20 September 2003

Ullswater: Penrith Secondary Modern: Discipline.

Discipline at Penrith Secondary Modern was very strict, even for the 1940s. The cane was the order of the day and used frequently for both mis-endeavours' and class work mistakes. The most feared master was the History Master, he was a tall man of perhaps 45 with dark straight hair parted one side and plastered down to his scalp. He would come into class always the same, schoolbooks under one arm and his cane under the other. The moment he entered the classroom door silence reigned in class and the drop of a pin would sound loud, he would stand for a moment looking round the class and the put the schoolbooks and cane down on his desk, still not uttering a word. The whole class would sit with eyes riveted on him. He would then walk across to the wall blackboard, turn round and face the class and his first words would delegate a boy to distribute the class work books. Returning to his desk all boys still silent, with eyes still glued to the history master they sat waiting for the dreaded same words "Please open your books to the last exercise. All boys with more than 3 red marks on the last exercise......excluding the tick, come out here". Always the same words. A group of perhaps 8 to 10 boys would slowly rise and form a line, backs to the blackboard. He would silently eye each boy, whilst toying with his cane lying across the his desk. He knew how many boys should be in the line as he counted them slowly. Picking up his cane he would approach the first boy.

"How many red marks, excluding the tick, Bamber?" he would say. "5 sir" said Henry holding out his hand.
Whack, whack, whack. Still a deathly silence as Henry walked slowly back to his seat. The next boy the same and so on down the line of boys. The history Master never raised his voice or altered its tone, each word was spoken slowly and precisely, always the same words, his movements always in the same order. I would say today each boy could repeat like a litany each word and movement, it never varied. I think that was what each of us dreaded most was this never varying ritual; we knew each step of the process. I also think each boy tried and worked to his utmost, hoping to breath a sigh of relief when he opened his workbook and counting the red marks minus the tick.

Every boy in the History class had at one time or another, had felt the History Master's cane across his hand, some much more than others. Even I had felt his cane, at least twice.
The only thing I cannot remember is his name. I remember his dress, his voice, his manner, his expressions, and his slight smile as he looked directly at me sometimes when he boarded our morning bus at the outskirts Tirrell.

Reminder to me: may put in the broken cane incident later.

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