I was in the second year of senior school, so I’d be 12. I needed a new winter coat and one day, when I got home from my lessons, my mother excitedly told me that she’d been out and bought me one.
To my horror, she brought out this black donkey jacket, of the type then worn mostly by construction workers. It had black plastic across the shoulders and looked awful. She had bought it cheap from a charity shop. I couldn’t believe how my own mother could humiliate me like that – I knew the coat would make me a laughing stock at a school where I was already being continually bullied. I made a huge fuss – why couldn’t I have a duffel coat like every other boy? But all in vain – I was told that was my new coat, and that was that.
For a couple of weeks, I wore and loathed this coat. As predicted, it drew a huge amount of derision from my peers. I looked like I’d just stepped off a building site!
I was a talented pianist, and one of the school’s concessions to my abilities was granting me permission to practise on the Steinway in the school hall before starting lessons. On these occasions, though I was not supposed to, I left my coat on chairs hidden behind the curtain of the stage in the hall, and retrieved it in the evenings.
One day, I got to the end of the day and went to the hall to retrieve the hated coat – it was not there. Incredibly naive as I was, I was overjoyed. I would tell my parents the coat had been stolen and that would finally, literally lift the curse off my shoulders.
Except it didn’t, of course. When my mother asked where on earth my coat was that night, she hit the roof and immediately called the school.
The following morning, I was summoned to see Mrs Evans, the deputy head, who was very sympathetic about me losing my coat. “Where did you leave it, Simon?” she asked. I knew I wasn’t supposed to leave my things in the hall, so I told her it had been hanging in the nearby cloakroom (as it should have been). She nodded. “You can return to your lessons for now. If you hear of anything in the meantime, let me know.”
It was early in the afternoon when a ‘runner’ came into my geography lesson and told the teacher that I was wanted by Mrs Evans. I walked to her office with equanimity, thinking she just wanted an ‘update’ on the case.
She wanted an update all right. There in her office was Mr Francis, the caretaker – and folded over a chair was my coat. “Where did you say you left it?” Mrs Evans demanded sternly. “The c-cloakroom.” “Are you quite sure, Simon?” “Yes.”
The deputy head still had a face like thunder, and turned to the caretaker. “Please tell me where you found this, Mr Francis?” “As I say – behind the stage on a pile of chairs. I thought it was lost property, so I took it to my cupboard.” “I see. Thank you, Mr Francis.” He left, grumbling to himself.
Mrs Evans turned on me the moment he had left. “Well? Do you have anything to say for yourself?” Naturally, I hadn’t – my mouth was almost too dry to speak anyway. “Do you realise that you could have got Mr Francis into a great deal of trouble? That had I not known better, I could easily have accused him of stealing your silly little boy’s coat?
“You have wasted my time, your parents’ time and put the reputation of a good employee at risk. There is only one suitable punishment for this, Simon, and that is the cane.” Mrs Evans opened a cupboard and took out the instrument of correction – the first time I had seen it. She turned the chair with my coat on it around and tapped it with the cane. “Bend over that. This will hurt very much indeed. I don’t see any reason why you shouldn’t have six of the best.”
I recall clinging on to the bentwood chair for dear life, then there was a sudden whoosh and bolt of pain through my buttocks, tightly encased in my grey schoolboy trousers. I couldn’t help but cry out. Five more strokes, just as hard and just as painful, followed. My eyes were freely watering and as I stood up, almost instinctively I burst into tears like a boy half my age.
Mrs Evans was utterly unmoved. She handed me a tissue. “Come along, now, dry your eyes. You’re a big boy and should be used to having a smacked bottom by now!”
There was a question rolling around my head and now Mrs Evans answered it: “I have phoned your mother to tell her what has happened. I informed her I was going to cane you, so she knows all about this sorry incident.” I gulped. “Will you get another punishment at home?” “I…I don’t know, Mrs Evans,” I stammered, although of course I bloody well did.
I got home to find my father back from work early. He eyed me up speculatively as I walked in the lounge. “We’ve heard all about your nonsense,” he told me shortly. “Your mother is waiting for you in your room – go there immediately.”
Our 12 stairs never felt so steep. When I got to my bedroom, Mum was sitting on my bed – and next to her was the belt she used on my backside when she felt it necessary.
“Have you got anything to say for yourself?” “I’m sorry, Mum.” “Not half as sorry as you’re going to be. Take down your trousers and pants and let’s see what the cane has done for that bottom of yours.” Although spankings were not uncommon, at 12 I was now very conscious of my body and I died with shame as I obeyed the instruction. I felt Mum’s hands on my buttocks, feeling the raised welts where the cane had done its job.
“Well, I hope that hurt – did it?” I nodded, shame-faced. “Good – you’re not going to be able to sit for a month of Sundays, my lad. Bend over your bed!” I knew it was useless to argue and that if I didn’t comply, she would fetch my father. I raised my helpless behind for the second time that day.
There was a moment or two while mum adjusted my clothing, lifting my shirt and sweater clear of the small of my back and taking my underpants all the way to my ankles. Then the belting began, and I was whipped mercilessly. All the way through my beating, Mum lectured me. I had brought shame on the family, wasted people’s time, I was an ungrateful brat. I cried unashamedly throughout as she leathered me until my bum felt twice its normal size. I was summarily sent to bed with no supper.
Strangely, though, a few weeks later mum relented – she took me to a nearby shop and bought me a conventional duffel. But getting rid of the hated coat cost my bottom dearly!