“Stand there. Yes, just there. Trousers down, lad. Right down. All the way. To the ankles.”
I did as I was told. We did in those days.
Eighteen years old and in the headmaster’s study. This wasn’t the first time, but it would be the last. The exams were the following month and then I would be free. School’s out. Forever.
I was there because of those exams. “Slacking,” my geography master Mr Mars had called it. “Bloody laziness,” my English master Mr Fry who had a way with words said. My history master Mr Bourneville had a similar opinion. “You need to buck your ideas up, Rowntree,” he had said. “You need a visit to the headmaster’s study.”
It was that kind of school. Was it the Romans or the Ancient Egyptians who said, “A boy’s ears are in his backside?” I don’t know, the Romans weren’t on our history syllabus. But whoever it was the maxim was still observed at my school.
Mr Cadbury glided across the study. He stopped at an umbrella stand where three curve-handled whippy rattan canes of assorted lengths and thicknesses stood on end. While I unbuckled my belt and dealt with the button flies on my long, grey trousers he selected first one and then a second and finally the third cane. He flexed each thoughtfully between his hands and swished them through empty air. He behaved as if he had never seen those canes before. What a ham! Of course, he knew the properties of each rod intimately. He had used them often enough. It was one of his petty games; his way of frightening a waiting boy.
I had been in the headmaster’s study often enough over the years to know that he used the smallest and thinnest cane on the junior boys. The middle sized cane was (naturally) for the boys in the middle school. The longest and thickest was for the seniors and today that meant me. And since it was almost impossible to be a more senior boy than me at the school, I was to get my caning trousers down. Across the seat of my underpants.
I always remember Mr Cadbury as an ancient man, but looking back he probably was only in his fifties. I know for a fact he continued at the school for another ten years after I escaped. Maybe the dark academic gown, often worn with a flat mortar-board cap, made him look older. He could have been a figure from the Victorian age.
He wore the gown but not the cap that day. He stood feet apart and flexed the cane almost cheerfully. “Six of the best,” he purred. “Turn round and bend over.” Usually a lad went over the back of a chair or across the headmaster’s desk. The look on my face betrayed my confusion.
Mr Cadbury must have read my mind, “That’s right, just as you are. You are not going to have a chair or desk to support you. It will hurt you more this way. That is the purpose of a caning you know.”
I did know that. I remember back in the day one master telling a boy he was about to beat, “A caning is supposed to hurt otherwise we should both be wasting our time.”
I turned and faced the headmaster’s desk. I spread my legs a little and arching my back I reached forward.
“Can’t you touch your toes?” the headmaster sneered. It was a bit of a struggle. I was a slim teenager and reasonably fit but touching your toes and staying like that wasn’t easy. “No?” Mr Cadbury hissed, “Well bend over as far as you can.” My fingertips reached floorward.
“Further!” Mr Cadbury snapped and he pushed my shoulders down. “Good, now hold onto your calves. Hold on for dear life.” I did as instructed but it wasn’t good enough for the headmaster. “Straighten your legs. Yes, straighten them right up. I know it’s a strain. You’ll feel it in your calves tomorrow; but not as much as you’ll feel it elsewhere,” Mr Cadbury seemed to be enjoying himself.
As I stood straining in this position, the headmaster took hold of the tail of my white cotton shirt and roughly pushed it up my back and away from his target area. We wore white underpants known as Y-fronts in those days. They weren’t as flattering as underwear can be today but these fitted me well. Bent over as I was the cotton stretched across my buttocks and separated each cheek. I must have presented a terrific target to the headmaster.
Mr Cadbury liked to see himself as a man of action and he wasted no time over the matter in hand. With no protection but my underpants the cane stung lightly as he tapped it across the fleshiest part of my bum as he took his aim. I could feel the heavy, threatening mass of the senior cane. I squeezed my eyes shut and held my calves tightly.
“Well,” Mr Cadbury said almost jauntily, “I had better cane you hadn’t I?”
Of course, it wasn’t really a question so I wasn’t able to reply, “Well, actually I’m in no hurry. Why don’t we forget about it for today?”
Immediately, the cane fell with a low-toned whoosh. The crack of rattan against cotton underpants reverberated around the study. I had been caned before but this time the impact was heavy and almost numbing. It knocked me forward and I nearly lost my balance. I hadn’t realised before just how much force went into delivering a stroke of the cane. There was a sound reason why headmasters usually had a boy position himself across a chair or desk. The furniture absorbed much of the impact.
As always with a beating there was a split second between the cane landing and the hurt registering. The pain came welling up like a biting, stinging, bruising wave. At this point usually I would be holding tightly onto the arms or cushion of the chair but in the “touch toes” position all I could do was grip my calves as my body twisted.
“Keep still. Straighten up,” Mr Cadbury chided. I resumed my stance, this time staring directly at the ugly, grey carpet. He laid the second stroke a little lower than the first and this time the pain mounted to a terrible crescendo. I wanted to jump up and rub away at the hurt across the seat of my underpants. Silently, I cursed the headmaster for not putting me across his desk or a chair. I had nothing to grip onto. I realised how right he was when he told me the cane would hurt more if I were touching my toes.
There was a pause. Mr Cadbury let the first two strokes soak in for a quarter of a minute or so. Then he tapped the heavy cane again on the seat of my Y-fronts. I winced as the cane rubbed over the two welts that were throbbing under the tight cotton. The headmaster drew back the cane and sank another hard stroke across my quivering bottom.
I have no idea how I kept my balance. I wanted to jump up and hop up and down while simultaneously rubbing away at my arse. Again, Mr Cadbury must have read my thoughts, “Stay down. If you stand up I shall start again,” he intoned. “From the beginning,” he added as if any further emphasis was required.
Then he said something extraordinary, “Your punishment is half-way through, I trust you are enjoying it.”
What the heck was I supposed to say to that? “Oh yes sir, thank you ever so much!” I’m astonished that I answered at all. What I actually said, through gritted teeth, was, “No sir, not really.”
“Excellent,” he snapped. “Then I trust it is doing some good. No more slacking Rowntree. Hit those books, as our American cousins say. Knuckle down. Study hard. Pass those exams. Go to university. Make the school proud.”
All the while he said this he tapped the cane across the very top of my buttocks. Then he let fly. It was the hardest stroke yet. I had heard he was well thought of at the Brocklehurst Golf Club. I imagine his swing was the envy of his fellow members.
He gave me six strokes in all, six-of-the-best in the parlance of the times. Each cut was slowly and deliberately measured. Mr Cadbury knew his business. He was without doubt an excellent caner, a master headmaster, you might say. The stocky cane was firm and powerful, as my gasps and small cries proved. The impact rocked me forward each time. It was a hard and very authentic caning. A caning is supposed to hurt otherwise we should both be wasting our time. Each stroke seemed to cut me in half.
“Stand up, Rowntree. Get dressed.”
I did so with alarming speed. Mr Cadbury stood and watched me while idly tapping the cane against his own right leg. Was there a half-smile on his face?
“Now that, my lad, was a caning. I shall make inquiries about your progress, Rowntree,” he said. “If I do not hear of an improvement I am happy to repeat this morning’s performance.”
I nodded vaguely. I was more concerned about massaging my throbbing backside than in listening to his platitudes.
“You are dismissed,” he said at last and I hurried from the study to the boys’ bogs to inspect my wounds in the mirror.
Picture credit: Sting Pictures
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Charles Hamilton the Second