I cannot begin to remember how often I had a close-up view of the carpet that summer. My nose hovering inches above the dusty, cheap flooring. Trousers at my ankles, underwear at the knees and Uncle Simon flogging a birch rod into my naked buttocks. Yowl! I can still feel the sting as I recall the pain and indignity of it all.
Nineteen years old and over an older man’s knees for a bare-arsed whipping. Can you imagine such a thing?
I’m not sure where to begin. It was 1974. A lifetime away. I had spent the previous six months banged up at Her Majesty’s Pleasure. They called it Youth Detention in those days, a bit like borstal really. It doesn’t much matter what you called it, it was still locked up three to a cell for most of the day. I was a menace to society, apparently. Okay, I stole cars. Lots of them in fact. Can you be addicted to stealing cars? Perhaps I was. Do they have a special name for it? Probably. I never did much with them. I drove around at high speed and when I had my fill I dumped them. Crazy really. It didn’t take the cops long to find me. The daft magistrates gave me community service the first time. Making tea at some old granny’s day centre. At the end of the third day there, I stole a Cortina and thrashed it along the motorway. The magistrate gave me a fine that time.
The fifth time I was up before the Bench, he sent me to YD. Mum disowned me when I came out. Step forward Uncle Simon.
“What he needs,” he told my mum, “is a good dose of the birch. None of that namby-pamby community service.” And, he knew what he was talking about. Uncle Simon was no angel when he was younger. House breaking was his thing. Stealing wireless sets his speciality. I know, it just shows you how long ago that was. The Assizes ordered him to six strokes of the birch. Bare-arsed, naturally. “Still got the scars to prove it,” Uncle Simon boasted. I never believed him. I asked him once to drop his kecks and show me his bare arse. Enough said on that matter.
I was to find out myself that the birch can take your arse off, but the cuts soon heal. Uncle Simon took me into his home which was a dingey little flat on a council estate near Widdicombe Woods. It was near one of the poshest suburbs of Brocklehurst and I thought nothing of bunking over garden walls and taking my pick from summer houses and sheds. Now and again one of the old geezers who lived there left a french window carelessly unlocked. Bingo! In those days you could easily sell a video in the pub. Ha!
What I didn’t reckon with was that Uncle Simon hadn’t changed so much. He liked to drink in the less savoury joints and hang out with petty criminals so when one time I waltzed into The Three Fishers with a video recorder hidden in a Tesco’s bag who should I see propping up the bar? He didn’t say anything. His deadly stare was enough to make me leg it out of the pub. I knew I was for it later. Still, I thought, in for a penny in for a pound. Or, better to be hung for a sheep than for a lamb. Actually, I probably didn’t really think that at the time (I hadn’t learned about fancy words; that came later). What I did was I went touring the pubs until I sold the video. So, at least my pockets were jangling with cash by the time I got home.
Uncle Simon was waiting. He had put the time since I saw him to good use. The second I walked through the door the very strong smell of freshly-cut tree branches hit me. Uncle Simon was in the kitchen busy with a bread knife. But he wasn’t cutting sandwiches; he had a pile of birch twigs neatly stacked on the kitchen table. I stood half in the doorway and watched, as he collected about a dozen of the twigs together and wrapped sticking plaster around one end. This made a makeshift, but effective handle. As he finished off the second birch rod, he acknowledged my presence. I probably blushed to my roots, but I didn’t say a word. Uncle Simon didn’t say much. He took both birch rods in his hands and nodded in a direction behind me. “Living room. Now!”
I didn’t need to ask for confirmation or explanation. I knew precisely what he intended to do. Now, at this point in my story, you too know what happens next. But, you might also be asking yourself, “Why did he let his Uncle do this?” You probably think I should have told him to go to hell and refused to have anything to do with his plan. And it would be perfectly reasonable of you to say that. I have no answer to you. Except to say that this was a very long time ago and I had been through the youth detention system and maybe I was conditioned to this kind of thing. I lived a regimented life; there were rules and you were expected to obey them. If you didn’t you were punished. Sometimes that meant a birching. That’s life. What I can say to those of you with suspicious minds, not for one moment did I enjoy this.
So, I trudged into the living room with Uncle Simon following closely behind me. The room was very small, like the rest of the flat, and had a cheap, vinyl settee and two small armchairs that did not match it. There was a beat-up table in the corner and a worn, wooden straight backed armless chair. “Put that there!” Uncle spoke softly and in a monotone voice. I knew what he meant and I picked up the chair and took it into the middle of the room. As I did that Uncle Simon laid the birch rods on the table. He left one there and took the other with him as he went and sat on the chair. He spread his legs the way you do at times like this and told me quietly and sternly, “Take down your jeans and pants. You know what to do.”
