During my school days, I was taught by men in frocks.
After passing my 11 plus I went to St Michael's College in Leeds which was run by the Jesuit brothers. A year later, my parents moved to Timperley when my father got a job on the Daily Express in Manchester and I transferred to De La Salle College which was run by the De La Salle brothers. Both orders wore clerical gowns.
I was brought up a Catholic and found it a religion that was built on guilt and punishment. Every day at school it seemed to be driven into you. At St Michael's ordinary teachers could not administer corporal punishment but would send you to the headmaster to deliver blows across the hand with a whale bone wrapped in rubber. A quaint tradition.
You would report to the office, have your name, crime and punishment noted: “Four strokes, Father. Unruly behaviour.” And then be beaten.
Coming from that particular corridor at certain times of the day would be the thwack of whale bone and the gulp as a boy attempted to stifle a yelp of pain. Some did not succeed and the cries would echo among the lower reaches of school.
St Michael's had its own chapel and confession was compulsory. What do you have to confess at 11? At that age, you haven't even discovered masturbation?
De La Salle's rules were different. Individual teachers dispensed blows and pain as they felt the need. A woodwork brother threw chisels to attract attention. A geography master was a terrific shot with a wooden-backed board duster which he would hurl across the room. The art teacher screwed together two lengths of two inch wide pieces of wood with which he would beat buttocks – using the bolt end for greater effectiveness. The deputy head had perfected a method of picking up boys by their sideburns.
For formal beatings we were sent to the headmaster for caning and a crocodile of boys would gather outside his office every lunchtime.
For lesser crimes boys were condemned to an hour of cleaning the corridors with wire wool attached to their shoes: groups doing a soft shoe shuffle with only a slave song missing. Or given the task of cleaning the gravel at the front entrance that no one used except the staff.
The headmaster, unimpressed by one year's half term exam results, toured the entire school, form by form, and dispensed a whack from the cane for every subject failed. I got two for exams I had missed through sickness.
I often reflect that some of the teachers I knew not only believed in corporal punishment but would happily have embraced capital punishment as well. Or at least some of the lesser fatal persuasions of the Spanish Inquisition.
Is it any wonder I became an atheist?
The teachers I encountered were, in the main, ineffectual and uninterested in their jobs. One elderly maths teacher had become a Dickensian caricature: he taught me absolutely nothing. Flash Harry, a Physical Education teacher, was a bully. We were a rugby school and he gave the ball to the biggest lad in the class at one end of the gym and told the smallest lad in the class to stop him getting to the other end by tackling him round the legs. Mickey was a brave lad from Oldham, where they breed them tough, and he gave it a go. He was left on the wooden floor with a broken jaw and six months off school. Flash Harry got off scot free.
These are autobiographical pieces which I have described as: Bits Of A Life. A flavour of times past during a golden age of provincial journalism, daftness, fun and romance. They are not necessarily in sequence.