I was not exactly the brightest pupil at school. I struggled academically, although I was good at sport, especially rugby union. I left my junior school and joined one of the new comprehensive schools that were being developed to replace the secondary-moderns in the West Midlands in the late 1950s.
I was placed in set 5, for those pupils of lowest ability which was a small class of 18 pupils, 13 boys and 5 girls. Nowadays, we would be referred to as having learning difficulties. Fair to say, our level of naughtiness was proportionally higher than the rest of the school, and some of the pupils definitely had behaviour problems.
I found myself up before the Housemaster on six occasions in my first year, sent there by different class teachers for being disruptive in class or failing to do homework after several warnings. The result was between 2 and 4 strokes of the cane across my backside with my trousers down. I found I was able to handle the canings without too much of a problem.
I was supposed to learn a poem for English homework, but I hated poetry and found concentrating very difficult. I didn’t do it and the teacher, Mr Brown, after I was unable to recite the poem, decided that he had given me enough chances, which in all honesty he had, and he wrote out a chit for me to receive corporal punishment.
The procedure was to take the chit to the housemaster by the end of the school day and he would carry out the punishment at a time determined by him.
“Do you enjoy coming to see me, Greenway?” barked my Housemaster Mr B rather sarcastically. “Your tenth visit this year.”
It wasn’t. It was my sixth.
“I’m going to charge you for a new cane. Can you check your diary to see if tomorrow at 4 o’clock would be suitable for you?”
I detested his sarcasm but just kept quiet. Why he couldn’t cane me there and then I don’t know. But tomorrow it was.
I was a bit nervous, but I had handled canings on previous occasions. My last lesson of the day before my appointment with the housemaster was maths. I really liked my maths teacher. She was the deputy to the housemaster. Her name was Miss J and I was always on my best behaviour in her classes. She never had cause to send me to the housemaster. I was good at maths at a set 5 level and she awarded me a merit the previous week for good work and I was really pleased. I admit it. I had a boyhood crush on her.
Miss J set the class a mental arithmetic test and I scored a faultless ten out of ten. She went to each pupil marking their work and after checking my answers she wrote in my maths book in red ink ‘Well done’. As she bent over my desk to write the comment I could detect the scent of her perfume.
“Excellent work, Greenway.” She smiled and then paused before moving on to the next pupil. “Please see me at the end of the lesson.”
I was very proud and thought that I would be getting another merit. I felt a bit subdued, however, because of my appointment with the Housemaster in a few minutes but if I could take him a merit it might persuade him to be a bit lenient. Probably not.
The end of lesson bell rang and there was the usual explosion of the sound of excited chatter and chairs scraping across the floor as most of the class charged for the exit. In seconds, the room was empty, except for Miss J and myself. I approached her desk where she was sitting.
“Yes, Greenway. You were expecting to visit Mr B at 4 o’clock. He has been called away and won’t be returning for a couple of days. He left a message for me to carry out your caning.”
I went into a state of disbelief and anger, and complete loss of control.
“No, no, no!” I shouted. “That’s not right. You can’t do that.” I was wailing and backed away from her desk. A chair went over but this was an accident.
At that age, I used to get quite upset if things did not go well. Nowadays, perhaps, being on the scale for autism might be the diagnosis. The teachers were aware of my outbursts and made allowances as they did for the whole of set 5. We were problem children and many with issues at home.
In a quiet and calming voice she spoke to me. “Greenway. Stop shouting and calm down. You knew you were going to get the cane. The only change is that I’m going to give it to you.”
“But you can’t,” I sobbed.
Miss James could see I was distraught and she was a little taken aback, not quite understanding the reason for my outburst.
“Paul. Come over here and sit down.” She used the tactic of calling me by my first name.
I moved to pick up the chair I had accidentally knocked over, but she intervened, righted it herself and motioned to me to sit on it. She sat down at a desk alongside me. I stopped the awful wailing but the sobbing continued.
“I know I’m getting the cane, but it can’t be you who gives it me.”
“Tell me. What’s the problem?”
