Scenes we’d like to see (or wishful thinking)
The staff lounge of Albion Academy was quiet, it was lunchtime and most of teachers were in classrooms working their way through piles of paperwork. Monthly assessments were due. Mr Whitfield, merely months away from his pension was not one of them. He sat in a battered armchair, eyelids closed, his hands serenely placed on his lap. Opposite him sit Mr Hancock, still in his twenties and restless, leafed through the Daily Telegraph. The headlines disagreed with him and he became increasingly irritated.
Suddenly, he cried, “Ha! Look at this! Says here more than seventy percent of people surveyed want to bring back the cane in schools.” Whitfield suppressed a sigh. He would not get involved. Unperturbed by the silence, Hancock continued, “Even the majority of the kids want it,” he said with a note of triumph. “Quite right too!”
Corporal punishment had been abolished in schools thirty years previously, before Hancock had been born. The impending anniversary had prompted renewed discussion about the state of discipline in the land. Hancock was “old guard.” He believed in law and order and respect for elders and betters (especially schoolmasters).
“It would do this place a lot of good,” he spread his arms to encompass the room so Whitfield would understand he meant Albion Academy. “Used to be a fine school. A grammar. Best in the town. Respected. Now look at it.”
Whitfield would not be goaded. Could he pretend to be asleep? Hancock sighed as if he carried the burden of the entire universe on his shoulders. “No discipline nowadays, none at all.” He pored over the details in the news report. “Pah!” he exclaimed, “Everyone wants it except the damned politicians. Well if I had my way …”
He hesitated. Perhaps it would not be wise to share with colleagues what he would do if he had his way. Several of them would be making their way to the job centre to seek new careers; along with half the administrators and all of the politicians. School masters (as he insisted on thinking of himself, although all his colleagues were happy to be called “teachers”) were given no support these days. What discipline was there? How were they supposed to punish misbehaviour? If you wanted to put a kid in detention you had to send a note home to their parents. Then, maybe – just maybe – two days later they might condescend to turn up. Or not. Then what could a teacher do? Nothing. The next step up on the discipline ladder was “exclusion” – they used to call that suspension in the good old days. Or even expulsion. No chance today. The school didn’t want that on its record. Exclusions meant the school was failing. Well, it was bloody failing. It was churning out nothing but hooligans. He could cry. Albion Academy sold itself as a school with “standards.” It was enough to make Jesus weep, Hancock thought.
Hancock looked to the past. He knew his history. When Albion had been a grammar school, and not so very long ago, it had been a traditional school; traditional curriculum, traditional uniform, traditional sports and, of course, traditional discipline: the cane! Today the school had to follow the national curriculum; where was Latin and Greek? (not that Hancock himself spoke either of these dead languages). They still had a uniform but back in the day when it was an all-boys’ school they wore short trousers even in the third form until they were fourteen. Proper shorts. Neatly tailored trousers that came to just above the knee. And long socks too. They could do a lot worse than bring that uniform back. If Hancock had his way they’d all wear short trousers, right up until the day they left school. The seniors as well. They might be eighteen years old (some of them even nineteen), but they weren’t adults. Not yet. They were children and they ought to look like children. These days they were indulged to think they were adults; that they had “rights”. They had no rights, they only had responsibilities and the first of these was to do as they were damn well told by their elders and betters.
Whitfield eyes remained closed and his hands rested on his lap. He had no idea of the turmoil inside Hancock’s head. The young man’s heart was racing, anger was rising in his body. He clutched the newspaper tightly. Why, he thought, if he had his way. What he would do. The boys would wish they had never been born. And he would start with those louts in the school football team.
Albion had recently won a new (but apparently prestigious) soccer tournament among schools in the region. Hancock thought members of the team had become insufferable. They had been superior and self-centred (like all kids at the school) before but their success took this to new levels of arrogance; nobody could claim to be their equal (let along superior) and Hancock, the young teacher still making his way at the school, suffered more than many.
This was Hancock’s first appointment. He was the youngest member of staff. When he first arrived some of his older colleagues had joked injudiciously that were he to dress in a school uniform he would be indistinguishable from the senior lads. One or two of the elder ladies “mothered” him a little, to his intense irritation.
With the staff seemingly patronising him Hancock took to exerting his authority on the kids. He could succeed with the youngest; to them a man in his twenties was ancient. The older ones had no such illusions. Mostly, they ignored him; the sixth-formers – the most senior students in the school – disdained him. Students!, how Hancock hated that word. They were not students, they were school pupils.
Now, he read the newspaper story once more; carefully. Yes, bring back the cane. What he wouldn’t do then. Those sixth formers would catch it hot. Especially the players in the football team. Especially that Bagnis; the worst of the lot: arrogant, self-opinionated, cocksure. Hancock’s breathing hardened. He closed his eyes to concentrate, he could see it now.
