Richard Rae was petrified by his new school, everything about it scared him senseless. It was a living nightmare. Sometimes he thought he must have died and gone to hell.
Richard was eighteen and in the sixth form. His family had just moved to town after dad was promoted to bank manager. Richard knew nobody in town and had no friends at St Cecelia Independent Grammar School.
He couldn’t understand St CIGS. Nothing about it made sense. It started with the short trousers. Eighteen year olds forced to wear grey short trousers. In England. In February. In winter. Madness. The short trousers fell an inch or so above his knees. The knee socks that went with them were no use either. It was freezing and his legs threatened to turn the same colours as the blue-and-white striped blazer he wore.
His mother had roared with laughter when she read the school regulations. “Short trousers must be purchased from the designated school supplier,” she read. Well of course they would, Richard fumed. Where else could you buy short trousers to fit eighteen-year-old boys? St CIGS must be the only school in the country to force eighteen-year-olds into short trousers. Eighteen-year-olds! Richard couldn’t get over it. His friends back home would shriek with laughter if they ever found out.
“Oh darling,” his mother had said, “A blue hooped school cap, how delightful.” She was enjoying herself immensely. “And white Y-front underpants,” she giggled.
“Oh, and look,” her eyes widened with mirth. “Corporal punishment. Ha! Ha! Ha! It’s six-of-the-best for you young man,” she whooped with joy, safe in the knowledge that her little darling was a good boy and could never behave in a way that warranted a thrashing with the cane.
“Never mind, dear,” she consoled her distraught son. “It says the school has a fine academic tradition. You’ll only be there a few months. Pass your A-levels and then you can go up to the university.”
St CIGS was indeed a “traditional” school. Traditional curriculum, traditional (if eccentric) uniform, traditional discipline and traditional games. Just about the first thing Richard learned was games were compulsory. Even for sixth-formers. St CIGS was a “rugby school.” Richard had never played rugby in his life; he didn’t even know the rules. They didn’t play “association football” at St CIGS. “Association” football? Richard was aghast. It was “football.” Who on earth still called it “association football”? It was bad enough that modernists insisted on calling it “soccer.” He blamed the Americans for that.
What St CIGS called “traditional,” Richard called, “old fashioned.” His previous school Taylor’s had been very liberal. There was no school uniform and everyone was called by their first names – in the sixth form the “students” even called teachers by first names. It was also co-ed; girls and boys learnt together. Sixth formers were allowed to smoke and there was a designated area for them to do so. They were treated like adults.
Not so at St CIGS. Forced to wear short trousers at eighteen. Richard just couldn’t get over it. Short trousers. Everything about St CIGS was alien to him. The teachers, or “masters” as he had better get used to calling them, wore black flowing academic gowns. Richard rocked on his heels the first time he saw the masters parading at school assembly. They all looked like Bat Man. And the weird flat mortar-board caps with tassels that they wore on their heads … words simply failed Richard.
All the boys were called by their surnames – there were no girls. Nor, were there female “masters,” which in a rare light moment Richard thought was just as well since they would have to be called “mistresses.”
Smoking was banned, which would cause a problem. With the liberal regime at Taylor’s the eighteen-year-old had quite a nicotine habit.
Richard knew nobody in town and couldn’t make friends at school. He arrived in February, five months after the start of the school year. His fellow classmates had been at St CIGS for six years; they had their cliques and weren’t about to let a stranger into their groups. Richard was alone. In a totally strange world that he did not understand. Without the help of friends, he would never learn the rules.
One of the rules, Richard failed to learn was to keep his mouth shut. At Taylor’s students were encouraged to voice opinions; it helped to grow into confident adults. Not so at St CIGS. Here pupils, like children, were seen and not heard. They only spoke when they were spoken to. And then only to confirm the prejudices of their masters. To express an opinion was to express “insolence.”
On his third day at the wretched school, Richard leaned the penalty for insolence. A master, whom Richard had never met approached him at the beginning of the lunch break. “You boy. Are you Rae; Upper Sixth?” the capped and gowned elderly man peered through round eye glasses. Richard gaped, unsure what question he was being asked.
“Rae!” the master barked. “Speak up boy!” he glowered. “Rae. R. C. Rae,” he spat out the words. Oh, Richard, understood. His name. He was asking him his name. Why didn’t the old duffer say so in the first place.
“Yes,” Richard replied. Then frozen by the master’s icy stare, he hastily added the obligatory (for St CIGS), “Sir.”
The master’s long thin, ugly, face was puce. “You are to attend Dr Thumpington’s study!” he snarled. “Without delay.”
