The Lochgelly Tawse

Lochgelly Tawse ©

I started school in 1980. My P1 teacher’s name was Mrs T. I thought she was lovely. At the end of P1 I placed a penny in a tictac box to remember her.

I only remember 5 things about Primary 1.

1. I remember getting a gold star for the neatest colouring in of a circle.  It was the most perfectly coloured in circle in the history of that forgotten sport.

2. I was the only person to get an orange snow plough tractor when Santa visited. The rest of the boys got a bus but I was the only one to get a snow plough. Chosen one. Special.

3. Alistair B pooped his pants sitting next to me in class. It was nearly 3 o’ clock. Apparently he couldn’t hold it in and apparently neither did he wish to ask to go to the toilet. So he let it go. The stench and the expression on his face (a mixture of shame and relief) are vividly engraved on my memory to this day.

4. I missed my first ever school trip (to Arbroath to see the fire station) because I had the mumps. Wearing my medical balaclava I stood at the window and waved slowly to my classmates as the bus passed my house. Mrs T even started crying when she saw my sad wee face (or so the legend goes).

5. Mrs T had a Lochgelly tawse in her desk drawer. The tawse was the Scottish education system’s corporal punishment weapon of choice. The Lochgelly tawse is a leather belt with a twin fringed end. I thought it looked like an intimidating oversized bookmark. Lochgelly is the town in Fife where it was made.  And Mrs T had one in her drawer.

How do I know this? Well, whenever the class got too noisy or chatty she would resort to the one classroom management strategy that she knew worked. In the manner of a benevolent despot, she would slowly open the desk drawer, extract the tawse and place it supremely carefully across the edge of her desk. Then she would slam the desk drawer shut with a confident BAM! The class became acutely sensitive to this sharp awakening and we would turn around en masse on our seats to meet the sight of our leather nemesis staring us down from the front of her desk. I never received the belt and don’t actually remember Mrs T using it, but all throughout P1 I remained mortally terrified of that bloody tawse.

The belt was banned in all state schools in 1986, remaining legal in private schools until 1998. Next time you moan about the quality of ITE remind yourself that there was never a class dedicated to corporal punishment for teachers who wielded the tawse and other weapons of mass pupil destruction. Buying a tawse was something you did after graduation. Restorative evil.

You can still buy a tawse from the original leather manufacturer in Lochgelly. For the premium sum of £160. I wonder what it cost to buy in 1980?…

I wonder if Mrs T held on to her tawse when she retired? I lost the tictac box years a go.

Further reading:

Remembering the Lochgelly tawse:

The story of Grace Campbell, the Scottish mother who campaigned to end corporal punishment:

How the tawse left its mark on Scottish pupils:

The Right Not To Finish A Book

Photo by Lina Kivaka on

I love reading out loud to my class. There is nothing sweeter than when a book grabs their collective attention, and they are seated spellbound, imaginations lost deep within the tale; only pausing to breathe at the exact moment you turn the page.

Roald Dahl is the master of writing books to read out loud. They skip, weave, duck and dive effortlessly through emotions ranging from slapstick humour, adventure, danger and pathos. It’s no surprise that books like the BFG began as bedtime stories for his granddaughter, Sophie. His gobblefunk wordplay is joyfully playful and often requires thrilling but tricky verbal gymnastics to accomplish saying them out loud without tripping over your tongue. As Buddy the Elf would say:

Francisco! That’s fun to say! Francisco… Frannncisco… Franciscooo…

Elf, 2003. Film. Directed by FAVREAU, J. United States: New Line Cinema.

I also really enjoy reading the likes of Philip Pullman and Neil Gaiman for brilliant plots and characters and settings that grow and grow until,

the (classroom) walls become the world all around.

Sendak, M. (1984). Where the Wild Things Are. New York: Harper & Row.

But how subjective is it? If I’m not feeling it, does it show? I struggle with reading Michael Morpurgo out loud. Is that wrong? And I remember giving up on Clive King’s Stig Of The Dump, despite having fond memories of my own P5 teacher reading out loud to me in class. I sadly couldn’t find the voice for it and the class were bored.

I gave up on reading a book to my 6 year old son tonight. Or, rather, he did. Roddy Doyle’s The Giggle Treatment…. Now, I’ve struggled with this one before and even though I was still finding the postmodern mini chapters deeply irritating I was determined to finish it. With extra sauce to make up for the last time. But Jamie wasn’t feeling it either.

‘Can we just erase that bit of the story if it happens again?’

He said last night about one of those pesky mini chapters. Then, tonight he put his foot down.

‘No more!’

What should I do? The best bit is still to come, I lied.


I’ll miss out all those annoying mini chapters.


He had a point. We had just finished reading all 5 books in the Spiderwick Chronicles…. He loved them and became obsessed by the adventure, the characters, the setting and the superb plot. Plot really matters to Jamie and The Giggler Treatment was found wanting. Then I remembered Daniel Pennac’s wonderful ‘The Rights of the Reader. ‘… I use this with every class and refer to it all the time when trying to build a culture and a habit of reading for pleasure. Jamie was exerting his right not to finish a book. He wasn’t slacking, he wasn’t being lazy, he certainly wasn’t being a reluctant reader – he just wasn’t enjoying it. And neither was I. So we stopped.

(Jamie) stepped into his private boat and waved good-bye
and into the night of his very own room where he found his supper waiting for him
and it was still hot.

Sendak, M. (1984). Where the Wild Things Are. New York: Harper & Row.