A salutary lesson in Scottish discipline.
By Joanna Jones
My parents moved from England to Scotland due to my father’s work when I would have been entering the sixth form. Due to the way cut off dates for the school age years differ I found I moved straight into the sixth year becoming slightly younger than average rather than being one of the oldest in my year in England. One could do ‘Highers’, a one year course from either fifth or sixth year so it was rather a semantic difference in any case – all it meant was I was in a smaller group who were my age.
We moved over the summer (a very short ‘holiday’ given that the Scots summer school break starts and finishes about three weeks before the English ones) and one of the neighbour’s girls who I met almost straight away was the same age. She would be doing a ‘crash Higher’ in a couple of my subjects as well as some CSYS (Certificate of Sixth Year Studies) which I was not able to do having not done the Highers first. She soon introduced me to her social group, both boys and girls.
Of course they were more than happy to tell me about the teachers I was likely to have for the five subjects I was taking, which were English, Maths (both compulsory), French, History and Biology. It was a boy called Robert who said that for Higher History it was a ‘Mr Beltarder’.
I should have realised I was being duped but did not see the signals as, when I commented on it being an unusual name, a boy called Peter quickly interrupted my friend Marie, saying: “Yes, apparently it’s after some tiny village between Perth and Dundee, I think the last part must have the same derivation as Auchterarder, which is a small town in the same area.”
I vaguely had heard that name and accepted it. Little did I know I had fallen for his prank hook, line and sinker.
In my first week I, of course, tried to introduce myself to all my teachers and he was indeed my History teacher. It was the second day back when it was my first history lesson.
Thus as we came in I, in my new school uniform (blue school blazer, white blouse, school tie, skirt, skin coloured tights) went to the front and he smiled as I came towards him.
I cannot describe all the changes in his facial reactions as I said: “Excuse me, Mr Beltarder, I am Amy Corbett and have just moved…to….this….school…”
My voice tailed off as his smile changed into incredulity and then his face flushed into something I can only describe as pure anger. He was indeed ‘extremely angry.’ I found out later that he had an almost pathological hatred of that nickname and would belt younger pupils severely if he overheard them use it in the corridor. Not that it made any difference; he was always called that out of earshot.
“Who told you my name was that?” He demanded. He was over six foot tall and fairly well built. As a result I was extremely intimidated as he towered over me.
However, the main feeling was one of horror. I realised pretty well immediately that I had been tricked and as a result was in a real predicament. If I told, then my name and reputation at a brand new school would be mud, but if I didn’t…well he looked absolutely furious!
As I stared at him, panic stricken, he more forcefully repeated the question.
“I..I c…can’t remember exactly.” I stammered. I was praying he would remember I was the ‘naive new girl’.
However, he was not stupid and was not going to fall for that. “I don’t believe you, girl.” He said angrily.
“Please, I can’t remember. I am sorry.” I begged desperately.
He glowered at me and told me to take my bag and stand outside his door.
Stricken, I did exactly as I was told.
I was a well behaved girl who had never been in trouble at my previous school and thus was mortified to be standing outside a classroom door on my second day, and as a “sixth year” no less. The deserted corridor felt oppressive as I prayed that neither the Head nor anyone else for that matter would come along.
Inside I could hear the part muffled voice of the history teacher demanding angrily who had set the ‘new girl’ up. However, none of my new ‘friends’ dared speak up. To be fair he was extremely scary when angry, even to older pupils, and in any case the most guilty party, Peter, was not in the class as he was not doing the subject.
Finally he clearly gave up and I heard his steps towards the door as stomped out and glowered at me.
“Why did you call me that name.” He demanded angrily.
“Please, it was a misunderstanding; I’d overheard that was really it!” I begged.
He looked at me very coldly for a moment. Then he ordered me to pull out me timetable and tell me what it said.
Nervously I raked rapidly through my bag and picked out my timetable. I read: “History, Room 1.15, JFB.”
At least his name was not on it, I thought with a little relief.
“Turn it over and carry on!” He demanded.
I felt sick as I saw a key to the teachers’ initials. Finding the correct row I whispered: “JFB: Mr Bell”, then after a brief pause I continued: “I am really sorry, sir.”
His anger was more controlled as he said: “I will give you one last chance. Either tell me who told you that name or take responsibility yourself.”
I felt sick as I lied again. “I am really sorry Mr Bell, but I can’t remember.”
“Very well.” He said, and put his right hand under his jacket and pulled out his two tailed tawse, which clearly he kept ‘ready for action’ over his left shoulder.
My stomach lurched. Although I had never to that point seen one, there was only one thing it could be; ‘the belt’. Looking back it seems dumb that I never put “Belt” and “Beltarder” together to realise that I’d been tricked, but in my defence the two discussions had not been at the same time.
Anyway returning to the story, my friends had mentioned the belt briefly but told me not to worry – all pupils could in theory be ‘belted’, but in practice it rarely happened to girls, and in any case ‘never to fifth or sixth years, boy or girl’.
Well that’s what they had said.
Clearly they were wrong.
I was panicking now. “Please sir!” I begged. “It was a misunderstanding, please don’t. It won’t happen again.”
I felt a tear in my eye as I said it.
However my pleas met with a stony look. “You did not check your timetable properly, and I will not tolerate that level of cheek, even inadvertently. I gave you many chances to tell me who was responsible, but you refused. Now, you know what to do!”
Confused I replied sickly: “Sorry, sir, but please I don’t.”
I saw shock on his face as he demanded: “What do you mean, don’t?”
“I don’t know what you want me to do.” I replied miserably.
None of my friends had explained the procedure for ‘getting the belt’. All that had been said by the boys was that it stung badly. None of the girls in the little clique I had been involved in had received (or at least admitted to receiving) the belt at all. As a result I did not even know if I was meant to bend over as boys (and very rarely girls) in my previous school had had to do for the slipper.
However Mr Bell was incredulous. “Where did you go to school before?”
“Near Leicester, sir.” I replied dejectedly.
Finally the penny clicked that I might genuinely have no idea how corporal punishment north of the border was administered.
Perhaps it calmed him down ever so slightly as his voice was slightly less irate as he said: “Put your hands out directly in front of you, non-writing hand on top.”
Shaking like a leaf, and trying to control the wetness in my eyes, I did so.
After making a few final adjustments he flung his belt over his right shoulder and told me not to dare move unless I wanted extra.
Then the belt arced down and landed on my left palm with a mighty slap.
The shock of the stinging pain was unimaginable to me at the time. I screamed, burst into tears and clamped my hand to my chest as I bent double over it.
After a brief pause he said: “And again, hands out!”
“Oh-oh, please!” I replied between sobs.
He was implacable. “Now!” He ordered firmly.
Fearfully, and sobbing continuously, I put my hands back, outstretched in front of me.
A second slap of stinging pain to my left palm and again I screamed madly.
Briefly I waved my throbbing hand around before clamping it back to my midriff.
“Right, what’s your name?” He asked.
As I expected he had been so angry he had not heard my original introduction.
“Amy, Amy Corbett.” I replied between sobs.
“Right, Amy, back into class and let’s get on with the lesson. Oh, and Amy, as far as I am concerned this matter is over completely. I will not either consider or refer to it again unless you are foolish enough to repeat it.”
He now sounded much more conciliatory, but I was too wrapped up in the pain to care. With my bag on my right shoulder and hands still clamped together on my midriff I shuffled, tears continuously streaming down my cheeks, to a seat next to Marie.
It was a harsh introduction to Scottish schooling, and one I ensured was never repeated.