The headmaster always enjoyed the annual Old Boy’s Reunion; especially the canings he dished out.
It had become a ritual; two of the most revered Old Boys would not leave until they had each received ‘a proper’ six-of-the-best from the headmaster. When some years ago it had first been put to him that he should order them to his study, lecture them on their misdeeds and then command each to, “bend over that chair,” he thought he was having his leg pulled.
It was the school’s Bursar who raised it. He was one of the most venerable members of staff and had even been at the school when the Old Boys were pupils. The headmaster thought it was a bizarre idea, a bit kinky even, but had to respect the Bursar and hear him out.
“It goes on in schools across the land, you’ll be surprised,” the Bursar said. And the headmaster was.
“What harm can it do?”
Corporal punishment in schools had been made illegal at least fifteen years previously and the headmaster had never beaten a boy in anger. The two Old Boys were at least ten years older than he; it was absurd. One was a High Court Judge and the other a member of the House of Lords for pity’s sake.
“Headmaster, if you humour them I am sure we can get a new chemistry lab out of this,” the Bursar told him.
The headmaster laughed out loud at the suggestion; he had forgotten that each of the Old Boys were great benefactors of the school and had donated substantial amounts of money in the past and the Bursar was probably right; if he indulged them now they would give even more in the future. He agreed to go through with it.
The headmaster’s study needed surprisingly few alterations; it hadn’t changed much in the years since the Old Boys were pupils. The oak-panelled walls remained and the desk was surely as old as the hills; but the computer had to go.
The headmaster was embarrassed about having to go through this charade and wanted as few people as possible to know, but he had to rope in Mr Higgins, the school historian. He had set up a small school museum with mementos such as photographs of past headmasters and school rugby teams; but it also contained memorabilia including an old school desk, a blackboard and easel and, oh glory!, the tall thin cupboard that once stood in the corner of the headmaster’s study; including its contents: a dozen whippy rattan canes.
Higgins was alarmingly eager to supply the headmaster with everything he needed. He had indeed been an enthusiastic beater of boys’ bottoms when the law still allowed and he fervently hoped the legislators might someday reverse the decision. Perhaps, Lord Barnaby might be prevailed upon to raise the issue in Parliament.
Higgins had also kept the punishment books, where records of canings were kept. They dated back nearly a hundred years. He took great delight in reading them and recollecting the Good Old Days when boys showed their masters proper respect. And if they didn’t, they would soon be signing their names in the punishment book and nursing throbbing backsides.
Higgins’ name appeared many times in the book. On one day he had caned six boys for six different offences. One was Rodgers T. E.; he was in the sixth-form and thought he was immune to the rules. Higgins soon disabused him of that idea. He had been found in possession of a bottle of beer, despite the strict no-alcohol rules. Higgins confiscated the Watneys Pale Ale and took Rodgers to a classroom where he ordered him to bend across a school desk.
Try doing that today, Higgins thought, it’s all lawyers and childrens’ rights. But, back then, Rodgers knew he had no choice and despite being eighteen years old he went over the desk without complaint to show Higgins his arse for six top notch stingers from the master’s favourite ‘senior’ cane. He still had that cane. Rodgers was in some distress, the beating had been that severe, but he took it like a man and Higgins respected him for that. Later, alone in his digs, reminiscing the day’s events, Higgins enjoyed the boy’s beer.
The headmaster now had all that he needed, but he knew he had a problem. His two Old Boys were presumably very experienced receivers of the cane, but he had never even seen one, never mind used one. They would expect a proper thrashing, not just a tap on the bottom for old time’s sake.
Once more, Higgins had the solution. He was an expert caner and although it had been many years since he last lashed a rattan into a boy’s stretched trousers, it was surely like riding a bike; something you never forgot how to do. Let him be the one to administer the Old Boys beatings, he suggested, fervently hoping the headmaster would agree.
“No, I fear it has to be me, they seem to insist it is a headmaster’s caning.”
