George was walking his dog towards the recreation ground one morning when he realised there were a lot of people on the street, all seemingly going in the same direction. He spotted a neighbour Colin.
“Hi Colin,” he said tugging on his dog’s leash to slow him. “What are all these people doing? Is something happening?”
Colin rolled his eyes. “Good morning Rip Van Winkel. Where have you been these past years?” When George failed to respond, Colin went on. “Don’t you watch the news?”
The news? George was puzzled. “No,” he told his neighbour, “It’s all wars and the economy. Too boring.”
Colin smiled, “Well you do know that about a couple of years ago they passed a law saying that juvenile delinquents could be birched.”
“Yessss,” George replied with some hesitation since he wasn’t at all sure he knew that.
“Well,” Colin went on, “Now they’ve passed another law saying the courts can order the birching to be in public. If the crime is serious enough.”
They were approaching the open piece of land. It was mainly an area of grass. Usually kids kicked footballs and adults walked their dogs. Today would be different.
“This is the first one in this town,” Colin said helpfully, keeping George abreast of what was happening. The News might even be here. ‘Live on Sky News,’ you know.” They had reached the Rec now. “Want a hot dog?” he asked nodding to a row of concession vans. The ice cream man was doing a good trade.
“No I’m good,” George surveyed the scene. There was maybe a hundred people present; mostly elderly. Retirees like himself, George supposed. Nothing better to do than to watch a public whipping. He smelt a strong aroma of onions, Colin had returned.
“C’mon, let’s get a closer view.” Only then did Gorge see in the near distance a wooden structure had been built. It was clearly brand new. Never before used, probably. Two posts had been driven into the ground and there was a plank running between them. Three round holes, one quite large and two smaller had been drilled in to it. George recognised it immediately. It was like medieval stocks, the kind where the criminal had his head and arms locked so the crowd could pelt them with rotten fruit and vegetables. A simple contraption, George recognised, but highly efficient.
The crowd had organised themselves well, standing around in a semi-circle on one side of the stocks; everyone would get a clear view. There was an expectant buzz, people talking in hushed tones, showing reverence before the action began.
“Who is it?” George asked. He meant who was going to be birched.
“Young lad, twenty-something,” Colin said, trying to remember details he had heard on the radio that morning. I forget his name. He beat up an old woman. Street mugging.” He curled his lip, “Deserves all he gets.”
George moved from one foot to another, standing still could be quite tiring. “Is she here?”
“The lady. The one who was robbed?”
Just then a dark blue police van turned off the road and with its lights flashing, slowly it drove across the grass. Groups of people parted to let it through.
“Looks like we’re under starter’s orders,” Colin grinned ruefully.
The expectant buzz was louder. The van stopped and three young police officers got out. All were younger than his own grandchildren, George estimated. One went to the back and unlocked the back door. Another police officer, this one much older, stumbled out. He got his footing n the uneven ground and then reached back into the van. The murmur from the crowd increased ten fold as a young man was pulled from the van. He was tall and quite thin. His dark, unkempt hair fell across his eyes which were blinking incessantly, as if unused to the light. He was also completely naked.
“Bloody hell,” George said, for want of a better expression. A shiver ran up his spine although it was quite a warm morning. Without thinking, he pulled on his dog’s leash keeping the mutt close to his own feet.
The young man’s head was bowed. His hands were cuffed but he managed to keep them strategically placed to cover his cock on balls. The older officer said something in the young man’s ear and pushed him aggressively towards the stock.
The crowd hushed once more. Only then did George realise most of the people in the crowd were women. Why was that, he wondered. Had the men deliberately decided to stay at home. The three young police officers spoke into radios and then began to move the crowd back.
“Come on ladies and gents,” one said waving his arms to encourage movement. George noticed how much the copper looked like the delinquent about to be whipped. While the crowd was moving back, the other policemen readied the stocks. It was a beautifully simple contraption. The plank split in half and lifted. The criminal’s head and wrists were placed in the holes and the plank was locked together. The stocks were low off the ground so the young man had to bend his back. He needed to spread his legs wide to stop him slipping on the grass. That way his buttocks were stuck behind him at a perfect height and angle to receive the birch.
A tense silence descended on the crowd as the police officer reached in the van once more, this time retrieving a large enamel bucket. Inside, were two enormous birch rods. He placed the bucket on the ground and took hold of one of them. It was about a metre in length and comprised about twenty or so heavy rods. These were bound at one end with twine to make a handle. The burly officer swiped the rod through the air. Droplets of brine fell from it. He swished it once more. It had been soaking overnight. This increased the birch rod’s suppleness, and, so legend had it, the pain it would cause.
The officer took a moment to take his aim; he admired the muscle tone of the lad and his almost completely hairless body. The culprit flexed his buttocks a little in anticipation of the agony he expected as the rods struck home. The crowd held its collective breath. The officer took a deep breath, lifted the birch, then lashed down the first stroke. The hiss that escaped through the culprit’s clenched teeth was drown by the gasp of the crowd. George twisted the dog’s leash in his hand, his heart thumping.
Lash number two fell. That must have hurt the culprit even more, but he was determined not to show it. Number three was directed to the lower part of the cheeks where they met the thighs and the pain was excruciating; the culprit gagged a little and vomit rose to his throat but he managed to swallow it down. Sweat poured from his body, down his half-naked back and into the crack between his buttocks. There were dozens of lines across his bum, arranged neatly from left to right and from the top of the globes where they meet the spine to under the curves close to the thighs. Every square inch of his rear end was scarred. It reminded George of raw hamburger meat.
The police officer, unsure how a man should react during a birching and thinking he might not be whipping the culprit hard enough, laid the next strokes on with extra power. The culprit wriggled his body from left to right, his knees buckled, his feet stamped up and down on the uneven. But his head and wrists were securely fastened. There was no escape.
Swish! Swish! Blood was forming as some birch strokes landed upon those that had already marked the once white and now scarlet bottom. The culprit let out a silent cry; it was a wonder that he wasn’t howling. His agony was intense and the pain had travelled from his blooded buttocks throughout his whole body. His shoulders ached with his wrists were sore. His head ached as his blood pressure went through the roof and tried to burst through his ears. But, he refused to cry out: he would not give them the satisfaction. Nobody in the recreation ground doubted that the culprit deserved all he was getting.
As, cut number twelve thrashed into his flesh, the culprit’s head rose and he bit deep into his tongue to stifle the yell. His tongue would be damaged and he would have as much trouble speaking over the coming days as he would sitting down.
With no word spoken, the police officer returned the birch rod to the enamel bucket and put it in the van. The young policemen unlocked the stocks. The culprit stood unsteadily, his knees buckled. One young policeman grabbed him before he fell, took his arm placed it around his own shoulders and unceremoniously dragged him to van, bundled him in and slammed the door shut. Within seconds the van was edging its way through the crowd towards the road.
“Are you coming?” Colin asked, “I want to see it on the News. They’re bound to show it all day long.”
The crowd was quickly dispersing, group of people muttering amongst themselves, re-living the experience.
“No, I’m going to let the dog run,” George said slipping the lease from the collar. The dog bounded across the recreation ground. George watched it run. Behind him, two teenagers, both a little high, inspected the stocks. One stuck his head and arms through the holes. Trying to see what it was like.
Picture credit: Unknown
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