It had not taken me long to discover that all the masters had their own peculiarities and quirks and we found endless sources of interest and even amusement in discussing them and trying to work out how to get round them. In particular, we discussed endlessly the differences between the various canes that the masters used and the kinds of pain that they inflicted.
Mr Evans used a fairly standard rattan cane and he liked to make jokes with his victims as he whacked their backsides. Sometimes he gave a full six and then it was pretty painful, but usually it was four and most of us could take four without squealing.
On one occasion he discovered that my friend, Laing, didn't know his nine times table, whereupon he made him bend over and touch his toes at the front of the class and recite the table from that position. Every time Laing hesitated or made a mistake – and you can bet that every hesitation or mistake was greeted with a shout from the rest of us – Mr Evans lashed the cane down across his bottom, not hard but enough to sting and, as we discovered afterwards, leave a stripe across his skin. Laing struggled through to twelve times nine at a cost of nine or ten strokes of the cane. Next day he had to repeat the exercise, again reciting the table as he touched his toes at the front of the class. This time he got through it with only three strokes, but they were a bit harder. The third day he managed the whole table without any mistakes at all.
Mr Duckering, on the other hand, caned boys only rarely and shared a cane with Captain Scully in the next room. As I discovered when I was initiated by Mr Duckering it was a long, very whippy cane that left sharp, stinging lines of bruise across our bottoms. Mr Duckering never gave less than six and he never joked about a beating. And, of course, the boy to be beaten had to go next door to ask for the cane, and then return it afterwards with his bottom stinging like fury and the boys in Captain Scully's class making fun of him. Instead of touching toes, Mr Duckering made us bend over his desk and the general opinion was that this made it easier to hold still for the beating but, because your backside was held in a more precise position, made it hurt just a little bit more.
Captain Scully himself taught English and there were certain spelling mistakes that earned an automatic stroke of the cane. If a boy made one of those – say, wrote 'their' when it should have been 'there' – he drew a little crossed-canes sign in the margin and the boy got one whack for each sign he had. He would give the books out and then reach for the cane. Then all the boys with signs in their books had to stand up. Captain Scully then went round the room asking each standing boy how many strokes he had to have; the boy told him (truthfully, because he checked sometimes) and bent forward over his desk; the captain hoisted the boy's jacket, and applied the cane good and hard to his trembling backside.
Once, I opened my book and found fifteen crossed-canes and my stomach heaved up towards my mouth. Fifteen! I stood up fearfully, not daring to look at Captain Scully and his cane at the front of the class. Court was the only other boy standing – which made it worse somehow.
"How many, England?" demanded the captain.
The form stared in disbelief. Twenty-three! Surely he wouldn't give Court all twenty-three!
"The pair of you had better come out here." I eased myself out of my desk and walked reluctantly to the front. I was caned first and he made me bend over the desk in the front row and Jones, who was sitting there, had to hold me down, which I felt was really insulting. I felt the captain hoist my jacket and then, cruelly, pull my shirt clear of my trousers so that there were only two thin layers of cloth protecting me. The caning started fairly easily, but after nine or ten the pain started to build and by the time it was over I was having to bite my lip to stop myself from squealing.
Court got every one of the twenty-three strokes he'd been sentenced to. Everyone said that the first dozen hardly counted because they weren't laid on hard, but I knew how even these easier strokes could make a boy's bottom sting and, as it were, lay a foundation for the later, much harder strokes to work on. Court was squealing by the end and the last four or five made him squirm over the desk and Jones had to hold him still.
Nearly every day somebody in our form was caned and I don't think we were particularly naughty. We all took it for granted. There wasn't a single boy in the form who had not felt a cane across his bottom and this created a kind of solidarity amongst us that caused us to look out for each other much more than I suspect was the case in non-caning schools – though, of course, we had no idea that such places existed. Being caned was an intrinsic part of being a schoolboy. In the baths or the dorm as we were getting ready for bed, nearly every tight little bottom had its share of red or purple or black stripes.
I was caned at least once a week, often more. I didn't like it, naturally, but accepted it as part of the life of school, which I still loved, and couldn't wait to get back to when I was at home on holiday. Once the immediate sting of the cane had faded I put it out of my mind. I was much more resentful of other kinds of punishment on the rare occasions when they were imposed. Mr Sayers once gave Laing and I the choice of a hundred lines or four strokes of the cane: both of us chose the cane without any hesitation at all.
Every day we had six lessons with different masters and one day when we were in the second form, my friend, Studland, was caned in all six lessons. The day – it was a Thursday, I remember – started with English: he had four crossed-canes in his margin. Four stingers from Captain Scully. Then we went on to Geography. Studland and Springer were noisy as we lined up. Three strokes each from Mr Chappell. Next it was Latin and Mr Newbatt objected to the ink blots on Studland's homework. That was worth three more strokes of the cane. Then it was Maths and Mr Evans was in a bad mood. Studland dropped his box of instruments in the middle of a complicated explanation of fractions.
"Out!" ordered Mr Evans. Studland was placed in a touching toes position and left there till the explanation was finished. Then, out came the cane. Six scorchers across the seat of his trousers.
Over lunch we examined Studland's backside. A fascinating collage of criss-crossing bruise. He tried to claim that it wasn't sore, but we could tell from the way he sat down that he was very tender.
First lesson after lunch was French. Three strokes from Mr Cook for talking unnecessarily. Last lesson of the day – History. Mr Francis was in a foul mood and by the end of the lesson over half the class had been out to the front for a dose of the cane. Fortunately he wasn't a very powerful caner, but my six of the best still stung quite a bit. And Studland squealed as the cane lashed down on all the other weals of the day.
