Between 1969 and 1974 I attended a co-educational state run boarding school just north of London where there were three forms of corporal punishment. Most offences would attract the slipper; any member of staff could inflict this. Boys committing generally serious offences would attract a visit to the headmaster and his cane. Girls would be sent to the senior mistress and her bath brush. Dormitory monitors and prefects were not officially allowed to impart corporal punishment but while I was there managed to successfully, for the most part, find a way round this.
During the five years that I attended the school I think I was slippered about ten times, received the cane three times and got ‘bath brushed’ once. The canings and bath brush incident are etched in my memory and even now I can remember them vividly. Slipperings were two-a-penny so I can’t be sure about those but I can nail down ten specific instances.
Here I recount what happened at my first caning. For me not a big deal – I had worse (that’s another memory perhaps) – but my friend dug himself a deeper hole.
The first time I got the cane was June 1971 and it was totally unexpected. Myself and a friend were caught by the headmaster playing with a cricket bat and ball in an out-of-bounds area along the back of the class rooms. The equipment was duly confiscated and we were asked to present ourselves for an ‘interview’ in his study the following morning.
7:15 before breakfast was the time that the headmaster liked to deal with serious ‘c’ list offenders. During the day pupils caught acting in a way that a teacher felt warranted the administrations of the headmaster or senior mistress, would be added to the ‘c’ list and would be expected to be waiting at his/her study door wearing their night clothes at 7:15 the following morning.
In this instance we hadn’t really done anything serious and the headmaster hadn’t asked us to fetch the ‘c’ list so I felt we were fairly ‘safe’. The following morning however my friend decided to take ‘protective measures’ just in case. This involved borrowing the thickest set of pyjamas he could find and wearing underpants. The inadvisability of doing this was pointed out but he was in no mood to listen.
We turned up on time outside the head’s study and sat on the bench in the corridor. We were the only two boys waiting there that morning. I was ‘invited’ in first.
Entering the headmaster’s study, to your right was a fire place with two armchairs arranged in front of it and, to your left, his desk, behind which was a floor to ceiling book case. There were also two bay windows that looked out over the croquet lawn. Hanging from a hook on the end of the bookcase was a three foot rattan cane about an inch round at the handle tapering to half an inch at the business end.
I shut the door behind me. The headmaster took his seat and I stood in front of the desk, legs slightly apart, hands behind my back. The head lectured me for about ten minutes on the reasons for school rules – why cricket balls and class room windows don’t mix – the dangers of a cricket ball flying through the class room window – etc. The bomb shell was dropped as he wound down. I was getting a detention – as expected – however as a little reminder and so I wouldn’t forget – I was also to receive one stroke of the cane.
In something of a daze, following instructions, I placed my dressing gown over the back of an armchair and stood bent over one of the arms. The headmaster lifted down his cane and took up position ‘square on’ and without preamble, the cane thomped through the air and thwacked heavily across the middle of my bottom. For a second I felt nothing and then it hurt like hell. I was asked to leave and send my friend in.
Somewhat carefully I stood up, put my dressing gown on and left the study. I told my friend what to expect and stood next to the bench to wait for him. He turned a bit green and entered the study; he pushed the door to but it didn’t quite close so I heard everything crystal clear.
The headmaster started his lecture but didn’t get far. He stopped and commented on my friend’s choice of clothing, specifically that he could see the band of a pair of underpants peeping over the top of his pyjama bottoms; apparently my friends dressing gown had fallen open. The headmaster confirmed that my friend was aware of the additional punishment usually applied for padding and asked him to remove them.
So off came the borrowed pyjamas at which point it became obvious that he was actually wearing six pairs of underpants. The headmaster then enjoyed himself by asking my friend: “If one pair of underpants earns you one extra stroke how many do you think six pairs will earn you?” Having teased out the answer six, he proceeded to enjoy himself a bit more. “However I think seven strokes is a bit harsh,” long pause, “I think we’ll stick to six.”
When my friend went to put his borrowed pyjamas back on, the headmaster told him not to bother as he’d noticed from the name tag that they weren’t his; also they were too small and, he suspected, wouldn’t stand up to my friend bending down.
The next thing I heard was the thomp-thwack of the first stroke followed in short order by the thomp-thwack of the second, then a gap, then the thomp-thwack of the third, a yelp, an instruction to stay still, a pause, thomp-thwack number four, a louder yelp, thomp-thwack number five, a pause and thomp-thwack number six.
A few minutes later, following instructions, my friend, re-clothed, hobbled gingerly out of the study.
Back in the dorm, examination revealed a single darkening stripe across my bottom and five parallel stripes plus one diagonal on my friend’s. Suffice it to say that, to my knowledge, no-one in my year tried ‘padding up’ again.