It happened fifty years ago, but I remember like it was yesterday. If I take a moment I could probably give you the exact date. I know the exact time: 4 pm. It was early June 1967, classes at school had finished and we were about to take our A-level exams.
I had only been at the school since Christmas when I had moved to Brocklehurst because my father got a new job. It was hard for me, eighteen years old and without a friend in the world. The boys at school were a bit cliquey, they already had their friends and when I arrived as the new boy they didn’t need another one. They didn’t treat me badly, there was no bullying (well, not from the boys at least) they just ignored me.
I was a timid, shy lad totally lacking in self-confidence. If I had stood up for myself more it never would have happened. It was summer and since classes were over some of the boys would nip across to the Two Fishers pub, a notorious place where they never inquired about your age, at lunchtime. One afternoon two of the sixth-formers brought back bottles of Double Diamond. Double Diamond! I can still hear the jingle in my head A Double Diamond works wonders, works wonders, works wonders, a Double Diamond works wonders so drink one today! Jesus, whatever happened to Double Diamond? It went to same way as Watney’s Red Barrel, I suppose.
Maybe they were emboldened because it was nearly the end of their school career. Perhaps it was just that they had a drink too many at the pub, but they brazenly drank the beer in the common room. I know, because I sat, hidden behind a copy of Football Monthly, watching them. I was also there when Mr. Ash, the sixth-form master, came in and caught them.
I should rephrase that last sentence. He didn’t catch them; he caught us. Mr. Ash wasn’t one for niceties. He had no ambitions to be a great detective, nor for that matter to be an even-handed judge. What he saw were empty beer bottles and four sixth-formers. That was enough.
“Wait outside my study now. All of you.”
“B… b… Sir,” my protest was feeble. I wanted (I needed) to tell him I had not been involved. I was an innocent bystander. The other lads had guzzled the beer. Not one drop had passed my lips.
“Bangs,” he instructed a spotty, gangly youth. “Clear those bottles away. Don’t put them in the bin, I don’t want the cleaners to find them.” David Bangs sullenly hauled himself from the armchair where he had been slouching and swept the offending bottles up into his arms before disappearing through the door of the common room.
“Disgraceful behaviour,” Mr. Ash spoke as if talking to himself. “Unbelievable.” Then, gathering his black academic gown around his body, he intoned. “My study now. Go.”
My heart thumped. This did not look good. I had been at the school less than six months but I knew its reputation. It was traditional, not to say old fashioned. That meant traditional lessons, traditional games, traditional school uniform and traditional discipline.
My two sixth-form colleagues shuffled to the door. I sat transfixed. I hadn’t done anything, why should I be punished. I tried to form a sentence in my head. One that I could say to Mr. Ash that would explain the situation. One that would help him to see the error of his ways. One that would get me off the hook.
“I shall not tell you again Jeffries,” he growled at me. “Up. My study. Now. Go!.” Meekly and with my chin wobbling, I rose from my chair.
Mr. Ash’s room was in the passageway leading to the sixth-form common room. As soon as I exited I saw Vance Kearney and Danny McCarthy standing uncomfortably outside the study door. They broke off their whispers when they saw me coming. Vance was a tall, muscular eighteen-year-old. It was late afternoon by now and he needed a shave. His school blazer was too tight for his ever-growing body. Danny was shorter and in every way diminished by comparison with his partner in crime. His long, lank, greasy, black hair reached below his collar. That in itself would have been a beating offence for the younger boys at the school.
Vance looked across at me; even today I still feel my burning anger at his arrogance. He knew I was innocent. He could have intervened. He could have told Mr. Ash the truth. Instead, he leered, “It’ll be six.” To which his pal Danny just sniggered.
Six. The cane. I shouldn’t have been surprised. It was that kind of school after all. I had never been caned before, nor slippered. My mum and dad had never raised a finger to me, not even when I was a little kid. Corporal punishment was unheard of at my last school. I hadn’t even seen a cane before, let alone felt one whacking my stretched bum.
I must have blushed; or paled or some such, because Danny and Vance both mocked me. “Six. Trousers down of course,” Vance said.
“Pants too, I shouldn’t wonder,” Danny agreed. I knew they were joking. How could a schoolmaster get away with caning a boy on his underpants? Or, God forbid! on the bare arse?
Danny and Vance suddenly straightened up. I hadn’t heard but they had seen Mr. Ash approaching down the passageway. The master was a man of few words. He mumbled some form of greeting and told Vance and Danny to face the wall. To me he said, “Jeffries, follow me.” Then, he brushed past, opened the door to his study and went inside. I’m not a very good writer so I can’t always find the right words, but if I said “my legs turned to jelly and I found I couldn’t walk” would you get the general idea?
