During the early 1990s, spanking (or smacking, as we generally call it in the UK) was in transition. It was not frowned upon by the majority and it still happened a lot more than it does now, but it was not universal in the way it was in the 60s and 70s.
This led to some unusual and unfair situations. One such instance, when I was around 10, happened when I was with my cousins. We were a large, extended family and were spread out all over the UK (and indeed elsewhere), but every New Year we would gather together on the southern English city where my grandparents lived.
They had a relatively large Edwardian House, which always felt very atmospheric for me as a child, particularly as the layout in the particular street was unusual, as the rooms you would normally associate with downstairs (kitchen, living room and dining room) were upstairs, meaning most of the social activity tended to be there with the downstairs relatively quiet.
This New Year was busy, with the house teeming with cousins. Most of them were older than me and would want to ignore me, a few much younger but two close in age – Robyn, a year younger, and Thomas, who was two years younger. We naturally gravitated towards each other, being stuck in the middle between moody teenager cousins far removed from us in interests and status and what we considered the ‘little kids’.
At the time of this incident, we were bored. We had played downstairs away from the adults, and taken the conversations and role playing as far as they could go, so we asked if we could go to the park. This was right across the road and in easy viewing distance from the windows, and the road was not busy, so our parents readily agreed.
The park was a good open area, and we could play a few ball games but we soon lost interest in these, as there was only so much that could keep us entertained.
So my cousin Robyn had the idea of ‘cherry knocking’ – knocking on doors and running away. This seemed to be exciting – we knew it was naughty but the idea of having to hide in time was thrilling at that age, as stupid as it seems to adult eyes looking back on it.
We did a number of doors where we either knocked and ran away (normally behind parked cars). Most doors either opened and shortly closed, nonplussed but unconcerned, or didn’t open at all.
As fun as it had started, it had probably reached its climax and having not been caught, we went back to the park. However, shortly afterwards we were called back into the house by our mothers from the small balcony on the house. We thought nothing of this summons, assuming it it was time for dinner or they were concerned we might be getting too cold.
However, when we got back inside the large entrance hall, we were met with three stern looking faces, asking us what we had been doing. It was clear we had been rumbled. Protestations of innocence quickly became partial and then full confessions after our mothers contradicted our accounts with their eye witness testimony – we had forgotten just how well everything could be observed from that upstairs living room.
Thomas and I were taken into one room by our mothers, with my aunt taking Robyn into another one. We were told how disappointed they were, how it could scare an elderly person coming to the door to find nobody there, and how much we had embarrassed them.
Getting a smacked bottom was not an absolute inevitability at my age and until now, I had held out the hope that I would just be told off. However, the tone of voice my mother used made that hope vanish – as did the fact that my aunt told Thomas he was going to get one now – my mother could hardly let me off a smacking in the circumstances.
We were both soon having our trousers and pants taken down and were then put over the respective maternal knee, each mother having a hairbrush to hand.
They seemed to be in competition with each other; as if by having had their own parental skills called into question by our misbehaviour, the only way to redeem their ‘good mother’ status was to thoroughly redden our bottoms.
I can’t count recall how many smacks Thomas and I both got, but it was certainly sufficient to have us crying and truly penitent. We were then both sent to opposite corners of the room, with strict instructions not to pull our pants up or move, but to think about what we did.
Our mothers left the room and during that time, the crying subsided to sobs and vision returned from the blur it had been. At that point, the embarrassment started to rise. We both glanced at each other, seeing a red bottom across the room. I can remember thinking how ridiculous Thomas looked with his pants still bunched around his ankles, and then blushing as I realised I must look the same way.
The one blessing was that the room was not used much – it was used to house a few of my grandfather’s special belongings in ordinary times and to sleep one of the families at New Year but otherwise not much happened in the day.
After what seemed an age (but was probably no more than 20 minutes), our parents returned. We were both ordered to turn around. We were told that the punishment should serve as a reminder, and given threats of worse to follow if anything happened again. Then we were ordered to pull up our pants and trousers back and go back upstairs to rejoin the rest of the family.
Before we did, we spent a little time trying to reduce the evidence of our crying as best we could, and discussed how ‘unfair’ our punishment had been. I guess we were both embarrassed at having another boy seeing us cry (something boys were not supposed to do) and the humiliation of having our bottoms and privates exposed in front of each other.
Worse was to follow, though, when we returned sheepishly upstairs. There were more than a few knowing looks – it was known what we had done and very obvious, if not explicitly state, that a humiliating price had been paid. We both felt like pariahs and very ‘babyish’ for having both been spanked and our punishment being known.
The final straw was seeing Robyn happily talking to some of our older cousins, as if she was an equal to their exalted teenage status. She had merely been told off and given a lecture on why she shouldn’t do it. I later found out from her that her mother didn’t believe in spanking, and that she was ‘far too old’ for it anyway.
It took a while for either of us to forgive her after that. A smacked bottom is embarrassing enough, but worse if a younger peer is exempt from it.