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Steve Lamb - The punishment

(September 01, 2014)

Steve Lamb is a retired teacher who lives in south Wales. In a career spanning more than forty years he worked as a teacher, local authority school improvement officer and inspector of education services for children and young people.


Steve Lamb - 2014 Steve Lamb - 1972
Steve Lamb ... now  ... and then (1972)

Steve tells us of an incident that changed his outlook  ...


The punishment

Ordinarily, anger is just a strategy that a teacher uses in day to day classroom management; another piece of theatre in the one act drama of any lesson. But I was beside myself and, when the bell rang, I marched Wayne to Mr Carter's room. I could not speak such was the grip of my rage. All I could think of was the pleasure I would have delivering him for retribution.

Wayne was the son of the couple who kept the hardware shop in Felin Street. His parents were lovely and always apologetic about their wayward son. He was not lovely. In part, this was because of the contemptuous sneer that hovered in his eyes and around his lips. He was a Cardiff City fan. He was admired by too many younger boys in school because he had been filmed by the BBC during a home game at Ninian Park. At the time, he was pinned to a fence by a police dog. The camera caught exactly his sneer and his contempt, even though a German Shepherd was barking savagely and spraying him with spit.

The break time crowd in the form five area parted before us and Mr Carter read the situation from across the corridor. The door to his cramped, windowless office stood open and he was standing there, looking over his year group with a proprietorial stare.

"Have we a problem, Mr Lamb?" he barked. You did not need to be told that he had held non-commissioned officer rank in the British Army.

"I want this boy caned. I won't stand for his insolence any longer. Nothing I say or do seems to improve his behaviour."

We followed him into the office and I closed the door behind me. The cramped L shaped room held a desk and a filing cabinet and no other furniture. The walls were bare, just magnolia painted breeze blocks, and the lighting was harsh.

There was silence as Mr Carter moved behind his desk and still standing, opened a drawer and took out a dark blue A4 spiral bound notebook. He rifled through the pages until he found the current one and carefully placed it open on the desk. The silence was oppressive, but in reflection I realised all this was meant to intimidate the wrongdoer. I don't know about Wayne, but it worked on me.

"This is a meeting that has been waiting to happen since the beginning of term. Isn't it Wayne?" He was not meant to answer and Mr Carter continued in quite a matter of fact way. "Mr Lamb, I'd just like you to know that I cane in order that a boy will never want to come back for second helpings. Do you understand?" I swallowed and nodded. "I don't want to know what he has done. It is enough for me that you want him punished. You do want him caned, don't you?"

Now there was a pause, and I was meant to answer but my throat was dry. I stuttered an incoherent affirmation and turned to leave the room.

"Just a moment Mr Lamb," he said, as he unhooked a light brown cane with a curved handle from the wall above the desk. "You have to witness the punishment and sign the book."

Awkwardly, I turned and stood back against the wall as he raised the cane and came to our side of the desk.

"Stand here boy," he said, as he pulled Wayne nearer to the desk. "Hands or backside?"

"Backside sir."

"Right then, hold out your left hand," and in case there was any confusion he gripped the boy's left wrist and pulled the arm straight. "Do not move your hand or you will cause yourself an injury."

He had been speaking like a civil servant counting paper clips but by now his voice was colder. As he spoke he moved the cane up to the ceiling, tapped the stained ceiling tile and slowly brought it down to within an inch of the open hand. I do not remember what was said but I can still see the hypnotic rise and fall of the cane as he rehearsed the punishment three times and spoke in an Arctic monotone. It was after the cane had touched the ceiling for the fourth time that the rhythm changed. Suddenly there was impetus and the cane accelerated. There was a crack as it whipped across the boy's palm. I swear that I saw two individual tears fire horizontally from his eyes. As he yelped in pain, my stomach lurched.

Mr Carter smiled grimly at the successful delivery of the punishment, moved back to the desk, scribbled briefly in the notebook and spun it for me to sign. My hand trembling I signed, avoiding his eyes.

"Leave Wayne with me please," said Mr Carter in conclusion. "We must have a few words about his future behaviour."

I left the room and made my way back to the English corridor. I walked as if the air was plastic and my weight had doubled. All I had done was witness the punishment I had chosen. I never chose it again.

Steve Lamb, September 2014

If you enjoyed this, you'll also enjoy Steve's first story:
          The interview, June 2014

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