Those Who Got Slapped

Tony Hill

© Copyright 2022 by Tony Hill


Photo courtesy of Pexels.
Photo courtesy of Pexels..

Chapter 1.

It was just after my 15th birthday in May 1962 that I became one of those who got slapped. Six of my fellow classmates at St.Michael’s Senior School had previously been recipients of a vicious slap across the face by Peter Pyne, known throughout the school, unaffectionately, as “Pyne the Pain “. The six were, in chronological order of being slapped, Dennis Crouch, Shaun Hughes, Tommy Brennan, Roger McCann ,David Wood and Alan Murray.

I have long since forgotten the reason for his assault on my person. It was his favourite form of instant retribution for what I am sure ,at least in my case ,was only a minor indiscretion.

Pyne was our Art and occasional gym teacher. A charmless sour faced guy in his 30’s who had no business in the teaching profession. No words of encouragement, no words of wisdom, no nurturing. Just snide comments interspersed with bursts of violence.

Pyne had a taste in clothes to match his demeanour. Brown was his favourite colour. Dennis had a Saturday job at the Beehive, a cheap men's clothing store in the town centre. He had recently spotted Pyne there, buying a brown suit, a brown trilby hat, a brown overcoat, brown shoes and brown gloves with, glory be, a yellow zigzag pattern on the back. On top of all that, he wore brown horn rimmed glasses.

In those days, corporal punishment , usually in the form of the cane across the palm of the hand, was accepted as a fact of school life .At least, it was in English schools. It did no good to complain. If you told your parents that you had been caned, the response would generally be: “Well, you must have done something to deserve it”.

However, in our adolescent eyes, there was something demeaning, something degrading ,something nasty, in a sudden and violent slap across the face from someone with the charisma of Attila the Hun.

Pyne the Pain” AKA “The Brown Clown” was the subject of a discussion between the seven of us in the library during the lunch break the day after my slapping.

We ought to do something about it” Said Roger.

Like what?” we replied in unison.

Well we don't want to get ourselves into more trouble but there must be some way to get revenge on him without him suspecting us.”

There was silence for a minute or two while wheels turned in seven brains. Nothing was forthcoming however, other than Alan's comment that instead of gym on the following Monday afternoon , Pyne was taking us on a cross country run, the regular gym teacher being off with gout.

Let's try to work out something for Monday then.” said Tommy, who was generally thought to be the most intelligent and devious amongst us. “That gives us three days.”

Great , Tommy,” I said. “We'll leave it with you”.

As an alternative to our weekly exercises in the gym, we were occasionally taken by school bus to the Woodbridge Valley Country Park some six miles away ,to run around the perimeter path. With its many twists and turns, the distance was about three and a half miles, which would normally take us 45 minutes or so, to complete. Pyne had accompanied us several times before, taking great delight in whacking the backsides of the stragglers (one of whom was usually me) with a gym shoe.

By Friday afternoon, Tommy had appraised us of a plan which would involve a lot of coordination, cooperation and a little bit of luck. There were fifteen of us due to go on the run. The slapped seven plus eight potential “slappees “who were equally enthusiastic about giving “Pyne the Pain” an uncomfortable afternoon. Three of them however, were not very athletic and because it was essential to the success of the plan that we were all fit and bursting with energy, they agreed ,without much persuasion, to drop out. One of the three, Roy Owen, decided to declare himself unfit due to a toothache. On Monday morning the school nurse sent him to a dentist who promptly removed a tooth which according to Roy, was perfectly healthy and sacrificed for the good of the cause.

On Monday afternoon the school bus driven, as usual, by “Grumpy Graham” arrived at the Woodbridge Valley car park. We were pleased that there was no change to our regular driver. We were fairly certain that he didn’t wear a wrist watch and that he would more than likely be taking a nap while we were on our run.

We had already changed into our running kit back at the gym, including Pyne, now resplendent in his brown tee shirt, brown shorts and brandishing his spare gym shoe.

After some brief warming up exercises ,Pyne gave the order to get moving. The words had hardly left his mouth when we set off like bats out of hell. While he was still jogging on the spot we were fifty yards away. He was taken totally by surprise but there still needed to be as much distance as possible between us and Pyne when we reached the first bend.

