Auntie Joan, mother of cousins Michael and Sally, was a lovely lady in many ways, but when it came to discipline, she was much like her sister, my mother, strict and swift, firm but fair. I spent many happy days and weeks there as I got on really well with my cousin Mike. There were times of course when boys couldn’t help but be boys, so with carte blanche from Mum, she was able to deal with both of us straight away before any distance crept between offence and consequences, which I suppose was best for all concerned.
On the one occasion, when we were both eleven, we had two other friends over for a kick-around in the garden, followed by tea and board games which we all loved. It wasn’t the biggest garden but it had a high sturdy fence, one panel of which served as goal. Frankly, we were pretty average, but Mike’s friend Joe was less so. His shooting was erratic and we were hoping we wouldn’t have to keep going to Mr Grumpy next door to ask for our ball back.
I think everybody knows the next paragraph, but the inevitable happened. Joe kicked the ball, and the ball ballooned over the fence at high speed, followed by the sound of breaking glass. It wasn’t the green-house, it was a small potting shed with just one pain of glass. Joe had scored.
After many previous warnings from Mr Grumpy, it was no surprise that the doorbell rang and Auntie had to break away from the lovely tea she was making for us. I always found that at times like those I got a sort of shivery feeling, anticipating I suppose what was to come. Still wiping cake mix off her fingers, she came to the back door and told us to go to the front room. I had been there before, both with Mike and on my own. I knew what happened in there and so did Mike.
Auntie’s subsequent two phone calls meant that Joe and Brian were about to find out.
Auntie Joan came into the room. “I don’t know how many times I’ve told you not to kick that ball over the fence, but you keep on doing it, so from now on, no more football in the garden.”
Mike tried to interject but was shut down. I hoped he wasn’t going to shop Joe because as far as I was concerned it was ‘all for one and one for all’. Auntie shut him up anyway.
“Joe and Brian, I have spoken to your parents and they’ve agreed. So now all four of you are going next door to Mr G and you are going to apologise, and mean it! And then you are going to come back here and we will sort this out.”
We trooped next door, apologised as best we could, knowing what was to happen next. Joe and Brian had been updated on the way. Joe apologised to the rest of us but after some mild grumbling, we came to the conclusion it could have been any of us that had kicked it over.
Auntie Joan was waiting for us in the lounge when we returned, holding Uncle Fred’s extra-large carpet slipper which, retired from purchased use, I believe because the dog chewed the other one, was now the designated instrument of justice for Mike, his older sister, cousin Sally, me, and any other visiting offenders. It had a smooth leather sole which Auntie thought was best applied to bare flesh for maximum sting. I remembered the last one only too well.
“John, you first. You know the drill, trousers down and over the arm,” she said, pointing towards the arm of the settee.
I lowered my shorts and made to bend over.
“Hold on, Do I have to take them down for you?”
Reluctantly I lowered my underpants and exposed my bottom not only to Auntie and my friends, but anyone who happened to be walking down the road. To wit, Auntie then opened the window on the pretext of it being a warm day, to make sure the ensuing noise would attract attention and quite probably so that Mr Grumpy next door could hear that broken potting shed window had consequences.
She gave us all twelve strokes in quick succession with that slipper, which brought tears to our eyes. Auntie believed in getting on with it, unlike at school where most of the teachers spaced the strokes out. I knew what to expect from her, having been on the receiving end twice before. It was cold bottom to forest fire in twelve seconds flat, a complete shock to the system that took your breath away.
In turn, we shot up at the end clutching our roasting bottoms as we did the spanking dance. Completely pointless really, but there was only one thing on your mind and you had to try to ease the heat. Not surprisingly, we all reacted the same way, which must have been extremely comical if anyone had been watching from outside. I bet Aunt had a quiet giggle to herself.
After my spanking was done, I couldn’t help but watch the others get theirs, not out of any kind of malice, more that I was drawn to the fascination of the spectacle. We all got equal treatment, the twelve strokes, and then retired, well hurt, to Mike’s room, still clutching our bottoms as we trudged upstairs.
As you might expect, we compared war wounds, as boys of that age had a habit of doing. You could say that Auntie provided even coverage with no especial bias. Strangely, there was no pointing fingers, which I thought was very civilized. We accepted joint enterprise, even if Joe was a bit poor at football. Joe did apologise again, of course, because he was a decent lad.
At tea time, though we all sank slowly onto our chairs, the mood quickly changed and we enjoyed a lovely tea that Auntie had made us, almost as if nothing had happened, apart from four very sore and well-slippered bottoms. Aunt Joan sat with us and we all joked and had a good time. Crime and punishment all behind us, as it were. I do remember that no one brought up the subject of football, which was rather weird because we were all football crazy.
That’s how it was back then, for our families anyway. It is very strange to think back to those old days when a swift response to a misdemeanour was quite normal. We had mis-behaved and we had been punished, and then it was all over. Joe and Brian’s parents had not got precious at all, and just allowed Aunt Joan to punish their sons the same way she punished Mike and me. I suppose it saved them the trouble. Times have changed now. I just wished she hadn’t had this habit of doing it in front of the open window.