Kenny Hawkins slipped on his new blazer and admired his reflection in the mirror. Pale-grey trousers, gleaming white shirt, striped tie, shiny black shoes. It looked exactly like his old school uniform. But, not quite. Only the badge on the blazer pocket was different. It showed the logo of Global Petroleum, the company that would change his life.
Kenny was a new apprentice at GP. He was delighted to get the job. Times were hard. If he kept his nose clean, worked hard and served his time, he thought he was made. Which was more than could be said for most people his age.
The country was still going through a difficult patch. It had started ten years in the past, in 2016. Britain had voted to leave the European Union. There was a political crisis. The government split, opposition parties – such as there were – had no idea. Immigrants fled back to their home countries. British Muslims hid out in their mosques. Everything was chaos.
Then a new group calling itself The New Democrats emerged from the shadows. Many people said it was the saviour of the nation. The New Democrats were poorly named, since the things they believed in; discipline, respect for order, deference to the Church, schools, and so on, were not new. They harked back to an imagined past when the country was at ease. Nor, were they particularly democratic. A wave of authoritarianism hit the country. Trade unions were suppressed; women were forced back into the home and sexual minorities were attacked.
The hardest hit were young people. Corporal punishment was reintroduced into schools to great acclaim from teachers and parents. So, it made perfect sense to extend it to colleges and universities. Soon, young apprentices at businesses were added to the list. In no time the law courts were sentencing young criminals to the birch.
People fell into line quickly. Order of a kind was restored. Young people were placed on curfews. Old people could walk the streets at night in safety.
A turning point came with a television soap opera called Northern Lights. It had been running for decades, long before the troubles started. It featured a cheeky-chappie character called Robbie. Robbie was in his twenties and lived his life close to the edge of the law. In one episode he gets caught stealing motor parts. He goes to court and the magistrate sentences him to eight stokes of the birch. Bare buttocks.
Then, they showed it. A birching. In all its glory. A huge bunch of twenty-four twigs sits soaking in brine in a metal bucket. Robbie is marched into the punishment room. Actors in soaps are usually not very good, but Robbie looks terrified. Then, viewers see a close up as the trousers and underpants come down and he is tied over a specially-made birching bench.
The prison guard is built like a brick out-house. He takes the heavy bundle of birch twigs, swishes it so droplets of brine fly all over the room. Then, he hauls the beast high above his head, twists his body as if he is teeing off at golf and flogs it down into Robbie’s naked haunches.
Robbie screams fit to shake the walls. The flogging continues. Whip-whip-whip!
At the end his buttocks are a bloodied mess. Torn to shreds. Robbie cannot walk and he is seen being dragged from the room by two uniformed officers.
And, all shown on television at eight o’clock in the evening.
In the past all the bleeding-heart liberals would have been on every news outlet denouncing the scene. Instead, a snap opinion poll showed nearly eighty percent of those questioned approved of real criminals being flogged. Half of those said they’d like to see it put out on live TV.
Television shows played a crucial part changing attitudes. Uni, a comedy-drama set in a fictional Midlands town, featured everyday students in typical situations. In one episode Jack is giving his parents a hard time. He is lazy, won’t get out of bed and misses lectures at university. His dad berates him about it and is rewarded by extensive pouting and sulking. Dad has had enough. One morning he calls his son down for breakfast, but the boy is too busy in bed playing with himself. Dad goes to the bathroom, collects a heavy wooden brush and bursts into the boy’s bedroom. Lots of laughs because Jack has been caught with his willie in his hand.
The laughs quickly turn to tears when dad hauls the duvet off the bed, grabs Jack by the hair, forces him face down on the bed and hammers away at the seat of his underpants with the brush. Jack’s howls echo around the room. In the street the camera catches a neighbour wondering where all the yelling is coming from.
The next scene is the following day. Jack is up early, polite to his parents, and heads off to university on time.
The show hit a nerve with parents. It seemed to give fathers permission to tackle their own idle sons. News programmes later reported an increase in sales of heavy bath brushes.
Kenny was nearly ready for his first day at the GP college. He would do a six-month full-time course, before returning to his office, based in London. GP had set him up with a place to stay. His landlord Mr Hart was a retired bank manager. Like so many other pensioners, even those from the professional classes, he had found it hard to make ends meet. Inflation ripped away at pensions and savings.
