Now that I’ve hurtled past my eightieth year I find my short-term memory is shot to pieces. I couldn’t tell you what I ate for breakfast this morning. I’m not even sure I had breakfast this morning. But, while I live in a constant fog my memories of days long ago remain crystal clear. I know this because of a photograph I found today. It was in an album I had long forgotten, tucked away in a suitcase I hadn’t carried in three decades, collecting dust on the top of a wardrobe in a room I had not entered since before the Millennium.
It was a picture of me and Cedric, my great chum of the time. I am the one in the armchair. What you cannot see is Uncle Edgar. Uncle Edgar was the one taking the photograph. He was not my real uncle. Rather, he was a middle-aged gentleman who rented out rooms in his large house to male students. He also took it upon himself to take an interest in what he termed our “moral welfare.” This was the early nineteen-sixties and what later became known as the “permissive society” was just about starting. Who knows what depths of depravity we might have sunk too without Uncle Edgar’s attentions.
Uncle encouraged us to be energetic and sporting. You can see that Cedric was a keen badminton player. Myself, I preferred the rather more sedate game of snooker. I became rather proficient at it. This was much to Uncle’s chagrin. For, I spent rather more time than he liked in snooker halls, playing the game for money against many of the town’s more ruffian elements.
I have to confess my snooker playing interfered somewhat with my studies at the university. Uncle Edgar was far from pleased when I failed an important examination. I soon found myself bent across the back of the very armchair in which I am sitting in the picture. It was a rather large chair and I was (and still am) a rather short fellow. I was obliged to stand on my tip-toes in order to reach across the chair and clutch onto the front of its cushion.
You cannot see it in the photograph but on the opposite side of the room from the bookcase was another set of shelves, above two drawers. It was in the top of these drawers that Uncle Edgar kept his array of punishment instruments. It was no surprise, since Uncle was a product of the English public school system, that chief among his treasures was an array of whippy curved-handled rattan canes. But, he had a variety of other disciplinary tools. I remember on one occasion Cedric, who was dressed rather as he is in the picture in only his underwear, was obliged to present himself across Uncle’s rather bony legs for a severe spanking with an American-style wooden paddle.
I was not privileged to witness the spanking, but I did later see the deep crimson marks that Uncle left across Cedric’s buttocks and the back of his legs. The pain was incredible, as was the humiliation involved. In those days a chap expected to be instructed to present himself stoically for a thrashing. That meant bending over, perhaps touching one’s toes, or possibly draping oneself over a piece of furniture, such as that armchair or the desk in Uncle’s study. But being taken across the knees for a spanking? That kind of thing belonged in the nursery.
I had never been caned before I lodged with Uncle Edgar. I went to a grammar school that had rather liberal attitudes to corporal punishment. I don’t believe the cane was actually banned, rather the headmaster, who I later learned had Quaker leanings, did not believe in using physical violence. Uncle Edgar was no pacifist. Indeed, he was of the school of thought who believed a sound caning should be used as a first resort to deal with wrongdoing. Thus, six-of-the-best across the backside could, in his eyes, equally serve as a punishment or a deterrent to future bad behaviour.
Although, I had not been beaten as a schoolboy, that could not be said of the other chums in the house. Cedric had been the school captain at St Tom’s, a minor public school in the West Country. “Public” schools in England are in fact private fee-paying schools. They claim to offer a traditional education for the sons of the wealthy. At St Tom’s one of those traditions was allowing the school captain the use of the cane. Thus, by the time he went up to the university, Cedric was well experienced in both receiving and in administering corporal punishment.
My fellow tenants saw nothing unusual in Uncle Edgar’s methods and since I did not want to seem out of place, I went along with them too. At university I had something of an inferiority complex, due to having only attended a state grammar rather than an exclusive public school.
I had no choice but to tell Uncle Edgar of my examination failure. He took a keen interest in our studies and we were obliged to inform him of our grades and he read through the comments our university dons made on our essays.
Uncle was an imposing man. He must have stood at six-feet-four and he towered over me. His shoulders were broad and his head seemed to squat on them. His arms were powerful as my backside would attest. He lectured me for some time about my snooker habits. He had hardly finished berating me before he strode across the room and opened the drawer. It was a bit stiff and he had to tug hard. I could hear the thin canes rattling.
He reached in and swiftly snatched up a cane. He peered at it intently as if seeing it for the first time and then swished it through the air. He appeared satisfied that the rod in his hand would perform the task he had for it. He wobbled the cane at the armchair.
“Turn it round.” Uncle was a man of few words. But when he spoke he expected to be listened to. And, when he gave an instruction, he expected it to be obeyed. Disobedience was not an option. Meekly I gripped the arms of the chair and swivelled it so that now its back faced into the middle of the room.
“Bend over.” He tapped the top of the chair with his cane in case there was any doubt what he meant.
I sucked in a lungful of air. I knew Uncle’s reputation. I was not in the least surprised to find myself facing a whippy cane. With my heart pounding, I turned and faced the chair. It had a high back and I could not quite get my body across it, so I leaned into it. But, clearly in this position my bottom was not raised sufficiently for uncle’s satisfaction.
“Right over,” he barked, “Raise your backside high.”
I was rewarded with, “That’s right,” when I stood on tip-toe and stretched forward, wriggling my hips and buttocks. I was now staring at a large indenture in the seat. This chair had seen a lot of action in its time.
It was the first time, but not the last, that I received what for my house chums had been the traditional schoolboy beating. The first swipe sank deep into my buttocks. It felt like he had placed a red hot wire across them. Uncle Edgar took my backside off. It was as if he were beating a carpet, he used so much force to connect his rattan cane with my stretched bum. By the third stroke I was writhing across the chair. By number four, which he placed on the spot where the cheeks meet the thighs, my hips and buttocks were swaying. By the sixth, which he placed diagonally across my bum so it landed across the five welts that had already formed, I was stomping my feet up and down.
Later, when I had been dismissed to my room, I observed purplish bruises had already formed. There were six distinct double-edged lines. Uncle Edgar had a perfect aim. He ought to, he had enough practice. I know it’s a cliché, but the marks really did resemble a five-bar gate. I pressed my fingers firmly into my scorched flesh to deliberately increase the pain in my throbbing bum and the sense of euphoria I felt. My head was exceptionally clear.
It was the nineteen-sixties and all around me at university students were taking drugs to try to blow their own minds. They could keep their marijuana. This was my drug of choice. I couldn’t begin to count the number of canings or spankings I have received since that first time. Nor, the number that I have given. I may be an old man now with not many years left, but, the sheer joy of corporal punishment will never leave me.
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More stories from Charles Hamilton II are on the MMSA website
Charles Hamilton the Second