I sat at my workspace, a large sheet of blank paper staring at me, accusingly. I had less than two hours to turn this into a satirical cartoon for the next day’s newspaper. My editor wanted something about the new law that had just been passed in Parliament abolishing corporal punishment in schools. It had passed by one vote only. It would have been defeated if the Prime Minister had not been late to the House of Commons. He was against abolition and it was his tardiness that allowed the Act to go through. I had an idea of a cartoon showing the man bent across a school desk, his trousers down and someone (who though?) lashing a cane into his buttocks.
I reached for my coffee mug, sat in my comfortable armchair, closed my eyes and …
I was transported back forty years to my grammar school. It was a fine afternoon in early spring, the final class of the afternoon was just coming to an end when Posner, one of the House junior boys, entered with a message. I was to report immediately after the class ended to Mr Standford, my housemaster.
“What’s it about?” I inquired innocently.
Posner claimed not to know; actually, he hadn’t been told the reason, but from experience we both knew that a summons like that usually meant a boy was to get a thrashing.
I had no idea of the fate that awaited me, but we all knew Standford was very strict and a boy could expect to get a throbbing backside if he broke one of the many rules at the school.
In my mind’s eye, I saw myself dressed in my magenta-and-white blazer and dark grey baggy trousers. I thought I looked very dapper in my grey V-neck jumper with a magenta edging, a magenta tie with a silver stripe and a magenta-and-white-hooped school cap. I was dawdling through the quadrangle, past the mullioned-windows of the library.
What was up? I couldn’t be certain which of my latest misdeeds had been uncovered, but I knew I should certainly be in for a bowing. I’d been whopped many a time, so I was fairly tough, but Mr Stanford was a tyrant, a renowned flogger who believed he had his duty to do, and he did it: even to eighteen-year-old sixth-formers like me.
I entered the building, took the stairs at a pace slower than a snail’s, and reached the study door. Here I paused, took a deep breath and tapped my knuckles softly against an oak panel, hoping he wouldn’t hear me.
What bad luck, he had.
I whipped off my cap, fumbled with the knob, and meekly pushed open the door.
“You sent for me Sir,” my voice faltered a little.
“Yes, Watson, I most certainly did.”
Mr Stanford’s study was huge. I’d been here many times before, of course. I took up position six feet in front of Mr Stanford’s desk. It was a modest size, but expensively made, with a dark green leather top. It was almost completely empty, except for a large ink blotter and a couple of Latin grammar textbooks on one side. Did he keep his desk constantly clean at the ready just in case he had to instruct an errant schoolboy to stretch across it and hold his bum high in the air for his whippy cane to whop it?
Mr Stanford had a separate writing table with a small wooden chair with a red-and-white-patterned seat cushion where he sat to prepare his Latin classes. It rested beneath a stained glass widow alongside a fireplace, still unlit for today but with the traces of burnt wood from the night before. A dark wooden bookcase with open shelves stacked high with musty volumes in Latin and Greek ran alongside it.
The other wall had a number of cupboards, one of which was rather taller and narrower than the others: I knew from experience what was contained within.
The room was large enough to house a number of chairs: two of them modest wooden numbers with curved backs and armrests, just the right height for junior boys in need of correction.
But, I was certain I was soon to be more acquainted with one of the two expensively upholstered ‘comfortable’ armchairs that faced each other in front of a small table close to the bookcase.
Mr Stanford had a red face with a heavy frown on his brow and his thin lips were set tightly. I could never be sure of Mr Stanford’s age; he probably looked older than he actually was. He was an angular man with grey hair, balding on top with great tufts sticking out to left and right from his temples. He wore a traditional academic gown on top of a very heavy tweed jacket and a dark brown cardigan. His trousers were shiny, with black and grey stripes, and exceedingly crumpled.
He read out the case for the prosecution.
“I have here,” he waved a piece of paper torn from a school notebook, “a drawing.”
