Public caning in school – an extract from ‘Farther from the Sun’.

Trevor Mills was hard but I bet he isn’t so hard now! I bet that Trevor’s children, if he has any, are hard though!

Trevor had dark ginger hair that curled up at the back. He was big and he was surly. He had a reputation for thumping people. Teachers found him exceedingly uncooperative. He’d glare at them, snarl and refuse to comply. His aim seemed to be to stand out, disrupt every lesson and create confrontation. You could say that he liked to be noticed.

Trevor made a performance out of being caned. Usually, caning was carried out in the privacy of the Head’s study but other certain staff were not adverse to caning boys in front of a class. They seemed to delight in it.

The cane was long and springy. It was usually made of willow, about half an inch thick with a curved handle at one end.

You were bent over a desk and whacked very hard on the backside. Some teachers used a standing swish but the more robust took a run at you from across the room and launched themselves at your arse with all the power they could muster. The prefects were entitled to cane students but were not allowed to apply more than three lashes. These canings were delivered at one of their Prefect Courts held, appropriately, under the school in the cellars.

Caning was very violent. When applied with full force, as a number of teachers were keen to do, the blow split the skin across your arse in a straight line. It usually didn’t bleed much but quickly formed into a hard ridge. Around this ridge, the bruise came out like a purple welt. Over the next week, this colouration slowly spread and made its way from mauve through brown to orange and then yellow (as any biologist might tell you – mapping the progress of the breakdown of haemoglobin), to finally fade away to leave you with just a faint scar. The blood trickled from the split skin but did not gush. The pain was excruciating and normally managed to elicit a cry out of even the most hardened recipient. If you had been caned you were officially given leave to stand during lessons for the rest of the day. After all, the teaching staff weren’t sadists. They knew that it was painful and made a special dispensation for those so afflicted. I know this all too well as the result of personal experience.

Trevor was a regular recipient of corporal punishment. As with a number of other hardened miscreants, it was no deterrent; to be caned was a badge of honour. He was seemingly impervious to pain. On one occasion I saw him intimidate our poetry teacher by thrusting his face into his and then smashing his hand into the door with such force that he not only transformed the thick panel into matchwood but also must have broken every bone in his hand. He then refused to go to the sick room and sat there in the English class grinning while his hand swelled up like a balloon.

On a number of occasions, he was publicly flogged. It was intended to be a warning to everyone, to deter others from following suit. Trevor made it into a show.

His name would be called in assembly. He’d stand up and look around smiling and defiant. He would swagger to the front nonchalantly, hands in pockets, taking time to sneer and mock as he went. He would slowly climb the stairs up to the stage, grin at the Headmaster, lean forward over the table, grip the sides with his hands, rest his head on the top looking towards the gathered masses and wink. It was worthy of an Oscar.

By this time the Head would be in a fury. He’d run and jump up, bringing the cane down with all his might. It would viciously swish and thwack. Trevor remained unmoved. His eyes never blinked. There was no involuntary yelp and no tears. It was repeated for the full six. Then Trevor would lazily rise, look around as if to ask ‘Is that it?’ and stroll back off the stage. He would then deliberately sit himself down without any tangible sign of discomfort. A bravura performance.

The amount of credibility Trevor gleaned from this was enormous. The last occasion they tried it he brought the house down with spontaneous cheers.

They didn’t do it again.

13.10.01

 

I sometimes dream of those simple years, full of discovery, when life was exciting.

12.10.01

10 thoughts on “Public caning in school – an extract from ‘Farther from the Sun’.

  1. Yes I remember it well but our corporal punishment was the leather tawse or belt across the outstretched hand. If, through fear, we had the temerity to pull away even slightly, it would hit the finger tips. This was even more painful. Nonetheless, Because of our disobedience we would get the belt again and again until the sadist got it right.

    1. In Primary school, for me, it was the ruler across the back of the fingers. If you’d done something really ‘bad’ or pulled away, it was the edge of the ruler. That killed.

      1. The ruler sounds painful. Your poem describes the situation so well and is so evocative of the time. I wonder how many children took the wrong route because of their punishments and
        humiliations. You never forget the pain and yes it was often for a minor flouting of the rules.

      2. I think it caused all manner of resentment, alienation, revenge, displacement aggression and violence. Those were violent times. There were terrible fights in the playground, bullying and sullen aggression towards teachers. Thankfully schools have become much more nurturing, friendly and pleasant places.
        I think corporal punishment wrecked a number of lives.

  2. Yes, thank goodness schools are different places now. We are also living in different times. I was speaking to a friend of mine from schooldays and she told me that one of our teachers would swipe her across the head each time she passed by my friend’s desk. It wasn’t too painful but completely unnecessary and probably done merely because she could. Incidentally, I was a child of the fifties

    1. I was born in 1949 but there were terrible times in the 60s. My first lesson in PE saw most of the class caned – for nothing. I was knocked unconscious in one lesson by having a board rubber thrown at me. I spent the whole day concussed. Being picked up by the ear, having slaps, swipes and being yelled at – and I was a good kid!

      1. That sounds horrendous. I was also 1949 – A good year! It’s a wonder we didn’t have PTSD. although I’m sure a lot of children did. Then there was the emotional abuse. I remember a girl in my class who was from a poor family. None of us was rich but some were particularly poor. She had completed a spelling test with all correct answers. Good old teacher accused her of copying. Now I knew for a fact that she could spell. She was told to write the words on the blackboard for all to see. She wrote them all correct. If I knew that the girl could spell, how was it that the teacher didn’t know. Simple, the girl was poor so was completely ignored. Add to all of the above the prejudice and discrimination that abounded, it’s a wonder that any of us got through our schooldays at all. I must add though. Happy days outside the school. especially in holiday time when we had the freedom to roam and explore.

  3. Ah yes, beatings. I think I can claim a long-ago small victory on this issue.

    In 1961, I was sent to an old fashioned, Christian prep school. The same school Freeman Dyson had gone to almost 30 years earlier. In my first term, I was beaten by the headmaster (with a slipper), in front of everyone in the dormitory, for something I hadn’t done. The matron, who had to clean up the resulting mess, wasn’t impressed. He never again beat any boy in public, and when his son took over two years later, he abolished beating altogether.

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