We needn't have worried. At six feet and 15 stone,Pyne was not ideally built for speed. He was very much a one paced runner. We reached the first bend and disappeared from his view. Twenty yards further on, branching off from the main path to the left, was a short dirt track leading to a side gate. We turned onto the track. Bringing up the rear, I looked over my shoulder as I made the turn. Pyne had yet to appear at the first bend. We exited the gate and all piled in to the back of Shaun's older brother's grocery van parked at road side. The guy had finished his deliveries for the day and had kindly agreed to help us.

The doors were slammed shut and we were driven the short distance back to the main entrance to the park. We could, of course, have walked back, but we didn’t want a suspicious Pyne taking the same detour and poking his nose out of the side gate and seeing us disappearing down the road.

What subsequently took place in the park was relayed to us afterwards.

Just as Pyne reached the turn for the dirt track, he came face to face with an elderly gentleman on the main path.

You’ll have to be quick if you want to catch them” said the man, jerking a thumb over his shoulder.

Had Pyne been acquainted with Alan's family, he may have recognized his grandfather.

You’ve seen them?” gasped Pyne, stopping in his tracks.”A bunch of kids?”

They've just passed me,” said grandfather, “going like the devil was on their tail”.

Well, they can’t keep up that pace” said Pyne. “ They'll have to take a breather soon.”

Just as he was about to move off again, grandfather held out his hand.

Before you go, could I borrow this for a moment?”

Pyne did not have time to react before grandfather had snatched the gym shoe from his hand and brought it sharply down across his backside.

Pyne staggered forward.” What did you do that for?” he yelled. “Are you nuts? You old goat”.

I’ve seen you here before with those lads”, said grandfather. “And I've seen you doing that to the lads who lag behind. Well, now it’s you who's doing the lagging, so I thought it only fair”

Muttering something inaudible under his breath, Pyne went on his way up the main path.

While this was going on we had arrived back at the main gate and said our goodbyes with thanks to Shaun's brother.

We could see our bus in the car park and, sure enough, Grumpy Graham appeared to be fast asleep. We boarded the bus noiselessly and waited, stretched out on the seats. Twenty minutes later, we started to make enough noise to make our presence known. Graham stirred himself and turned to see us feigning exhaustion from our “three and a half mile run”.

Oh ,you're back.” he said, oblivious of the time lapse.” Everybody on board?”

All except Mr.Pyne” said Dennis. “ He should be here in a minute or so”.

Five minutes later, Graham started to get agitated. “Where is he then?”

Oh, he'll be along” said Dennis nonchalantly.

Another five minutes passed.

Some of us have homes to go to” said Graham grumpily.

After a further five minutes, Graham's temper finally snapped.

I'm not waiting any longer. He must have made his own arrangements to get back to school”.

I don’t think we should go” I said, hoping that Graham would ignore me.

He did. He started the engine and we were on our way.

While we were quietly boarding the bus, Pyne was cutting a solitary figure on the path. Each time he rounded a bend he expected to see a dozen kids stretched out on the grass, gasping for breath. Instead, he next encountered an elderly lady walking a Yorkshire terrier. Had he been acquainted with Alan’s family he may have recognized his grandmother. She gestured to him to stop.

Excuse me young man.”she said. “Could I ask you a favour?”

Well…..err, I'm in a bit of a___” he mumbled breathlessly, leaning forward ,hands on knees.

Oh, if you're trying to catch up with those lads ,you shouldn’t have a problem.When they passed me back there, they looked exhausted. Ready to drop.”

Ah, I thought so” said Pyne. “ I knew they'd have to take a rest. Well, what is it you want?”

Would you mind holding on to Chester's leash while I pop to the ladies toilet over there?”

Pyne looked apprehensively at the dog.

I suppose so, as long as he's friendly. I’m not very good with dogs. You won't be long will you?”

While gran was gone, Chester decided to follow his mistresses lead and take a bathroom break of his own, utilizing Pyne's leg.

Pyne let out a yell and did a little dancing on the spot. This startled the pooch which ran off in search of his mistress for some comfort.