I did. And I knew why I was about to be birched. Uncle Simon had not said a word about my thieving. He knew that I knew and that was enough. All he wanted was to get on with it. He didn’t even give me time to take off my coat. I stood about a yard distance from Uncle’s right thigh and stared at him. At the time I thought he was an old man but now I look back I suppose how wasn’t much over fifty. He was padding out a bit and he had a muffin belly that hung a little over his belt. He still had all his hair, but it was going grey at the temples. I looked at the birch in his hands. By this time I had become familiar with this. We all called it “a birch” but I think it was actually made of about a dozen hazel twigs; he had cut each of them to about ten or twelve inches and tied them into a handle at one end. Despite its size it wasn’t very heavy; not like the birches Uncle Simon had been flogged with back in the day. He had constructed the birch so he could swish my bare arse while I was bent across his knee in the traditional naughty-little-boy fashion. Of course, since I was face down staring at the carpet I never saw this, but I’m pretty certain that the birch rods spread enough to cover both my cheeks in a single swipe.
So, Uncle Simon told me to strip down and I did. My jeans were puddled over my trainers and my boxer shorts hung over my knees. “Bend over,” he said and again I did as I was told. I was roughly the same height as Uncle Simon but a lot leaner and my body fitted comfortably across his lap. He spread his legs so there was a platform for my stomach and chest to rest on. My arms and head dangled forward. Uncle gripped my right arm and twisted it up my back so I was pinned down. My bare bum was raised high over his thigh and my legs stretched behind me and with my knees bent a little my toes hovered above the carpet. I waited submissively. I had no intention of fighting Uncle Simon.
It was summer, but the day was not particularly warm. A window was open and a breeze cooled my bare bottom and legs. Uncle Simon teased me by gently caressing my naked cheeks with the birch. It was ticklish. But not for long. I felt the birch being raised, Uncle Simon held it aloft for a second or so and then there was an almighty swishing noise as it swooped through the air and connected with terrific force across the undercurves of my buttocks. My entire body shuddered, my knees buckled and a long, shrill hiss of air escaped through my clenched teeth. Another second or so passed and I felt a searing pain as the skin on my bum burned like the fires of Hell.
Uncle Simon repeated the manoeuvre and this time he laid the birch high on the crest of my mounds. Now, ever square inch of my bottom was alight. It throbbed madly and I knew small cuts were creeping across the whole target area. My heartbeat was off the scale and my temples ached almost as much as my bum. I did the wriggling and writhing thing again, but Uncle had a very firm hold of me and I wasn’t going anywhere until he said so.
Of course, with both cheeks roaring any further swipes of the birch could only land on already raw flesh and reignite the intense pain. Uncle Simon showed no mercy. Swipe! Swish! Swipe! Swish! Six cuts had opened up the flesh. No matter how many times I went across Uncle Simon’s knee that summer I never got used to the sting of the birch. I kicked; I wriggled; I swayed; I yelped; I yelled; I hollered. I was out of control. I had no choice. It was an entirely physical reaction, it was my body’s way of coping with the assault. That was why my face was awash with tears after three stokes and my chin was soaked in snot after six.
He stopped after nine. I hopped to my feet and rubbed away like fury. My bum felt like raw hamburger meat. The cheeks were criss-crossed with dozens and dozens of thin lines; some were white and others glowed dark pink. Before long the whole lot would merge into a deep mauve that in the days to come would transform into oranges and yellows before eventually disappearing. My bum felt like it had swollen to twice its normal size. I glared at Uncle Simon, not with fury but remorse. My eyes were on stalks and I could hardly see through the tears. It would take some time yet before my heartrate steadied, my breathing eased and my body returned to its natural state. I couldn’t bear the pain involved in pulling up my boxers and jeans so with them at my ankles I waddled like a penguin from the room and staggered across the passage to my bedroom. I lay face down sobbing for the rest of the day.
Did it do me any good; that summer spent staring at the carpet? Well, the truth is I did carry on stealing. Uncle Simon lost patience and threw me out. I left Brocklehurst and thumbed a lift North. One day with a couple of equally coked-up pals I attempted to rob an off-licence. We got five years jail time for that and I’ve been in and out ever since.
Picture credit: British Boys Fetish Club
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More stories from Charles Hamilton II are on the MMSA website
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