Richard’s bemused face betrayed his ignorance.
“Pah!” the master was beside himself with irritation. “The headmaster boy! The headmaster. At once. Go.” With that he swirled his gown around his body and flew off down the passageway.
The headmaster’s study? Why? What had he done? Nothing. That’s what, Richard thought. There was nothing to worry about. He was the new boy in the Sixth Form, the headmaster probably just wanted to say “hello, welcome to the school.” Yes, Richard told himself, unconvincingly, that was all. He would soon find out. But first he needed to find the head’s study. He didn’t have the slightest idea where it was.
At last, after being deliberately misdirected twice by mean schoolboys, Richard finally stood outside the heavy oak-panelled door of Dr Thumpinton’s study. The teenager’s heart thumped so hard he could feel it trying to exit his body through his chest. Why was he so scared? He wasn’t in trouble. He hadn’t done anything wrong. Not that he knew of, anyway.
He balled his trembling hand into a fist and tapped lightly on the door. He hoped the headmaster might not hear. That would give Richard a legitimate reason to flee. When, later questioned about his non-appearance he would say in all honesty that he had knocked, but nobody replied.
“Come!” It was an imperious command, clearly given. Damn! Richard grimaced, there was to be no escape. His hand still refused to obey his brain and with some difficulty he turned the brass handle and inched open the door. He stood at the threshold of the room and halted. Petrified.
It was a huge dark room, in the middle of the room was the head’s huge mahogany desk, clean and tidy, and gleaming with shine. To the side was a stuffed leather armchair with a large bookshelf full of books to the left of a table. But, Richard’s eyes immediately landed on a prominent display behind the desk. Attached to the wall was a large wooden gun case with a glass door. Through the glass he could see three crook-handled canes. They were light brown, slender, and slightly warped from years of use. His mouth went dry as he stared at them.
The shortest one was at the bottom. It was perhaps two-and-a-half feet long and very thin. The other two were the same length, more than three feet, but the top one was much thicker and knobbed in places.
“Come in boy, don’t dawdle,” The headmaster sat behind the desk. When standing he was a tall man and imperious. He was in his late fifties and his lined face showed his age. His greying hair was thin and he combed it across his balding dome in a vain attempt to disguise the fact.
Richard stood rooted to the spot; he couldn’t take his eyes off the canes. “Stand there, boy,” the headmaster snapped his fingers and pointed to a spot in front of his desk. Any hope that this was to be a pleasant “welcoming” meeting was dispelled with those words. In a daze, Richard shuffled forward towards the desk.
“Close the door boy. Were you born in a barn!” Dr Thumpington appeared incapable of communicating in a normal speaking voice. Richard turned on his heels and faced the door. For a moment he contemplated running. He could be home within minutes. The frightful headmaster and the dreadful school wouldn’t be able to touch him there. But, instead, on some kind of auto-pilot, he closed the door, and once more faced the headmaster.
“Where is your cap boy! Why aren’t you wearing your cap?” Dr Thumpinton thundered.
Richard’s whole body shook. It was as if he had been hit by a bullet. “B … b.. b ..” he blubbered, digging his hand into his blazer pocket and retrieving the cap. With quaking hands, he placed it on his head.
“There!” Once more the headmaster clicked his fingers. Richard stood as indicated in front of the desk. From this position he had a perfect view of the three canes in the glass case behind Dr Thumpington’s shoulder. Richard had never seen a school cane before; the closest he had come was on television, where comical headmasters were sometimes seen swishing crook-handled rattan rods through the air, threatening naughty schoolboys with six-of-the-best.
There was nothing to laugh at here. Richard still had no idea why he had been summoned before the headmaster, but as he stood in the gloomy oak-panelled study, he was certain of one thing: this visit would not be pleasant.
Unable to stomach looking at the canes, Richard turned his attention to the headmaster. The old man glared at him. It was a terrifying stare; one that had made the blood of generations of schoolboys freeze. Swiftly, Richard averted his eyes and took an excessive interest in the pattern of the red rug beneath his feet.
The silence that followed was deafening. Richard was convinced the vile headmaster could hear the teenager’s heart thumping. Richard heard a rustle coming from behind the headmaster’s desk, but he dared not look up.
From the corner of his eye, he saw Dr Thumpington, rise from his chair and begin to pace his study. He clasped his hands behind his back, rather like members of the Royal Family habitually did. The headmaster reached the far end of his study, paused and then like a soldier on parade, he swivelled and retraced his steps until he stood beside the trembling sixth-former.
