I attended a boy’s grammar school in west London between 1959 and 1966.  The events described here took place in 1962, when I was 14 years old.

I was generally a well-behaved boy, respectful of authority and, if truth were told, probably a bit of a wimp. I was not spanked at home and my only prior experience of physical discipline was having my socks pulled down at primary school to have my calves slapped long and hard.

At grammar school, corporal punishment seemed to acquire a new dimension and significance. It was by no means ubiquitous and many masters made no use of it. Nevertheless, casual cuffs and slaps were common, while the odd hand spanking in the gym changing room or occasional classroom slipperings were far from unheard of. Formal corporal punishment remained, however, an infrequent intrusion into the rhythm of daily life. Its very infrequency gave it a mythic status and, woven into the fabric of popular culture, it remained an ever-present threat. At the pinnacle of that threat was the cane.

Only the headmaster wielded the cane; always in the privacy of his study. His canings were rumoured to be severe and were the subject of much whispered speculation by those who had not been on the receiving end. They were, however, rarely discussed by those who had.

Typically for me, when I finally stepped out of line far enough to merit corporal punishment, I did it big time. I had allowed myself to become involved in some rather nasty bullying of one of the more retiring boys in my form. Why I did so, I have no real idea. It was entirely out of character for me and I remain ashamed of what took place to this day.

I will draw a veil over the details, save to say that we were caught in the act by the headmaster himself. Thus it was that, at the end of the school day, a queue of worried looking youths could be found lined up outside the headmaster’s study. There were ten of us, and I was third or fourth in line. After a lengthy delay for consultations between the headmaster and our form master, the first boy was ushered in. We could hear nothing through the heavy door of the study until the silence was broken by the whistle and thud of a cane connecting with a bottom. There followed five further strokes, by which time we all knew what was in store. After a pause, the first miscreant emerged, red-faced and walking stiffly. The next boy was ushered in and the drama repeated. When the boy before me entered, I found myself counting down the strokes with increasing terror as my nemesis approached.

All too soon, it was my turn. I was ushered in and directed to stand in front of the headmaster’s desk. He stood behind it, dressed as he always was in his gown. Between us, on my side of the desk, was the cane. I’d never seen one in the flesh before. It was straight, about three feet long and had a slight curve at the business. It looked frighteningly thick.

I can remember every word of what followed.

“You realise this is a very serious matter, don’t you, boy?”

“Yes Sir.”

“Were you the ringleader?”

“No Sir.”

“Then who was?”

“I don’t know, Sir.”

This was true. It seemed to me at the time that what took place had happened without anyone consciously willing it.

“Well, you have a choice. I can punish you myself or we can write to your parents.”

There was only one possible answer.

“I’d like you to punish me, please Sir.”

He came round to my side of the desk and picked up the cane.

“Turn to your left and bend over.”

Unable to reach my toes, I grabbed my shins. This was not good enough.

“Further down, please.”

I did my best to grasp my ankles.

“Lift your blazer clear of your bottom.”

“Keep still.”

There was no preliminary tapping or range-finding that I recall, just a low humming whistle and an almighty thud as the cane hit my stretched buttocks. I’d never felt anything like it. The remaining strokes came in relatively quick succession, each landing as the pain from its predecessor peaked. There was a short pause at one point because the force of the successive blows was causing me to rise incrementally from my bending posture.

The order came to, “Bend right down,” and the onslaught continued.

Then it was over. I do not recall what happened next except that I was suddenly outside the study again. I walked as quickly as the pain would allow until I was far enough away to grab my wounded backside and let out the long, “Ouch!” that I had been suppressing.

I think it’s fair to say I was now in a state of shock. I felt sick and light-headed, a feeling that persisted into the following day, by which time my welts had resolved into a three-inch deep band of black and blue bruising traversing both buttocks. The gym changing room later in the week revealed nine other sets of equally ravaged buttocks. The damage took close to three weeks to heal, during which time I had to go to extraordinary lengths to conceal it from my parents.

I promised myself I’d never do anything to earn another caning.