Hey, I saw you. You kicked him, you brute”. gran called out, running back from the toilet showing a turn of speed that belied her age.

Look what he's done”.said Pyne, lifting up a damp leg.” And I didn’t kick him , I pushed him”.

Well, he couldn’t help it, he's a dog”. she said, grabbing back the leash.

Pyne muttered something inaudible and jogged away.

He rounded another bend and then another. There was no sign of any boys, only a young woman sitting on a bench with a crying baby in a pram. Pyne slowed his pace as he drew level with them. Had he been acquainted with Roger's family he may have recognized his older sister

Excuse me, did a bunch of kids pass by here just now?” he gasped, coming to a stop.

They’re up ahead. They were taking a rest when I saw them a few minutes ago” said big sister.

Pyne thanked her but before he could carry on, she asked if he would kindly rescue her daughter’s balloon which was stuck up a tree.

Pyne looked up at the balloon scratching his head.“ How do I get up there? It must be about 15 feet!”

Well, if you climb up to that branch, then pull yourself up to the one just above it, then grab that one to the left, you should be able to reach the string with your right hand.”

Pyne stared at her. What was he? Some sort of a Don Quixote? It seemed to be his day for meeting strange people. The baby continued to cry. He looked again at the balloon and then at the baby and then again at big sister. With a heavy sigh he began his climb.

He hauled himself up to a point where, reaching out, he could just about grasp the balloon string. Then he lost his footing and started to slide down the trunk. There was a tearing sound as the seam at the back of his shorts split. He was still sliding, holding on to the string, when the balloon burst.

He dropped the remaining few feet to the ground .Big sister seemed to be trying not to laugh.

Sorry about that”. He said offering her the string and deflated balloon.

Oh, don’t worry about it. I've got another one here”. She said, producing a balloon from her pocket. You wouldn’t mind blowing it up for me , would you?”

Pyne looked aghast. “Yes, I would mind.” He said, rubbing an elbow, then feeling the back of his shorts. “I’ve got to go.”

Pyne ran on, expecting, at each turn, to see exhausted boys stretched out at the side of the path. But he saw no one for about half a mile. Then, just ahead, on a bench, reading a newspaper, was a man who looked strangely familiar. Not because he was Dennis's older brother, but because the guy was wearing brown horn rimmed glasses, a brown suit, brown trilby hat, brown shirt, brown tie and brown shoes. He was also wearing brown gloves, which, as Pyne could see when he drew closer, had a yellow zig zag pattern. In fact, older brother was wearing clothes that were left over from last Saturday's Beehive sale, which Dennis had volunteered to dispose of at a charity shop.

Pyne stopped in front of older brother and looked him over from head to toe.

Excuse me.” he said hesitantly.” Do I know you?”

Older brother looked up. “I don’t know.” he said. “Do you?”

We err.. seem to have the same taste in clothes”.

Well, I wouldn't go boasting about that if I were you.” said older brother.”I get all of my clothes from the Beehive in town. It's all I can afford on a teacher’s salary”

Pyne’s eyes widened.”I shop at the Beehive. And I’m a teacher too.”

I’m not one for physical exercise myself.” said older brother, looking Pyne up and down. I’m an art teacher.”

The look of surprise increased.

This is weird.” Said Pyne. ”I’m an art teacher too. Filling in for the regular gym teacher at the moment”.

Well , we do seem to have things in common, “ said older brother. “My name's Paine by the way. Peter Paine.”

The look of surprise changed to one of incredulity

Pyne's voice was a couple of octaves higher than normal. “ I’m Peter too” he shrilled. “Peter Pyne”

Older brother was about to respond, when the park security guard who happened to be a friend of Alan’s grandparents, turned up on his motor scooter.

Everything all right here?” he queried.

Well….no, not really”, said Pyne, faintly.” I’ve just been physically assaulted, urinated on, practically fallen out of a tree and now this guy is trying to impersonate me”

Hold on” said older brother. “How can I impersonate someone I've never met before?”

Before Pyne could reply, the security guy cut in.

Are you the chap who kicked the ladies dog back there?”

