I’ve written about my first caning at school which got me six of the best at the age of 11 and mostly undeserved. I say ‘mostly’ because I did lie when I should have told the truth and if I hadn’t done that I might have avoided being punished at all, and because I was technically guilty of the things I was punished for as well. I just had what I felt then, and I still feel now, was a good explanation as to why I did it. But I lied rather than explain because I was frightened and I felt like I was being treated unfairly.
And I was treated unfairly. People lied to make out that what I had done was much worse than it had been. They deliberately lied. And one of the people who did that was a boy named Larry Silver who I regarded as a friend and somebody who I had spent a lot of my childhood protecting and defending. Trying to do that directly lead to the caning. I felt totally betrayed by Larry. Terribly betrayed.
I was caned in the morning and I spent morning break inside. After returning to my classroom I was in a state and I was allowed to stay inside to try and get myself back under some sort of control. By the time our dinner break came around, a couple of hours later, I was in less of a state, but I was angry about what had happened to me. I was still feeling very uncomfortable as a result of being caned, and I also felt rather embarrassed by it. I think – I’m not sure but I think – I was the first girl caned in my class, though probably not the first one caned in the form and I had sat in class crying like a baby for at least half an hour, if not longer, after coming back.
So when we went to dinner, and I saw Larry sitting alone at the edge of a table, I decided to go and talk to him. I can’t say exactly why. Whether I intended to attack him, or confront him, or talk to him, or just ask him why, I don’t know.
But I went up to him and I think I was quite straightforward. “Why, Larry? Why did you do that to me?”
He looked at me. Larry was a bit of an odd boy. Nowadays, I’m sure they’d say he had Asperger’s Syndrome or was autistic or something like that. But back then, he was just a little strange. Very clever and able to handle life reasonably well except he didn’t relate to other people in a way that was exactly normal. He was bullied a lot, which was part of the reason I tried to protect him. He said nothing, he just looked at me. So I tried again.
“Why did you lie, Larry?”
Again, no response. He probably had no response. What could he say? But I wanted answers. I wanted him to be sorry.
“You got me caned, Larry.”
And then he did respond. “You got me caned last year.”
This was true, but I hadn’t known that Larry knew it. And I hadn’t done it on purpose. He’d been exposing himself to other children because it made them laugh and he didn’t seem to get that they weren’t laughing with him but at him. I could see it getting him in a lot of trouble if he didn’t stop, and I couldn’t make that clear to him. So I’d reported him to a teacher who I hoped would handle it with understanding and kindness. Instead our primary school Headmistress had given him three strokes of the cane on each hand in front of the entire school at assembly. I hadn’t told him I was responsible because I did feel guilty about it, but I’d tried to do my best for him.
Later on, I found out what had happened. A group of boys had been caned a week before I was for going into the girl’s lavatories. I’d been in there at the time, and the boys somehow concluded that I had told on them. I hadn’t, but they decided I had, and they wanted revenge.
They set me up to do the same thing; to go into the boys’ lavatories by telling me Larry was being bullied in there, and a boy named Paul Burns told a prefect I was in there in order to make sure I was reported. Paul had also picked two boys he knew he could influence to back him up in a lie that while I was in the lavatories I had actually spied on them. Just going into the boys’ lavs might easily have been enough to get me punished, but making out I’d spied on them made things far worse. He’d threatened one boy into backing him up, and with Larry, he simply told Larry that I’d been responsible for his caning and I wasn’t really his friend but only acted like it in order to get him in trouble. He’d been bullying Larry as well, and also made Larry think that would stop and they’d be friends if he lied to get me in trouble.
So Larry did what he did for revenge, and to try and protect himself, and in the hope he’d make a friend. I still don’t consider what he did right and I still think it was a betrayal but once I eventually understood what had happened, I was able to understand and forgive him, but that didn’t happen for a while. In this moment, in that dinner hall, all I felt was a sudden rage.
I slapped him across the face as hard as I could. I knocked his glasses off, and I was glad because I knew from past experience that nothing in the world panicked him more than not being able to see properly. I grabbed him and pulled him to his feet, and decided to do the worst thing I could imagine to him. I grabbed his shorts and pulled them down as he tried to get away from me. I then went for his pants and managed to get them part way down as well, before I suddenly felt myself being hauled through the air by a tunic strap. Our Form Mistress, Mrs Downer, who I had already had considerable dealings with that day (she had been present when I was caned), had grabbed me and was angrier than I was. In front of the entire dinner hall, she smacked me as hard as she could across the seat of my skirt and I howled with pain because my bottom was still very tender after my caning.