Actually, I think the last two he was trying to get because someone at lunchtime sort of challenged him to see if he could get a caning in all six lessons, and I think he could have avoided the last two if he'd really wanted to. Which just goes to show how much we took being beaten for granted. Even when it hurt as much as those last two doses must have done, it just wasn't worth trying to avoid it.
I was in the third form and had just had my tenth birthday when Mr Poole arrived to be the new PT master and he made his mark immediately. He insisted that boys should wear nothing but their white PT shorts for gym lessons and that the shorts had to be spotless. Shorts, like all our other clothes, went to the laundry on Friday, and, he said, there was no excuse for filthy kit. On the Wednesday of the third week of the term I accidentally dropped my shorts in a puddle as we were trouping across to the gym.
When Mr Poole saw them, his voice went dangerously quiet. "You can't wear those, England. Get them off."
"But I've got nothing else on, sir."
"That's all right, England. We won't mind. And it means that the whacking I'm about to give you will be all the more effective." My heart sank. He was going to whack my bare bottom. And I just knew that it was going to be a lot worse than those spankings from Miss Nolan. I went to my peg and sorrowfully peeled off the dirty shorts. I felt no shame at being naked, but it was difficult to appear unconcerned when all the other boys were comfortably clothed.
"And while I'm at it," said Mr Poole, "there are one or two others whose shorts look a bit grubby."
Even the most searching inspection only revealed two other boys whose shorts were less than spotless, but Scholes and Springer also had to strip off and prepare to be beaten. Scholes's small round backside was smooth and clear of marks, but Springer had been caned only yesterday and the stripes were still vivid and clear across the white of his skin. And I knew that my own rear end bore the remains of two or three different beatings. The three of us trooped forlornly into the gym where the rest of the form was waiting for the fun. My heart sank still further when I saw what Mr Poole was going to hit us with. In his hand was a large wooden bat, like a double-size ping-pong bat, and it was easy to imagine what it was going to feel like.
But there was still worse to come. Mr Poole pulled down one of the beams that we sometimes exercised on. Then he made the three of us hang from the beam and pulled it back up till our backsides were at a convenient height. My feet must have been a good foot off the floor. Up till then, of course, we'd been standing there with our hands clutched over our privates, but now we were hanging there with everything on full show. I wasn't really very embarrassed by this, but you can bet your life that I wasn't enjoying it either.
"There," he announced. "The meat rack. Any boy who displeases me gets a spell on the meat rack. And any horrible little boy who drops off before I've finished tenderising his rump starts the treatment all over again from the beginning."
I could sense the excitement in the rest of the form. I felt slightly sick and adjusted my grip on the bar. I was determined to hold tight and not have to repeat the punishment. Scholes was paddled first. He yelled aloud as every slap struck home. There were three. Then it was Springer's turn. He yelled too as the bat hit his tight little buttocks. Mr Poole was about to deliver the third when Springer could hold on no longer and fell to the floor.
"Back on the rack, Springer," ordered Mr Poole. He had to jump for the beam and then hung there trying hard not to cry. "I'll just do England and come back to you."
I held my breath and tried desperately not to clench the muscles in my bottom. The slap of the bat forced the pent-up breath out of my lungs and filled my backside with sudden searing pain. It felt like nothing I had ever felt before; like the worst caning, but covering the whole of my bum. The second made me cry out and then I hardly felt the third because the stinging could get no worse. I wanted to rub at the pain but I knew that dropping off the beam would mean that it got much, much worse.
Mr Poole returned to Springer and delivered another three stinging slaps of the paddle. Springer yelled for each one but held on. For what seemed like ages we had to hang there allowing the form to view our scarlet, burning backsides, but then he released us and we could rub at ourselves.
"And remember, boys, if your shorts are dirty tomorrow, it'll be four of the paddle."
And now we had a problem. Clean kit was on Friday and today was Wednesday. Thursday's PT lesson fell in between. We went to matron and begged her to let us have our clean shorts a day early. We even explained what would happen if she didn't but she was unmoved. Routine was routine and she wasn't prepared to upset her routine just to save three boys from a bit of a whacking.
There was only one thing we could do. During breakfast we excused ourselves one by one, shot up to the washroom where all the kit hung on our pegs and changed shorts with someone else. I took Jacobs'; Scholes helped himself to Mason's and Springer swapped with Hodson. I felt bad about doing this, especially to a boy who I quite liked, but needs must. My behind still felt tender from the paddling. When the lesson arrived my heart was in my mouth. I thought it must have been obvious that Jacobs was wearing the shorts I'd had on yesterday.
The funny thing was, I don't think Jacobs noticed till Mr Poole made him strip off. He couldn't say anything without sneaking on me. For a few seconds when he was hanging there on the beam, stark naked, I thought of stepping forward and confessing, but then it was too late. The paddle slapped down on his bottom and the last one made him yell.
Later that day we had a fight over it, but it was only for the sake of saving face and Jacobs didn't feel too hard done by. We both knew that it was quite probable that sooner or later I'd have to take a beating for him. Together we hatched a plan to celebrate the next birthday that came along by getting the birthday boy's shorts dirty. That way he could enjoy his birthday properly with Mr Poole's paddle tenderising his rump. Strangely enough, that was Springer's only three weeks later. We put a couple of footprints on the seat of his shorts and Mr Poole went bananas. Springer had already shown that he couldn't take three of the paddle, and we all thought he was a bit wet because of that. This time, Mr Poole offered him the choice of three on the meat rack or six over his knees. He should have chosen six. There was no way he was going to hang there and take even three whacks. In the end he got nearly a dozen and was wailing terribly. I suppose I should have felt guilty, but I didn't.