Bagnis stands in the gymnasium changing room, he is alone. There is a faint aroma of stale sweat about the place that he hardly notices. Hancock is in the adjacent office. He peers through a connecting window, not hiding his loathing for the eighteen-year-old. Oh, how he needs taking down a peg or two. Well, now is the time. The law has been changed (no, better, it had never been passed. The cane had never been abolished. Schoolboys still knew their place.)
Hancock turns away from the window. Standing snugly in one corner of the room is a tall thin cupboard. It is unlocked. There is no need for a lock as no boy in the school will dare go near it. Hancock opens the door, he does not hurry. He has all the time in the world, Bagnis is going nowhere, not until Hancock says so. There are five whippy punishment canes hanging on a rail, of various lengths and thicknesses. Each one has the traditional curved handle. Above them on a shelf are three leather straps; two of them are traditional Lochgelly tawes, one cut with two tails, the other with three. The tawes so beloved by Scottish schoolmaster and equally loathed by their charges are ancient and worn. They belong to Mr MacTaggart, one of Hancock’s older colleagues. He alone uses them, the preferred weapon of choice among masters is the cane. That said, a huge, size twelve dirty-white, rubber-soled gym plimsoll is propped up against the back of the cupboard. The sports masters use this for instant punishments on the younger boys.
Hancock handles each of the whippy rattan canes in turn. He is familiar with them all, but he likes how they feel in his hand. He takes one out of the cupboard and flexes it between his hands. As always it bends easily and forms an almost perfect arc. He replaces it and takes out a second. This is a little denser than the first. It is dark-yellow and not quite three feet in length (Hancock refuses to use metric measurements). It is as thick as a pencil and his heart judders when he swishes it through the empty air. This is his favourite. Lovingly, he tucks it under his arm and quietly closes the cupboard door. He turns and once more looks through the window. Bagnis is standing, hands behind back, eyes downcast at the floor: it is, Hancock agreeably notes, the perfect naughty-boy posture.
He strides through the connecting door into the changing room. Bagnis raises his head; his face pales, thereby acknowledging that he has seen the cane under Hancock’s arm. It confirms his expectations: corporal punishment in the form of a caning is imminent. Hancock slips the cane into his hand and taps it gently against his own right leg. Tap-tap-tap. Bagnis cannot help himself, his eyes hypnotically follow the cane.
Hancock looks at Bagnis. He is the Bagnis of today; he is tall and beefy. He has a clear open face and his arrogant hazel eyes shine. He still has the tattoos down his right arm. It is Bagnis; but he is also altogether different. His hair is cut short in a conventional style. He is dressed in a traditional grey shirt and a darker-grey sleeveless pullover. He wears mid-grey, tailored short trousers. They fall to a couple of inches above the knee. Hancock smiles. The uniform gives his fantasy a nice touch. This is school uniform as it should be.
He swipes the cane through the air and then wobbles it in front of Bagnis before he turns and points across the room. Standing there is a leather vaulting horse. It is about four feet off the ground with four short and sturdy wooden legs. Hancock has no idea when it became a tradition at the school for masters to deliver beatings in the changing room. It may have been a matter of necessity. Masters do not have their own private studies and the staff lounge and classrooms are too public. The gymnasium is in a building of its own tucked away from prying eyes. Its location adds to the drama; a boy sent to wait at the gym is left in no doubt about his fate.
Bagnis is one such boy. He is to be beaten. He knows this. Mr Hancock is in charge. His word is law. When he says “bend over”, then over you bend. No questions asked; no quarter given. It is what it is. There is a reason they are called school masters.
“Stand by the horse, Bagnis,” Hancock intones. Sorrowfully, but submissively, the egotistical sixth-former takes the three steps needed to cross the room. He stands close to the horse, towering over the worn, leather top. His breathing is heavy. So is Hancock’s. Hancock swishes the cane once more and then thwacks it across the top of the horse, a thin line imprints into the leather. Hancock allows himself a slight smile. He knows Bagnis will soon have similar lines throbbing across his backside. It gives him great satisfaction to know Bagnis also knows this. “Bend over, lad, you know how it’s done.”
Indeed he does. This is not his first thrashing and although he only has a few more weeks until he takes his exams and leaves Albion for ever he knows it probably won’t be the last. He lets the tip of his tongue run over his dry, cracked lips before he leans forward. Because he is tall and the horse relatively low, Bagnis spreads his legs wide so his stomach can rest comfortably across the leather top. He grips the two legs of the horse and concentrates on the dirty carpet beneath his nose. He tries to block out his surroundings. He knows the best way to get through this ordeal is to try to ignore what is going on.
