Teachers at St. Martin's were all expert in the wielding of a strap.
Indented slightly at one end to create a grip, straps were about 24 inches long and perhaps 3/16 of an inch thick, similar to a good quality man's belt in width and thickness.
Crafted with pride, some were decorated with flowers or other designs, including the headmaster's, which was embossed with the drawing of a hand held out for strapping and, for a caption, a Bible reference: Prov. 13:1 ('A wise child loves discipline'). I lost count of the number of times I lined up in the Head's office for a dose of discipline. The image that stays in my mind is of a row of chastened boys with teary faces: Mick, Wayne and the others holding their reddened hands squeezed under their arm-pits and Mr. Rayner and the strap advancing my way; Mr. Rayner positioning each hand carefully before taking up the swing; then the raising of leather over shoulders, and the slamming down of hide on our palms.
Some teachers at St. Martin's had several straps. When a boy forgot his manners or his homework the strap was never far away.
Mr. Petrie had three straps, each with pet names, but Black Beauty was simply awesome. In repose, Black Beauty hung languorously from a hook on the blackboard frame. Black as the night, and embossed with a red tulip, Black Beauty commanded respect and awe. Her dignity was never compromised by trivial or everyday use, being taken down only on solemn thrashing occasions. She would be stirred to life by Mr. Petrie, reddening and stinging the palms, legs and bottoms of the unfortunate. In reverent, hushed tones, a wickedly deserving boy would be sent to fetch the afore-named haughty leather personage which would be timidly presented to Mr. Petrie and then put to work on the miscreant. The sobbing, thrashed-up boy completed the rites of chastisement by replacing Black Beauty on her hook.
"Damian Simons to the front !" Mr. Petrie would say. "Where is your homework ?"
"I lost it sir on the way to school sir I'm sorry sir."
"Once again, Damian, you simply didn't do it, did you ?"
"Are you a liar, Damian, as well as lazy ?"
"I suppose so sir."
"You suppose so ! Lazy liars get a strapping, Damian. Do you want that ?"
"Then what do you have to say for yourself ?"
"I think you'd better go and fetch Black Beauty."
Damian now climbs onto a stool to reach the strap on tip-toes, taking the sleek leather tool in his hands, little heart thudding.
He presents Black Beauty to Mr. Petrie who tells him to hold out his hand and launches in: "You . . ." SLAM ! "will . . ." SLAM ! "always . . ." SLAM ! "Other hand ! . . . do . . ." SLAM ! "your . . ." SLAM ! "homework . . . Turn around . . ." SLAM-SLAM-SLAM-SLAM-SLAM ! on the arse and legs.
"The extra strapping was for lying, Damian. Do you understand ?"
"Put Black Beauty back and get back to your place !"
Trembling with pain, wounded dignity and shock Damian climbs the stool and hangs the strap back on its hook. The class all gawk with awe at the red marks across his legs. He gingerly settles back into his seat.
"Now then, Michael Watts, you can show me yours."
Poor old Mick has been desperately trying to finish his homework while I'm being thrashed, but it doesn't work. He is exposed. He doesn't lie though. He just admits he hasn't done the homework.
"You can get Black Beauty down too, Michael," says Mr. Petrie.
Mick gets the hand strapping but misses out on the whacks round his bottom.
Afterwards, we are sitting together, much subdued and showing each other our red palms under the desk.
"Do you two boys want another strapping ?"
"No sir," we say in unison.
"Jonathan Spencer, I'll look at yours now."
And so it went on.
Mr. Petrie also had two straps which were left casually gathering chalk-dust under the blackboard or which he would flex as he wandered through the class rows checking work. By suddenly pulling a slack strap taut he could make a fearful snapping sound which had a way of focussing our attention, and when he slammed a strap across a daydreaming boy's desk it always brought him back to the real world with a start.
A strap was amazingly useful in speeding up dawdlers. Every morning, and after every outside break, a strap chased our reluctant bottoms into class. Quick-stepping, pelvis-first, little arse-cheeks squeezed defensively together, boys dared not be the last in line.
'Lounging' was another serious offence in Mr. Petrie's class. It was bad for our backs, it was slovenly, and it was extremely 'common'. A gentleman doesn't lounge about like a delinquent.
"You're lounging, boy !"
Boy sits bolt upright.
"Left hand, Smith ! Don't want to slow down your magnum opus there, do we ?"
Strap whacks hand of seated Paul Smith, who squeezes it in his crotch for pain relief as soon as Mr. Petrie's back is turned. If he's in a cheeky mood, he'll wave the stinging paw in the breeze. Better not get caught, though !
Time goes by and all that can be heard is the ticking of the classroom clock and the scratching of nibs on paper. Robins is almost asleep.