“Come in Jeffries, don’t keep me waiting,” Mr. Ash called from inside the study. Somehow, I got my legs to work and I shuffled in. “Close the door. Were you born in a barn?” Mr. Ash snapped. I did so. “Stand there,” impatiently he snapped his fingers and pointed to a spot in front of his desk. It was a large desk (in walnut, I think) dominating a room with wooden panels (oak, perhaps?). Along one wall were bookshelves. Another wall was dominated by an unlit fire. Across the way were two low-backed worn leather armchairs. I tried not to notice the coat stand in the corner. I stared at the red-and-silver-patterned rug beneath my feet. My hands were trembling so I clasped them behind my back. I must have looked a little like Prince Philip or one of the other Royals on a walkabout.
I don’t remember what Mr. Ash said to me. It’s not that I have forgotten after all these years, it’s because I was unable to hear him because of the deafening pounding noise in my ears caused by the blood rushing at breakneck speed through my arteries. My face must have been glowing red hot. I was sweating like a pig, even though I had left my fancy green-and-gold woollen blazer in the common room.
I don’t remember what he said but I recall everything about what happened next. Mr. Ash walked across his study to the coat stand. It was empty save for one thing. Hanging by its crooked handle was a swishy rattan school cane. Mr. Ash reached up toward it. He was a small man, I doubt he was more than five-six or seven. He gasped at the effort of movement. He turned to face me, cane in hand. He must have been in his sixties, his jowls, hooded eyes and slicked-back hair remind me of President Richard Nixon in his later days.
Mr. Ash wobbled the cane in front of me. His intentions were clear. My temples throbbed, I could not think clearly. I desperately needed him to understand. “I didn’t do anything. It wasn’t me,” I bleated. My eyes dampened. I wasn’t yet crying. Tears would come soon enough.
“Stand behind that chair,” he pointed his cane at one of the armchairs. It was an ugly light brown, the colour of diarrhoea.
“No!!” I wailed. Mr. Ash stood, confused. My utterance wasn’t a cry of defiance, it was a piteous plea for mercy. “Please, no, please.”
The schoolmaster snarled, there really is no other description. He took the cane and flexed it between his hands. I had never seen a cane before. I was transfixed. It was more than three feet long and had a smoothed curved handle at one end. It was dark brown in colour and as thick as a ballpoint pen. He swiped the cane through the air, I felt a breeze as it travelled.
“Lower your trousers and bend over the back of the chair,” Mr. Ash spoke calmly. He was not one to engage in histrionics. He was the master; he was in charge, he expected to be obeyed. That was the point where I lost it completely. I was a shy boy, it was be humiliating enough to be forced to offer up my bottom to this horrible man for him to lash it with his whippy cane. But to do so with my trousers at my ankles and in my underwear was too much. I used to avoid any kind of sports because I couldn’t contemplate others seeing me like that.
Tears flowed down the valley between my nose and cheek, I gulped down air, desperately trying to fill my empty lungs. I tasted vomit at the back of my throat and sucked it back down.
Mr. Ash did not hide his impatience. “Trousers down, bend over.” He tapped the tip of the cane against the back of the chair. I made no attempt to comply, instead I pleaded for mercy. Fifty years after the event I still cringe with humiliation. Have you ever been in that position: at the mercy of someone without mercy?
“Pah!” he exclaimed and threw the cane onto his desk with such force it bounced three or four times before settling with a final rattle. Mr. Ash leaned into me, I could smell stale cigarette smoke on his clothes and what I am certain was whisky on his breath. He took hold of the belt of my trousers and deftly unbuckled it. I huffed with shame as he unzipped the front of my trousers and they slid slowly open. I was a growing boy and my white cotton underpants were too tight at the crotch. I was as thin as a rake and despite the hot summer we were enjoying my skin was pale and hairless.
I stood mortified while my pale-grey school trousers journeyed down my thighs to my knees. Not satisfied with the speed of travel, Mr. Ash took hold of the waistband with two hands and tugged them to my feet.
His face was puce; whether with rage or simply with the exertion of his actions, I cannot say. I must have been scarlet. Without a word, he grabbed my left shoulder and spun me round so that I faced the back of the chair. Then, he placed the palm of his hand on my shoulders and pushed me forward. I didn’t resist. I have no idea why not. Looking back I realise that I need not have gone through with it. I could have fled from the study. What could Mr. Ash have done to prevent me?
I suppose the consequence of fleeing would have been expulsion from school, examinations missed and no place at university. Mr. Ash held all the cards, there was no way I could have won. Had I been a stronger boy, like, I suppose Vance and Danny, I would have taken the thrashing stoically; lowered my trousers and offered up my arse to the cane. It would be over in twenty seconds. There would be pain; embarrassment certainly, but the world would move on.
