I was a skinny boy with reddish hair, and at fourteen my voice hadn’t even started breaking yet, so I was behind the eight ball when it came to fitting in at my local high school, Newquay County Grammar, a coeducational school. I was no good at football or cricket either, though I was quite good at athletics and cross country running. I had a couple of friends, but in reality I was a bit of a loner. Girls weren’t interested in a skinny red-headed boy who sounded like an eleven year old. Or that’s what one of the girls unkindly told me. It probably didn’t help that I was the youngest in my class either.
I was often up to some sort of mischief, but so far the only trouble it had got me into had resulted in stern lectures, detention or lines. I had passed the eleven plus exam at primary school at age eleven, and I was in the fourth year in an ‘A’ form at grammar school, so obviously I was fairly bright, but schoolwork wasn’t exactly my forte, especially maths.
We were in the classroom in fourth form, which consisted of fourteen and fifteen year old boys and girls, waiting for our maths teacher to arrive. For some reason I thought it would be a great idea to remove the seat from our maths teacher’s chair. I was pretty sure that when he arrived he would notice it and crack some sort of joke. He arrived, cracked the usual corny joke, and promptly sat in the chair without realising the seat was missing. He went down and got half stuck. He was furious and I was mortified that he hadn’t noticed. I knew I was in trouble.
After he had freed himself he yelled out: “Who did that?”
Naturally, I had to own up. He made me stand at the front of the class for the rest of the lesson. I wondered what my punishment was going to be, probably five hundred lines or detention, I thought. Maybe both as I knew he was very angry. Anyway, the bell finally sounded, the class ended, and we all made our way out of the classroom to go to the school canteen for lunch. I scurried past the maths teacher, mingling with the crowd, trying not to catch his eye. I was expecting him to call me back, but I was in luck. He didn’t say a word to me, so I thought I’d got away with it because he was too embarrassed at being made to look a fool.
We had just finished lunch when a prefect came over to me and said: “Mr G wants to see you in his office. Now.”
Mr G was our headmaster, a big man who commanded respect. As younger boys, we were in awe of him and not a little afraid. He had an aura of authority about him and you knew you had to be on your best behaviour when he was around. To be summoned to his office was a big deal. I half wondered if I was going to get the cane, and if so what it would be like as I’d never been caned before. I dutifully walked to his office, but I could hear him talking angrily to someone in there so I waited. A boy I knew who was my age but in another class walked out red-faced, obviously having been given a stern lecture. So far so good, I thought. I nervously knocked on the door.
“Come!” I heard from within. I walked in with trepidation. Mr G looked at me. “Do you know why you are here, boy?” he asked.
I nervously said: “Yes sir, I think so, sir.”
Obviously, my maths teacher had reported me for the seat incident. Without wasting any time on lectures or interrogations, he walked straight over to a corner cupboard and took out a long, thin cane. My heart missed a beat. I’d never seen a proper school cane before, but I’d heard about it from other boys who’d been on the receiving end. It looked like it would hurt a lot, and that I was probably going to get it. I couldn’t keep my eyes off it.
“Am I going to get the cane, sir?” I asked rather stupidly, hoping against hope that he was just going to show it to me as an example of what to expect if he saw me in his office again. A boy in my class once told me that’s what happened to him, and he just got off with a warning.
Mr G just said: “Take off your jacket.”
I gulped and said: “Yes, sir,” and realised that I was finally going to get a caning after getting away with so many misdemeanours for so long.
Obviously, the prank with the seat wasn’t considered minor. I wondered how many I was going to get. Probably two or three, I thought. I took off my jacket and wondered where to put it. I threw it over the back of a chair in front of his desk, foolishly showing a bit of bravado.
He said: “You’re getting six strokes.”
I could hardly believe it.
He ignored me. He didn’t like being answered back. It was general knowledge that if you were going to get the cane, you’d only get two or three strokes on a first visit to his office unless you’d done something seriously bad. If you were lucky, you might even only just get one, as a friend of mine a year older than me had received when he was caught smoking. He was small and his voice hadn’t broken even at fifteen, and looked about twelve. The other kids wouldn’t talk to him except for me. Probably the headmaster had taken pity on him, as a caning was mandatory for smoking. No exceptions, and you usually got at least three.
I almost said to him that I’d never had the cane before, but I thought the better of it because he would have known anyway.
Then he said: “Stand in front of the fireplace and touch your toes.”
I could feel the colour drain from my face, and thought, this is it, you’re finally going to get it. I could see a patch of his office carpet that was well worn in front of the fireplace and assumed that’s where I had to stand. I walked over to do as I was told. I took a deep breath and bent over. It was a long stretch to touch my toes, but I did (almost).
