Six of the Best

Six of the Best

A short story about the use of corporal punishment in schools to maintain discipline in Scotland.


Action / Adventure


Tony MacDiarmid (Australia)

~~Every pupil in the school knew the rhyme by heart
Mister Hoy is a very good boy
He goes to church on Sunday
He prays to God to give him strength
To wallop the boys on Monday
Our headmaster, Mister Hoy, was a lumbering giant of a man with unruly greying hair. He wore a slightly rumpled, grey and white pinstripe suit, shiny black shoes and, balanced on his nose, half glasses over which he stared penetratingly at any boy who had the temerity to look at him. He knew the surname of every boy and girl in the school and never addressed a boy by his first name. Every morning he scanned the line of students as they passed on their way to the classrooms. He stood there scowling, his hands behind his back, large belly testing the buttons of his double breasted jacket.
Mister Hoy had a daughter who was also a very large person. Probably the smartest girl in the school, a fast runner and a top scorer at netball. Behind her back (and it was a large back) she was given the nickname Glumdy (Gulliver’s forty feet tall nurse in Brobdingnag was called Glumdalclitch). Nobody called her Glumdy to her face. Not only was she the dreaded Mister Hoy’s daughter, she was also a good head taller than most of the boys. We had a rhyme for her, again in the manner of irreverent teenage boys:
Big fat arse
Big fat bitch
Big fat tits
Mister Hoy used terror to maintain discipline in a classroom of teenage boys. To reinforce his message, he wore a permanent frown and carried the loathsome belt coiled around his right fist.
This was in an age where corporal punishment was the normal method for dealing with recalcitrant youth. The belt was standard school equipment. Mostly, it was locked away in the teacher’s lectern, but we all knew where it lurked. Most belts were made from tanned leather, about 60cm long, 50mm wide and 5mm thick. The ‘business’ end was slit into two or three fingers, a great design for inflicting maximum pain. The belt wrapped around Mister Hoy’s right fist was an extra heavy duty buffalo hide. Six of the best on the palms of the hands was the typical cost of a breach of school rules. The punishment could bring tears to the eyes of even the largest boy – girls were not belted! The pain was particularly nasty on a cold day, on partially numb hands, it could take five minutes before the throbbing pain reached a maximum.
Our language teacher, Miss McLean, was a small, slim, quietly spoken woman who had three grown up girls of her own but she was totally out of her depth in a classroom full of unruly, boys. One day while trying to instil some French culture into the heads of totally disinterested, noisy students, a red blotch appeared on each of her cheeks. She put her hands over her ears and ran out of the classroom sobbing. Within a minute Mister Hoy came bursting into the room. Almost ripping the door off its ornate brass hinges. He stood like a gunslinger, legs apart at the front of the class.
‘So we have some tough guys in this class’. Mister Hoy's physical presence, loud voice and ultra-aggressive manner struck fear into the heart of each boy. He uncoiled the dreaded heavy duty buffalo hide, swung it lustily at an empty desk with a crashing noise which thundered and reverberated around the room. The eyes of every boy were riveted on the belt. Scarcely a breath was being drawn. Mister Hoy sat menacingly on the edge of a desk. ‘Carry on Miss McLean, let's see who the tough guys are’ he commanded. By now, Miss McLean had recovered some of her composure and recommenced the lesson.
‘MacNaugton’ she ordered. ‘Continue reading’
MacNaughton was one of the most unruly boys in the class and sometimes even spoke without putting his hand up first!
Here we have an interesting situation in group dynamics. The usually meek and mild Miss McLean had gained confidence because of the presence of the headmaster. MacNaughton, although normally an outspoken cheeky boy, would not dare behave badly in front of the bulky, belt wielding Mister Hoy.
MacNaughton stood up slowly, cleared his throat, used his nicotine stained thumb and forefinger to twirl an imaginary waxed moustache like Monsieur Poirot and read:
‘Bonjour monshure parlezz vows Francais’.
‘No! no! no!’ remonstrated Miss McLean in an unusually loud and confident manner.
‘Not monshure, the word is pronounced miss you, not parlezz but parley and not vows but voo’.
MacNaughton grimaced slightly, normally he would have offered some smart answer to Miss McLean. Not this time though, he was acutely aware of the presence of the dangerous colossus with the belt dangling from his great, hammy fist.
‘Bonjour monsieur parlez-vous Francais’ read MacNaughton in a passable French accent.
‘That’s better’ said Miss McLean. Mister Hoy offered the slightest of nods.
It was at this precise moment I did an enormously stupid thing! I had a gap between two of my teeth through which I could whistle loudly without moving my lips. Out of my mouth, a loud, lively jig suddenly erupted. Mister Hoy sprang to his feet and darted across the room, pointed his deadly weapon in the direction of the desk where I sat with three other boys. The monster man bellowed out ‘It was one of you four, stand up all of you’. I stood up with Paton, Watson and McGregor. Every boy in the class knew that I was the whistler. I had whistled many a time simply to annoy the teacher. John Paton, the largest boy in the class glared at me with a look that said - I am going to kill you!
‘You first Watson’ yelled Mister Hoy as he uncoiled the ‘beast’ and again battered the, defenceless, empty desk.
Before Watson could move, the bell mercifully rang for the end of the period. I was quaking – now I was in trouble - not only with the headmaster, but also three large boys, each of whom were now bent on causing me great pain or even death! How could I have been so utterly foolish.
‘Each of you write three hundred lines on how bad your behaviour was’ the frustrated Mister Hoy yelled at us. We meekly walked out the door, as the eyes of this great hulk of a man bored a hole in each head as it passed.
In the playground, I was immediately corralled by the three boys. John Paton cuffed me on the head, not too hard, as he was twice my size and could have knocked my head off. ‘You stupid little prick! You write all the lines or else this’ - he was holding me by the hair and bunched his great fist near my face.
A few miserable days later I timidly knocked on Mister Hoy’s door. ‘Enter’ he commanded loudly.
I entered the room and gingerly handed the twelve hundred lines across the desk to the glowering monster. I had written - I was bad I was - twelve hundred times!
The headmaster scanned the pages through his half glasses. Slowly his head raised and nodded wisely.
‘So, all in the same handwriting? That tells me a story. So you were the foolish boy who dared to whistle while I was in the room?
I nodded, my eyes staring glumly at my feet.’
Out of his desk slithered the buffalo! My sphincter tightened another notch.
He stood erect, looked at me sternly for a moment or two. Picture now, this six foot plus Goliath staring across his huge desk at the five foot nothing, trembling, terrified schoolboy. He held the belt at each end then pulled his arms apart. The belt snapped loudly. Suddenly he grinned and said ‘Get out of here you silly boy, and don’t dare whistle in class ever again!’
I gulped in some air and walked backwards to the door on my shaky legs, turned around and fled thanking God for answering the many fervent prayers I had offered over the last few dreadful days.
Before going back to the classroom, I quickly formulated a plan. Still in the ‘bad books’ with my classmates, I decided to call on my acting skills. I clapped my hands together hard until the palms were bright red. Then I entered the classroom grimacing with fake pain.
‘He gave me six of the best and it really hurt’ I lied to the other boys as I showed the blotched palms.
Never again did the whistling ventriloquist perform in a classroom.
Today the belt is outlawed in schools. I am sure there are still many Miss McLeans around but I suspect the Mister Hoys of this world are few and far between.

Competition: Friendly feedback, Round 1



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