Finally Getting The StrapIt was 1975 and I was in Grade Five at a primary school in Melbourne, Victoria, Australia. Corporal punishment was a fact of life in schools. At my school, boys got the strap as an official punishments. Girls were not supposed to get corporal punishment, but all that meant was they did not get the strap. They could be smacked, or given the ruler, just not the strap, while boys could get all three. By Grade Five I was probably one of the only boys in my class who had never been given the strap - some boys got it several times a term and very few completely avoided it. I am come very close once, two years earlier, when I was sent to Mr Cawdor, the male Grade Five teacher who had the job of using the strap when it was considered necessary, but he had been away that day and I had wound up being smacked on the bottom by the lady teacher who normally punished very naughty girls.
In Grade Five, I found myself in Mr Cawdor's class but this didn't put me at any particular risk of being strapped. It was Mr Cawdor's job to give the strap but he did not actually decide if you would get it or not. They way it worked was that you were sent to see the Principal, or summoned to see the Principal, and she decided whether or not you would be sent to see Mr Cawdor at playtime or lunchtime and he would then administer the punishment. And he sent boys to see the Principal less often that either my Grade Three or Four teachers had.
What got me in trouble was marbles. There was a craze for playing marbles at the time and most kids had a good collection. Different types of marbles were more or less desirable than others and I was one of the kids who was more interested in trading marbles than actually playing with them. The school made rules about these trades and one of the rules said that you could not trade with anybody more than one grade above you or below you - so in Grade Five, I could trade with Grades Four, Fives, or Sixes. The idea was to stop older children taking unfair advantage of younger children.
But I saw a marble I wanted so much, in the hands of a Grade Two boy. It was one I had never seen before - deep blue glass with flecks of other colours all over its surface. Nobody else had any like it, and this boy had five of them - and no other marbles at all. Now, a lot of Grade Fives would have taken it off him, or would have offered him a completely unfair trade. I took out my collection of marbles and laid it down on the ground, in an area right at the back of the school, right on the edge of being out of bounds, and offered him his choice of any thirty of my marbles for one of his blues - he countered with fifty and I agreed. He spent ten minutes pawing through my collection to choose his fifty marbles, and we both, I think, parted happy with the deal.
At assembly the following Monday, the Principal had quite a bit to say about marbles. Including about unfair trading. She told us that she was going to take action about it, and there would be very serious consequences for anybody who was engaging in such practices from now on. And she ended the assembly by reading out a list of names of about thirty children she wanted to see after assembly - including my name and that of the Grade Two boy I had traded with.
We all went to the office, and stood outside in the corridor, as children were called in, singly, or in small groups to see the Principal. Some came out looking nervously relieved, some came out with cardboard slips in their hands that we all knew meant either a detention slip to be signed by your parents, or, worse, a slip to be taken to Mr Cawdor or Mrs Matthews at playtime or lunchtime. These children did not look relieved. About half the group had been called in, before I was finally summoned in along with the Grade Two boy I had traded with.
The Principal was at her desk and we both stood in front of it. "Christopher Burnside and Kevin Forsyth - did you trade marbles with each other on Friday?"
Kevin answered very quickly in a panicked voice. "No, I didn't. I didn't!" and the Principal turned and looked straight at me and I decided to go along with Kevin's attempt to avoid punishment. "No, we didn't, Miss."
She looked at us. "You are both lying. You were seen and reported by some of the Grade Six girls."
Kevin burst into tears. "He made me do it, Miss! He made me do it!"
The Principal was sharp. "Be quiet, Kevin." She looked at both of us. "Christopher, you will see Mr Cawdor at lunchtime. You know the rules and you've lied to me as well, which is far worse." She wrote out a slip and handed it to me. Then she spoke to Kevin. "Kevin, you will also see Mr Cawdor at lunchtime. If you had been honest from the start, I probably would not be making you see him, but I can't abide lies." She wrote him out a slip as he cried.
I went back to my class feeling sorry for myself. I was just about certain to get the strap. As I walked into the room, Mr Cawdor looked up at me, and saw the slip I still had in my hand, and for a moment, he looked sympathetic, before he said "Get on with the maths problems on the board." I sat down at my desk and opened my slip to have a look.
