At the age of eight, my parents decided to send me to an all-boys school in the north of England. Mostly I enjoyed it, but the one aspect that came as a bit of a shock was that physical punishments were not infrequent. Only the headmaster was really supposed to use corporal punishment and he had a short cane. At any time, he might come into a classroom and call one of the boys out into the corridor. The punishment would take place just outside the door, so we’d all fall absolutely silent so that we could hear the sound of the cane on the boy’s bottom. Sometimes, it was just one stroke, more commonly two, and a couple of times I heard a persistent offender get four. They were immediately ushered back into the classroom and told to retake their seat. I never saw anyone crying, but they usually looked very sombre and upset. I was very determined that would never be me because I was terrified that I might cry and let myself down.
Other teachers used to use corporal punishment as well, although I suspect they were not really meant to. They would just call a misbehaving boy to the front of the class, they would be told to touch their toes and they would get a single whack. One teacher used the flat of his hand and he looked to deliver a really hard smack across the tightly stretched trouser seat. Others used a plimsoll or ruler, but they didn’t look all that hard. I still resolved not to take any chances.
However, once a week we had a PE class. I hated PE, and even more I hated the man called Mr P who took us for it. He was physically menacing and most times he came around checking we were working hard with a plimsoll in his hand and delivered a quick whack to the seat of anyone not putting enough effort in. I fell foul of Mr Porter on a good many occasions although, to be fair, the whack just produced a slight tingling sensation.
One day, a boy in my class called Ian came to his attention during a PE session and was called over. It turned out that Mr Porter had noticed Ian was still wearing his underpants under the gym shorts. It wasn’t exactly hard to spot because the shorts were quite tight fitting. I should explain that, at the very first PE session, when we arrived in the changing room, we were told to change into the white T-shirt, white shorts and plimsolls and that under no circumstances should we leave our underpants on as they would get all sweaty. Why Ian had ignored that on this occasion I have no idea.
Anyway, Mr Porter barked at him: “Why are you still wearing your underpants boy? You know that isn’t allowed. Take them off right now.”
Looking downcast, Ian turned away and took one step towards the changing rooms.
“Where do you think you’re going?”
“To get changed out of my underpants like you said sir.”
“No need to waste time going to the changing rooms. Take them off here.”
Looking very red faced, Ian pulled down his shorts and then his underpants as well.
Now of course, this was an all-boys environment and we weren’t seeing anything we wouldn’t normally see in the changing rooms, but somehow it seemed very embarrassing, partly because everyone in the gym was looking at him. Having removed the offending underpants, Ian grabbed the shorts off the floor to get himself re-covered as quickly as he could.
“Not so fast, boy. Touch your toes first.”
Well, we were all well familiar with boys being ordered to touch their toes, but not while their bottom was bare. Ian was not stupid enough to argue, and he quickly took the required position. Mr Porter took up position alongside and swung the plimsoll from a long way back. There was a loud crack like a gunshot and then very quickly, before Ian had the chance to move, a second one. I had a side-on view so I could see that this was not like any slippering we normally witnessed. For a start, normal practice was just one whack, but also Mr Porter was very strong and fit and appeared to put a lot of force into the punishment.
“Right, shorts back on and get back to work.” He turned away from Ian. “That goes for the rest of you as well. No slacking.” As he said this, Mr Porter kicked the discarded underpants to the side of the gym.
I was fascinated to watch Ian’s reaction. As he stood, I could see tears on his face. He was quite a naughty kid, and had a good few slipperings in the past without anything like this reaction. In fact, he’d been caned just a week or so before and hadn’t cried then. At this point, Ian turned his back to the rest of us as he struggled to pull up his shorts. I don’t know if this was because he didn’t want people to see him crying or he was trying to protect his modesty, but of course, the effect was to give me a clear view of his backside. It was very apparent from where I was watching that he already had a big red mark on each buttock. He wiped the tears from his face before turning round and going back to the activity he’d been doing.
There was about another fifteen minutes of the class and although I kept glancing at Ian, he did seem to have stopped crying.
When we got to the changing rooms, there was a real buzz of comments being made. Of course, Ian had to take off the shorts again and we all demanded to see the marks. Although they were still predominantly red, there was a clear sign of bruising beginning to develop. He would have those marks for some time to come. I think it was interesting that I didn’t hear anyone challenge Ian about crying. I think everyone recognised that this had been on a different scale and it reinforced that it was a good idea not to ever really get on the wrong side of Mr Porter.