I didn’t kick it. I pushed it”

And another thing” said security. “Climbing trees is not permitted in the park”

I was just trying to retrieve a balloon for….”

I don’t care. It seems to me that you’re a bit of a trouble maker. I think that you should move on and make this your last visit to the park.”

You mean I'm barred?”

That’s exactly what I mean. Now, on your way.”

Pyne thought about putting up an argument but with a shrug of resignation, turned and jogged away, with one hand covering his rear end embarrassment.

No one knows how Pyne made it back to school. David, who lived almost opposite the school gates, kept watch for his return. It was about six o'clock when he finally turned up looking decidedly the worse for wear. David contrived to ‘bump into him'.

Hello Mr.Pyne. What happened to you?”

Pyne was, by now, on the verge of hysteria.

Never mind what happened to me.Where were you lot? Why didn’t you wait for me?”

We told grump……err.. Graham to wait” said David truthfully. But after a while he thought you must have made alternative arrangements to get back.”

Alternative arrangements!..Good Lord”said Pyne throwing up his arms in despair.

He turned and rattled the school gates.They were locked.

Sir,” said David, ”Your shorts are ripped”.

Never mind my shorts”, said Pyne clamping a hand over his behind.” Are the cleaners still in there?”

Been and gone some time ago”.

I need to get my clothes and car keys”, said Pyne as he started to walk to the caretakers house, next to the school.

He's not there,” said David. “ He has taken his wife to the pictures. ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ I think.”

I don’t believe this.I just don't believe it. I'll wake up in a minute”.

Pyne turned one way then another, then throwing his arms in the air again, walked away and out of David's sight.

Pyne was absent from school the following day. No doubt he was resting in a darkened room.

When he did finally show up, he had to explain to the headmaster how he managed to lose a dozen boys on a cross country run

While we couldn’t claim that Pyne’s experiences that afternoon resulted in him being a better teacher, it wasn’t a great surprise that Pyne resigned at the end of the school term.

The last we heard,he was employed at the local sewage works in a job more suited to his character and mode of dress.

He must have puzzled over a package he later received in the post. Enclosed with a letter from Alan’s grandfather thanking him for it's use, was a gym shoe.

Chapter 2. My friend Jimmy

I was 10 years old when I first met Jimmy Craigie. He was enrolled in our school, St Michael’s Junior,and placed in our class after coming from Glasgow to the English Midlands with his mother. No one asked him why they had relocated and Jimmy was not forthcoming on the subject.

Within a couple of weeks it was obvious that Jimmy had no respect for authority. He had been caned twice for fighting in the playground and swearing at a teacher but this had no effect on his behaviour.

He didn’t seem to have a care in the world. He was a law unto himself and many of his classmates, me included, were a little afraid and in awe of him.

I particularly recall an occasion one Monday morning when our class teacher,Mr.Goddard, was calling the mass register. As Catholics, we were required not merely to go to church on Sundays, but to attend the 9am. children’s mass.When our names were called, we had to respond with the time of the mass we had attended. I was one of several kids who disliked getting up early on Sunday mornings. So we often incurred Mr. Goddard's wrath when we told him that we could only manage to surface in time for the 11am. or the noon service.

Anyway, on that particular Monday, when Jimmy's name was called, his reply was: “I didnee gae”

Mr. Goddard looked up sharply.” What do you mean boy? You didn’t go to the 9 o'clock mass?”

No, I mean I didna gae to any”

There was a communal gasp from the class followed by a few seconds of silence during which I watched with interest as teacher's face turned a bright shade of purple.I could swear I also saw steam coming out of his ears.

You wretched boy” he splutted.”Do you realize that your soul is now in a state of mortal sin?”

Jimmy shrugged his shoulders and returned Mr.Goddard’s stare without blinking.

Get out of my sight Craigie .Get yourself up to the church immediately and confess your sin.Then get straight back here.”

With an emphatic sigh, Jimmy got up and left the room. Needless to say, that was the last we saw of him that day.

