Our Crack Snapper
I was happy when I saw all the kids return to secondary school at the start of September. Happy, not because the Summer Holidays were over, but happy because I knew whatever those kids would face at least they wouldn’t face corporal punishment on a daily basis. They wouldn’t face the “belligerent ghoul” I faced on my first week in secondary school who screamed at me and then proceeded to whack me across the ear with a violence that induced stars and terror. (Although not enough terror for me to avoid further doses of corporal punishment.)
It was a school where running in the corridors was, apparently, one of the worst crimes imaginable and would be met with openhanded slaps on the bottom. Especially by a teacher who I later nicknamed Mr Slap Happy. He couldn’t get enough of it. He seemed to be waiting secretly at the corner of every junction for kids who, like lambs, just couldn’t help jumping, skipping and generally exploding with joy every time they left a class. They were invariably met by the Sergeant Major, a shout of a surname or two, and then told to line up while he administered the prescribed slaps.
This carried on for years, or until we were too old for Mr Slap Happy to bother with. He had younger fish to fry. That wasn’t quite the end of him though. Years later during another boring playtime we proceeded to scratch our initials and favourite football teams onto the wall of one of the prefab classrooms. After the inevitable witch-hunt and interrogation, five of us were escorted to Mr Slap Happy who, for old time’s sake, presumably stuck his hand up during a teacher’s meeting to administer the beating. I think we were kindly offered a choice: hand or slipper (ie gym shoe). I opted for old friend Mr Slap Happy’s hand which seemed to want to make acquaintance with my arse again. Did it hurt? Yeah, it did. But, no doubt, it didn’t hurt us as much as it hurt him.
The other moment from that day that does stick in my mind, though, was when one of my fellow vandals said, why don’t we stand up to him and stop him, which was almost the kind of revolutionary thought crime that could have got you expelled in those bleak years. As school children it was strictly forbidden to think about putting one’s hand up to be Spartacus or to think about children’s rights. We were there to understand where power in society lay. We were there to follow orders from our elders and betters, to be thankful for the limited expectations offered us as secondary school children, and to be the drones eventually controlled by the kings and queens turned out by Britain’s public schools. Corporal punishment was banned in British secondary schools in 1986. But, otherwise, plus ca change.