When I was in my mid- to late-teens my head was so messed up I was in danger of going right off the rails. I carried so much guilt around with me it’s a wonder my head didn’t explode. In my view of myself I could never do anything right. It was building up inside me like a pressure cooker.
Guilt can be a terrible thing. It wasn’t like I was particularly religious. I went to church but only because my mum and dad dragged me there. It was just a habit with me. It’s not as if I was a Believer. If I had told my parents I didn’t want to go any more that would’ve added to my guilty feelings.
I have Mr Thoroughgood to thank for saving my sanity. He was an expert on boys and he knew just what I needed. And he was prepared to go that extra mile for me.
I look back after twenty years or so and I don’t recognise the teenager I was. I probably wasn’t so bad; not much different from any other teenager. Mr Thoroughgood saw that. That’s why he knew how to treat me. He had the experience. He was the expert.
I don’t want you to go away with the idea that I was some great villain, I wasn’t. My problem wasn’t drug-taking or knife crime. My big problem was my temper. I would shoot my big mouth off and my words hurt. No one was immune. Certainly not Mum, or my Nan. Even Dad felt the rough end of my tongue. He was too gentle a man to deal with me. He just sucked it up. That made it worst for me. I instinctively knew what I was doing was wrong and that was when the remorse kicked in.
I was also a lazy old sod. I never worked at school to the best of my ability. I was guilty about that. I didn’t have the sense to study and get some exams behind me. I might have got to university. Then what? How different my life might have been. I needed someone to mentor me. The teachers at my school were alright, I suppose, but they never took me by the scruff f the neck and gave me a good shaking.
I was heavily into self-abuse. Of course, I later learnt that everybody was at it – girls as well as boys. I used to get home from school and when the house was empty I’d get my stash of porn mags out and bash my meat until I was raw. I never was caught, but oh my how the sorrow ate away at me.
One Saturday I travelled from my home into Brocklehurst on the train. There was no one at the barrier so I waltzed by without buying a ticket. I was never caught. Now, that I’ve remembered that perhaps I’ll write the train company a cheque and post it to them anonymously.
There is no doubt that I was in serious trouble. I was being eaten away by guilt. There was no escaping it. It seemed like every day there was another thing to add to the guilt trip.
What would have happened without Mr Thoroughgood? Might it have got so bad that I ended up jumping in front of that train to Brocklehurst?
Mr Thoroughgood was a teacher at my school. I never had him for any lessons and to me he was only a mysterious figure seen occasionally walking through the corridors. You would easily spot him. He always wore a dark suit with a pressed white shirt and sober tie. This was in the days when at my school most of the men teachers wore jeans and jumpers with holes in them.
I was eighteen and had left school a few months when I saw Mr Thoroughgood in a café by the bus station. It was a Saturday, but he still wore a formal suit. I couldn’t miss him among all the down-trodden riff-raff that were most of the customers. He noticed my eye linger on him and since the café was busy he gestured that I should join him at his table.
“You’ll have to forgive me,” he said with great manners and an accent that might have belonged to a minor member of the English Royal Family, “I know you were a pupil at the Academy, but I don’t think I know your name.”
I told him and before I had finished my coffee and sandwich I had told him my career history since leaving school. He was a great listener and so very easy to talk to. He made his excuses and left leaving me bereft. There’s no other way to describe it. In the few minutes we had talked I felt a bond form between us.
I could not get the schoolteacher out of my brain. What was it about him that had mesmerised me? I had to meet him again. I had no idea where he lived. I went back to the café the following Saturday and waited for hours. He did not come. I tried the week after. Still no success. I had to see him again. He could help me, I convinced myself. I had no clue how he would do this. But he was to be my saviour.
I had no choice, I went to the Academy late one afternoon and waited at the gate. My guardian angel was looking out for me. After no more than ten minutes I spied him coming through the main entrance. He stopped in his tracks when he saw me. It looked like he was debating with himself whether he could make a run for it and escape me. I called across to him. His natural good manners made him stop and chat.
I burbled some nonsense about just happening to be passing. What a coincidence we should meet. He didn’t fall for it. He was a tall, middle-aged man and he towered above me, he seemed to be eyeing me up and down. He was making a judgement. What was he looking for? What did he want to know?
He read me like a book. “Let’s go back inside, find an empty classroom. We should have a talk.”
