In spite of him usually being far more patient and good-natured than Mum, there was one area where our father’s tolerance was surprisingly lower – bath time.
Being a hard working GP (who incidentally was also spending time conducting an affair, although we obviously didn’t know that then), Dad often arrived home late, usually just in time for myself and my little sister’s nightly bath.
Keen to spend time with us, and presumably feeling guilty about his prolonged absences, Dad would generally always be the one to carry out our bedtime routine. He would bathe and dry us, get our pyjamas on and supervise us as we brushed our teeth and had a last wee.
Then it would be into bed for a story, cuddle, kiss and lights out. This was our favourite part of the day, as Dad was a lot more loving and gentle than Mum, who had an extremely volatile temper. I should say at this juncture that my beloved father was never, ever inappropriate with us, as I realise the thought may enter some people’s minds when talking about bath time. He was, and is, always just a loving and kind father.
Despite this, Dad was never at his most patient on weekdays and arriving home from work in the evening – tired, hungry, stressed and likely being nagged by my mum – he had no tolerance for any bath time shenanigans on the part of his young daughters. For Dad (or certainly for stressed-out ‘weekday dad’), baths were strictly functional – get washed, rinsed and nothing more. No rubber ducks, silly toys, and absolutely no splashing and making a mess of the bathroom.
In general we followed these rules – but sometimes we did fall short, and on those occasions our bums paid the price for our naughtiness and disobedience. I would say that around 75% of the smackings we received from Dad at that point in our lives were for bath or bed time naughtiness.
The main occasion I remember Charlotte and I getting our bums reddened at bath time occurred when I think we were about six and four respectively, although I can’t recall our exact ages. We used to share the bath as we were still very young and small, and it was just quicker and easier all round if we were bathed at the same time.
The only drawback of this was that when we were annoyed with each other, there was an overwhelming temptation for each of us to splash water in our annoying sister’s face! We largely managed to avoid this urge, or do a half-hearted tiny splash in the other’s direction, without making any mess – but on the day in question, we were not so restrained.
It must have been the school and nursery holidays, as I can remember we had spent all day together and had been annoying each other for the entire day, culminating in an argument over which video to watch at TV time. Bizarrely, I can remember exactly that she wanted to watch – a programme called Brum – which I felt was too babyish, instead wanting to watch Rosie and Jim!
The argument didn’t get a chance to get too heated, as mum came in and gave us each two or three warning smacks to the front of our thighs. After this we didn’t dare continue – we had plentiful and painful experience of what would happen if we did, and so by bath time there was still a lot of unresolved tension between us.
We must have been old enough to be safely left for a few minutes, and I remember Dad leaving us soaking in the warm water whilst he ran downstairs to speak to mum. Disgusting though it is to say, I remember Charlotte had a runny nose, and as I looked at her face with snot running down it (we hadn’t been washed yet), I felt a flash of repulsion and rage. On a whim, I cupped my little hands together and scooped up water, tossing it towards her face. She squealed in shock but soon retaliated, and before long it escalated into a full-scale water fight.
We must have made quite a racket as we tossed and splashed water at each other, squealing and shouting the entire time. As I was facing the door, I noticed Dad re-enter the room first, his usual kind expression replaced with one of absolute shock and horror at our behaviour. Charlotte, meanwhile, was at the opposite end of the tub, and didn’t notice Dad push open the door, which he had kept ajar when he’d left the room just a few minutes previously.
I had stopped splashing and was staring at the doorway whilst my clueless little sister scooped up another handful of water – before realising that I was staring at something, and quickly turning to see what I was looking at. I honestly don’t think she could have done it again if she’d tried, but somehow Charlotte managed to toss the water in her cupped hands out of the bathtub (as her body was turned outwards) just as Dad strode towards us. The water landed slap-bang on his black, shiny work shoes.
His face reddened with anger as he reached into the bath and retrieved his now tearful youngest daughter. He had a hand under each of Charlotte’s armpits and I remember watching her from the odd position of sitting in the bath, as her chubby little body dangled above me.
Dad was wearing a pale blue shirt with the sleeves rolled up to his elbows. He very quickly adjusted Charlotte’s position so that she was held, bent at the waist, in the crook of his left arm, her little torso dangling down one side whilst her chubby bum and legs inelegantly dangled down the other.
I remember watching in shock and awe, thinking my daddy must be the strongest man in the entire world, as he seemingly effortlessly held his four-year-old daughter over one arm. His strong hand and wrist were bent upwards, cupping Charlotte’s outermost hip. I can recall the contrast between her smooth pale skin, and his rough, hairy arm.
Charlotte had already started to wriggle and squirm in anticipation of what was coming, and probably also from the fear of dangling in such a frightening position. In retrospect, it doesn’t seem like an overly secure way of holding a slippery, wet child but luckily she didn’t fall! My sister was pleading with Dad not to smack her, and repeatedly apologising, the panic evident in her voice.
Dad completely ignored her pleas and raised his large right hand, painfully slapping her little bare bum. She gasped, presumably winded by the extra pain of having been struck on a wet bum, before immediately bursting into loud and sorrowful sobs. I remember noting with interest the difference in sound from a usual smack, the wetness of Charlotte’s bottom obviously being the cause.
Dad repeated this again and again, and by the third smack Charlotte’s little chubby legs were kicking in all directions as she struggled to escape her painful punishment. I remember sitting in the warm bath water, watching the scene unfold in front of me. At the time I had no idea why, but I was tightly clenching my tummy and repeatedly squeezing my own little thighs lightly together and apart as I sat in the tub, keenly watching my sister’s punishment as she dangled above me.