Hancock allows Bagnis to settle. The boy’s buttocks jut out at a perfect angle and height. The tail of his shirt has slipped out of the waistband of his short trousers and although there is no practical necessity to do this, Hancock takes hold of both the shirt and the pullover and pushes them further away from the short trousers. This exposes an area of naked flesh on Bagnis’s lower back. Although he tries not to notice, Bagnis feels exposed; more vulnerable.
Hancock grips the waist of the short trousers and tugs vigorously. Now, they fit snugly and each buttock cheek is clearly defined under the material. Bagnis stays still. He shuts his mouth firmly and closes his eyes. He is ready. But, Hancock is not yet. He takes up a position to the left of the boy and taps the cane across the centre of his buttocks. The cane is warped through age and use. The far tip is frayed. Hancock cannot be certain his aim will be true. He saws it across the lower part of the cheeks. The short trousers have back pockets and Hancock fears this will afford Bagnis protection from the sting of the rod. Hancock knows he must make the strokes land below these and well into the sensitive “sit spot” where the cheeks meet he thighs. If his aim is true Bagnis will reignite the welts every time he tries to sit down for many hours to come.
Hancock saws some more, then he lifts the cane away from the seat of Bagnis’s short trousers and raises it in an arc. The ceiling is high and there is plenty of room to swing a cane. He holds it for a second at its highest point and then using all the strength in his upper body, he flogs it with great force across the lower buttocks. A thick line instantly digs into the stretched material of the short trousers. Bagnis reaction is imperceptible, the merest shudder in his shoulders speaks to the intense pain he feels. He bites down on his lower lip and tries to ignore the inferno in his bottom.
Hancock grimaces. He expects more reaction. Clearly, he thinks, that stroke was not hard enough. Maybe, he tells himself, he carelessly struck the pocket. He takes careful aim, lower this time. The cane rises and falls, the noise of the thwack of rattan cane across stretched backside rolls around the room. Bagnis wriggles his hips and grips the legs of the horse. If he dared open his eyes he would see his knuckles are turning white. His once pale face is now scarlet as surely are his throbbing buttocks beneath the short trousers.
Hancock is disappointed. He wants to hear Bagnis howling, to see him wriggling and writhing across the horse. He wants him to beg for mercy. Hancock lays a third stroke across Bagnis’s by-now quivering rump. It is the hardest yet. Bagnis thinks his head is about to burst open. His buttocks are flailed. Can he feel blood weeping from the wounds? With magnificent self-control, he stifles the yells his body demands he must make. He will not cry out, he will not give the schoolmaster the satisfaction.
Hancock delivers six of his best. Never before in his short history as a schoolmaster has he flogged a boy so well. Still, Bagnis appears unperturbed by the ordeal. Hancock’s temper rises. So, he says, the boy is so arrogant and insolent that even a caning won’t change him. “Stand up, Bagnis,” Hancock intones. With difficulty, because it feels like his backside is blazing like the fires of Hell, the boy climbs to his feet. He leans against the horse to stop himself tumbling to the ground. He fears he will not be able to walk unaided from the gym. The room swirls around him so that he hardly hears the words spoken by his master.
“Well, Bagnis,” Hancock snarls. “It seems that beating didn’t quite have the intended effect.” He wobbled the cane up and down in front of Bagnis before pointing it at the boy’s middle. “Take down those shorts, and bend back over.”
Hancock steps away from the horse and looks on at the boy from a distance. Without a murmur, but with unsteady hands, the eighteen-year-old reaches for his belt. It takes several tries before it is unfastened. The button on the waistband is even harder to deal with. “Bah!” Hancock ejaculates with genuine anger, “Get on with it. Do you want me to come over there and take them down for you?”
The threat spurs Bagnis on to success. The top of the short trousers are undone and the fly buttons burst when he tugs. They lunge to his feet. Hancock is delighted at the sight before him. Bagnis is wearing gleaming-white, cotton Y-front underpants. “Bend over, boy.” The cane wobbles some more.
Sore and aching, Bagnis turns his back and with super-human effort he flops back over the horse, once more gripping the wooden legs. Hancock notices the pink botches in the otherwise white underpants. There are also two heavy, dark-red stripes throbbing in the bare flesh below the smooth cotton. Hancock smiles. In the distance he hears a bell ringing. Afternoon school is about to start. He flexes the cane and saws it across the fleshiest part of the bum.
“Come on Hancock, wake up, are you sleeping?” It was the voice of Whitfield. “Classes are starting. You mustn’t be late. The little buggers will destroy the classroom if you’re not there.” Hancock threw down the newspaper with disgust and dragged himself to his feet.
Picture credit: Sting Pictures
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More stories from Charles Hamilton II are on the MMSA website
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Charles Hamilton the Second