I heard his footsteps as he came behind me. I grimaced and waited for the first one. I wondered what it was going to be like, because I’d been given six of the best with a slipper by my father when I was twelve, and three whacks with a slipper from our French master in form two when I was thirteen. Slipper being a misnomer, because they were about a size twelve canvas tennis shoe with a thick rubber soles, very painful if you were hit hard, which you always were. Mr G’s cane was obviously going to hurt a lot more, which is saying something because a slippering was bad enough. Everyone knew that the cane was far worse than the slipper. Mr G had a reputation for caning hard, and that had me terrified.
The first stroke came down with a swishing sound and a loud thwack as it hit my backside. I yelped, and tears welled up in my eyes. It stung like crazy and hurt more than I thought it would. He waited a few seconds, then the second one came down a lot harder and I cried out. I realised this was going to be far worse than my father’s slippering. The third stroke came down a few seconds later, just as hard, and I wondered if I could take much more, the stinging was so intense. I tried not to cry out at each stroke, but couldn’t help it.
After the fourth one came down, I started sobbing and tears were running down my face. The pain was unbearable, but there were still two more to come. I held my breath and clenched my teeth, waiting for the fifth one. I shuffled my feet, it was hard staying bent over for so long. I heard it come down and when it hit me I started crying. I couldn’t help it. I could feel my face go bright red and I thought Mr G might say something, but he didn’t. I almost said I couldn’t take any more but changed my mind. He waited a bit longer, and I thought he might be going to let me off.
No such luck. The sixth came down with what was probably all his strength, the swishing noise louder than the rest. The thwacking sound against the seat of my pants was louder too. I cried out loudly and leapt up, grabbing my behind. I’d never felt so much pain in all my life. Mr G turned his back to me and put away the cane. He filled out the punishment book on his desk, which took a while, still with his back turned, so I had the opportunity to massage my backside with my hands without him seeing.
He told me to get back to class. I didn’t put my jacket back on because I couldn’t wait to get out of there fast enough. As soon as I got out of the door I dropped my jacket on the floor and frantically rubbed my behind. The pain was intense. My backside felt like it was on fire. I squirmed against the wall to try and get some relief, hoping that no one would see me or that Mr G wouldn’t come out of his office.
The prefects’ room was just down the corridor, and the prefect who had got me from the canteen came out and told me to put my jacket back on and get going. I walked back to my class with a red face and a relentlessly stinging backside.
This time it was the history class in the classroom. I knocked on the door and went in. The history teacher looked me up and down and said: “How many did you get?”
Somehow, he knew why I was late. I wondered how on earth he found out. Or maybe he just guessed, after all he’d taken a good look at me. It was embarrassing, because now the whole class knew I had just been caned.
I said: “Six, sir.”
A boy in the front row who didn’t like me, and I didn’t like him either, stared at me and smirked. A girl in the same row gave a little gasp. She was the only girl who was always okay towards me and was probably sympathetic, unlike the others.
The history teacher said: “Six, eh? Well, you’d better stand at the back, because I doubt you’ll be able to sit down for a while.”
More embarrassment. At least no one could see me at the back of the class except for the teacher and the ones in the back row, unlike in the morning when I had to stand at the front with everyone looking at me. I stood there for the rest of the period with my hands behind my back, trying not to make it too obvious that I was trying to massage my behind.
That night I had a look at the damage in the bathroom mirror, after standing on a chair. There were six red lines across my rear, which didn’t completely disappear for ages. The pain lasted for days, though it gradually subsided until I didn’t feel it at all after about a week. For a couple of days I couldn’t sit down properly. I had to sit on the edge of a chair, though funnily enough my parents and sisters didn’t seem to notice when I was sitting down at the dinner table. At least it wasn’t so bad sitting on the couch.
School was a different story. The kids in my class thought I was stupid for trying to be smart with the maths teacher, and most of them didn’t like what I had done. Being in an ‘A’ form, most of them wanted to learn, and didn’t want a squeaky voiced little pest disrupting the class. When I sat on the edge of my seat for a day or two because of my sore backside, they kept reminding me of the caning and made jokes about it.
The day after the incident, the maths teacher’s daughter, who was in my class and my age, came up to me and said that I’d hurt her father’s back. She said I deserved every bit of the caning and said she hoped it hurt. I just snorted and walked off. If only she knew.
The one thing that I hoped for was that my parents weren’t going to hear about it. I thought that the headmaster might ring up my father at work and say: “I’m afraid I’ve had to cane your son,” or something. Or maybe someone in the class would tell their parents and it would get back to mine. In fact if they ever did hear about it, nothing was ever said.