A belter passes into history

6th August 2004 at 01:00
he last - in fact the only - teacher to belt me has just retired. Let's call him Mr Coulter. It isn't his real name, though anyone with a knowledge of Lanarkshire geography (or indeed history, for that was his subject) should be able to work out what he was really called.

Mr Coulter was teaching our first-year class when a colleague came in to speak to him. Naturally, we began to blether. When the visitor left, our teacher quietly said: "Now come on. Be honest. Who was chatting while I was talking?"

A couple of dozen honest hands went up. Mr Coulter's voice switched to a snap. "Girls get 100 lines. Boys line up for the belt!" For a while after I felt as if I had giant, pulsating, cartoon character hands. I glanced at them periodically. Apart from looking a little like reddish corned beef, they were fine and so was I, psychologically. Seeing someone else on the receiving end of the tawse had a much greater effect on me.

Edward Barron (not his real name, but anyone . . .) was the class hard man.

I didn't like him even before he put a road cone on my head while I waited for the Carluke bus. One day in art, as part of his civic duties, he let out a protracted, watery belch. It was like a large frog down a deep well.

Greek! This earned him three of what turned out to be the very best.

He was howling and shaking his head after one, but the teacher persisted.

If he intended that we kept our flatulence very much to ourselves in the future, he succeeded. If he wanted at least one of his onlookers to be scared of coming to art for the next few months, he scored there too.

Ten years later, I was at teacher training college. The belt had just been banned. Mrs Campbell of Clydebank (her real name, I believe) had recently gone to the Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg to raise her objection to her son receiving corporal punishment in a Strathclyde school.

Namby-pamby pinko stuff I thought then, but I am now grateful to her for precipitating the end of a system of discipline that I would have hated as a teacher more than I ever did as a pupil.

Mrs Campbell might even have become a heroine if she hadn't subsequently packed her son off to an independent school where corporal punishment was still sanctioned.

So enjoy your retirement, Mr Coulter. I am grateful to you for giving me something that was part of every boy's legitimate 1970s school experience.

When you later became a colleague, you were one of many who showed that it didn't have to be that way.

Gregor Steele (his real name) would probably have been a useless tawser anyway.

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