“Oh,” Higgins replied trying to hide his disappointment. But, he explained a “headmaster’s caning” did not only mean a caning from the headmaster; to schoolboys throughout history and all over the British Empire, a “headmaster’s caning” meant an exemplary severe thrashing; something to be dreaded.
The headmaster did not like the sound of this. What could he do?
“I can teach you how to use the cane to inflict maximum pain.”
The headmaster was grateful, but how could this be done? Would it be enough simply to whack the cane down into a cushion? Didn’t they need a real person to be on the receiving end?
Yes, Higgins agreed, they did, and he knew exactly the right person for the job, but it would be tricky to explain this to the headmaster.
“I have an acquaintance who might be willing to act as your guinea pig, so to speak,” Higgins did not want to say too much about Timothy Hutchins, a young man who hired out his backside to clients willing to pay for the pleasure of beating it black and blue.
The headmaster considered discretion in the matter to be paramount and was unwilling to bring a total stranger to the school for the headmaster to practice his caning technique. That’s how the headmaster met with Timothy one evening at Higgins’ dismal apartment in town.
It took the headmaster no more than an hour to progress from novice to expert caner. Timothy was a trooper, he did not object when asked to remove his trousers and underpants so the headmaster could see exactly where his cane stokes landed. At first, he was way off target, but soon he was landing them exactly where he wanted.
With accuracy sorted, the headmaster practiced severity. He was alarmed at the damage a single lash of the cane could inflict on flesh and began to doubt the wisdom of the whole enterprise. Could he really do this to the two Old Boys, even if they wanted him to?
“Don’t worry, headmaster. The bottom will not mark if the boys are wearing trousers.” Higgins knew he was telling a lie, but it was the only way to make sure the headmaster went through with it.
So, suitably prepared, the headmaster awaited the Old Boys’ Reunion.
The plan was surprisingly simple. The Old Boys wanted to be punished for committing real offences. What could be easier than to catch them smoking cigarettes? In the old days that would get them a caning from their housemaster, not the head. But, repeat offenders would find them on the list for a headmaster’s special caning. And, truly, both had been caned at school for smoking at least once.
Higgins had the pleasure of saying, “Barnaby, Bennett, report to the headmaster’s study. At once.”
The two boys walked in silence through the school quadrangle, into North Building and up the narrow staircase to the corridor leading to the headmaster’s study. They were reliving times in the past when they had last made this journey. Time can be deceptive. This wasn’t today, for them, this was thirty-five years ago.
They reached the study door and halted. As if in a dream each checked that their appearance was immaculate; shoes cleaned, ties straightened. Each was wearing the blue and yellow striped school blazer of their youth. Many of the Old Boys had these blazers and liked to dress up for the reunion day. Some secretly wished they could complete the outfit with their grey flannel short trousers, long grey knee socks and school cap, but these were not clothes that could easily be worn in public.
The two boys shuffled their feet, seemingly unwilling to take the next step.
“Oh come on,” Lord Barnaby, or now, plain Barnaby, C. T. E. knocked.
They held their breath. Then Bennett took the handle, turned it and opened the door.
The headmaster sat behind his huge oak desk, resplendent in an old fashioned academic gown.
“Stand there, both of you,” he pointed to the carpet. The headmaster was used to hectoring misbehaved boys and his stern lectures were well rehearsed. He had giving tongue-lashings to many of them across the years. They did very little good. The truth was that it was impossible to punish a boy beyond giving impositions or lines. This was a boarding school and the pupils had very little liberty, so being placed in detention meant very little to them.
Since being introduced to the cane, and encouraged by Higgins, the headmaster had begun to believe that corporal punishment might be beneficial to his school. He could easily think of six or seven repeat offenders among his present boys who would profit from a sore backside. A cane laid on with force would soon buck their ideas up a bit. All it would need was one visit to the headmaster’s study for a ‘proper’ caning while bent across the desk, or over the back of the armchair. Six strokes whacked into their trouser seats; they wouldn’t be back in a hurry after that.
The headmaster eyed the two grown men standing before him: Barnaby and Bennett. He felt like laughing at the absurdity of it.