And, that was it. We talked – correction I talked – for about half an hour. I told him everything. The temper, the guilt. I told him I had been drinking too much alcohol. I told him of the cruel things I had said to Mum and Nan. I drew the line at the masturbation.
When I had finished he spoke softly. The words he said would change my life forever. “It is not your fault,” he said. “Not your fault at all,” he repeated. It was manna from heaven. He was going to absolve me of my sins.
What he then said went something like this, “I blame society. It (we) have let you down. You, your fellows. All of you. There was a time, in my youth for example, when rules were clearly laid out. You knew how you were expected to behave and you knew how you were expected not to behave.
“If you broke the rules you were punished. Call it retribution, if you will. You were called to account. Call it restitution, if you will. You had behaved badly, you were punished. You had paid the price. You, we, all of us, were able to go on with our lives.
“Alas, for you the rules are not laid down. You do not know where the boundaries are. You are made to find them yourselves. And then what? Who is there to guide you? To punish you? To allow you to pay for your crimes – your sins, if you will?”
It was a long speech and it all made perfect sense to me. Mr Thoroughgood had hit the nail on the head. I had been left to find my own boundaries. When I found I had transgressed them there was nothing I could do except bottle up the guilt.
I needed more information on this. When he said “punished” what did he mean exactly? He let out a throaty chuckle. “Well, back in the day, for example, a boy of your undoubted talent who wilfully refused to study hard would find himself up before the headmaster,” he said. He let the import of that statement hang in the air for a while, before continuing. “A sound caning. Six-of-the-best. We called it a ‘short, sharp, shock’. Something to pull you together. To buck your ideas up. To get you back on the straight and narrow.”
Corporal punishment had been outlawed in schools about ten years previously. The most severe punishment we ever had was an hour’s detention after school. Hardly, a life-changing experience.
“It is such a pity,” Mr Thoroughgood spoke so softly I had to lean in towards him to hear, “that corporal punishment was not an option available in your case.” Again he let his statement float in the air. “You would have benefited greatly.”
The moment he said the words I knew he was right. I needed to pay restitution. I had to take responsibility for my actions. I had to make amends. Merely saying “Sorry” to Mum and Nan would not be enough. I had to show remorse. I had to suffer.
Mr Thoroughgood was an astute man. “It may not be too late.” My confused expression spurred him on to elaborate. “There are ways,” he said, “Things that can be done. A boy of your age still has so much to learn.”
He was right and I told him so. “I can help,” he said. “I’ll be happy to help.”
Two nights later I was walking down a street of terraced houses, searching for number 17. It was a small, run-down place with paint peeling from window frames and door. Not the sort of place I imagined a schoolteacher like Mr Thoroughgood living. I checked my watch, it was the expected time. I did not hesitate. I pushed the bell and held my finger there.
Mr Thoroughgood still wore his suit. He nodded a wordless greeting and opened the door slightly. I slid my body through the narrow gap and he slammed the door shut. He led me across the hallway to a room at the back of the house. It was tiny and dominated by a two-seater couch and a small table. A single dining room chair was against the far wall.
Mr Thoroughgood wasted no time. “Did you do as I asked?” he said and on cue I pulled a sheet of paper from my jeans pocket. I offered it to him. He refused and instead of taking it he said, “Read it to me. All of it.”
It was an account of all my crimes and misdemeanours. All of the faults that had weighed so heavily on my mind. The reasons for my guilt. Mr Thoroughgood listened thoughtfully. “So many,” he said with a frown. “I don’t think we may expunge them all in one evening.” He was a schoolteacher and he realised at once I had no idea what “expunge” meant. “To remove them,” he said helpfully.
I nodded my agreement. Yes, the list of my sins was long, I could not expunge them all in one go.
“Let us deal with the insolence towards your parents and grandparent,” he said. It was a statement, not a question so I gave no reply. He cleared his throat with a raucous cough and left the room. When he returned a few moments later he had removed his jacket and tie. In his hand he clutched a miniature cricket bat.
That’s what it looked like to me. It was a block of wood about ten inches long and maybe three wide. It had a handle at one end. Again, Mr Thoroughgood immediately detected my ignorance. “It’s called a paddle. It is the preferred instrument of punishment used by our American cousins,” he told me. To demonstrate, he slapped the blade end into the palm of his left hand. “Very effective,” he said as if speaking to himself.
