When I was nine years old, I was sent to a preparatory school in the north west of England. It was impressed upon me by my parents just how much money they were investing in my education, and the necessity to work hard and do well in my studies.
I was a bright boy and did fairly well in my first few months – except for mathematics, which was a real struggle for me. One day, the maths teacher Mr Finch* announced a test out of the blue, and began to give out question papers.
I looked hopefully at the questions, but it was as if a blind was being drawn down in my mind. I really didn’t have a clue. This was when temptation struck. The boy sitting next to me, my friend Donald Morrison, was excellent at maths. I didn’t dare speak but I began to cast what I imagined were surreptitious glances at Donald’s answers.
It wasn’t very long before he noticed what I was doing, but Donald was a kind-hearted lad and didn’t really mind – he knew I struggled in this subject. One by one, I began to copy his answers, all the while keeping a wary eye on our teacher. What I didn’t know was that Mr Finch had already cottoned on to what was happening – I suppose he was an old hand in the way of misbehaving schoolboys!
When the bell rang for the end of the lesson – and the test – we were about to get up when Mr Finch said: “Everyone may go with the exception of Beresford and Morrison.” I knew the game was up, and I felt my heart sink. Donald’s face was white as a sheet too.
As soon as all the other boys had emptied out of the classroom, Mr Finch approached the double desk at which we were sat. “I saw exactly what happened,” he said, “and you two are coming along with me to see the headmaster, right now.” We rose reluctantly and followed our teacher down the corridors to the head’s office. It felt like a dream, like it was happening to somebody else. Unfortunately, it wasn’t!
When we got to the headmaster’s office, Mr Finch told us to wait outside. He knocked and entered the office, closing the door behind him. We listened in vain to hear exactly what was being said inside, but obviously Mr Finch was stating his case. After a few minutes, he came out of the office and said: “Well, boys, I hope you think it was worth it. Morrison, you’re first – in you go.”
Donald slunk into the office. Mr Finch closed the door behind him, then strode back off up to his classroom. Again, I heard muffled voices as Mr Taylor, the headmaster, questioned him. Then there was a silence. And then…
Thwack! The unmistakeable sound of the cane meeting a boy’s bottom. I heard Donald give a little muffled cry at the impact. Two more strokes followed and then Donald came out, properly crying, and ran off down the corridor, disappearing into the toilets.
The door had closed behind him and for a few minutes, I stood there not really knowing what to do. Eventually, the door opened and the headmaster appeared. “Come along, Beresford,” he said, “I haven’t got all day.”
My heart sank a little more as I noticed the cane lying on Mr Taylor’s desk, but to my astonishment, instead of ordering me to bend over, he told me to sit down on the chair in front of his desk.
He had very penetrating blue eyes, and I remember him looking at me very intently for a while. Then he said: “Mr Finch has made me entirely aware of your disgraceful behaviour, so there is no point in you protesting innocence. Cheating in exams is an extremely serious offence, as I’m sure you are well aware.
“Morrison was very foolish indeed in allowing you to copy his work, and for his connivance he has just received three strokes of the cane. However, your offence is the far more serious one, and I really think I have no choice but to expel you.”
I had already felt sick as a dog at the prospect of the cane, but this was far worse than I expected. The shame I would bring on myself and my parents, all the money they had spent on my education wasted – it was my worst nightmare.
I began to cry and plead. “Please sir, please don’t expel me! It wasn’t Morrison’s fault, and I only copied his answers because I really had no idea, I’m just really bad at maths. Please sir!” And much more in the same vein besides.
Eventually, the head’s face softened somewhat, though he still looked grim. “All right, Beresford,” he said, “I am prepared to give you one more chance – but it will be the only one, do you hear? Blot your copybook once more, and you are out of here.” I wiped my eyes a bit and said: “Yes sir, thank you.”
“Your troubles are not yet over, however,” Mr Taylor continued. “You must be punished for your actions and that punishment will be severe. Do you understand?” I hung my head. “Yes sir.”
“Very well. You will now receive six strokes of the cane. Morrison got his on the seat of his trousers, but given the seriousness of this offence, I think that in your case it had better be on the bare buttocks. Take down your trousers and underpants.”
This was hugely embarrassing. Even when I got smacked at home, my parents always did it over trousers – I had never been punished on the bare bottom. However, it was clear I had no manoeuvring room left. I fumbled with the button and zip of my trousers, then bared myself as directed. While I did so, Mr Taylor wrote in the Punishment Book, and I was left naked from the waist down for some time until he finally picked up the cane.
He turned around the chair in which I had been sitting so that the back was facing me. “Bend over the chair – this will hurt you very much, I’m afraid,” he said.
I obeyed and very soon felt the cane being lightly tapped against my bare bum. Then it was withdrawn and brought back down with a huge thwack!
For a moment, it felt like I had been cut in half. Then my skin began to swell up and it was if a line of fire had crossed my bottom. The sting was indescribable. At the second stroke, I lost all dignity and began to sob like a smacked toddler. I really have no clear memory of how I got through all six strokes.
Towards the end – I can’t remember after which stroke – the burning was so unbearable I went to stand up, but I felt Mr Taylor’s firm hand in the small of my back. He spoke more kindly now: “Good boy,” he said, “almost done.”
The end of the punishment is a complete blur in my mind. I presume I was told to pull my pants back up and had some sort of lecture, but all I remember now is the world of pain in my rear end. I went to the toilets, where I discovered Donald washing his face, and we snuck into a cubicle to compare ‘war wounds’.
His were really quite impressive – three smart stripes across his bum, but he was horrified at what he saw when I dropped my own pants. Craning to look over my shoulder, I could see my behind was a blaze of red. I put my hand down and could feel the ridges of the individual cane strokes.
I had a sore, bruised bottom for about a week. That night, our dormitory matron was so concerned by what she saw that she took me into the bathroom privately and smeared my bum with cold cream before I was put to bed, bottom still throbbing and a horrid greasy feeling inside the seat of my pyjamas from the cream.
These days, I’m sure Mr Taylor would be charged with assault, but I don’t bear any grudge whatsoever. I was thoroughly taught an important lesson about honesty, and have never cheated again at anything in my entire life – I’m now 72 years young!
- Editor’s note: All names – apart from the contributor’s first name – have been changed in this story at his request.