During my childhood, I never asked outright for a smacking – but there were a few situations where I was offered a choice between corporal punishment and a non-physical sanction and I chose the former.
One such incident was in junior first, when I was about eight – in fact, not too long before the smacking from Mrs Thompson I mentioned in a previous story.
I’m ashamed to say that I and a few other lads at school had been quite nasty to a girl in the form below us. She was very skinny, with buck teeth and thick ‘milk bottle’ glasses (in the classic sickly pink NHS plastic), and we picked on her. I deeply regret it now, and was lucky to find her on the Friends Reunited website about 15 years ago and apologise – an apology she accepted.
However, at this particular time she eventually did tell a teacher about the bullying. Ironically, the girls in her own form sent her to Coventry for this, because some of them had pashes on us and they were all universally against ‘sneaking’.
Anyway, us lads were duly summoned to the headmaster’s office. He was a tall, slender man and all sorts of rumours were spread about him. He explained very calmly that we were bullies and that he didn’t tolerate bullying in his school.
Then he gave us a choice – either we could be caned in assembly, or we could visit the school every week day during the summer holidays and help clean and repair the school. All of us near-instantaneously chose the caning – we didn’t want to lose our summers!
It was assembly the next day when we were called up, after prayers and hymns. Public canings were quite rare and everyone was rather excited. A few of the smallest children from the infants started crying, knowing it would be scary to watch.
The headmaster explained our behaviour to the school, and we were made to apologise to the girl, which we did. He then stood up from his wooden chair and briefly left the room to fetch his cane (a very thin, slightly pointy yellowish stick with brown rings down the length – not crook-handled, as in most fiction, but just straight. He gestured with the cane to the first boy, who obediently bent over with his hands on the chair, while the headmaster applied six firm strokes.
When it was my turn, I was sweating profusely and scared. I’d been caned twice before, in private, and I knew how horribly painful it was. I bent over and gripped the edge of the chair, determined to ‘take it like a man’. My friends before me had all turned very red and cried out a few times, but none had burst into tears, and I was determined to be stoic and silent. Well, I just about managed it! Those six strokes were searingly hot across my young bottom, but they definitely taught me a lesson about bullying.
That night at home, I didn’t get a choice between corporal and non-corporal punishment. Mum saw the stripes on my backside when I undressed for my bath and promptly put me across her knee, thrashing me with her clothes brush while I tried desperately to escape. When I confessed the caning had been for bullying, she gave me another round of whacks, making me wish I’d stayed quiet!
I don’t know that corporal punishment for children is very effective, and I definitely don’t think it’s ethical but in this particular situation, I most definitely learned my lesson. My bottom was sore, throbbing nastily as I lay in bed that night, and it forced me to think about the girl’s face when she’d burst into tears at our nasty words. Guilt hit me like a brick, and I promised myself I would never again be a bully.
I’m not sure a summer of gruelling work would have had quite the same impact.