Hart was forced to take in a lodger. It helped put food on the table. The first thing the old man did was to spell out the rules. A curfew, no drinking, smoking or girls. Household chores to be done every day. He delighted in showing his new nineteen-year-old lodger the stout whippy rattan cane he kept hanging on a hook in the cupboard under the stairs.
“And, I won’t be backward in using it,” he told Kenny. The teenager believed him. He had met enough old people who despised the young.
It wasn’t legal for landlords to beat their tenants – not yet, at least. But Kenny would have no choice but to bend over for Mr Hart’s cane when the time came. If his landlord reported him to GP, that would be curtains for Kenny. No job. No future.
Kenny left his digs and took a bus to the college. It was full of older schoolchildren. All in smart uniforms. All wearing short trousers. Judging by the prefect badges many of them wore, they must have been at least eighteen. All of them put back into short trousers. It was happening all over the country. It was as if schools were saying, “We know we can humiliate you and there’s nothing you can do about it. So we shall.”
How could the boys complain? One word spoken out of place and it would be a six-of-the-best from the headmaster. On the bared bottom. Eighteen years old or not.
The college was a large modern Community College. GP had its own wing of one of the buildings that it sponsored. There were twenty new recruits settling in for their first day of classes. All the young men seemed apprehensive. Not sure how they were expected to behave – to one another and to the lecturers they would encounter.
One young man was more apprehensive than the others. He entered the classroom following a tall man in a dark suit. His round open face was ghostly. Without instruction, he took himself to the far corner of the room and stood with his nose close to the wall. Then, he put his hands on the top of his head in the classic naughty-boy stance.
The low murmur of voices in the room petered out to silence. All eyes were on the boy in the corner. He was dressed in the GP uniform, was about five-eight tall, with jet black hair closely cut around his neck and ears. His blazer had risen up his back, uncovering the seat of his trousers which covered two round chubby buttocks.
The man in the black suit, who introduced himself simply as “Fraser,” welcomed the new boys and went through a series of pleasantries. Kenny was not the only one not paying attention. He couldn’t keep his eyes off the lad in the corner. Who was he? Why was he here?
Fraser droned on some more. He was just a buzz in the room, to Kenny. Like a bee, he could hear his presence, but he didn’t pay him any attention.
“Corporal punishment.” Those two words pulled Kenny up sharp. What was Fraser talking about?
“Corporal punishment is in use here as you probably know. We believe you boys are an elite group and we expect you to work hard and obey the rules. If you do not our first recourse is to corporal punishment.”
Fraser let the sentence hang in the air a little. For dramatic effect. Like so many college lecturers he was a bit of a ham actor.
“You will be beaten for indiscretions and misdemeanours.”
Twenty nineteen year olds shuffled uncomfortably in their seats. This was not news to them; young people were subjected to corporal punishment all over the country, but the realisation that its use was so close, made them shiver.
It was to get closer still.
“I want to be aware from the very beginning of the consequences of poor behaviour. That is why I have brought Sterling here this morning.”
The boy in the corner shuddered at the mention of his name.
“Sterling is a second-year apprentice who should know better.” Fraser fixed the class with a beady eye. It felt like he was staring into the very soul of everyone present.
“Yet, he insists on breaking the rules. He missed curfew last week and now he must be punished.”
Kenny stared across at Sterling in the corner who buckled a little at the knees and shuffled his feet. It was tiring standing for so long with hands on head.
Fraser walked across the classroom to a pine-effect cupboard, took out a ring of keys from his pocket, searched for the correct one, and inserted it in a lock. He slid the door across. It was empty, except for one thing. Fraser picked it up and withdrew it.
He turned to the class full of new recruits and held up a stout wooden paddle. It looked a lot like a long thin chopping board Kenny’s mother had in her kitchen. It was about a eighteen inches long and maybe three inches wide.
There was a collective intake of breath when Fraser slapped the board with some force into the palm of his hand.
Fraser failed to suppress a smirk when he called across the room. “OK, Sterling. You know the drill.”
Sterling removed his hands from his head and reluctantly turned on his heels to face into the classroom.
“Stand by that desk,” Fraser waved the paddle at a teacher’s desk in front of the class. With eyes glued to the floor, the wretched young man waddled across the room.