Strap slams on Robins' desk. He rallies with a start but before he properly has his wits he's been grabbed by the scruff of the neck and hauled into a bend-over on his desk. His little bottom is still safe from whipping, on account of the fold-down desk seat. Mr. Petrie neatly inserts two fingers up Robins' trouser-legs and hoists him up. Robins finds himself gripping the seat in front, its occupant having slid sideways in a hurry to make this possible. Robins' bottom is now facing the ceiling and the strap leaps all over his little cheeks. The legs come up defensively but they get a whack and get out of the way fast.
Everyone else in the class is now sitting rigidly straight, trying to write in this unnatural posture, and contorting to reach their ink wells.
Every teacher at St. Martin's had some idiosyncratic qualities when it came to the art and ritual of a decent strapping. Mr. Blomfield took great pains about the exact readying of a boy's hand for punishment. With a frown of undiluted concentration he would fold his strap in two, tuck it under his armpit, and use both hands to open the trembling palm that was going to be beaten, raising or lowering it, adjusting the boy's elbow angle and so on. Mr. Filman, on the other hand, casually flicked the back or palm of the hand with his folded leather to get his target in position.
Whatever the ritual of positioning a hand for punishment, the outcome was always the same. Like a living thing the unfolded strap leapt up high and came down hard.
Some boys used to pull their hands out of the way at the critical moment, which was good spectator sport for the rest, but dangerous for the coward, who always paid for his wimpishness.
"You will take your punishment like a man !" Mr. Filman used to cliché. Fraser, or Smith, or whoever it was would try again, having already earned an extra wallop. Total failures in manliness of the weeping, hand-retracting type were thrashed on their rear ends. Hands were whizzed round in a futile effort to protect bottoms and legs, futile because a boy couldn't cover his arse and his legs at the same time.
The strap hurt like hell, wherever it fell. Mr. Petrie was expert at extracting the greatest agony from his strokes by choosing at times to whack the tips of the fingers instead of the palm of the hand.
At the age of eleven I found myself in Mr. Davidson's class. He was a first rate strapper who had us all lined up on our first morning with him.
"You are a wilful, unruly bunch of hooligans," he said. "I'll have every last one of you out here with your right hand ready for the strap . . . NOW !"
We were lined up along the blackboard with our hands out straight and WHACK ! WHACK ! Along the row he progressed, giving us two each.
"Left hand !"
Left hands were thrust out and they got two each as well, before the class solemnly shuffled back to their places.
My year with Mr. Davidson was a year dominated by his leather. He used to make comic about warming up our hands with the strap on a frosty morning and frequently did find some reason to start the day by generously warming a few palms. Damian Simons was always in trouble and copped more than most, but I was a resilient little bugger, who thought less of the beatings than of the fun that had led me into strife.
The strap was also liberally applied in Mr. Denton's Form 2 class. His were the senior boys of the school undergoing their final polish before release into the world of secondary education. The reputation of the school rode on their results and future performance. At the ripe age of twelve they were delightfully just beginning to work out what they had between their legs but also how to make adult life hell from the unique perspective of a child on the cusp of adolescence.
We were big enough to be seriously thrashable and the fact that I was a prefect and cricket captain didn't diminish the desirability of my strongly developing arse from a strapper's point of view, or of my inky hands which were now at every opportunity anointed with the then novel texture and wetness of semen. All that copious outpouring of spunk is probably what Mr. Denton had in his mind's eye as he whacked my right palm and slapped my bottom with leather.
My best friend all the way through school was a reckless fellow called Michael Watts. He got a terrible trouncing one day when an irate Mr. Denton stood Mick up in his desk, thrust a finger through the back belt-loop of his shorts, spinning him out to the front, then thrashing Mick's bottom and legs so many times we lost count. The strap sang as it rushed through the air and found its mark. Mick squirmed and danced but every stroke landed soundly. Mick was another who, like me, was big enough for proper floggings. Mr. Denton was just making the most of it.
Mick was one of those boys at St. Martin's who, as well as running the gauntlet of strappings at school, also had to contend with a strap hanging in the kitchen at home. His mother used to whack his hands but Mick's father would lay him over a sofa and thrash his backside.
Even when we were in our later years at secondary school Mick's dad used to thrash him this way, but the venue of these beatings shifted to a desk over which Mick would compliantly bend for the paternal discipline.
I race ahead of my narrative now to describe what happened to Mick when, during our fifth form year, I was witness to this performance.
We were volleying tennis strokes against the old stables when Mr. Watts came outside with a packet of cigarettes in hand. Shit ! We'd forgotten !
"Whose is this ?"
Mick admitted ownership and was summoned into the house for the strap. "Damian can come in as well," he said, to see what happens to Michael when you lead him astray." How did he know that I gave them to Mick?
In any event, Mick and I headed for the study behind his dad. As we walked Mick whispered that I shouldn't worry. His dad wasn't much good at it, he said.
