Corporal punishment was the norm in those days. At St Mary’s the administration was far more directly personal than I was to experience later at Wimbledon College.
I was about six or seven when, after her lesson at the end of the day, I incurred the wrath of Mrs Chapman. There had been a spate of lost coats. It was suspected that these had been stolen. I went to my peg and found my coat missing. Full of trepidation, I reported this to the rather frightening teacher. I was told to sit down at my desk and wait. Off she strode to fetch the caretaker.. Together they scoured the buildings for my clothing. Whilst they were gone, and it was growing gloomy in the otherwise empty classroom, I had a terrifying thought that set me a-quivering. The clouds were darkening in Mrs Chapman’s face as she returned without the coat. What I said next brought on the thunder. Bottom lip trembling, ‘Please Miss’, I blurted. All female teachers, married or not, were ‘Miss’ in those days before Ms had been coined. ‘Please Miss’, I repeated, ‘I’ve just remembered. I didn’t bring my coat today’…………… The calm after the storm was deadly. Mrs. Chapman never bothered to send you to Miss Bryant for the cane, she administered a few hearty slaps herself. At least they were on the palms of your hands. Perhaps it hurt her more than it hurt me. Then I had to go home and explain to my Mum why I was late.
Mr. Hyde, on the other hand – actually both of them – wouldn’t hurt himself with his method. He used the flat of a ruler on the backs of your fingers, whilst clasping them to keep them still. With his dark hair and visage; his hirsute nostrils and digits; and his fearsome eyes enlarged by thick lenses, he looked every bit the alter ego of Dr. Jekyll.
Miss Flaxman favoured a barrage of energetic open-handed blows on the backs of your legs. A large red-haired amazon, I don’t think she ever took her coat off, for it always seemed to flap about when she stung your calves. She had to bend down to reach small legs, which meant her head was a bit close so you had to try not to fart. The strange thing about these latter two is that they would steam into you until they were exhausted. His nostrils would flare and flare, and she would become redder and redder in the face. Their breathing would reach a crescendo and eventually quieten, when they would suddenly cease. Rumour had it that they were what we now call an item. Perhaps these performances reflected a certain amount of sexual frustration. They were Catholics, after all.
This physical chastisement takes me to my greatest deviousness. Mrs. Braniff, unusually for her, had decided to send me to the headmistress, Miss Bryant, to be caned. Perhaps she had dished out her own quota for the day. Well, I didn’t fancy the cane, so I nipped round into a corner of the playground and hid for what seemed a reasonable length of time, after which I returned to the classroom hugging my hands beneath my armpits. I suppose I thought that if I were sussed I’d only get the cane anyway. Actually, I got away with it. In the words of the the song, ‘I disremember what’ my misdemeanour had been. I must have been about nine years old.
In due course I will describe the corrective system of my Jesuit Grammar School.