I was at a church convention in the local town (I grew up in a village). I and a couple of others had gone straight there from school. I came out and headed to the bus stop to head home. I was attacked by two boys in my year, one of whom was in my class. Both were in uniform and there were two others cheering them on. I was knocked to the floor and had my head split open on the corner of the pavement. Naturally I fought back; how can you possibly not in those circumstances, but my main objective was to get away, which eventually I did. I was taken to hospital and received four stitches to my head. I eventually got home and, after explaining what had happened to my parents and given them the names of the boys involved, and then being with them when they called the police, I went to bed.

In the morning, I went to school as usual. In the third period, just before lunch, I was called to see the Headmaster. As I approached his office I saw the four boys who were involved in the assault. I assumed he had learned their names from the police and was going to sort it all out.

We went into the Headmaster’s office, and were told in no uncertain terms to stand in front of his desk. He demanded to know why we had all been in a fight the previous night, in school uniform, in front of a number of people. No mention of the police. No mention of me being attacked. He looked at me and said “[name], you’re a disgrace. You look like you’ve been in a bar brawl.” My mouth can only have fallen to the floor.  I tried to get a word in and protest, but I was shouted down. “Silence, boy! I will not have this sort of behaviour, bringing disgrace on this school.”

“But Sir, I was only trying to de…”

“Silence, I said! Every one of you has brought shame on this school and you are going to learn how to behave. I am going to give you all the stick. Do you have anything to say?”

His head scanned from right to left as I saw it, and none of the others made so much as a murmur. His gaze came to me.

“But Sir, they attacked me! You can’t…”

“I CAN and I will. How DARE you question my authority?! He pointed to the boy to the right of the line and said: “You, over the arm of that sofa now!” Pointing to the red Chesterfield in front of the fireplace. I tried one more time.

“But Sir, all I did was defend myself…”

“[name] you were one of five boys fighting in public. You are going to be punished. For your insolence, you are going to get six. You were going to get four.” Smirks from the other boys.

The first boy was, by now, bent over the arm of the sofa. The Headmaster moved around from behind his desk, went to the coat hooks on the wall by the door and lifted one of the two canes hanging there. He walked over to the sofa, raised the boy’s jacket and laid on four extremely hard strokes. Boy two removed his jacket and got the same as did the others in the attacking group. They were sent away each as they had been caned, with a: “Now get out, and don’t let me see you back here again, or woe betide you!”

Eventually it was my turn. I looked at him and realised there was simply no point in trying to reason with this idiot. I had to take what was coming. I removed my jacket and bent over the arm of the sofa. Sure enough, within moments first one, then two, then three then four then five and finally, six brutal strokes made up what is traditionally referred to as a ‘five bar gate on my backside. Whilst it did not hurt nearly as much as the horsewhip I was used to getting at home, it really hurt. Whilst not crying as such, tears were running freely down my face. I was told to get up and: “Stop snivelling, boy!”

The anger and injustice and the pique at being told to stop snivelling when he had just give me six and my attackers four was overwhelming. He dismissed me saying, imperiously: “Don’t let me ever see you in here again. Now get out.”

My anger at that point was boiling over at the injustice. It would have taken considerable physical restraint to stop me doing anything I set my mind to, adrenalin was running high. I turned and stalked, with tears on my face, towards the door. I say stalked. And I mean it. There must have been a purpose about me as the headmaster said in what he thought was a commanding tone: “Well boy? What is it?”

I can only imagine what my face must have looked like, as he looked visibly shocked when I turned round. The words I uttered must have cut him to the quick, as I distinctly remember his face change as I spoke, from that of surprise to one of anger that someone would speak to him in this way, to one of a mix of anger and frustration, to, finally one of resignation, deflation and, I like to think, a little shame.

“I was attacked last night, with absolutely no provocation whatever. I had to go to hospital as a result of that attack. I came in here today, thinking I was going to see my attackers punished. I came in here today thinking I was going to get some justice. You called me in here, I thought, to hear my side of the story. My parents have called the police over this incident; yes, they are coming to interview me tonight.”

(His face looked an absolute picture at that one, he clearly had no idea of that, so where he got the information and the names from remains, to this day, a mystery to me).

“Instead, you were only bothered with taking out your anger that someone from this school was seen fighting. Everybody has the right to defend themselves, but apparently not if they are at this school. Apparently school rules are more important than the courts and the law. I was attacked last night by them, and I have been attacked again today by you, for the ‘crime’.” (I loaded that word with every bit of venom I could muster). “Of being attacked outside school grounds. Do you think you have taught me that fighting is wrong? Do you think I didn’t know that? You have taught me never again to trust a figure of authority. You would not listen to my side, and when I tried to give it, you told me you would beat me more. Well done (as much caustic sarcasm as I could muster). Do you think I am likely to ever bring anything to you or another teacher ever again? You have shown me I cannot trust this school or its masters and I never will.”

I turned without waiting for a reply and walked out.