“Look at me boy!” he roared. Richard smelt the headmaster’s sour breath as reluctantly he raised his head. Dr Thumpington towered above the boy. Whereas Richard was hardly five-feet-seven; the headmaster was close to six-four. The boy was dwarfed and intimidated by the master.
“Insolence!” The headmaster let the word hang in the air. It was sufficient. That was all that needed to be said. “Insolence!” The new boy was guilty of “insolence.” He had not yet learnt his place in the scheme of things. He was a pupil at St CIGS. His duty was to obey his masters. Unquestionably.
“I have had reports,” the headmaster intoned, “Of your insolence.” There it was again. That word. “Insolence.” The greatest crime a boy at St CIGS could commit.
Richard blushed. He felt sweat soaking his shirt, even though it was a cold day and the open fire in the study was not lit.
“Your history master. Your geography master. Your games master.” The headmaster paused, as if those words alone were sufficient explanation. Richard’s mind whirled as he recalled events over the past days. He had disagreed with Mr Struthers, the history master, about an incident in World War One. It was a discussion, not “insolence.” Mr Jones, of geography was entirely wrong about the formation of glaciers, and of course, Richard had commented to Mr Alladyce, the sports master about “association” football.
“You are new to this school and you have a lot to learn about discipline,” the headmaster moaned. “I don’t know what was acceptable at your previous school, but be aware, we will not tolerate such behaviour at St Cecilia’s. Is that understood.”
Richard stood speechless. He couldn’t believe what he was hearing. His silence was interpreted as further insolence.
“Pah! Answer me boy!” the headmaster’s face was scarlet. Never before, in his decades as a schoolmaster, had he encountered such impudence.
“Eh, eh,” Richard was an intelligent and articulate boy. Taylor’s School had taught him well, but now, standing in the headmaster’s study, overlooked by a glass case containing three awesome whippy school canes, he was dumbfounded. What was he expected to say? Any word of protest, explanation or mitigation, would be construed as “insolence.” Richard knew he could not win.
He knew he was obliged to say something. “Sorry, Sir,” he mumbled. It was all he could think of. He hated himself. “Sorry,” was an admission that he had done something wrong. He hadn’t. He was certain of that, but he was equally certain that to argue the point would be disastrous. Hadn’t the Prime Minister Harold Wilson recently said. “When you’re in a hole, stop digging.” Yes, Richard thought, “Sorry” was the only word.
“Bah!” The headmaster paced the study once more. “He leaves me no choice,” he spoke as if the teenager was not in the room. Richard’s moist eyes watched as the headmaster reached for a heavy straight-backed wooden chair, picked it up and placed it in the centre of the room. Richard’s heartbeat rose, blood raced through his arteries.
“There can be only one remedy,” the headmaster still seemed to be talking to himself. Richard watched the headmaster walk behind his desk. He expected him to reach up to the glass cabinet to select a cane. “Jesus!” Richard thought. “He really is going to do this. He’s going to cane my arse.”
He watched puzzled, as Dr Thumpington leaned forward to his desk, opened the bottom drawer, reached inside and extracted a large plimsoll. Even from a distance, Richard saw the gym shoe was huge. It had once been white, but had greyed with age. The rubber sole was worn with use and he could see daylight through a hole in the instep. This slipper had seen a lot of action in its time; and not all of it in the gymnasium.
The headmaster gripped the plimsoll in his right hand and smacked it thoughtfully in the palm of his left. Suddenly, he seemed to realise that he was not alone in the study. He peered across the room at Richard as if seeing him for the first time.
“Yes,” he growled. “The punishment should be exemplary.” He moved to the wooden chair, sat down, adjusted his buttocks so that he was firmly on the seat, spread his legs, and gathered the end of his gown around his legs.
“There!” he snapped his fingers to indicate Richard should take up position to the headmaster’s right. The teenager was a virgin to corporal punishment, but instinctively he read the situation. He would have to bend over the headmaster’s knee for a spanking with the slipper. This could not be happening. It was a nightmare.
But it was about to get worse. Much worse. “Lower your trousers.”
Richard thought he might faint. The room swam. The red rug spun under his feet. His headmaster’s voice was coming from far away. “Quickly boy. I haven’t got all day. Take down your trousers.”
Richard’s chin quivered. He swayed.
“Do you want me to take them down for you?” Richard hardly heard the words spoken, before he felt the headmaster take hold of the waistband of his short trousers and force him to step a pace forward. The short trousers had a half-elasticated waist and so needed no belt. It was easy for the headmaster to unfasten the metal clip at the top and pull the zip fly down. The grey school short trousers slipped down Richard’s pale legs and bundled at his feet. Richard didn’t protest; he was shocked speechless.