She then set across the dinner hall propelling me in front of her. And then down the halls to her office. I was crying and, once again, very very frightened. There was a boy waiting just outside her office door, Paul Burns, and he stood up very straight as she pushed me past him into her office. She released me as soon as we were inside the room, and went straight to her desk and picked up the slipper.
“Bend over and touch your toes!”
I shook my head. I couldn’t. I just couldn’t. I knew I was in terrible trouble. Unlike the earlier incident where I felt I was being treated unfairly, looking back at this, I honestly don’t think I knew at that moment whether I deserved to be punished or not. My brain wasn’t working that way. All I was thinking was that I didn’t want to be hurt.
She grabbed a chair, then came over and grabbed me and pulled me over to the chair. She seemed to be a little less angry than she had been in the dinner hall, but not by much. She sat down and pulled me across her lap. This was similar to the way in which I was used to being spanked at home, and while I certainly didn’t cooperate with her, I don’t think I struggled either. I wasn’t thinking of anything except impending pain. When I was over her lap, she pulled up the back of my skirt, and then pulled down my knickers. I had no problem with the idea of a woman seeing me exposed in that way; it was normal when we had gym. I wouldn’t have wanted a man besides my father to see me like that, or maybe a doctor, but I didn’t have a problem with any female seeing it. But I knew the door was still open, and I knew Paul Burns was just outside the door and the idea that he might see something did sink in.
I think I yelled out “No! No!” or something similar.
At the time, I thought my cries actually had an effect on Mrs Downer. Looking back now, I wonder if she actually just realised I was bruised and extremely tender from the cane. Whatever the reason, she pushed me back up onto my feet. My skirt fell back into place. My knickers fell down to somewhere below my knees but the skirt was protecting my modesty at least. Mrs Downer stepped over to her desk and put down the slipper.
For a second I thought I was getting a reprieve. But then she picked up the cane. And I tried to run from the room. It didn’t work, because I tripped; I was hobbled by my underwear. I didn’t fall all the way over because I was still near the chair and managed to grab it, but I didn’t get anywhere. Mrs Downer stepped up to me.
I was sure I was about to get caned on the bottom again. And I could not imagine what that would be like, especially if I wasn’t able to fix my clothes. But instead Mrs Downer grabbed my left wrist and pulled it up in front of me and slashed the cane across the palm of my left hand. She did this three times in total. I was in sheer agony. She released my wrist and reached for my right wrist and pulled it up. I could see that Paul Burns was in the doorway now. He had a look, I remember, a look of horror on his face. I just hoped he couldn’t see any part of me I didn’t want him to see. Then suddenly Mrs Downer released my wrist without giving me the three strokes on that hand I was expecting. I doubled over clutching my hands together. She walked over and shut the door.
“Pull your knickers up, Melanie. Now!”
I forced myself to do so.
“I am disgusted at you, Melanie. Absolutely disgusted. What you did yesterday was bad enough, but to go after poor Larry Silver.”
“Please, Miss. I’m sorry, Miss.” I was just crying. I had no idea what I was sorry for.
“If anything like this happens again you could be expelled, Melanie. I hope you understand that.”
She picked up some paper and wrote on it. “That will get you into second sitting for dinner, today. If you’re hungry.”
She looked at me and shook her head. “Go!”
I walked out, past Paul. Looking back, I wonder why he was there. He’d been waiting to see Mrs Downer, so he was probably in trouble for something. Perhaps she had doubts about what had happened earlier in the day. If so, I’d probably removed them for her.
Just before the end of the day, Mrs Downer walked into our classroom. Everybody stood up and she smiled at us, and said, very pleasantly to me: “Melanie, could you come with me. You’re not in any trouble.”
We went to her office. I was not convinced I wasn’t in trouble.
“Sit down, please, Melanie.”
I did so. Sitting was not as uncomfortable as legend had led me to believe it should have been.
“I wanted to try and clear the air. You’ve been very naughty, but you’ve been punished for it. It’s over. Let’s move on. I don’t think you are a horrible child. I’ve seen your records from primary school. Settling in can be difficult. But I want you to know that all is forgiven.”
“But if you’re naughty again, you can expect to be punished again.”
“Go back to class. Tomorrow will be a better day.”
Tomorrow would be a better day. Unfortunately I still had the afternoon and evening to get through at home first. The consequences of what had been done to me and what I’d done to myself were not over yet.