Mr Higginbottom lived in a small coastal town in England. The year was 2016, but inside his head it was the 1940s.
Or, it was how he fondly imagined the 1940s to be, because Mr Higginbottom had not himself experienced those times, having been born in 1975.
He tried hard to ignore modern times. There were no computers, Internet, or television in Mr Higginbottom’s terraced home. Mr Higginbottom preferred the wireless. Not the horrible music stations, of course, and definitely not commercial channels. He was a BBC-man through and through. The Archers was his favourite programme, followed by some of the panel shows. Just A Minute was another favourite, but definitely not The News Quiz.
He did have a refrigerator and a washing machine; his wife had insisted, and for the sake of a bit of peace and quiet he had acquiesced to her demand. But, he was still master in his own house, she had to accept that.
It was Friday and Mr Higginbottom had arrived home from work: 6.05 pm on the dot; as he did every day. He worked with great resentment in the cleansing department of the local borough council. The country was going to the dogs. The council was full of immigrants and lay-abouts.
Tea was at 6.30: good British fare, meat and two veg. None of that foreign muck they served you in the council canteen. Curry! Uggh! How he hated the smell.
He had married young. It was what people used to do. Leave school, get a job, get married, have children, provide for your family. Once his first-born Albert arrived his wife gave up work. From that day forward she was a housewife. She stayed at home and looked after him and the family. That was her duty.
He had three children. The first, Alice, married a coach driver and moved to a town three hundred miles away. The second, Albert, works on a building site in Germany. He said he could not get work in England because of all the immigrants taking jobs from local people.
Mr Higginbottom has not seen or heard from the pair of them since last Christmas.
The third and last of his children was Ernie. Ernie had just turned eighteen and had worked as general assistant at a supermarket since he left school two years ago. Most of his son’s fellow workers (it seemed to Mr Higginbottom) were from Poland. Once when he shopped at the store he heard a staff announcement over the loudspeaker. He couldn’t understand a word: it wasn’t in English. He couldn’t even tell which language it was.
Ernie worked the middle shift in the day, so he was never at home when his father returned from his own work. In fact, they hardly ever saw one another.
This vexed Mr Higginbottom as he had important business to conduct with his son. From the comfort of his armchair – Dad’s Armchair: nobody else was allowed to sit in it – he pondered the course of action open to him. He had already decided what must be done. In preparation, Mr Higginbottom had taken his three dragon canes from the sideboard drawer in the living room and hanged them by their curved handles from the hooks he had drilled into the wall many years ago, especially for this purpose.
They were magnificent specimens. Each was a little over three feet in length but of differing thicknesses. Regular polishing meant they glistened in the sunlight that streamed through the half-closed curtains.
He had bought them from a man in a pub. He often went to the Dog and Ferret to meet men who felt like himself. They were hard-working people, but they never had a chance. It was the immigrants, the trade unionists, the students and the Reds. They all conspired against decent people.
Young people had no respect for their elders. No discipline: that was the reason. They abolished the cane in schools in 1986. Even the church schools, like St Bridgit’s, where his three had gone, was forced by the government – a Labour Government, of course – to give up corporal punishment in 1999. There had been one Christian school in Liverpool that took the government to court and said abolishing the cane was religious discrimination, but it got nowhere.
Teachers and headmasters might not be allowed to whack their children, but that did not stop the parents. All Mr Higginbottom’s drinking pals were as one on this; even though the law forbade it. Mr Higginbottom and his pals were only law-abiding citizens up to a point.
Mr Higginbottom was waiting for Ernie and his son knew he was waiting. But he couldn’t avoid his dad forever.
Ernie had been caught stealing whisky from the supermarket. He and some pals often took a bottle and then headed off to some nearby bus shelter where they polished it off between them. As crimes went it was petty; but a crime was still a crime and the boy would pay for it with his arse.
It was nearly 10 pm when Ernie arrived home from work. He couldn’t put off his meeting with the cane indefinitely.
Mr Higginbottom was an imposing figure, fully in command. Few words were spoken. Ernie was guilty as charged and there was nothing more to say. Mr Higginbottom dominated the room. He rolled up his shirt sleeves and the cane quivered in his right hand.
Ernie had been here before. There was a certain ritual to be played out. First there was the accusation followed by pronouncement of the sentence.
Then came dad’s command, “Trousers and pants down. Bend over the chair.”
With a heavy heart, Ernie unbuckled his belt, popped the buttons of his jeans and gravity did the rest. With his jeans now at his thighs, he pinched the sides of his maroon-and-yellow-striped briefs and with the slightest twist of the wrists he sent them down to meet the jeans.
The armchair which belonged in the 1950s had a wing back and was the perfect height for Ernie to lean across, grip the dusty seat cushion and hold on for dear life.
The boy was no athlete and like the majority of his friends his waist bulged over the waistband of his trousers. His sagging buttock cheeks tightened a little as he stretched them high over the hard back of the chair, offering them to his father for much-deserved punishment.
Mr Higginbottom focused on the boy’s tremendous mounds, contemplating the best way possible to rip them to shreds.
The smooth dragon cane, so innocuous in its appearance, unleashed a streak of pain which reverberated from one side of Ernie’s chubby backside to the other and back again. It sank deep into the mountainous flesh, left a thick red mark and emerged leaving the buttocks quivering like jelly.
Mr Higginbottom brought the cane back to shoulder level and whipped his arm down again. There was a swooshing sound as the cane sped through the air and it landed with a loud thwack! The chubby cheeks rippled at the impact and another red weal shone through the white flesh.
From the very first stroke the boy was wobbling and kicking. One after the other the lashes made progress from the top of the buttocks down to the crease. Ernie’s arse convulsed and bucked and his crack opened and shut as his dad launched into a frenzy of strokes which demonstrated his determination to make his son regret every bit of his thieving.
Mr Higginbottom threw the entire weight of his body behind each stroke, spreading them over the full circumference of the teenager’s slack buttocks. Ernie’s entire body went into a succession of physical contortions as each lash cut deep into the existing welts.
Mr Higginbottom lashed the boy’s bottom past red. He howled in agony with every stroke. When Mr Higginbottom’s right arm got tired he grabbed a thicker cane from the selection hanging from the wall and moved to Ernie’s other side and whipped his left buttock. Then, he deliberately placed a wicked welt on the right thigh, which wrapped around to his hip.
Ernie’s scream echoed around the room. In the house next door, Mr Ramsbottom turned up the volume of his television.
Mr Higginbottom landed the cane, time and time again, in a predetermined pattern of parallel stripes, which were then cut across diagonally from top to bottom, from left to right. He persisted unrelentingly despite his son’s yells and pleadings. It was a father’s duty to punish his errant son. This unpleasant task had to be done. He was caning for England.
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More stories from Charles Hamilton II are on the MMSA website
Charles Hamilton the Second