I’ll never forget watching her little legs furiously kicking in all directions, her bum turning redder and sorer with each smack, her cries getting louder and more desperate as her bum got progressively more painful. I think dad only smacked her around 10 to 15 times, although for the 30 or so seconds it lasted, I was utterly enthralled – so much so, that I forgot I would be next!
Dad set the sobbing Charlotte back down in the bathtub, her cries increasing as her sore, hot bum met the warm water, followed by the hard surface of the tub. “Sit still and behave herself,” he warned her. However, as soon as Dad released her from his grasp, Charlotte jumped up to a standing position, clutching her sore backside. I watched as her chubby little tummy shuddered with each sob and her red, tearful face was stuck in a painful grimace, her mouth set open, as sob after trembling sob escaped it.
Dad quickly gave her a sharp stinging smack on the thigh, eliciting louder sobs. “What did I just say?” he asked in a low but firm voice. The only sound she made in response to his question was a choking sob. “Charlotte? What did I just say?” he repeated, with a fresh smack to the back of her wet thigh. This one sounded louder, sorer, harder.
Despite her young age and distress, Charlotte obviously realised she was skating dangerously close to getting her bum skelped again. “T-to sit down and b-behave,” she stuttered through pained wails. “Correct,” Dad replied, as he put his hands on each of her shoulders and pushed Charlotte back down into a sitting position.
So enthralled was I with all that was happening to my sister’s little bottom that it wasn’t until I saw dad’s arms reaching towards me that I remembered that my own rear end would be getting his attention too. Tears sprung to my eyes as I immediately started begging dad to spare me. As with Charlotte, he just reached his hands under each of my armpits and lifted me out of the tub. The cold air immediately hit me as I was plucked from the safety of the warm bath.
Clearly, Dad quickly realised that his little six-year-old would be slightly harder to hold over his forearm, so he set me on the ground, my feet squelching on the wet towel we had soaked during our water fight. He pushed my little hands towards one of the lower rungs of the towel rail and instructed me to hold the position.
I had no time to think about how ridiculous I must have looked – leaning forward, head down, my little bum aloft – as dad didn’t waste any time in smacking me hard. The first blow did indeed knock the wind out me, as it had done with Charlotte, the residual dampness of my bottom adding an additional dimension of pain.
By four or five smacks I was tightly grasping the bar of the towel rail, desperate to let go and clutch my stinging and burning bum instead. The sound of my wailing was amplified by the tiled bathroom and I can remember tightening my grip on the towel rail with each additional smack. I was desperately trying to divert my mind from my aching bum, which was no doubt reddening, as my knuckles turned white, clinging on for dear life.
I was vaguely aware of my bum wriggling around, swaying from side to side, thrusting back and forth, hula-hooping in circles – anything to try to get away from Dad’s hand and the pain it was inflicting on my bottom. Meanwhile, my little feet were dancing up and down on the spot, trying to march away from the burning sting in my rear. I felt each of Dad’s hands on my hips as he firmly gripped me and told me to keep still or he’d smack my legs (which I found, and find even to this day, infinitely more painful than a bum smacking). I managed to hold my position for the final few smacks.
Finally I was lifted – sobbing, contrite and thoroughly ashamed of myself – and plonked back in the bath tub. My bum felt the same surge of pain as Charlotte’s must have done have when hitting that warm water and then the surface of the tub. However, I at least learned from her mistake and stayed sitting. I cried and gurned, my little tearful face no doubt as red as my bum.
Dad soaped up two flannels and thrust them toward each of us, instructing us to wash ourselves. Thankfully, it wasn’t a hair-washing night so we weren’t in the bath for too long. We washed and rinsed our little bodies, our sobs slowly quietening to whimpers and sniffles. Dad stood us both up and washed our backs, bums, and the back of our thighs – eliciting a flood of fresh tears from each of us as our already painful little buttocks were scrubbed with the flannel.
We were again lifted from the tub, but mercifully this time it was just to get dried off. We clumsily patted and rubbed ourselves with the soft and fluffy towels while Dad went to our bedrooms to get our pyjamas. The sound of the bath water draining filled the room as Dad lifted our pyjama tops over our heads, our arms held high to meet the sleeves. He helped us step into our pyjama bottoms, before instructing us to brush our teeth. We were unsure if we would be getting a story that night, or if we would be sent straight to bed – but neither of us dared ask.
Teeth cleaned, we took it in turns to sit on the toilet for a final wee. We didn’t argue as we usually did about whose turn it was to flush the toilet after we’d both been. Instead, we stood meekly as Dad lowered the seat and pressed the lever. Hands washed and dried, we stood looking at our feet, unsure of what awaited us.
“Laura, Charlotte,” Dad addressed us, “Daddy was really very disappointed with your behaviour this evening.” At this, we both started crying again, hot shame and regret making my tummy plunge, as I listened to Dad telling us off. “You’ve given Daddy extra work having to clean the bathroom, and you’ve soaked his work shoes.”
At this, I heard Charlotte’s choked sob, clearly full of contrition, shame and remorse. “But,” he continued, “you’ve been punished and that’s the matter closed. Will you be splashing each other and soaking the bathroom ever again?” “No daddy!” we eagerly replied in unison, relieved at his quick forgiveness. He crouched down and cuddled one of us under each arm, gently kissing the tops of our heads.
“Right – story time”, he announced, scooping us up, as we wrapped our legs around his hips. He carried us to the playroom and started reading us the next chapter of Roald Dahl’s Matilda; us lying side by side, face down across his lap on the playroom settee, bent elbows digging into the soft cushion as we rested our heads in our hands.
We smiled and giggled as Dad did all the silly voices for the characters. Shortly afterwards we were carried to our bedrooms, lights were turned out, there was an additional kiss to our foreheads and whispered goodnights were exchanged. Other than sleeping on our tummies, we were none the worse for wear after our smackings.