“Take off your jacket.” It was a quiet order, spoken in a calm voice. But it was an order that Fraser expected to be obeyed.
Sterling fumbled with the three buttons on his company blazer. He visibly trembled as he slipped the jacket over his shoulders and pulled his arms through the sleeves. Then, without waiting for instructions, he dropped the blazer onto the top of the desk.
Kenny and his fellow new recruits could see Sterling’s face. It was deathly pale and bathed in sweat. A moustache of moisture clung to the young man’s upper lip.
“Lower your trousers and underpants.”
Kenny saw the lad sitting to his right cross his legs. The boy’s face was scarlet. He seemed to be perspiring a lot too.
Sterling unbuttoned the top of his trousers and pulled at the zipper. Then, he placed both thumbs inside the waistband and pulled down the trousers and his underpants together. He let them bunch up against his shins.
Twenty pairs of eyes were glued to the young man’s buttocks. Sterling was not a fat boy, but his bum was wobbly. Sterling stood with his hands cupped across his cock and balls. It was an unnecessary gesture; none of those present in the room had a view.
Unseen by the class, Sterling chewed on his lower lip, waiting with dread for the final instruction.
It came. “Bend over the desk, Sterling.”
Kenny did not know if Sterling had been in this position before or if he had witnessed others, but he reckoned that Sterling knew exactly what was expected of him. He lay flat on the desk, with his stomach resting on the near edge. He stretched his arms ahead of him and gripped the two far legs of the desk. One in each hand. In this spread-eagled position his legs were parted, offering his audience a tremendous sight into his crack.
The boy next to Kenny looked fit to burst.
Fraser held the paddle in his right hand and approached the submissive Sterling. Twenty boys leaned forward together.
Fraser rubbed the paddle across the centre of Sterling’s bum. In this prone position, the buttocks had tightened considerably. He raised the wood about two feet from the target, brought it down with a resounding crack, and lifted it away again. A dark red rectangle appeared immediately. Sterling groaned weakly. His knees buckled and he gripped the legs of the desk a little more tightly.
Whack-whack! Two swats landed. One on each cheek. Sterling’s stomach lifted from the desktop. His head thrashed from side to side, the way a horse’s sometimes did when it was troubled by a fly.
The boy sitting next to Kenny seemed to be in as much distress as Sterling. Kenny wondered if this public paddling had brought back unpleasant personal memories for him.
The next swat hit lower. It was a large paddle and a single swipe covered a lot of flesh. The tops of Sterling’s thighs were raw.
“Ouch, oww, yeowl,” any resolve Sterling might have not to show himself up in front of the new recruits was broken. That one hurt! Like crazy. It felt as if the backs of his legs were on fire.
“Steady boy. Steady.” Fraser waited while Sterling marched his feet up and down, trying, unsuccessfully, to ease the throbbing pain in his bottom and legs.
Crack-crack! Two terrific shots landed in the fleshiest part of the globes, right in the curves. More marching from Sterling. He banged his head up and down on the desk. Tears welled in his eyes. He couldn’t catch his breath.
Fraser stepped back away from Sterling. “Have a good look boys. That’s how your backsides will be if you step out of line.”
Sterling’s rear end was bright red. No part of his bum was untouched. Bruises had already started forming in the very centre of the cheeks. The imprint of the paddle was clearly visible at the outer edges of the buttocks.
“Stand up Sterling. Get dressed.”
Sterling hauled himself from the desk. His arse burnt like the flames of hell. It took monumental self-control not to shoot both hands to his buttocks and rub furiously. He did not want to give Fraser the satisfaction of knowing he had hurt him. Besides, past experience told him that rubbing never eased the pain. Sometimes it made it worse.
Careful not to show his audience his manhood, Sterling bent down and retrieved his trousers and pants. This movement gave the boys a final chance to witness the damage. They would all agree later it they were really toasted buns.
Fraser waited for Sterling to get fully dressed and sent him on his way. He was not a cruel man, Sterling had been humiliated enough.
Fraser himself exited shortly after and the boys waited for the arrival of a lecturer for their first class.
The boy next to Kenny sat mortified. His underpants were full of spunk.
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More stories from Charles Hamilton II are on the MMSA website
Charles Hamilton the Second