Monday, 5 February 2018

Fear and Loathing in the Western Isles

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.




The years I spent living in the Western Isles were wonderful years, but they were also the worst years of my life.    Life on the island, and helping on the neighbour's crofts were the fun parts.   School was sheer torture. 


I am talking about the late 1960's, when discipline in school was very different from that of today.  The tawse - a thick leather strap - ruled.     Not all teachers used that implement of torture, but enough of them delighted in both the threat, and the use of it, to make each day a nightmare.

The tawse could be put into action for such misdemeanors as forgetting your homework, or for not being able to quote reams of poetry, the Catechism, or for upsetting the French, French teacher.

At any time one could be called out to the front of the class and told to hold out your hands, ready for punishment, which the whole class had to witness.   It was vile and it was barbaric.

I did my lessons well enough to escape that kind of punishment, but I wore a 'helmet' of fear all the time.     My school days there were not happy times.   

My earlier school had been Stamford High School for Girls - a very different environment, where "Write 100 lines ..." was the usual punishment.

Thank goodness such fear was balanced by the delightful old couple next door and the healing presence of animals on the croft.   Without them my time on the islands would have left a very different impression.


10 comments:

  1. That sounds like something out of Tom Brown's Schooldays or Dickens! How awful that children were brutalized for the slightest thing, imagined by the teachers or real. I went to two lovely schools, both private ones, until I attended the local girls' grammar school. I can't say I loved school, but I didn't hate it either.
    Margaret P

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    1. Hello Margaret, It wasn't the best way to end my school days, that is for sure. Still, as they say, what doesn't kill you makes you stronger! School days apart, they were wonderful times.

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  2. I remember that old strap. I think I got it once but not enough to really hurt. Yes it was the humiliation that was devistating. I just put my head down, did what I was told and tried to keep under the radar. Not the best of days.
    Another country but the same system.

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    1. You little minx! I wonder what you had done!

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  3. Does not sound any different to mine. I moved junior schools and the first day there I got into a fight with another lad. He was sent to the headmaster who came down to our class, called him out and gave him six of the best across the backside infringement of us all. The dust came off his pants and he hollered. Never liked the headmaster he had piggy eyes. In secondary school I had the cane on the hand for being cheeky to a prefect the slipper on the backside in PE and the ruler in Geography. Never minded school but I hated that Headmaster

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    1. You, cheeky to a prefect, Bill? Surely not! There are some people we just find unlikable, for whatever reason.

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  4. My sister had the strap, along with every member of the class, for a supposed misdemeanour by a few of them. She was 6 or 7 at the time. When she went home for lunch she couldn't hold her cutlery. The punishment had been administered by a nun. My Dad had very strong words and the nun was left in no doubt as to what the consequences would be if she ever hit her again.
    At my high school, the head teacher used a cane and the deputy a strap, whilst the male PE teacher used one of his trainers, that he had named. My maths teacher preferred the wooden board rubber, thrown with force across the room.

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    1. Ouch! I suppose part of my problem was that I had previously been attending a fee paying, all-girls school, of the type you read about in story books for girls...I hasten to add that we didn't pay, I had won a scholarship there. (The cost of the uniform was enough of a strain on the family finances). Of course the atmosphere was entirely different and I was ahead in some subjects, lacking in others, and some of my subjects were not available. It wasn't the best transition!

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  5. How lucky you were, to have the joyful counter experiences.

    "Helmet" of fear! I know. I understand. I wore one too, in 7th and 8th grades.

    Not fear of real punishment. But of fear of displeasing in some way, the nasty old nuns teaching in that school, to which I was bussed, every day. I never experienced real school punishment, but believe me, the constant fear of not doing something "right," was scaring too.

    Silly me, being the always-good-little-girl, I had no personal armour, to sluff off the expectations, and fear. Brrrrr... Not nice memories...

    And yet, here we are! We prevailed! In spite!!! :-)

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    1. Hello wisps, I was exceptionally lucky to have spent those years on the island, despite school.

      You are absolutely right, I was the good little girl; the worrier in a loving, but sometimes troubled home, but that is another story altogether and probably not one for blogland.

      Onward!

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