A couple of weeks before the Christmas holiday, our well meaning headmaster Mr. Barratt, thought it would be a good idea to educate the pupils throughout the school in the workings of the postal service by having them write letters to each other. The letters would then be posted in several post boxes (made of cardboard by some of the kids who had an aptitude for arts and crafts) placed around the school and periodically collected by designated “postmen”(of which yours truly was one).The postmen would then sort and deliver the letters to the various classrooms.

Not all of the teachers were on board with this idea. Some thought it would be an unnecessary interruption to the regular lessons. However, because it was his brainchild and because he thought it would improve the kids' grammar and letter writing skills, the headmaster won the day.

On the first day letters were delivered to our class, there was trouble. One of the girls had received an anonymous letter in which uncomplimentary things were said about her character and appearance.Mr Goddard, with his face that same interesting shade of purple, did some basic detective work by taking an exercise book from each kid and comparing the handwriting. Yes, the culprit was Jimmy Craigie.He was hauled off to the head master’s office and that was the last we saw of him until after the Christmas holiday. He had, as we learned later, been suspended from school for three weeks and a letter was sent to his mother putting her on notice that her son would be expelled if his behaviour did not improve.

Not long after his return, a few of us were playing football during the lunch break. Jimmy and I got into a tussle for the ball. We both fell in a tangle of arms and legs and as we rolled on the ground trying to extricate ourselves,I heard a female voice cry out. Looking up, I saw the playground duty teacher, Mrs. Bird hopping around on one leg.

You kicked me!” she gasped.

We scrambled to our feet but before we could say anything we were marched to the headmaster's office.

We were told to wait outside while she told Mr. Barratt what had happened. Several minutes later we were called in.

So” said the headmaster. “You boys were fighting and Mrs. Bird was kicked”

No sir” I replied. “We weren't fighting. We were playing football and we both fell. It was an accident”

Well, which one of you kicked Mrs. Bird?”

I responded immediately.” I did Sir. I'm very sorry Mrs. Bird.”

Out of the corner of my eye I could see Jimmy look at me and open his mouth to speak.I stepped on his foot. He got the message and closed his mouth.

After a further private discussion between Mr. Barratt and Mrs. Bird, it was decided that no physical action would be taken against us. I was reprimanded for my unruly playground behaviour, whilst Jimmy was given the benefit of the doubt.

On the way back to our classroom, Jimmy mumbled his thanks to me for keeping him out of further trouble. For some days afterwards, he kept his distance from me. He seemed embarrassed, and unaccustomed to people doing him favours.

The next few weeks saw a change in Jimmy's classroom behaviour. His work and marks seemed to improve as did his attitude towards his classmates. He even wrote a letter of apology to the girl he upset in the anonymous letter incident and, on her birthday, gave her a card and a chocolate bar, much to the merriment of the rest of the class.

Then, a few days before the Easter holiday, something happened which proved to be the turning point in our friendship.

It was after school on a Friday afternoon. I had just come out of a corner shop down the road from the school, eating an ice cream, when I was ambushed by three older and bigger lads from a rival school.

I recognized one of them as Roy Norgrave, a well known bully.

You got money” he said. “Give us it”.

I haven't got any”.

Yes you have.You just bought that.” He knocked the ice cream from my hand.

Well, I haven't got any now”.

Norgrave started slapping me around.

Give us it”.

One of his cronies started to go through my pockets while Norgrave grabbed me by the neck. I could see the shopkeeper looking through the window. I hoped he would come to my rescue but he didn’t say or do anything. He didn't want to get involved.

Then I saw Jimmy striding up towards us. Norgrave and the others had their backs to him. Jimmy and I were about the same height and scrawny build but that's where the similarity ended. Jimmy was a street fighter: a brawler. The Marquis of Queensbury rules were not for him. In one movement, he grabbed Norgrave by the shoulder, spun him round and head butted him on the bridge of his nose.

Before Norgrave hit the ground, Jimmy poked two fingers into the eyes of crony number two who promptly sank to his knees. The third lad, turned and ran.

Y' OK?” enquired Jimmy.

Think so” I said, rubbing my neck and surveying the moaning bodies on the ground. “Let’s go.”

I was prepared to beat a hasty retreat, but Jimmy was happy just to saunter away as if nothing had happened and without even a backward glance.

