Monday memory musings
I had a fierce dose of the scribbles yesterday.
It was a miserable fucking day anyway with grey skies, frequent heavy showers and a bit of a bite in the wind. It was one of those days when Penny prefers to piss on the floor rather than face the garden. I can’t blame her. I would have done the same if the toilet was in the garden.
I scribbled my little scribble here but for some reason I opened The Book. Or the Memoirs. Or the Autobiography. Or whatever you want to call it. I sat back with the laptop on my lap [where else?] and started tapping the keys.
The section I found myself in was my schooldays. I know they say that our schooldays are the happiest days of our lives but they obviously didn’t go to my school, or else they are deranged. I hated school from the first day I found myself in Junior Infants under the tutelage of a bunch of sadistic nuns to the day I finished my Leaving Cert under the tutelage of a bunch of sadistic De La Salle brothers. I hated every aspect of those years, from the grind of having to cycle miles every day to the endless homework that was just designed to deprive us of any joy in the evenings. The only time I was happy was when I was on my holliers [holidays] but even then there was the gloomy prospect of the return to school.
Deliberately focusing on a particular period has the remarkable effect of sharpening the old memory. Yes, the old memories came flooding back and the one aspect of my schooldays that seemed to come to the fore is the pain. There were indeed days when I survived pain free but it’s remarkable how many times I was thrashed with the cane, the Leather [twelve inches of reinforced leather strap that was the weapon of choice of The Brothers], rulers or indeed anything solid that came to hand. And the hand was where most of the thrashing and pain occurred. I was a mild mannered kid and not particularly bold so I can only reason that the thrashings were more an outlet for the Brothers’ inherent sadism.
Of course any form of physical punishment now is outlawed but in retrospect I don’t think it did any lasting harm. In the short term it was fucking painful but in the long term it taught us to behave and also stimulated the brain as we came up with ingenious excuses to avoid the thrashing. I might point out that there was a healthy respect for authority in those days that is entirely absent nowadays. Coincidence?
Kids these days just don’t know how easy they have it.
In Scotland, the belt, the strap, or more formally The Tawse.
For some reason the wee town of Lochgelly in Fife dominated the market, and in that town one particular saddler, John J Dick made the most. I wonder if they were flogged in Ireland.
The business end was split in two to increase the nip. The were sold in many grades, I suppose according to length, and weight of leather used. A single strip of thick leather, presumably cowhide but some of them felt like rhinoceros hide.
The one in your picture seems to be composed of two layers of hide sewn together at the edges. Perhaps it was stuffed with lead shot.
Male teachers would carry them over the left shoulder underneath a Harris Tweed jacket. Jacket usually had (real) leather elbow patches and as time went on the cuffs would be covered in leather too. A Harris Tweed jacket would last a teacher’s whole career. Justice was quickly dispensed by whipping the tawse out from under the jacket and into action before the victim could react.
We had a teacher whose fame / infamy preceded him. When presented with a class who had never experienced him before he would stride in, “Good morning class. Sit down. ” because it was the custom to stand when a teacher entered and then thereafter when the Headmaster entered.
He would take a big six inch nail from inside his desk and force the point of it into his desk so that the nail stood upright. Then in one smooth move he would whip the tawse out from under his jacket and with one thunderous blow drive the nail right into the desk lid. Awed silence from the class.
Oddly enough he was one teacher who never, or hardly ever, had to resort to the proper use of the tawse.
Only in later years did we discover that the desk was pre-drilled, and that he performed this trick for every first year class that he taught. And of course the pupils from more mature classes never let on about the trick.
Mr Dick’s daughter Ms Dick now runs the saddlery company, and she apparently still gets orders from those either feeling the need of, or from those who dispense, some discipline. And they are not cheap. The tawse I mean.
I am not sure about the plural of tawse.
The Leather was always just referred to as The Leather. I hadn’t come across the Tawse before. When I was researching images I came across the split version.
I have no idea as to what made up the weapon. It was heavy and slightly flexible so I imagine it was just layers of leather stitched together like heavy duty ply. The Brothers had pockets in their cloaks/dresses/gowns and they used to stick the Leather in those like the pockets were holsters. Generally as class began the Leather would be produced and slapped down on the teacher’s desk as a gentle reminder to us all as to who was boss.
Incidentally it was a badge of honour after a beating if you could show off the imprint of the stitching on your hands!
I was fortunate enough to attend public schools for all 12 grades. At times my mother posed the threat to me by suggesting that I be enrolled at a local Catholic school, “Sacred Heart Academy”. Fortunately, my father came to the rescue by reminding her that not only could we not afford the tuition or the uniforms, but he and his older brother had gone to a Catholic boarding school all through the grades and he refused to “subject my son to that environment”.
He got a first-rate education, but it came with a good deal of pain and humiliation. The humiliating part wasn’t the paddling itself, it was having to say “Thank you Sister” afterword.
Catholic schools certainly seemed to be different all right. I was lucky in that so far as I am aware there was no boggery, rape or other sexual shenanigans in my school. There is a big investigation now into Blackrock College [the “elite” school. Hah!] where a multitude of victims are coming forward with all sorts of nasty stories.
There seemed to be something about Catholicism that attracted all the perverts, sadists and bullies.
Well, I never ran into (or heard of) any of that sort of thing in our parish; but then, I was never “Alter Boy” material either.
I can’t imagine a situation in which harming a child is the right thing to do. Your teachers abused you, plain and simply. How would your life be different if they had been patient with you, had treated you well, and nourished your love of learning?
Different times. They didn’t see it as harming; just a method of discipline. Incidentally teachers frequently smoked in class and the year after I left they opened a smoking room for the Sixth Year students. As I said – different times.
Yes, different times. You would not dare complain at home about “getting the belt, because you would only be in more trouble.
Looking back, I think that teachers only used it reluctantly. Classes were large, over 30, and time could not be wasted dealing with some rebel. There was the rest of the class to think of.
The crime and the punishment all happened in a small time frame, and there was never any further issue. A punishment well taken increased your kudos.
I only once was punished for something another boy had done – used a thumb and forefinger catapult with linked elastic bands to fire a folded lump of paper at the head of a girl, who objected loudly. Of course I could never name the real culprit.
That would have made me a clipe. Good Scots word.