“Take off your coat and stand there,” he pointed to the straight-backed chair. I left the coat on the settee and without hesitation stood where ordered. Mr Thoroughgood sat himself down on the chair and once more slapped his palm with the wood. I could see close up that it was indeed a powerful punishment tool.
“Now Sturgess,” he said, “This is going to hurt. It is supposed to. That is the entire point of it. Now, since this is your first time I will be a little lenient.” He hesitated and it took a moment before I realised I was supposed to thank him. When at last I did so, he continued, “I want you to take your punishment, stoically – without fuss. Now, bend across my knee. There’s a good boy.”
I hadn’t expected this. After Mr Thoroughgood’s talk in the classroom I had expected to find myself over the back of a chair or possibly bending over and touching my toes. Six-of-the-best, Mr Thoroughgood had said. That meant a whippy school cane.
Mr Thoroughgood misinterpreted my hesitation. “I do hope you are not going to prove difficult. Bend over my knee.”
I hadn’t done anything remotely like this in my life – eighteen years old and never been spanked. Using only instinct to guide me I rested my hands on his right thigh and eased myself forward. He had parted his legs to make a platform for my stomach and chest. This meant I could spread my arms ahead of me and rest my palms on the carpet. My legs dangled behind me. At first I kept my head high and this way I was able to look behind me and see my backside was presented to Mr Thoroughgood at a perfect angle.
My jeans fitted snugly and in those days my stomach was still flat and my bottom round and firm. There was plenty of meat back there to absorb that paddle. I felt Mr Thoroughgood grip me around the waist with his left hand and slowly and gently he began tapping the paddle across my buttocks. He was taking an aim low down so he would hit the part of the cheek that connected with the chair when I sat.
The patting was gentle, but what happened next was anything but. He lifted the paddle away, my whole body tensed, he held it high for a moment and then brought it crashing down. My eyes closed (they did it themselves, I had no control) and I sucked hard on my bottom lip. Before I had absorbed the pain of my first-ever swat Mr Thoroughgood pounded my backside with all the energy he could find. Rapidly. Bang-bang-bang. Like machinegun fire. My legs kicked, my hips writhed, my head shook from side to side.
I gasped. Desperately, I tried to suck in air. I could not breath. “Huff-huff-huff,” I wheezed. At last enough air got to my lungs to let me holler blue murder. It hurt! Oh my, how it hurt! Mr Thoroughgood kept hammering my backside with that cricket-bat-thing.
“I hope this is getting through to you,” he said, not for a moment letting up beating my backside black and blue. “You will learn not to be disrespectful to your parents and grandparent,” he was himself breathless. “This will teach you a valuable lesson.”
Have you ever stood too close to an open coal fire that your flesh felt singed? That’s how my bum felt. Mr Thoroughgood covered every square-inch of my bum. Then, for good measure, he turned to the backs of my thighs. When I later inspected the damage red blotches covered both buttocks, with the under-cheeks a deep mauve. The surface of the skin felt like leather.
I think he spanked me methodically for about ten minutes that night. My head throbbed so much I thought I was losing all sense of where I was. Could it really be Jimmy Sturgess, aged 18, across the knee of an elderly schoolmaster, getting his meaty arse spanked with a paddle? Well, the answer was: Yes!
At last he let me go. I stumbled to my feet and without hesitation rubbed the seat of my jeans vigorously. Mr Thoroughgood spoke gently, “That is for your misbehaviour to your parents and grandparents. We need say no more about it. You have paid the price.” I nodded heartily, “Yes sir, thank you sir,” I said and I meant it. But, Mr Thoroughgood had not finished, “Unless of course, you repeat the offence, in which case I shall deal with you very severely indeed.”
“Yes sir, thank you sir,” I repeated. My heartrate was off the scale and I had to bend forward with my hands on my knees to catch my breath.
Mr Thoroughgood rose from his chair. He put the paddle down and picked up my list of crimes. He placed his hand on my shoulder, “Good boy. You took your punishment well. There is hope for you yet.” He read the list silently. “You should go home now. Return on Saturday at 7 p.m. and we can deal with your laziness and lack of drive.”
I found my coat and was leaving the room when he called, “Of course, next time, we’ll have those jeans at your ankles,” he opened the front door for me and patted me gently on the bottom as I squeezed past him.
Picture credit: British Boys Fetish Club
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More stories from Charles Hamilton II are on the MMSA website
Also writing school stories as Scholastic here
Charles Hamilton the Second