My list of crimes read as follows: "Illegal marble trading with a younger boy. Deliberately lying to avoid punishment. Bullying and intimidation of a younger boy. VI." I was doomed. Absolutely doomed. And that last one simply wasn't true. It just wasn't.
When the bell rang for playtime, I went to see Mr Cawdor. He was my class teacher, and he always seemed fair. I had the slip in my hand and he said: "I'm dealing with that at lunchtime, Chris."
"But it's not fair, Mr Cawdor!"
"Chris, it isn't my call. I'm the executioner, not the judge and jury."
"If you really think it's unfair, I'll send you back to the office after playtime and you can see the Principal again. But you'd better be very, very sure of your ground or it just isn't worth it."
"I want to see the Principal, please."
"All right - go and play. You're not going to be in the mood at lunchtime."
At the end of playtime, as we went inside, Mr Cawdor told me to go to the office - the Principal was waiting to see me. I found myself standing in front of her desk again, and she looked very annoyed to see me there.
"Give me your punishment slip."
I handed it over.
"Do you deny trading marbles with a younger boy?"
"No, I did."
"Do you deny that when I asked you about it earlier you lied?"
"Do you deny that you bullied him into trading with you, and into lying about it this morning?"
She stood up and came around her desk to stand next to me. She put her hands on my shoulders and turned me around to face her, and then crouched down so I was looking straight into her face. She still had her hands on my shoulders. And she spoke.
"You are a liar."
"I AM NOT!" I yelled it out. I wasn't lying. I was telling the truth. I was being honest about the things I had done, even though they would be enough to get me the strap by themselves, but I hadn't bullied anybody. She reared up and released my shoulders spinning me around so I was facing away from her, and when I was facing away from her, one hand clamped down on my shoulder again, and I felt the other slam hard into my bottom.
"You - do - not - shout - at - me!" Each word was punctuated by a hard smack across my bottom. I was crying as she let go of me. I watched as she walked back to her desk and picked up the punishment slip I had given back to her. She ripped it in half, and picked up a new slip and a pen and wrote across it.
"You will see Mr Cawdor at lunchtime. And you are very lucky, I am not going to send a note home as well." That was a serious threat. Until recently my punishments at home had tended to be relatively mild, but stupidly taking fifty cents from my mother's purse had changed that - now the wooden spoon was in use at home, with the threat of the belt in the background. She handed me the slip. "Go back to class."
As I walked weeping to class, I opened the slip and read what it said "Illegal marble trading with little boy. Bullying and intimidating little boy. Repeated dishonesty to try and escape punishment. Abusive behaviour towards Principal. X."
The whole class looked up as I entered the room in tears. One boy near the door said, quietly, but not quietly enough, "What a sook." Mr Cawdor thundered at him. "Stephen Wilcox, go straight to the office!" Stephen came back about ten minutes later clutching a slip of his own and fighting to hold back tears.
When eating time began - ten minutes before the bell for the lunchtime play period - Mr Cawdor told Stephen and I to to go and use the toilets and then wait outside. We did so without speaking to each other. As we waited outside the classroom, eight or so other boys - including Kevin from Grade Two arrived and joined us. Two girls lined up outside Mrs Matthews doorway down the corridor. The bell came, my class streamed out, and Mr Cawdor came to the door.
"Get in here, all you boys. Give me your slips and line up in front of the blackboard."
He sat down at his desk and read through the slips, sorting them into order. This only took a minute or so, then he opened his desk drawer and took out the strap. It was about a foot long and an inch and a half wide, made of black leather. He stood up and walked to next to the classroom door.
"Kevin Forsyth, front and centre."
Kevin walked over crying.
"Are you right or left handed, Kevin?"
"Then give me your left hand."
Kevin held up his left hand, and Mr Cawdor took a firm grip on his wrist and turned his hand over so the palm was facing up. Mr Cawdor lifted the strap and brought it down hard on Kevin's hand. The little boy shrieked.
"Get out. John Field, front and centre."
Mr Cawdor went through the younger boys first and we got to the stage that only myself, Stephen, and another boy from the other Grade Five class, Paul Hopkins were left.
"Paul Hopkins, front and centre."
Paul walked over. "Right or left handed?"
"Right, Mr Cawdor."
