The angels will just have to wait a little longer. I did not really expect to return to memories of punishments dished out at school, but an opportunity came to me on a plate (I was going to say it came to me in a stroke, but thought better of it).
The plate was served by Mike Amos, son of Shildon, Northern Echo columnist extraordinaire (or "that overachiever out of Albert St" if you prefer the impertinent dissenting opinion offered on these pages by one "Bassy"), tireless servant of the Northern League, godfather to my elder daughter and the man who taught me a fair amount of whatever I know about journalism.
Mike, in common with most people I knew growing up in Shildon, went to Timothy Hackworth Junior and Infant School. Well, that's more or less what it was meant to be called - there may have been a "mixed" in the title, too - but it was Tin Tacks to us lot.
And at Tin Tacks, the cane was such a common feature of everyday life, as it was at schools throughout the country in those days, that it must have been quite difficult to have your primary education there and never be on the receiving end. Keep a look out for comments, though, since my big sister will doubtless pop up to correct my memory again and claim that her entire class emerged unscathed from its Tin Tacks years.
A caning at Tin Tacks would mean anything from one to six strokes on the hand/s. It stung, but in truth the threat of being punished in this way can hardly be said to have clouded our formative years, reducing helpless little children to cowering wretches.
Beyond primary school, of course, at grammar or secondary modern schools, corporal punishment took on a wholly different meaning , as I described in the first instalment of The cane and the Bunsen burner tube. That'll teach you....(2).
But even though I recall being caned on numerous occasions at Tin Tacks, I remember only one of those punishments in any detail. I said in the earlier posting that fear of the cane was, for most of us, nowhere near as deep as the fear of having the event recorded in the dreaded punishment book. It is strange that this should have been so; the book was merely intended to serve as the official record, and I imagine Durham County Education Authority regulations required each and every instance of the cane's use to be listed. But our teachers used it as an additional aspect of Crime and Punishment; to be ordered to "go and fetch the cane AND the punishment book" from the headmistress's office meant that this was to be a caning for a relatively serious matter. The teacher's act of inserting, in the book, the bare details of the punishment - pupil/class/offence/number of strokes/own name or initials - somehow made the child's disgrace complete.
That, at any rate, is how I remember my Tin Tacks schooling. And that is where Mike Amos, or specifically an e-mail that arrived from him this morning, comes in. This is what he wrote:
I went to a little open evening at Tin Tacks last night, in advance of the centenary in 2010, and was reading the punishment book with great interest. It began in 1959, the year after I left, but a number of names of the castigated were very familiar. I couldn't see C Randall but P Randall features several times. Worst of all, P Sixsmith was whacked both for 'chewing a straw' and 'fencing with rulers'. Do you think that we should knock around with a reprobate like that?
Indeed I do not. I shall need to revise my seating arrangements at the Stadium of Light. Perhaps I should also order him to stay away from any milestone birthday party that may be approaching; it goes without saying that the right people at work in Abu Dhabi should know that I wish to receive no more parcels from home containing the Sunderland Echo "pink". And to think it was Pete Sixsmith's mum who said he shouldn't mix with me because I was the bad influence.
Say what you like about the shortcomings of my academic career or the wrongs I have committed in life.
I swear I have never, and I mean never, chewed a straw or fenced with rulers. At any rate, that's my story and I am sticking to it, though I fully expect Pete Sixsmith to issue a writ for libel, claiming that the P stands for his brother Phil.
But Mike's anecdote contained another scrap of information, this one of great importance to me.
The caning I do remember occurred, of all places, on the school playing field. A relatively unfamiliar teacher had plonked our class by a tree; I no longer recall what lesson it was, who the teacher was or the nature of my misdemeanour.
But I have never forgotten that she had taken us to the field armed with not only the cane but the punishment book. For half a century, my thoughts have occasionally returned to that day, and to the possibility that my naughtiness and its consequences were duly recorded. I think that was what the teacher intended. And, while I did not see her write anything in the book, I have always gloomily assumed that with a couple of vicious strokes of her pen, she ruined my school record, condemning me to perpetual shame.
And now I feel like someone who has finally won a battle to clear himself of a terrible crime he never committed. I may have held out my hands for scores of strokes of the cane between starting at Tin Tacks and leaving, but I have it from Mike Amos that my reputation is intact: that I breezed, after all, through primary education without once getting my name in the punishment book.