He picked up a piece of paper from the desk and read from it. “Smoking again. You have both been caned by your housemaster for this before. Is that true?”
Mumbled, “Yes, Sir,” from both of them.
“Barnaby, you have been caned twice before.”
“Sir,” said with real misery from his Lordship.
The headmaster gave his “cigarettes are bad for you,” lecture.
Only yesterday he had delivered a different lecture to two fifteen-year-old fifth-formers; their rudeness and arrogance to their masters had resulted in a visit to the headmaster. But, they had seemed unmoved by his words. He was certain they would be back on his carpet before too long. Oh, how he now wished it was them in front of him and he could whack some manners into them through their backsides.
Oddly, in his imagination, Barnaby became Probert and Bennett became Turner. No longer were they fifty-something middle-aged men, they really were two snotty fifteen-year-old schoolboys, deserving of a thrashing.
Yes, he would certainly give these boys the thrashing they so richly deserved.
Probert, you first, he thought, but said out loud, “Bennett you stand at the back of the chair. Barnaby, face the wall; hands on head.”
Meekly, both boys did as instructed.
The headmaster picked up a crook-handled rattan cane and thoughtfully bent it between his two hands.
“We shall see how you like the feel of this, Bennett,” without intention, the headmaster was speaking in an old-fashioned, upper class accent; like something out of a 1930s film: he had suddenly become Mr Chips.
“Bend over boy.” Bennett, expertly positioned himself; head down, bottom high, legs apart. As with Higgins, a caned boy never forgets how to present his backside to the satisfaction of the headmaster and his cane. Could it really be thirty-five years since his last headmaster’s caning?
Right Probert, you have been asking for this for a very long time. The headmaster raised the cane and brought it crashing down across Bennett’s trouser seat with great force. The boy gasped, but stayed in position.
“One Sir, thank you, Sir,” Bennett was reciting a ritual from days long past.
He thanked the headmaster for each of the five stingers that followed. The headmaster knew he had done a good job, his cane had left marks across the seat of the boy’s trousers and it was clear that the cuts had fallen neatly in a half-inch group across the centre of his buttocks. The headmaster would not know but the cane had bitten into the fleshy cheeks so deeply that welts had already risen.
It was with an extremely throbbing backside that Bennett rose from the chair and stood by his friend, hands on head, facing the wall. He desperately wanted to rub away the agony in his aching bottom, but the ancient schoolboy ritual did not allow this. Only when he was dismissed from the study would he be able to show that he was in any pain. Until then, he had to tough it out.
Turner, your turn, the headmaster thought, “Barnaby, your turn,” he said aloud.
The boy took up his position behind the chair.
The headmaster was enjoying himself. He swished the cane through the air a couple of times, before intoning the words all schoolboys once dreaded. “Bend over that chair.”
Barnaby was across the chair in an instant, eager to feel the lash of the cane. The headmaster eyed his target; he saw the backside of fifteen-year-old Geoffrey Turner, raised his cane high and let fly.
“One Sir, Thank you Sir,” his Lordship intoned.
He took his six-of-the-best like the man he was. The headmaster put all his effort into cracking his whippy rattan into the proffered buttocks.
“Phew!!!!” Barnaby thought, but could not say. This was the best thrashing he had ever had in his entire life; at school or after.
“Get up boy. Both of you stand in front of my desk.” The two punished schoolboys shuffled on the carpet, hands behind their backs, sneakily patting their raw buttocks with their thumbs.
The headmaster scolded them some more and dismissed them.
They sauntered from the study, as if they had no cares in the world. Once the door closed behind them, each boy jumped up and down on the spot, rubbing furiously at his buttocks.
“Crikey! What a whacking!” Bennett said.
“Quick let’s find the bogs. I’ll show you mine if you show me yours,” his friend responded.
And, that’s how it started. Every year they return to his study for six-of-the-best and each time the headmaster chooses from among the present crop, the boys he would dearly love to thrash with his cane.
Other caning stories you might like.
More stories from Charles Hamilton II are on the MMSA website
Charles Hamilton the Second