As we walked ,Jimmy told me he was heading to the shop to buy some biscuits when he realized that something was going on and it wasn't looking good for me.

Thanks Jimmy” I said. We had reached the end of the road.” I go that way home. Have you got to get back for your tea?”

Nah. Ma's out at work til 6”

Come back to mine if you like. For a cup of tea.”

Thanks. If ye sure it'll be O.K.”

Yeah, Mom won't mind”

I think Jimmy was grateful for the invitation and some company. I later learned he was regularly on his own for a couple of hours from when the school day finished until his mother’s return from work.

I introduced him to my mother and, skipping over the degree of violence involved, told her about our altercation with Norgrave and his mates. Mom thanked Jimmy for coming to my aid and gave him a cup of tea and something to eat.

From then on, Jimmy was a regular visitor; mostly after school, occasionally at weekends. Mom liked him. He was polite, well mannered and fun to be with. We did homework together and I would sometimes help him with maths, grammar and spelling. He would show me some of his essays and I have to say, I was a little jealous of his talent for story telling.

A couple of weeks before the summer holidays, Mr. Goddard told the class to write an essay titled “My life so far”. A special end of term book prize was to be awarded for the best effort. Jimmy and I worked on ours at home and after a week or so, when we had both finished, we read each other’s work.

I was astounded by what Jimmy had written. It was all there. His life was laid bare. Born in a run down Glasgow tenement .His alcoholic father in and out of prison for domestic violence and burglary. His long suffering mother working two or three menial jobs at a time to make ends meet. Mother and child moving to England to escape father’s abuse.

There could only be one winner of the prize. I don't think Mr. Goddard could quite believe it when he made the formal announcement. Neither could Jimmy, whose face turned bright red when the rest of the class gave him a round of applause.

Jimmy, accompanied by Mr. Goddard and three other end of term prize winners, then went to a local department store to make his choice of book.

You are all free to choose whichever book you want up to £3” said the teacher to the group.” But I hope you will pick something which will broaden your mind”.

Jimmy chose The History of Glasgow Celtic Football Club.

Jimmy and I spent some time together during the early days of the summer holidays. We went to the pictures, to the park for games of football and cricket with other local kids and he introduced me to fishing. Then I went on a family holiday to Rhyl for 2 weeks. Afterwards ,I knocked on his door a couple of times hoping to meet up with him again. I got no response.

as looking forward to seeing him again when school restarted in September but he was not there. After a few days I asked the headmaster's secretary what had happened to him. All she would tell me was that Jimmy and his mother had moved to another district.

Thirteen years would pass before I saw Jimmy again. My mother phoned me one day in 1970. “Remember Jimmy Craigie?”

Yes of course. Why do you ask?”

I read in the paper, he's in Winson Green prison. Five years for manslaughter. He killed his father in a fight.”

I couldn’t believe it at first. But then I remembered what he had written in that school essay. I wrote to him asking if he would put me on his visitors list. A couple of weeks later I received his reply. He was pleased to hear from me again and, yes he would like me to visit. I would need to write to the prison for an appointment.

Three weeks later I was face to face with Jimmy in the visitors room.

We chatted for half an hour. The maximum we were allowed. He seemed to be dealing OK with prison life but you could never tell with Jimmy. I didn’t ask questions about reason why he was in prison We spent most of the time reminiscing about our school days and we both got a bit emotional. I told him I had started my own landscaping business and things were going well. His eyes widened in disbelief when I told him there was a job waiting for him when he got out, which, he said, could be within three years with good behaviour.

I made a note of his mother’s address and promised to call on her from time to time. Apparently she wasn’t in the best of health.

Throughout the following twelve months I made several prison visits and also kept in touch with his mother.

Then on one such visit to her, she gave me the devastating news that Jimmy had died after getting into a knife fight with another prisoner. I couldn’t believe it.I always thought that Jimmy was indestructible.

It seemed as though he had a premonition that he wouldn’t survive his prison term. He had made a will. What money he had was, of course, left to his mother. There was, however, a small bequest to me. It was a book entitled The History of Glasgow Celtic Football Club..

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