I blurted it all out. “All the teachers hate me and send me for the cane because I’m useless at my lessons. Except you. You are my favourite teacher and I always behave and do my homework and so you never send me for the cane or give me detentions. And now you want to cane me. It’s not right. I haven’t done anything wrong in your class.” I was rambling but at the same time I was beginning to get myself together, becoming aware that I might be putting myself into some serious trouble.
“Have you finished, Paul?”
I must have looked and sounded pathetic, and now I was probably facing six full strength whacks on my bare bottom for my ridiculous outburst. Might even be suspended. But I found some kind of reassurance with her kindly attitude if I was reading her correctly.
Miss James remained calm. “Look at me, Paul,” she said firmly. “No, look at me properly. Look into my eyes. First of all, your teachers don’t hate you. Secondly, I’m pleased I am your favourite teacher and I don’t want to cane you, but it’s my responsibility.”
Just at this moment she was distracted and looked over my shoulder. I turned round to see Mr Illingworth standing in the open doorway.
“Everything OK, Lisa?”
This was the first time that I learned Miss James’s first name.
She got to her feet and walked towards him, saying, “Everything is fine, Ted. No problem.” She ushered him from the doorway and onto the landing out of my earshot. I sat there trembling. If things were bad for me before, they are really bad now.
After a couple of minutes, Miss James returned to the classroom, closing the door behind her. She perched her bottom on the edge of a desk next to where I was sitting. I was leaning forward with my elbows on my knees, head bowed. I had a view of her bronzed, bare legs and stupidly high heel shoes. Turning my head sideways, I took notice of her tight, black, straight skirt, not nearly short enough for my liking as it dropped just below her knees. She had a cracking pair of legs. I remember watching her play in a teachers versus senior girls netball match.
After a few seconds she spoke and I looked up.
“Histrionics over?” she asked. A pause and then, “If I didn’t carry out your punishment I would be in trouble with the housemaster, and if I am your favourite teacher you wouldn’t want that, would you?”
I took this comment to show she was trying to keep the situation as light as possible. I looked up at her from my chair and realised her expression was passive rather than angry and I ventured, “Would you get the cane, Miss?”
A faint smile and she replied, “No.” A pause and then, “I might get a detention.”
The time was fast approaching for the punishment to begin. I wasn’t anxious about the pain. Mr Burton had never troubled me and I was the guy who had been subjected to a few severe thrashings at the children’s home three years ago. I accepted that despite my protests I was going to receive the caning from my favourite teacher.
“Ready?” She asked. No hint of anger.
I stood up. It was trouser down time.
“Come and stand by this desk.”
I had witnessed Miss James handing out a few classroom spankings but never a caning. I didn’t even realise there was a cane in the classroom. She motioned me to the desk.
“I want you to take down your trousers and bend over the desk with your hands flat on the desk top.”
I complied but she wasn’t satisfied.
“You need to stand one pace further back and get your bum up as high as you can. I need the largest target possible or I will be striking in the same place and that you wouldn’t want.”
I smiled inwardly. Mr Burton did not offer such niceties. “Get them down, bend over.” Bang, bang, bang, bang. “Now, get out of my sight.”
Miss James walked over to the cupboard behind her desk, reached inside and picked out a cane. I was watching her every movement and the clicking of her heels on the hard floor grabbed my attention. She walked back to me. No amateur dramatics such as flexing the cane and practice swishing. Her next move was to place the cane on the desk in front of me within touching distance.
Standing alongside me, I was aware of her stepping out of her high heel shoes. Then followed a manoeuvre that Mr Burton certainly never followed and one which I enjoyed for a few fleeting seconds. She lifted my shirt and rolled it up to keep it clear of my bottom and then I felt her fingers take my pants and twist them into my crevice and finished off by twisting the elasticated waste band to keep my newly positioned pants in place and exposing my buttocks. The light touch of her fingers brushing against my skin was thrilling. She reached across my outstretched arms to pick up her cane. Her long curly hair fell forward and briefly brushed my arms. The scent of her perfume once again drifted into my space.
Miss James introduced me to a new level of pain. I was not ready for it. It caught me out. As I was bent over the table waiting for the first stroke I set myself a target of no crying out, no moving from my position and no rubbing my bottom between strokes. I was hell bent on showing her I could take the punishment and was confident because of my previous experiences with taking the cane from Mr Burton and the canings I received at the children’s home.