The headmaster gripped the eighteen-year-old sixth-former by the wrist and propelled him forward so that he fell face-down across his knees. Richard’s cap fell from his head and landed so that he had a perfect view of the label: Rawcliffes, the official school outfitter.
He was relatively small compared to the six-feet-four-inches headmaster and his face rested a little above the rug, while behind him his legs dangled in mid-air. His bottom, clad in tight white Y-front underpants rested across the headmaster’s knees. Dr Thumpington had spread his thighs wide, making a perfect platform to receive the teenager’s body. He studied the bottom in front of him with a professional discipline.
Instinctively, Richard’s body protested. He struggled to wriggle off the headmaster’s lap, but he had been placed so far forward there was little he could do. He tried to reach back with his right arm, but the headmaster was wise to his manoeuvring and gripped his wrist and shoved the boy’s arm up his back so that the hand was close to his shoulder. Richard was going nowhere. He was pinned face-down across the headmaster’s knees. There was nothing he could do except allow his master to spank his backside with the huge worn plimsoll. If he attempted to wiggle off the devil’s lap, he would simply drag him back into place. If he tried to rear upwards, the headmaster’s elbow would press down and prevent it.
Dr Thumpington wasn’t quite ready. He rested his slipper on Richard’s shoulder while he took the end of the boy’s smart school blazer and the tail of his shirt and pushed them up his back so that they were away from the target area. Then, he gripped the waistband of the underpants. Richard gasped in terror. “Oh my God, he’s going to pull down my pants!” Once more he wriggled and writhed, twisting his body as if he were trying to swim off the master’s lap. But, the grip on his body was too tight.
The headmaster pulled the pants upwards. He was not about to bear the boy’s bum; instead he smoothed the white cotton so that all creases in the cloth were removed and the Y-fronts now fitted Richard’s buttocks like a second skin. The eighteen-year-old’s bum was firm, but there was a little “give” in the under-curves where the globes met the thighs. The pants were pulled so tightly that Richard’s cheeks were lifted and separated and the cotton dug a canyon into the crack in between.
Richard waited in an agony of tension for the inevitable onslaught to begin. Was it taking a long time or was he just imagining it? he was too distraught to be able to tell. The boy felt many emotions as the springy slipper connected again and again and again across his buttocks: humiliation, mortification, indignation, resentment, bitterness; but most of all pain. Dr Thumpington was an expert spanker; he laid the worn plimsoll across ever available square inch of Richard’s buttocks until within a minute they were toasted. Then, the headmaster increased the tempo and roasted them some more.
The teenager “ouched” and “aggghed”; he hammered his head up and down. By looking under the chair, he had a great view of his own legs thrashing about. Soon he had kicked the hated short trousers clear of his feet. He wriggled and squirmed.
“Keep still Rae, or I’ll not be afraid to put you across this chair and cane you on your bare buttocks boy!” the headmaster growled. Richard had just met the man, but he knew he meant it too.
But, his twisting and turning were entirely involuntary. They were instinctive, reflex actions, it was his brain’s way of trying to protect his body from the relentless onslaught the rubber-soled slipper made across his bum. He fidgeted so much he failed to notice the packet of Players Weights cigarettes slip from his blazer pocket and plop to the ground, right at the headmaster’s feet.
Richard’s eyes blazed almost as much as his backside. They were wet with tears, but he was not crying openly. Satisfied, there was no more buttock area un-torched by his worn plimsoll, the headmaster crashed it down across Richard’s naked thighs.
Then, at last the plimsoll rested still on his swollen, searing buttocks. His chastised posterior humbly presented to this mighty master and tormentor. His bum was numb but his thighs were burning. His body collapsed with utter fatigue. He lay there for some time half dazed, sobbing quietly.
“You may rise,” the headmaster’s command was pompous. The punishment was at an end. It was time to dismiss the wretched boy from the study. The headmaster had work to do and Richard had afternoon lessons to attend.
Richard hauled himself from the headmaster’s lap. Horror-struck, he saw the cigarette pack at his feet, he snatched it and stuffed it into the pocket of his blazer. “Too late,” Dr Thumpington growled as he walked around to the other side of his desk. Richard went to retrieve his short trousers, which he had kicked across the room.
“Leave your trouser where they are Rae,” the headmaster reached into his glass cabinet and gripped the thickest of the three canes. With his back still to the boy he intoned, “Smoking is strictly forbidden at St Celia’s. Bend over my desk.” He turned to face Richard, flexing the wickedly whippy cane in his hands.
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More stories from Charles Hamilton II are on the MMSA website
Charles Hamilton the Second