crime and punishment #times past

I’m not good at receiving punishment. I don’t deserve it. Ever.

2014-07-17 17.20.55

Innocent, me?

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.

About TanGental

My name is Geoff Le Pard. Once I was a lawyer; now I am a writer. I've published several books: a four book series following Harry Spittle as he grows from hapless student to hapless partner in a London law firm; four others in different genres; a book of poetry; four anthologies of short fiction; and a memoir of my mother. I have several more in the pipeline. I have been blogging regularly since 2014, on topic as diverse as: poetry based on famous poems; memories from my life; my garden; my dog; a whole variety of short fiction; my attempts at baking and food; travel and the consequent disasters; theatre, film and book reviews; and the occasional thought piece. Mostly it is whatever takes my fancy. I avoid politics, mostly, and religion, always. I don't mean to upset anyone but if I do, well, sorry and I suggest you go elsewhere. These are my thoughts and no one else is to blame. If you want to nab anything I post, please acknowledge where it came from.
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20 Responses to crime and punishment #times past

  1. That picture….priceless. It doesn’t look like anyone who’d need punishment of any sort. ☺


  2. colinandray says:

    Sounds like a perfectly normal childhood to me, except that I got Saturday morning detention for not wearing my cap! The problem was disappearing for a Saturday morning without my parents knowing where I was going and why!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Well Geoff… I was with you. LOL.
    I still remember running like he|| from my fly-swatter wielding mother, and from that dead run, sliding under the bed, Mission Impossible style. Accompanied by the mandatory “Wait til your daddy gets home and see what he does!”
    Great photo. Mega hugs to you then and now. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Sacha Black says:

    I got a couple of slaps but that stopped when I was 2. Then the step dad arrived and he… Well, better left unsaid. I’ll see him next Tuesday with his fave tennis racket weapon.

    Your punishments sounded ouchie!

    Liked by 2 people

  5. noelleg44 says:

    Isn’t it amazing that we turned out OK after being subjected to physical punishment? I got the switch, my cousins the belt. Nothing in school except a ruler to my knuckles in third grade when I persisted in writing with my left hand. My brother got a yard stick on his backside, administered by my mother, but negative reinforcement never worked with him – he just laughed when it broke.He turned out OK too.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Ali Isaac says:

    How horrid! Poor you! I remember getting slapped around the head, although I can’t remember what for, and running around the coffee table to avoid being hit. Always by mum not dad. But he was rarely around.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. A bit near the bone, much of that, Geoff. Here is a slightly lighter angle on physical punishment:


  8. Norah says:

    Sacha’s response is an indication, of course, of how punishment times have changed. It will be interesting to see the trends shown in the responses that Irene receives. The photo of the young boys is very cute – that it’s you is obvious – the smile is still the same. Yeah, we survived those punishments. I can think of a few I could have done without. Thanks for sharing yours. Have a good week.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Pingback: Punishment: Times Past | Reflections and Nightmares- Irene A Waters (writer and memoirist)

  10. Thanks for sharing that very concise description of the types of punishment that were common for Baby Boomers. You have been the first to mention (and without it I would not have recalled it) the soapy water treatment. I can’t recall ever having it happen to me but the threat was there “you say that again I’ll wash your mouth out …” I did once see it happen to a friend. That was enough to make me do as you said, try and avoid it at all costs. Like you also, my mother administered all physical punishment. Not because Dad was not there but because Dad just simply wouldn’t have done it. Thanks for all that you have added to this subject. It was good also to have a male perspective but I don’t think it has shown any gender differences in the punishments given.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. trifflepudling says:

    Crikey, Geoff! My mother had a short spell of chasing one with a wet hand-held string dish mop, but the most effective thing was her grip either on the arm or on the knee under the table, if we were out to tea or something, and the words “Now, look” murmured between gritted teeth. Still shiver a bit but it makes me laugh now. She had a great sense of humour and once, when we were silently scuffling outside Rev Mother’s bedroom because I didn’t want to go back to school, the lining of my raincoat ripped loudly and she started to laugh, loosening her grasp for a fatal second, at which point I rushed back out to the car where Daddy was having a quiet ciggie!

    Liked by 1 person

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