Our mum had a hard hand, and was a firm believer in using it on her children’s bare bottoms when she felt they had deserved it. She had been a nanny before her marriage and so as small children, we had the benefit of her many years’ experience in looking after youngsters – unfortunately for us, also including the administration of corporal punishment.
When my elder brother Guy was around eight years old, he went through a phase of having dirty underpants (or just pants, as we call them in the UK). It was probably mostly down to him not wiping his bottom properly after a poo rather than the ‘accidents’ all small children experience, and this led to mum becoming increasingly frustrated and angry at the situation.
In the end, she began random pants inspections for both me and my brother. These would mostly happen at bath time, when we were expected to surrender our clothes anyway, but occasionally during the morning or afternoon we would be required to ‘come to mummy’ and submit to having our trousers lowered, and the state of our pants scrutinised.
Needless to say, some of these inspections would result in a smacked bottom for one or both of us and as our behinds were already naked, it was a matter of moments for mum to reverse us over her knee and apply the punishment with that hard smacking hand of hers.
Although I was four years younger, I actually got far fewer sore bottoms as a result of these inspections. For one thing, I was the baby of the family and a lower standard of hygiene was probably expected and tolerated. But actually, my pants were generally better than my brother’s. I would perhaps have a slight smudge where I had broken wind in them, but his often looked almost like he’d pooed himself. This would make mum very angry and a very harsh ‘smack bottom’ would be administered.
One day, Guy and I were playing in the shallow stream which ran close by our house. We were probably building a ‘dam’, as I recall. My brother bent down to pick up a stone – and then stopped in that position, looking at me with frightened eyes. Finally, he said: “I think I’ve done a poo in my pants!”
He somehow shuffled out of the brook and on to the bank, where willow trees provided plenty of cover. Once there, he eased down his shorts. I was behind him and I could already see the mess in the seat of his white pants. He emptied the solids into the bushes, wiped his bottom with several dock leafs, put back his shorts back on to regain his modesty – and then we surveyed the ‘damage’.
“Mum’ll kill me!” he eventually said. He had been given a very sore bottom only a couple of nights before for pants a tenth as bad as the ones we were looking at now.
I had an idea. “Wash them in the stream,” I said. Guy seemed struck by the idea, so he went to the water’s edge, submerged the underwear and rubbed vigorously. Well, they were a lot better, but the poo stains on the seat were still blindingly obvious – and now the pants were wet through as well, so wearing them again was out of the question. We tried laying them out to dry while we continued playing for a while, but it was no use. They were still uncompromisingly wet – and stained – an hour later and it was close to tea time, when we would be expected home.
Finally, Guy seemed to make a decision. He fished a biggish stone out of the stream, wrapped his dirty pants around it, then threw the bundle into one of the few parts of the stream where the water ran deep. After that, we made our way home. We didn’t speak further about what had happened, but I presumed my brother’s plan was to sneak upstairs when we got home and put on a fresh pair of pants without mum knowing.
Fate was against him. We were barely through the door when mum said: “Right – pants inspection. You first, Charles – come here to mummy.”
She took down my trousers and then my pants. I looked down with trepidation but there was only the faintest of brown marks on the white cotton. This was acceptable, though it did earn me a brief lecture about having to try harder to be a clean boy.
“Guy – you next.” “Mummy, I need the toilet!” he protested, now utterly aware of the impending doom. “I’m sure you can wait a few moments for that, you silly boy,” she replied. When he still made no step towards her as instructed, she grabbed his arms and pulled him to her, inserting her thumbs into the elasticated waistband of his shorts.
There was a silence you could have cut with a knife when our mum found herself unexpectedly looking at her little boy’s penis. Then: “Where are your pants, you naughty boy?” My brother was silent at first but by a series of ad hoc but sharp slaps on his now bare bottom, mum finally elicited the whole story.
She lectured him like never before. Her nose was almost touching his as she looked him straight in the eye. “Do you know how hard daddy has to work to get money to buy your clothes? And you just throw them away? Wicked boy! All because you weren’t brave or honest enough to face a smack bottom! Well, you’re going to get a hiding now you won’t forget. Wait there!”
When she returned, she was holding a hairbrush. We had seen this before – mum had explained that she had used it on some ‘very naughty’ boys and girls when she was a nanny. She had threatened us with it a few times but nothing had ever come of those threats – until now. It was an old Mason & Pearson, made of Bakelite (a heavy, early type of plastic) with a large oval head.
“This is the right medicine for a naughty boy like you. Over my knee!” She took my brother’s wrist and guided him into position, then raised the brush.
The next few minutes were awful – Guy cried like a baby as the hairbrush went to work on his bare bum. Mum was calm but thorough and covered his sturdy little bottom with red marks. She had to hold him really tightly to keep him in place for the punishment but as I say, she had plenty of experience in smacking naughty children!
Finally, roaring and holding his blazing buttocks, Guy was sent to bed with no tea – but, I should add, with instructions to wipe his bottom ‘properly’ before putting on his pyjamas.
Then there was silence again. Mum looked at me piercingly, the brush still in her hand. “Did you know about this naughty little trick?” she asked. I fell into the trap laid for me – I stupidly said ‘no, mummy’, when it was quite obvious I would have seen everything that happened.
“I’ll teach you to lie to your mother,” she said, angrily. She rose, grabbed me and put her wriggling, kicking, protesting youngest child over her knee. Then I felt that hairbrush for the first time. She went easy on me – after all, I was only four rising five – but it was still much worse than any smack bottom I had been given up to that point. Finally, I too was sent off to bed without food.
My final memory of that night is lying in my bed, next to my brother in his, neither of us saying a word but crying ourselves to sleep.
When dad came home, mum took advantage of the light summer evening and went searching for the missing clothing in the stream, eventually retrieving it with the help of a stick. By the next day, my brother’s pants had been bleached clean and were drying on the washing line.