For the first shot, the cane zipped through the air and crashed into my buttocks. I was in shock. I cried out in agony and jumped up, tenderly rubbing my poor bottom. All thoughts of taking the punishment with dignity had gone.
“Why did she do that?” I gasped in disbelief to myself.
She stood passively waiting to deliver the next shot. No telling me to get back in position, no telling me to stop rubbing my bottom, no threatening me with extra strokes if I moved position again. The pain was intense. Nothing in my life had prepared me for this, not even the beatings at the children’s home.
It must have been a full minute with tears streaming down my face before I could get myself together and resume the position. I had often shed tears in my life for emotional reasons but never for physical pain. I found her silence and patience rather unnerving.
The second shot showed no mercy but I was ready and did not jump up or reach round to rub the increasing area of pain on my bottom. But I was not able to take it quietly. Miss James stood undemonstrative while I part sobbed and part groaned. She took several seconds before preparing herself to deliver the third shot.
The wait gave me time to think back to the techniques I used during my beatings at the children’s home. I remember the older boys telling me “Stay relaxed. Hold the desk with light hands and avoid a tight grip. Breathe to a rhythm. Keep mouth closed to try and suppress the instinct to cry out. Do not think of the next stroke. Concentrate on thinking of something you like. Don’t let the buggers get you down.”
The third shot was delivered with the same ferocity. My cries were muffled because of my closed mouth, but unfortunately I bit my lower lip and I remember it hurt my throat. Once again there was a long wait before delivery of the next stroke.
The fourth shot seemed to be more of an upper cut and caught me fair and square where my buttocks meet the top of my thighs. Searing pain that intensified for a few seconds after delivery before slightly receding. I stayed down but my knees buckled and I was aware of making a sort of moaning cry.
How could she do this to me? She had spoken to me in such a conciliatory and almost kindly fashion. The pain was preventing me from thinking clearly. I just wanted to stand up and rub my bottom that felt like someone had applied a blowtorch to it.
She stood there as though she was intending to land a fifth blow but after a few seconds, much to my relief, she said, “Stay where you are, please,” and walked away, returning the cane to the cupboard.
‘Surely she’s got to tell me to get up,’ I thought to myself. ‘It won’t do any good but I desperately want to rub my bum.’
I remained bent over the desk with my hands flat on the desktop, quietly sobbing.
But her next move was to sit at her desk and remove the punishment book that normally resided in the housemaster’s office, from a drawer. She completed the necessary entry, closed it and left it on top of her desk. I was looking at her every move through tear-filled eyes.
She looked at me. Did she smile? Was she mocking me? Had I been excessively punished because of my outburst? I was now beginning to feel weak and exhausted. Should I collapse onto the floor?
At last she raised herself from her chair and came over to me.
“Get yourself up, Greenway.”
I immediately used one hand to try and bring some relief to my bottom and the other hand to steady myself against the desk. I could feel four distinct welts standing proud. Rubbing them was not helping.
She stood in front of me, arms folded. I noticed that without her high heels, I was almost as tall as her.
“Pull up your trousers. I know you are in a lot of pain and want to get home, but I want to speak to you before you go.”
I reached down but if the pain was showing any sign of subsiding the effort to reach those trousers around my ankles was too much. Once again I cried. Cried at the renewal of a new surge of pain and cried because I felt wretched. If she had caned me to destroy my will she had succeeded.
She stooped and pulled my trousers up to my knees, where I was able to take over. As I very gingerly unravelled my pants and hoisted up my trousers, she stepped back into her shoes and regained her height over me.
“Today is the first day of you becoming a young adult instead of a silly little boy. In future, you will give as much attention to all your lessons as you give to my lessons. You will concentrate in class, you will not be disruptive and you will always do your homework. If you don’t, you will not be reporting to Mr Burton. You will be reporting to me.
“I want you to do good enough work to get yourself to set 4. I don’t want to be your favourite teacher. I want to be your teacher who helps you to achieve your best.”
I did get up to set 4 and, by the time I left school, I got to set 3 and I was never caned by Lisa J again.