Mick walked straight to the desk, undid his buttons and got himself ready. I have a clear picture of it still. Me standing cautiously out of the way. Mick over the desk, pants down, bare arse, already cane-striped from school, pointing right at me, and the strap being laid on. Mr. Watts looked very good at it to me.
But I have digressed.
Back at St. Martin's I had another good friend in a boy called Wayne, whose father also reddened up his bottom from time to time. Wayne's protest that "it was all Damian's fault" didn't impress his dad, who would beat Wayne soundly and ring mine up to let him know what we'd been up to.
One Friday after school we were surprised by the local policeman who caught us smoking at the railway tracks with Graeme, Wayne's fifteen year old brother.
After we had been lectured by him, Graeme and Wayne and I were marched home to their place by the Law, who wheeled his bike behind us. He delivered us to Wayne's long-suffering mother with some unsolicited wisdom about parents who don't supervise their children and how the whole world was falling apart on account of their omissions.
Once the wise bastard had gone, Mrs. Lamport took the strap down and got as far as whacking Graeme's outstretched hand a couple of times, but ineffectually, judging from Graeme's grin. She gave up, declaring that at the age of fifteen it was better for a man to deal with this sort of thing.
This was a different matter altogether, and we waited anxiously in Graeme's room for the real thing when Dr. Lamport came home.
Wayne and Graeme got a bare-arsed leathering over the arm of the sitting-room sofa.
Graeme led the way. He undid his belt and buttons, yanked down his trousers and underpants and draped himself over Mrs. Lamport's floral upholstery. Graeme's father got to work with the leather. Wayne followed his brother and got a stinging that left him in noisy tears. Both boys had bums as red as ripe tomatoes.
While Graeme stood by in a sulk and Wayne, sobbing, clutched at his stinging backside, I held out my hands for a fairly decent hand-strapping from their dad. He had had enough. He wouldn't strap my bare bottom but, guest or no guest, I would have to take my medicine.
On Monday morning we discovered that the conscientious servant of the Law who had brought us to our misery had insured against assumed parental permissiveness by contacting our headmasters (the three of us were in school uniforms), as a result of which Graeme got a caning at St. Dunstan's and Wayne and I got a second strapping - from Mr. Rayner.
Our woodwork teacher at St. Martin's was Mr. Renner, a big man who gave me some mean hidings. I was a useless carpenter as well as simply being one of those beatable kids who provokes punishment. One day in my final year Mr. Renner caught me 'misusing a chisel'.
"Damian Simons ! Show me the sharp edge of that chisel. Can you see the damage you've done ?"
Mr. Renner showed me patiently what I'd done, illustrating the criminal damage with a diagram on the blackboard of a jagged line, because Simons was too perverse to know what that was.
"But it was like that before sir," I lied hopefully.
This brazen deceitfulness led to what was probably the worst strapping I ever got from a teacher. His patience had simply run out.
I was in my most thrashable primary school year during which Mr. Denton, Mr. Renner and the Head all tried to sort me out, prefect or not. Tall and well-built, twelve years old and spunky, my cool lie really got up Mr. Renner's nose.
I was decorated with badges that proclaimed that I was, as well as a prefect, a champion swimmer and tennis player - all the things that humble Mr. Renner could never have been. I had a plummy accent, infuriatingly good marks, and all the arrogance to go with it. St. Martin's parents were all pretty rich and Mr. Renner thought we were spoiled rotten. Damian Simons was just the last bloody straw.
Maybe Mr. Renner was right to think I needed taking down a peg or two but I didn't enjoy the flogging he gave me in the attempt. He introduced me on the day of the damaged chisel to an exquisite touch that I discovered in the following year was favoured by high school caners when they meant business. During the rush of pain it takes a huge effort of will not to pull one's hand in and rub it or to clutch one's arse when that is the seat of pain. A long pause between strokes permits each whack to be felt to the full but, just when the most urgent pain is subsiding, another stroke is landed.
Mr. Renner gave me three, slowly, on each palm, from the pain of which I stubbornly didn't flinch even though my hands were on fire, and I defiantly kept my face as expressionless as I could. I could hardly feel my hands at all - they were past pain. My face must have been flushed but my cocky refusal to wince even a bit sent Mr. Renner into a fury. He grabbed me by the scruff of the neck and bent me over a stool where, once positioned, I got a hail of strokes across my bottom and legs. After all this, desperately trying not to cry, but with bottom lip quivering and eyes watering, I was stood up and asked if I wanted more.
He landed me another whack across the arse.
"Where are your manners ?"
"I'm sorry sir no thankyou sir."
"There's something else," he said.
"Oh yes sir." I managed to stammer the statutory (with him) "Thank you sir" without falling apart. I never wanted to get a strapping from him again but did get a more subdued dose a few weeks later. Perhaps he felt he had gone over the top with me, even though I surely deserved it.