Scenes like the one I am about to describe to you took place all over the country, every day of the year. This story takes place in a small, rather nondescript town called Brocklehurst. I don’t need to spend time describing it to you because you will certainly know somewhere very much like it yourself. You might quite possibly live in such a place.
The time is just after six o’clock in the evening. The men are returning from work to be greeted by their loving wives who have been busying themselves all day cleaning the house, doing the laundry, looking after the younger children and preparing the evening meal. There is about thirty minutes before the family eats together during which the men relax with a reviving gin-and-tonic while they examine the pages of the evening newspaper.
Very often this ritual is disturbed. The man is required to fulfil a duty as a father. The man believes in duty; duty to the King; duty to the country; duty to the Church and duty to his family. Every man accepts this; and he never shirks it. Mr Ordinary-Fellow, the hero of my story, is one such man.
On this particular evening Mr Ordinary-Fellow has arrived home and as he slips into his carpet slippers and settles himself down with a glass in one hand and that newspaper in the other, his wife relates a most distressing tale. Mr Ordinary-Fellow listens to his wife kindly. He allows her to speak without interruption. She tells her story well. It is full of detail and when she has finished Mr Ordinary-Fellow sees no inclination to seek further information for clarification. He has the complete picture. He sighs, empties what is left in his glass in one swig and gently puts down the newspaper. He shakes his head and frowns.
We need not be detained by the details of the story, suffice is to say it relates to Mr Ordinary-Fellow’s youngest son John. The boy – I shall refer to him as a ‘boy’ even though he is in fact nineteen years of age because a boy does not automatically become a man when he reaches a certain age. He becomes a man after developing a maturity of character and until he achieves that state (if indeed he ever does) he remains steadfastly a child.
John had demonstrated that day that he still had a long way to travel before he could be treated like a man. Mr Ordinary-Fellow sighs once more and speaks to his wife in a clear, steady voice, “Please inform John he is to report to me in the loungeroom.” Mrs Ordinary-Fellow scurries off and her footsteps are just audible to him as she pads her way upstairs to the boy’s bedroom.
Mr Ordinary-Fellow hauls himself from his chair. He walks across the room. It is not such a large room. It is dominated by an over-sized, heavy leather Chesterfield couch. There are two armchairs and a small table. Along one wall runs shelves. They are designed for books, but there are few of these in the home of Mr Ordinary-Fellow so these shelves house an assortment of plaster figures, some of a gaudy religious nature. Others are mementoes of past holidays enjoyed at seaside resorts. Below the shelves there is a dark wooden sideboard constructed of three drawers and a cupboard.
Mr Ordinary-Fellow sighs theatrically as he tugs open the top drawer. He behaves as if he is carrying the weight of all the world’s troubles on his shoulders. And, so he is. A father’s duty is burdensome. He has an unpleasant task to perform this evening. But perform it he will. It is his duty. Discipline must be maintained. His son must learn this. Mr Ordinary-Fellow reaches into the drawer. There is only one object inside. He grips it in his right hand and with his left he closes the drawer.
He looks closely at the object in his hand. He sighs once more. He takes up the leather strap in both hands. It is about a foot-and-a-half long and two or three inches wide. It is remarkably heavy. A big steel handle at one end makes it so. It is an ancient razor strop. It has been in the family for generations. It has not been used for its intended purpose for thirty or more years. Even so, it is not a redundant object. It has a secondary use. It makes a mightily effective punishment tool.
Sighing yet again, Mr Ordinary-Fellow returns to his chair. Just as his buttocks are sinking into the soft cushion, John appears at the open door to the room. He is a small fellow and usually he is of a sunny disposition. But not at this moment. He knows why he has been summoned by his father. He knows he must face consequences for his behaviour. The razor strop in his father’s hand confirms this to him.
Mr Ordinary-Fellow is a man of few words. With a signal of his hand he beckons the boy to come forward and stand before him. Mr Ordinary-Fellow has prepared a little speech. He pokes his finger at the boy to emphasise the main points. He grips John by the wrist. There is no reason for this. The boy will not attempt to escape. Where is there to escape to? He is a child of his times. He knows events must take their course. He might not like what is about to happen, but he will not object. His father has decreed that he should be punished and John will not protest. That is the way of the world.
His father finishes his reprimands. He releases his grip on the boy’s wrist. John stands submissively, his eyes following his father’s movements as he takes up the leather strop and doubles it. He grips it at the metal end. He stares earnestly at John.
The boy gulps down a long breath. “Trousers up or down?” he asks, with an even voice.
His father frowns, annoyed. The boy seems a little too relaxed. “Down,” he growls. And then in an attempt to reassert his undoubted superiority at this moment, he adds, “Underwear too!” John does not expect this, but his solemn face does not betray this fact. On the bare! A voice inside him urges that he plead with his father. The indignation. The humiliation. A nineteen-year-old boy forced to lower his trousers and underwear and so bare his bottom to receive punishment (however justly deserved).
