I went to a British boarding school in the 1960s and, although I was never on the receiving end of corporal punishment, many of my friends were. Canings were commonplace, as they were in many schools of the period. Nor was I ever spanked at home. My parents were kindly souls and did not believe in such harsh Victorian methods. But I did have one first-hand experience of corporal punishment, which still makes me smile all these years later.
The reason that I was sent to a boarding school was that my father was a diplomat with a succession of postings in West Africa. In school holidays, I would be flown out to join my parents, but during the shorter half-term breaks, I would be parked on my aunt Gloria, who lived in Kent. She had a daughter, Vicky, who was about three years older than me.
I fitted into the family pretty well, considering. But with Vicky, who was quite a tomboy, approaching her late teens, there were the inevitable running battles with her mother about bedtimes and other minor house rules.
Things cane to a head one night when Vicky, who had been out at a party, got home at two o’clock in the morning. I had long since fallen asleep, but was woken by the most almighty racket on the floor below; voices raised, then a series of loud slapping sounds, accompanied by squeals of protest. It was not hard to deduce that Vicky had been given a good spanking. She certainly took her seat at breakfast the next morning pretty gingerly.
Nothing was said but, needless to say, the effect of the episode on an adolescent boy was electric. Colourful images of what I assumed must have happened to my cousin took root in my mind. And two nights later, when she was out at another party, I could barely contain my excitement. Suppose she got home late again? And got spanked again? I lay awake in a state of high suspense.
Midnight came, then one o’clock, then two, then there was the faint sound of the front-door catch clicking. Vicky was obviously hoping to creep in undetected. But it was a forlorn hope. Suddenly the hall light went on and I could hear my aunt’s voice booming down the stairs. “And what time do you call this, Vicky?” The next thing I heard was stomping down the stairs, as if she meant business.
The sensible thing would have been to stay in my room, ears pricked. But my curiosity got the better of me. I put on my dressing-down and tiptoed down the stairs just as things were warming up in the living-room. The door was slightly ajar, which enabled to see what I had vaguely expected to see; my cousin upended over my aunt’s lap, while my aunt laid into her with what looked like a pink bedroom slipper. Her bottom, thrillingly, was bare.
“If you think SLAP you can sneak in at two in the morning SLAP looking like a drunken tart SLAP…”
I had never seen my aunt so angry. Her slipper came down again and again, while Vicky yelped and wriggled. I just stood there boggling, which was plain stupid. The next thing I knew, my aunt had looked up and spotted me lurking in the doorway.
“Michael? Michael? What the hell? Oh no you don’t. Come back here, Michael!”
You can guess the rest. I was made to stand in the corner, with my face to the wall, until my aunt had finished with Vicky and packed her off to bed. Then it was my turn. There was the briefest of lectures (“You know what happens to Peeping Toms in this house?”), then she put me across her lap, yanked down my pyjama bottoms and gave me a good old-fashioned walloping. Boy, that slipper stung!
My aunt died more than twenty years ago, but I still see Vicky from time to time at family gatherings. And we still smile when we remember our shared indignity and that fearsome pink slipper.