I’m not good at receiving punishment. I don’t deserve it. Ever.
That was my mindset as a child which allied to a visceral aversion to pain and a pathological need to be loved meant I did absolutely bloody everything to avoid any sort of approbation let alone punishment. The thing was, though, back in the 60s in sleepy north Surrey, there were so many ways to get it wrong and be naughty or break some rule that you could easily find yourself sucked, maybe suckered, into some action that left you with only one conclusion: a punishment was coming.
Variously the punishments I recall (a lot of which would happen today in maybe similar or more subtle ways) included:
- a telling off: this could be shouted or sotto voce but left me feeling sick. It could be done with a snigger, where the crime was both obvious and hilarious to some adult, but it still felt awful. And worst of all it could be done in front of one’s peers which was mortifying, ‘swallow me now please, world’ embarrassing.
- a ban: no playtime, no use of a toy, book or favoured thing, no watching TV. I didn’t mind this so much because it didn’t involve humiliation to quite the same degree. It was useless if it involved going to one’s room because there were things there to do.
- a banishment: to my room, out of class, to the head’s office, into detention
- physical (1): now the ultimate was the cane but, so terrified of this was I, I would have sold my mother to avoid it. The worst experience of my young life involved cycling home from school, between the ages of 11 and 12 (before I changed school). Out of school you had to wear your cap; to be seen without it was punishable in only one way – the cane. Yet my route home took me past the feral secondary school pupils whose principal goals in life between 3.25 and 3.40 Monday to Friday involved (a) trying to push me off my bike and/or (b) stealing my cap. For this gauntlet run of about 250 yards I had a choice. Go like buggery, cap aloft and hope they failed to snatch it or go like buggery, cap in hand and hope not to be seen. Logic dictated the latter as the only sensible course. Daily I took part in that gruesome initiation and never was I either deprived of my cap or caught without it on but I can still shiver if I imagine myself back on that lonesome stretch of road.
- physical (2): I was hit with a stick twice as a punishment and both times the cane-wielder was my mother. Never once did she threaten ‘wait until you father gets home’ because (a) if something needed doing she would do it and (b) she knew full well he wouldn’t be up to his side of this implied bargain. Indeed, a few of authoritarian adults apart (two policemen, a milkman and someone with a fawn raincoat and polished shoes who I hit with a conker) who administered ear and head clips of varying degrees of effectiveness (the policemen were the most accurate, the milkman the most painful), my mother was the only person to apply what felt like close to lethal force. I can only recall the why once: I used a carved stick, which my father had worked on for ages to poke a bonfire, much to my mother’s seething ire.
- physical (3): of the other slaps and cuffs administered I remember on classic motherly punishment. Having begun to write on the wall, my mother decided to encourage the free expression but save the paintwork by erecting a huge blackboard and provide us with chalk and dusters. I continued to prefer the wall. ‘Do that again and I will scrub you as hard as I have to scrub the wall.’ I did and she did. I wailed, she shook the cleaning powder into my mouth. That awful soapy taste can still be called to mind even to this day.
And that last incident is a lead in to the worst of all punishments for me: the threat. My mother always made good on a threat. Nothing about her was idle. It was the waiting, like the old joke about the man waiting for the second shoe to be dropped, that killed me. I hated being on tenterhooks. Sure I couldn’t stand any of the above but if I had a choice between a certain punishment now and the possibility in the future, well beat me please.
This post in in response to Irene Waters ‘Times Past’ prompt. This month it is punishments. For Irene’s purposes I am a boomer.