"Hold out your left hand." This time he didn't take the boy's wrist. Paul lifted his hand into place and Mr Cawdor lay the strap on it, then lifted it up and brought it down harder than he had with the younger boys. Paul doubled over clutching his left hand with his right hand.
"Stand up and put your hand out again, Paul. I always give senior boys at least two."
Paul very slowly lifted up his left hand, again, Mr Cawdor rested the strap on his hand, raised it and brought it down hard.
"Get out. Stephen Wilcox. Front and centre."
Stephen was a boy who got the strap quite regularly. He walked over and stood in front of Mr Cawdor and lifted his left hand up without being asked. Mr Cawdor laid the strap across it and I watched Stephen close his eyes as the strap was lifted away - every other boy had kept his eyes open during his punishment, I realised. The strap came down hard and Stephen yelped as he pulled his hand away and shook it twice before putting it back into place. The strap was laid across it again, and brought down again, and he took it away and stood shaking it for about five seconds before Mr Cawdor said. "Put it out again."
Stephen put his hand out again, it was shaking slightly. Mr Cawdor placed the strap on it, raised it,.and Stephen dropped his hand away as the strap rose.
"Put your hand out, Stephen."
"I can't." Stephen's voice was very shaky.
"You can. If you don't, I'll hold it. And if I have to hold it, I'll give you one on the other hand as well. Hold it out and it's all over in ten seconds."
Stephen lifted his hand up. His eyes were screwed shut. I watched Mr Cawdor take careful aim without putting the strap on Stephen's hand, and then lash it down with force. Stephen began bawling and bent double.
"Get out. Christopher Burnside. Front and centre."
I walked over to near the door. As I got there, I lifted up my left hand and closed my eyes.
I felt the strap rest on my palm. It was warm. I could feel the stitching running on each side of it. It was lifted away and then my hand seemed to simultaneously go numb and explode with pain and fire beyond anything I would have imagined possible. I clutched my hand to my chest and bent over. I was a senior boy, so I knew I would be getting two, and I thought I would probably be getting three. I straightened up and without opening my eyes, held out my left hand again. I felt the weight of the strap laid across my hand, but not the heat or stitching this time. Maybe that meant I wouldn't feel this next one as much. I was horrified to realise that the second explosion of pain was even worse than the first, and again I felt myself bend forward, clutching my hand. This time I waited to be told, just in case I was luckier than I expected to be.
"Put your hand out, Christopher."
I slowly lifted my hand up again. Very slowly. I felt Mr Cawdor grab my wrist and I shook my hand free. I was going to hold it up myself. I didn't want to be threatened with extras on my right hand the way Stephen had been. I waited for the weight of the strap, but instead there was just another explosion of pain. I bent over holding my hands, opened my eyes, and felt the salty tears spreading across my hand and waited for dismissal.
"Stand up and put your right hand out."
I stood up and looked at Mr Cawdor rather shocked. He shook his head slightly. "I'm sorry, Christopher, you shouldn't have argued the toss. Put your right hand out."
I slowly extended my right hand and stood there staring at it as he laid the strap across it. Again I could feel the stitching and the warmth. My left hand was throbbing and numb at the same time. I watched as the strap was lifted up and watched as it came swinging down. I almost fell forward, and tried to work out what to do with my poor right hand. Mr Cawdor told me what I needed to do.
"Put it out again."
I stood up and brought the hand up. He put the strap across it, and looked at me. "Close your eyes, Mate."
I closed my eyes and I felt the strap lifted away, and then a fresh explosion of pain. I was shaking my hand frantically as if it would put the fire out.
"Put it out again."
I couldn't. I just couldn't do it. I straightened up and tried to raise my hand, but I couldn't. He reached down and grabbed my wrist hard and lifted up my hand. I tried to pull away, remembering again what he had said to Stephen, but he said quietly. "This is the last one." He raised the strap and brought it down hard releasing my wrist just before it hit me. Again, the explosion of pain and the numbness.
I left and I ran down the corridor sobbing to the toilets. I had been only, at most fifteen minutes earlier, but I felt a desperate need to go again. It was difficult to undo my fly and peform the other necessary manipulations with hands that were on fire, throbbing, and numb at the same time, but I was in terror that I would wet myself, and I managed it. When I went to wash my hands, I was hoping the cool water would help but at first it just made everything hurt again in a new way, before finally having a positive effect.