped with dread as I obeyed the summons without question. He questioned why I was playing in the wrong area and not in the playground, but I was tongue-tied with fear and could give no real answer.
The reception area was a main thoroughfare in the school but, fortunately for me, things were quite quiet at that time, save for the janitor who Mr Reid, the headmaster, had been talking to.
After scolding me for being out of bounds, he puzzled me by telling me to turn around. Then he told me to walk forward, then told me to stop. I was then instructed to touch my toes, which I stupidly found confusing, never having been asked to do so before, and I remember wondering if this was in some way seeking some kind of penance.
I did notice the janitor was smiling as I was obeying instructions, but I really had no idea what was happening.
I was in the ‘touching toes’ position for perhaps ten seconds or so when there was an almighty whacking sound and I found myself propelled forward and almost fell over with the force of the strike of the headmaster’s hand off my backside, coupled with a sharp stinging feeling. I was wearing short trousers but they were quite thick so the redness of my face was more to do with embarrassment than with pain.
The janitor was smiling quite openly now and in those days the feelings of a small boy being punished quite publicly was of no concern to adults in school. I was dismissed and I rushed away blushing furiously.
I obviously didn’t learn my lesson as a month later I was again caught in the same area with someone from my class and another older boy. Mr Reid took us all upstairs to his office and brought out his tawse. He recognised me from before and made some comment about this punishment being more effective.
He gave me and my classmate two strokes each of his belt. The older boy got three. I did learn my lesson then.