I was not that kind of boy. Instead I now lay face down, nose in the dusty leather cushion, backside high, whimpering. I was bleating like a whipped puppy and the first stroke hadn’t yet landed. It was still some time to come. Mr. Ash had his preparations to make. We wore white cotton shirts in those days with long tails that covered the backside and the backs of the legs. Slowly, methodically, Mr. Ash took hold of my shirttail and folded it once, twice, three times until it rested neatly just below my shoulders. We also wore singlets (even in summer) and Mr. Ash simply pushed it up and away from the target area.
Mr. Ash would now have the sight of a snivelling eighteen-year-old prostrate across the leather armchair. I closed my eyes, shut my teeth and gripped the cushion for dear life. But, he was still not quite ready. I felt him take hold of the elasticated waist of my underpants. Danny’s words earlier, “Pants too, I shouldn’t wonder” flooded my mind. “No!!!” I yelled. Maybe I startled Mr. Ash, maybe he had intended to bare my buttocks and was deterred by my outcry. Probably not. In any case he didn’t pull down my pants; rather he tugged at the waist so that the already-taut cotton was tighter still. I felt cotton dig into my crack as if he were giving me a wedgie. The pants must have fitted my bum like a second skin, and to make sure there were no creases in the material, Mr. Ash rubbed the palm of his hand over my mounds, into the under-curves and over the backs of my naked thighs. I could have died of shame.
I heard the rattle of the cane as Mr. Ash retrieved it from his desktop. Then I felt it being pressed across the centre of my tight bottom. Then, he “sawed” it backwards and forwards. He was taking aim. Then, I felt the cane lift away. There was an almighty swish and the whippy rattan bit into and bounced off my bum. A second or two passed before I felt the agony. I had never felt such pain it was like he had pressed a white-hot wire into the flesh. This was no mere token caning, just a flick of the wrist; Mr. Ash was intent on hurting me.
The second swipe landed almost immediately. It struck just above the first and now I had a band of hurt about a half inch wide running across the centre of both cheeks. I howled, coughed, spluttered. My knees buckled and my feet stomped up and down on the wooden floor. There was nothing I could do, I was not in control of my body. It had taken on a life of its own; this was how it had decided to deal with the intense agony of a trousers-down caning.
I begged to be let off, protesting my innocence. Crack! Crack! Crack! Mr. Ash whipped me. My entire body was quaking; my backside quivering and wobbling; even spasmodically jerking.
By now my pert backside was painted with rich and angry stripes across its centre area. I was screaming, writhing and twisting.
Swipe! Number six sank deep so low it missed my underpants completely and left a dark red weal throbbing in the bare flesh on the back of my thighs. To this day I am convinced this was not a miss-hit. The vile bully had deliberately cut me. My shriek would have been heard by Vance and Denny outside and probably by anyone who happened to be walking through the quadrangle at the time.
The beating now over, I gradually ceased my screaming but continued to sob and bleat. Even that faded away to nothingness until, eventually, an eerie stillness enveloped the room. I had lost all sense of time. Perhaps I lay there for some minutes, maybe it was only seconds. Mr. Ash was probably studying his craftmanship, congratulating himself on a job well done.
I heard him quietly walk the length of the study and replace the cane on his coat stand. Now, the only noise in the room was my heavy breathing as I stayed slumped over the back of the chair.
“You may remove yourself,” Mr. Ash said pompously. I had stopped howling, but tears continued to flow and my top lip was covered in snot. My shoulders heaved and I had to put my hands on my knees while slowly I filled my lungs with air. “Get dressed, I haven’t got all day,” Mr. Ash couldn’t keep the scorn from his voice.
I reached down for my trousers. My bum stung like a thousand wasps when I pulled them over my buttocks. My hands quivered as I tucked in my shirt and zipped my fly. I could hardly see the study door through my damp eyes. Mr. Ash opened it for me and I hobbled away. I don’t remember seeing Vance and Danny but I am sure they were there having witnessed the sound of my abject humiliation.
I walked around the streets for an hour before finally going home. I was too ashamed of what my parents would say if they found out. The agony had subsided by now but I was still sore when I sat down for supper that evening. If Mum and Dad noticed anything amiss they were kind enough not to comment.
I think about Mr. Ash and that day a lot. I have met lots of people over the years who were caned at school and many resent the experience for the rest of their lives. I am one of them. Mr. Ash must be in his grave by now. All I can say is I hope he had a long, lingering death.
Picture credit: Darrien
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More stories from Charles Hamilton II are on the MMSA website
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