When I was a little girl, like many children, I didn’t care much for fresh fruit and vegetables, but there was one exception – I absolutely adored cherries.
In the days when you can get pretty much anything at any time of year from the supermarket, people may find it hard to think of cherries as a luxury item, but in 1960s Britain they certainly were, and only available for a short season. So, for me, cherries were as big a treat as a bar of chocolate.
I remember a particular trip to the grocers with Mum when I think I’d be about seven. I was overjoyed to see this season’s stock of cherries had arrived, and I begged Mum to buy me some. She agreed to get me a quarter (pound, yes, back in imperial measurement days!), provided I promised only to have a few at a time, as they were relatively expensive, particularly at the beginning of the season. I duly gave her my word.
Well, we got home and after lunch, I was allowed four or five cherries to finish my meal. They were a vivid red and absolutely delicious. When I had had my allowance, Mum placed the brown paper bag with the rest of the cherries on the kitchen counter top.
She presently went off upstairs to hoover the bedrooms, and I saw this as a chance to try just one more cherry. I took one from the bag and popped it in my mouth. I really truly had meant to have only one more but the devil entered into me, and I kept eating them pretty much unconsciously.
I don’t remember how many I actually ate, but there came a point where my sticky little hand was pretty much full of cherry stones I had spat out – and to my horror, the bag of fruit was almost empty. I hastily scrunched it up and replaced it on the counter top. I went out into the garden and dug a little hole, where I buried the stones. Then I washed my hands to remove any telltale stains, and went back to playing outdoors. I just hoped it would all be forgotten about.
Alas, it was not to be. After our tea that night, Mum said to me: “Do you want some more cherries?” I tried to get out of it by saying I wasn’t hungry, but I had wolfed down my main meal and Mum told me not to be so silly. “They don’t keep fresh for many days, Clare, so you might as well have a few more now,” she said. I shut my eyes as her hand went to the bag.
Then: “Where have these all gone?” I said I didn’t know. Then I admitted I’d had ‘a few’. Finally, I said in desperation: “You just said yourself they don’t keep!”
I suspect that had I just straight out admitted to sneaking the fruit, I would probably have escaped with a mild telling-off. But I had now told a lie and spoken disrespectfully to my mother – and those two sins were about to be punished in short order.
“You’re a naughty, naughty, deceitful little girl,” Mum shouted at me. She turned to my father. “Take her upstairs for a smacked bottom, please, Daddy.”
Apparently Dad was in complete agreement as to the seriousness of my offence. He drew the chair I was sitting on away from the kitchen table, took me firmly by the hand and marched me up to my bedroom, where he promptly sat down on my bed. He drew me close to where he was sitting, then his hands went up my school uniform skirt. I screamed as I now realised chastisement was at hand but Dad took no notice and lowered my knickers to my ankles – then I was put across his knee.
Now gazing at the carpet, I felt a cool breeze as Dad turned up the seat of my skirt to reveal my bare bottom. Putting one arm firmly around my waist, he began to smack my buttocks hard. Dad only ever used his hand on me but it was hardened by years of manual labour and stung quite as much as a belt or paddle. I remember screaming my head off as spank after spank landed on my poor little bottom, but Dad didn’t let up and I was hurting so much by the time he had done smacking me that I barely remember it finishing.
“Get into your nightclothes, clean your teeth, and straight into bed!” Dad said. “And if you’re not there when I come back up in ten minutes, you’ll get another good hiding, my girl!”
Needless to say, I got into my nightie, scrubbed my teeth and climbed into bed, all the while still crying, in double-quick time. Dad came into check on me, gave me a soft kiss on my lips and told me: “Your Mum and I still love you, but you have been a very naughty girl, and the right punishment for that is a good smacked bottom. Go to sleep now – it’ll all be forgiven and forgotten by the morning.”
When he left, I needed a wee so went to the bathroom to do my business. While I was there, I lifted up the back of my nightie and inspected the damage in the mirrored doors of the medicine cabinet. My bum looked like one big cherry – shiny and red from the smacking my father had just given me. But I was never so sneaky again and learned an important lesson.
Even though they are now generally less expensive and available pretty much all year round, I still love cherries. However, I can’t eat ever one today without thinking of the time that fruit landed me, bare bottom up, over my Dad’s knee!