I gave my report to the police that night and included that I had been beaten just for being attacked. Two police officers spoke to me, one man who remained quite quiet and the main interrogator who was a woman. I remember her saying in a somewhat surprised tone: “That doesn’t seem fair,” when I told her. The boys in question were arrested and did not make it into school the next day as they were being interviewed. In assembly on the Friday morning the headmaster spoke with anger about: “Being interrupted in my study yesterday by two police officers,” who apparently had wanted to speak to him about an assault apparently committed by two members of his school, egged on by two others. And: “Woe betide anyone I hear of involved in anything of that sort.”

I passed him later in the day in the corridor and he refused to meet my eye, the prick. Later that evening the police called my parents and told them the boys would be charged the next week. Apparently they had also had a word with my Headmaster. Whilst I had no further information on that front I like to think they told him in no uncertain terms that what he had done was out of order.

That was one of three incidents I had with the cane in my school. I was slippered countless times, but with my father horsewhipping me almost daily I barely felt those. One of the incidents, I was banged to rights and just took it. The other, however, the head was, literally, purple with anger and wanted to cane me on the hands. I point blank refused. Again an injustice was involved. We had been lined up outside the biology classroom when a stream of younger children, I think 3rd years, were walking past. One of them tripped up almost in front of me, and the geography master, with whom I generally got on very well, came up, belted me extremely hard around the head, nearly knocking me down, and screamed at me never to do that again. In some shock I told him I had done nothing. He belted me round the head again, harder, calling me a liar and instinctively I kicked him really hard on the shin. I thought he was going to go down but he straightened up and grabbed my ear and started pulling me away: ”Right [name], you’re coming to the headmaster.”

I was pulled unceremoniously to the headmaster’s study, through the green wooden door with two vertical reinforced glass panels. Remember those? You couldn’t see through them clearly but you could see a vague outline of what was in the room. The geography master outlined my litany of offences, first stating that I had ‘kicked a younger child’ as they walked past me causing them to fall and bang their head.

“It’s not true,” I had interjected, in fear of what was about to happen. That had only brought an enraged: “Silence, boy!” From the headmaster. He finished the story and the head had looked like thunder. “I’m going to teach you a lesson, boy,“ he said, venomously. “A lesson you are not going to forget in a hurry. He walked over to the coat hooks by the door and lifted off one of the two canes hanging there. Vicious looking implement. “Hold out your hand, boy.”


I can’t quite describe the look on his face. A mixture of even more anger, surprise, delight that he could now do (in his mind at least) even more to me. I don’t know. Suffice it to say he was not happy.

“Do as you are told and hold out your hand, boy, or woe betide!”

“Mr. B******t hit me round the head, twice. That’s an assault and is illegal. I didn’t do it.”

He was practically screaming now. “Hold out your hand, Boy! Do you want me to call your parents?”

He knew my father was an overly strict disciplinarian. I had been previously beaten on the backside by him and wondered why he was looking to beat me on the hands. In truth I was scared almost witless right now. My grandmother had suffered badly from a hand caning as a child. I also had a piano exam in a few days which would be very difficult if I had taken the caning. My father would have beaten fifteen buckets of multi-coloured whatever out of me. I was infinitely more scared of my father than of this idiot, however angry he was right now.

Not for the first time in my life, but for the first time in school, I felt the need to be absolutely away from the presiding adult’s presence. I ran for the door, screaming: “Call the police if you like! If you don’t, I will!” And ran out, slamming the door hard enough on my exit that one of the glass panes cracked quite badly.

Not knowing where to go or what to do, I went, quite fearfully, back to the biology class and everyone assumed I had been caned. I was still assuming I would be. I never heard another word about the incident. Not one. My relationship with the geography master seemed utterly untouched when I had my next lesson later that week. He spoke to me as normal and I took the cue and spoke to him in exactly the same way. The headmaster never spoke to me again. I think he’d probably given up on me, in his mind. To this day I think he was a bully, a half wit and in the wrong job. If I saw him on fire I wouldn’t piss on him.

Some reading this will think I must have been a tearaway. I was not. I merely had a sense of self at that age and, frankly, as a result of my home life being pretty messed up was probably more of a handful than most. Was I, as one teacher had told me outright, useless beyond belief and would never make anything of myself? I went on to a very prestigious scholarship (Faraday Scholar; money left by Michael Faraday himself) and a doctorate from St John’s College, Oxford. I served on the front line in some pretty full-on actions in the army, and was a senior middle manager in a large pharma company, so I will leave you to make you own judgement on that one. I also keep with me an abiding sense of anger at what was done to me that day, and suffer strong and regular periods of depression at what was done to me at home. I do not believe my parents cared for me. My uncle once said to my father, having just witnessed my father chase me round the house with a horsewhip: “You’ll break the boy’s spirit.” To which my father replied: “I fully intend to.” And I thought my headmaster was a prick.  I regularly cried myself to sleep as a child and still to this day suffer nightmares.

I retain, however, a morbid fascination with corporal punishment. I still think it is absolutely appropriate in some circumstances, particularly bullying. It just needs to be applied with wisdom and an understanding of what it is doing to that child beyond causing some temporary pain.