A boy caned in the lower sixth form

I went to an all boys grammar school in West Yorkshire in the 1970s. My journey through the first five years was pretty uneventful. I had my good and favourite subjects, and my not so favourite subjects. I avoided any serious trouble and, although corporal punishment was standard for some offences, my own experiences were limited to being smacked in front of the class twice in the first form and one slippering from the gym teacher in the fifth form. It was a given that I was going to continue my education into the sixth form and my choice of A levels would have been Maths, French and Physics. That mix of sciences and arts was apparently going to make scheduling difficult, and also my father thought Chemistry was going to be a better choice than French. Although I had no real interest in chemistry, I was probably going to pass my O level so bowed to the pressure to take it at A level as well.

As it turned out, my sixth form chemistry teacher, Mrs Bradley, was also to be my form mistress for the next two years. It wasn’t long into the first term when she asked me to stay behind after class. She was less than impressed with my homework and asked me to repeat it and hand it in again the following day, which I duly, but reluctantly, did. A few weeks later, I was in her bad books again. During the course of a lesson she asked me a question which I was unable to answer. This was quickly followed by a second question which I was also unable to answer, my embarrassment causing some amusement to the rest of the class. That only served to further her annoyance and I was duly sent to stand outside in the corridor. As the rest of the class filed out at the end of the lesson, I was called back in and asked if there was any particular reason I was wasting my own time and hers. It was one of those questions that didn’t have a worthwhile answer so I offered what was perhaps a fairly unconvincing apology. Nevertheless, it seemed to have been accepted and I left thinking that was the end of the matter.

The following morning at registration, however, she calmly announced that I was to go and see the deputy headmaster, Mr Mountfield, at morning break. That was to play on my mind somewhat through the first two periods. I had never been sent to his office before, or anyone else’s for that matter. I had a couple of friends who, as a result of being sent to see him in the fifth form, were able to vouch for the fact that he kept a slipper, or pump as we called it then. On the other hand, I didn’t know any sixth formers who had been slippered. As the end of the second period approached I prepared myself for the journey to the unknown, walked the corridors to his office and pressed the buzzer on the door. The green light lit up and in I went. After about a 5 minute lecture on being at school of my own free will as a sixth former, therefore they ought to be able to expect me to simply ‘get on with it’. The same reference that Mrs Bradley had made to wasting my own time and that of other people was also repeated. He also made reference to the fact that he had never seen me in his office before and as a sixth former didn’t expect to see me there again. I left somewhat relieved and quite sure that he wouldn’t indeed see me there again. As I was leaving, I did eyeball a tall cabinet against the back wall which fitted the description my friends had previously given me describing the home of his plimsoll. How close had I come, I wondered.

Over the next few weeks, a few people I knew were sent to both the deputy headmaster and headmaster, but none reported being made to bend over and it started to look like for some reason, sixth formers were not subject to corporal punishment. A couple of detentions were handed out, including one to me which was for being sent out of a general studies lesson. Once again, leaving his office without a sore backside served only to reinforce my belief that at our age we were obviously considered too old for that.

One morning in the last term of the lower sixth, Mrs Bradley told us at morning registration that in the afternoon all those taking A level chemistry would be attending a lecture and presentation at the local polytechnic. We were to attend afternoon registration and then use a special bus which was being provided to take us to the polytechnic. I had a couple of friends in different classes who would also be attending who said they would be going into town on the way with the intention of going to the pub. They had been given no instructions regarding the use of the bus being compulsory so despite having no intention of going to the pub, it was a nice day and I decided I fancied the walk. It couldn’t be that big a deal could it?

On arrival at the polytechnic and going downstairs to the lecture theatre, there at a corner of the steps was Mrs Bradley.

“Where were you at registration?” she asked.

I could only smile and say nothing.

“It’s not funny,” she responded, “We will deal with this tomorrow.”

I wasn’t too worried. After all, again, what was the big deal? The following morning at registration, nothing was said. I didn’t think about it too much during the morning, but then at afternoon registration she calmly told me that I had to go and see Mr Mountfield at four o’clock. I didn’t think too much of it. After all, once again, what had I done? Certainly as far as I could see nothing significantly more serious than two lots of poor homework or being sent out of class. Eventually four o’clock arrived and I pressed the buzzer again. It lit up red meaning, wait. I went and stood on the opposite side of the corridor to his office. It was a bit embarrassing receiving funny looks from teachers arriving at and leaving the staff room at the end of the day as I contemplated yet another lecture on how sixth formers were expected to behave or, God forbid, the inconvenience of another detention. Then he appeared in the staffroom doorway making eye contact with me as he walked to his office. I waited as he unlocked the door and entered.

“Come on, we don’t have all evening, I don’t want to still be here at five o’clock.”

I followed him in and he went and stood to the side of his desk. His mood was clearly different to that during my previous two visits when he didn’t leave his seat the entire time.

Still standing by the end of his desk, he said: “Well, you know why you are here?”

“Yes Sir.”

“Why?”

“Because Mrs Bradley sent me, Sir.”

“Yes, and why did she send you?”

“I’m not sure really, Sir. Just for walking to the polytechnic, I think.”

“And for missing registration which, young man, is actually a safety issue. There are reasons we take a register every day. This is your third visit to me this year and I am far from impressed. It is not what we expect from sixth formers. Not doing homework, being sent out of lessons and, finally, blatantly disobeying a clear and simple instruction from your form mistress.” A pause and then he added: “Well, do you have anything to say?”

I hadn’t really had time to think of anything when suddenly he was moving away from his desk towards that cabinet at the back. Oh God, no, what, he’s going to slipper me? Surely, approaching 17 he’s not going to make me bend over, and smack my bottom. Then he reached the cabinet and opened it. Oh, how embarrassing! And then, to my absolute horror, when his hand came out of the cabinet he was not holding a plimsoll. A length of straight cane appeared. Oh God no! I don’t believe this. He can’t. I then realized I was shaking.

“If you insist on continuing to behave like a juvenile then I will discipline you like one. You’ve already had one detention which should be shame enough in itself for most sixth formers, but obviously not for you,” he said as he walked towards me. “Turn around and face the window.”

In something of a trance, I did as I was told, still thinking, I don’t believe this, I’m actually going to get the cane.

“Bend over.”

I reached down and put my hands as low down on my shins as I could, feeling my trousers stretch tight as I did so and acutely aware that, at nearly 17 years old, he was staring at my backside.

“I think three should give you something to think about.”

I looked forward slightly towards the window, wondering how much worse than the pump could this be, then felt the cane resting lightly on my rear. Oh God, now I’m going to find out! He’s actually going to do it. Then the cane wasn’t there anymore and all at once swish and “Ahhhhh” as a line of pain seared  through my trousers. I braced myself and survived the second one, quite well I thought, and I think aware enough to realise I wasn’t going to cry. The third one bit my bum in a similarly painful manner but again I survived, although I still remember the relief  knowing that it was over and finally being told I could stand up.

He replaced the cane in its cabinet.

“Now you’ve had your warning. If I don’t see an improvement in your attitude, don’t think it won’t happen again. Understood?”

“Yes Sir,” as I felt the heat building in my backside.

“Right then. Out” I walked as normally as I could, closing the door behind me and suddenly aware the corridor was still full of people. Would they have worked out what had just happened, or even heard it? I was certainly aware. I had survived all my main school days without ever being sent to the office and now, at nearly 17 and approaching the end of the lower sixth, I had just had the cane.

RL

 


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