John silences the voice in his head. Not daring to look at his father who is sitting only inches in front of him, he makes great play at releasing the buckle of his belt. He thanks the heavens that today his trousers are not held aloft by braces. The belt undone, he fumbles with the fly buttons, betraying his nervousness at the situation. The heavy woollen trousers hurtle down his legs and puddle at his feet. John wears ‘modern’ underwear. That is to say his drawers and his singlet are two separate garments. Were he wearing one piece ‘combinations’ he would have to strip off his clothes completely in order to comply with father’s instruction for a bared bottom.
As it is all he must do is unfasten the two buttons at the waist of the drawers and then roll them down his thighs. They snag at his knees. His father emits a long, drawn-out sigh. He sounds like a steam engine settling down. “Bend over my knee,” he intones. “You know what is required.”
Indeed, the boy does. He has lost count of how many times in his life he has taken up this position. His father spreads his own knees thus providing a platform for his son. The boy now simply has to lower himself forward. Before he can do this he must waddle a step or two so that he is positioned to the right side of his father. Then, still not looking at the Old Man, the boy falls gently. He rests the balls of his hands on his father’s knees and this steadies him so that within only a second or two he is lying face down, his stomach resting against father’s right knee and his torso prostrate over his lap. The boy plants the palms of his hands firmly into the hard wooden floorboards. He stares down noticing the gleaming shine, a tribute to the hard work of his mother.
He feels his father take hold of the tail of his shirt and roughly pushes it up his back. John cannot see this for he is still intent on admiring the floorboards but he knows that his body is now naked from his knees up to about his shoulder blades. He feels his buttocks clench. He has not asked them to do this, they do it on their own initiative. It is a natural reaction. John has little meat on his buttocks and clenched they are as hard as a rubber ball.
Father sighs. He rubs the palm of his right hand across the boy’s bare buttocks, gently caressing the curves. He lingers at the highest peaks of the mounds. He sighs once more. Perhaps he is reminiscing that in days gone by his palm could cover an entire buttock. How much the boy had grown. Enough of this! Mr Ordinary-Fellow tells himself silently. He takes up the razor strop once more, feels the weight in his hand, raises his arm high and with as much force as he can muster he whips the heavy leather down across the very centre of the submitted buttocks. He is rewarded by a wide stripe, glowering red hot. The buttocks clench and unclench, but otherwise the boy shows no reaction. Mr Ordinary-Fellow sighs gently, raises the leather again and hammers it down across the lower back of the buttocks. The boy’s legs kick out and his hips wriggle. That hurt and there is no disguising the fact.
Two more swipes pound across the naked flesh which by now is taking on the colour of a fine fresh salmon. The boy’s head rises and falls and he shakes it from side to side. His thick black hair is damp with sweat. The heat in his backside rises. His bottom stings and the pain begins to travel up and down his legs. He presses his palms firmer into the ground and shuts his eyes tight. This is gong to be a long ride.
Mr Ordinary-Fellow has a ritual for times such as this. It has been developed over many years with five sons. John is by no means the eldest, nor the youngest of these. He takes up a steady rhythm making sure the leather lands on every part of ‘the circuit’. So it lashes the fleshiest part of the mounds and also the very sensitive ‘sit-spot’ where cheeks meet with thighs. The top of the hills, just below the lower back are not neglected. Nor are the sides of the cheeks. In this way no square inch of the boy’s posterior is left untoasted. Everywhere glows bright pink. Darker bruises already form where the edge of the strop cuts into flesh. The entire effect is as if the boy has been forced to sit in a bath of scalding water.
As the bottom throbs like crazy, so does the boy’s temples. Blood rushes through his arteries and his heart races fit to burst. His eyes blaze, his throat dries. He emits the faintest yelps, but he has the fortitude to suck back the yelps and, yes, the screams, his body demands he makes.
Mr Ordinary-Fellow is no monster. He believes in duty. He is performing his. A thrashing should hurt, but it need do no lasting damage. He is, after all, a loving father. One hundred times the leather strop rises and falls and then, satisfied that his duty is down, Mr Ordinary-Fellow ceases. “You may stand,” he intones. “I trust the lesson has been learned,” he adds. He does not reflect that this is far from the first time he has punished his son in this fashion. What lesson precisely might have been learned?
John lifts himself from his father’s lap. His hands clutch at the raw flesh. He is astonished at how hot it feels. His once smooth bottom feels as hard as leather. He hops from one foot to the other and then ashamedly aware that his private parts are bouncing in front of his father’s face, he bends down and retrieves his clothing. He winches as the rough woollen drawers touch against his throbbing rear. He gulps down a lung-full of air and takes up his trousers. Quickly he fastens the belt but leaves the button fly undone. He cannot wait to leave the room.
Mr Ordinary-Fellow sighs heavily and nods his head towards the door. He speaks no words but the action is enough to communicate to his son that he should depart. Mrs Ordinary-Fellow enters the room immediately. She has been a witness from the passageway. She picks up the razor strop and places it carefully in the sideboard ready for the next time. With that task completed she opens a cupboard and withdraws the whisky bottle and a glass. She pours a generous measure and takes it to her husband.
He takes a sip, sighs deeply and leans back into his comfortable chair. Everything is once more in its place.
Picture credit: Unknown
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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