Oh, heck! I didn’t need to be told, I knew exactly what it was: a figure in a cap and gown brandishing a cane and another figure bending bare-bottomed over a desk. I knew, because I had drawn it. And, I knew also it had the words OLD DONKEY STANFORD GOES ABOUT HIS WORK written in my hand upon it.
“What have you to say?” he demanded sternly. There was nothing for me to say really, except to cough to it. I had drawn it. It seemed like a good idea at the time, but now it did not. In honesty, the fellows in the class had appreciated it highly, but I don’t think Mr Stanford was in the mood to hear that.
Mr Stanford’s voice was not loud, but it was deep. His face was inflamed with rage. I stood in front of him staring resolutely at the rug beneath my feet as he catalogued the many different ways in which I was “insolent,” “wretched,” and a “cad.”
I took two minutes of this and allowed my mind to wander a little so that I almost missed him say, “Bend over that chair.”
I hesitated, not sure I had heard what he had said.
“Bend over that chair!” Mr Stanford rapped out the words. Oh lor! There was no mistaking his intentions. He pointed to the armchairs. He hadn’t yet selected the cane he was going to use to whop me, but waited to see that I had indeed taken up position before approaching the tall cupboard.
The armchairs had high backs, far too high for even the tallest, lankiest, schoolboy to put himself over and stretch out his arms to clutch the seat cushion for dear life.
I knew the routine was for a boy to drape himself over one of the upholstered arms, tuck his knees into the side of the chair and thereby raise his bottom high to meet the thwack of the rattan cane.
I took several deep breaths and then after one continuing movement I had my face in the seat cushion. It was dusty with a faint smell of sweat where visitors had previously sat in comfort to enjoy conversation, and who knows, tea, with Mr Stanford.
I could be assured that after what I was about to receive I would not be able to enjoy a comfortable sit-down for some time to come.
With my face in the cushion I couldn’t be sure of Mr Stanford’s movements, but I heard the cupboard door open and the shuffle of canes being sorted as he selected the weapon to attack me with today.
Evidently he had a prospect. I heard the sound of a cane being swished through the air. Was he testing it out? I moved my back slightly, intending to look round to see what was going on.
“Keep perfectly still.”
That’s all he said, but it was enough. I burrowed my head in the cushion.
Up went the cane with a whiz and down it came with a fearful slash.
Mr Stanford’s cane came down across my trousers as if he were beating a carpet. He knew how to lay it on when he thought that serious punishment was called for.
This time the savage cane rang across my backside like a crack from a pistol. I compressed my lips to keep back a cry of pain.
I wriggled. I squirmed. Mr Stanford didn’t care; he had a cruel streak and would have gladly cut me to pieces.
The cane bounced across my seat and dust blew off my trousers.
I was breathing heavily. The execution was over, I hoped so at least. Nobody I knew had ever got more than six cuts from Mr Stanford.
Then, Mr Stanford delivered two more fearful slashes.
Swipe! Swipe! OOOOOH! Double crikey.
Mr Stanford knuckles grew white with the hard grip he was putting on the cane.
I let out howls of pain as the cane rose and fell without mercy.
They were blows such as no master ought to ever have dealt, but Mr Stanford was too furious to care how much he hurt me.
That was a dozen cuts. I lay limp and suffering trying my best not to blub, waiting for him to give the command to get up. He seemed to be taking an eternity.
“You may remove yourself.”
I rose a little unsteadily; face pale and breathless, rubbing my bottom furiously. I just couldn’t help it, my bum was in shreds.
Mr Stanford averted his eyes so as not to notice me as I did this, but he could not suppress a smile.
He was a very satisfied man.
Mr Standford had not liked my satirical drawing all those years ago and I doubted very much that the Prime Minister would be pleased with tomorrow’s newspaper. One thing would be certain however, my buttocks would remain unbruised this time.
Other school stories you might like.
More stories from Charles Hamilton II are on the MMSA website
Charles Hamilton the Second