There are various reasons why parents send their children to public schools. With many it is tradition; the father went and so the son follows. Others perceive that an excellent education will be obtained; they do not realise that an equally good education may be obtained in the state sector and that ninety percent of education comes from the parents themselves. The nouveau riche believe in "networking". For some it is pure snobbery. For myself, I believe that the primary purpose is to produce gentlemen. I do not of course say that it is necessary to go to a public school to become a gentleman, far from it. I have met gentlemen in all walks of life, and equally have met many who consider themselves to be gentlemen who in my estimation do not merit the title.
A gentleman is not measured by his income, clothes, education or occupation. Being a gentleman is a frame of mind. It is impossible to list all the characteristics of a gentleman. A gentleman is a gentle man, but he will be aroused to righteous indignation when he encounters injustice. He is courteous and considers the feelings of others. He knows intuitively the difference between etiquette and good manners. A gentleman is self confident, but never arrogant.
Arrogance. Many public schoolboys are accused of arrogance. There is a fine line between arrogance and self-confidence. I abhor arrogance. I abominate arrogance. I loathe arrogance. I consider it my prime duty as a public school master to eliminate arrogance wherever I find it.
When I was a prep school master I heard a boy from a farming family say to another that his family was superior to the other boys who were in trade. I thrashed him so hard that years later the gentleman who was the boy told me that he winced every time he heard the word "trade".
I recently had to deal with a severe case of arrogance: Garth Minor, aged fifteen. He was highly intelligent and outwardly a very pleasant boy, but a snob of epic proportions, both intellectually and socially. I had many chats with him, but I was largely unsuccessful in changing his attitude. One day there was an incident (I shall not bore you with the details) which led me to take decisive action.
I called Garth Minor into my study and informed him that his attitude was totally unacceptable and that I would therefore have to thrash him severely. He threw back his head and informed me that if I touched him his father, who was a school governor, would have something to say about it. I said I would consider the matter and dismissed him.
That evening I telephoned the boys father. At first he was reluctant to agree that I should have a free hand. However, an oblique reminder about an incident with a fag when he was a prefect soon had him conceding that a good caning would do the boy the world of good. I suggested, and he readily agreed, that he would write a letter confirming his agreement to the action I proposed.
The letter arrived two days later. I called Garth Minor into my study. He strutted in. I asked him to sit down and handed him the letter.
"You will note the crest on the letterhead," I said, a little wickedly. "Please be good enough to read the letter aloud.
"Thank you for drawing my attention to...." he began in a hesitating, low voice.
"I did say aloud. Speak up, boy."
"Thank you for drawing my attention to my sons behaviour. I agree that it is totally unacceptable. Please proceed as discussed. I trust you will beat him as soundly as you beat me when I was in your house, and in the same manner."
The boy handed me back the letter. I opened a draw and casually dropped the letter in.
Rising from my chair, I said to the boy, "If you have no further objection I shall now proceed, in the words of the working class you so deprecate, to thrash the living daylights out of you. Please be kind enough to stand up, take off your jacket, drop your trousers and underwear and position yourself over the chair you are sitting on."
"You cant make me do that!" he protested.
"Your father clearly states that I am to cane you in the same manner that I caned him, and that is precisely how I caned him, and over that very same chair. Please proceed or I shall call in another master to assist me to forcibly lower your clothes and publish the fact at prayers tomorrow morning."
The prospect of that humiliation galvanised the boy and he stood up. He removed his jacket and went to hang it on the back of the study door. He returned to the chair, undid his belt and fumbled with his trouser flies before letting his trousers fall down to his knees and from there sink down to his ankles where they rested on what were no doubt shoes bought from an exclusive shop in St. Jamess. He placed his thumbs in the waistband of a crisply laundered pair of underpants, looked at me pleadingly and said, "Do I really need to takes these down, sir?"
"I am afraid so. Please dont keep me waiting."
Realising that I was firm in my intention, he quickly pulled his pants down and bent over the chair as if he wanted the ordeal to be over as soon as possible.
But I was on no hurry. I ambled over to the cupboard in the corner and extracted my favourite thin whippy cane. I approached Garth and said, "I shall give you twelve strokes. They will hurt. They will hurt very much. They will hurt very much indeed. You may shout as loud as you like. You may cry. Do not ask me to stop as it only encourages me to beat harder. You may feel the urge to bring your hands round to protect your backside, but I do not advise it as a whack from this cane on your knuckles will be excruciating and I shall have to repeat the stroke. You will feel like jumping up, but you will not do so. It will mean an extra stroke. You are getting twelve and I dont think you will be wanting more. You may call for one, and only one, short rest by saying Please call a temporary halt. While you are resting you will stay in position. I shall warn you before I begin again. When the punishment is finished you will not get up until I give you permission. I shall push your shirt up your back. A few moments after I do that you will feel the first stroke. Any questions?"
"Then, as they used to say on Listen with Mother, I shall begin."
With both hands I lifted the boys shirttails over his bottom and folded them over his back. The boys bottom was perhaps a trifle disappointing after the build up, lacking the finest degree of pertness, but it still invited the soundest of thrashings.
I began caning.
"You will behave like a gentleman."
"I will not have snobs in my house."
"You are an arrogant boy."
"You will be courteous at all times."
"You are not superior to anyone."
"You will refrain from boasting of your intellectual superiority."
"Pride is one of the seven deadly sins."
"I mean, please call a temporary halt."
"Certainly. I shall go and sit down and give you five minutes. We can start again sooner if you wish. Just say if you are ready to carry on.
I sat down behind my desk and gazed at Garths punished bottom. Now it is a strange rule but a sight, however pleasing, can pall after a certain interval. At least that is the case for me, being of a literary and philosophical turn of mind. Tiring a little of the contemplation of the red weals, I entered into conversation with Garth.
"Have you ever been caned before, Garth?"
"Only once at prep schoool, sir."
"For fidgeting in the choir on speech day."
"No, sir. In my pyjamas."
"Did it hurt?"
"Not too much, sir."
"Should have thrashed you harder. I wont ask if you are hurting now. I roasted your elder brother last week."
"Didnt he mention it? No whining: Do I really have to take my pants down? Dropped them and bent without hesitation. No: You cant touch me, my father is a governor. Bet your face is as red as your backside when I tell you that. I often had occasion to thrash your father. He was a stubborn lad, but very likeable. I hope you will become likeable. Do you think I have got my message through to you?"
"Oh yes, sir!"
"Well, I tell you what. I am feeling ucommonly generous today. I am going to let you off the remaining strokes, but on two conditions. First, if I ever have to cane you again you will get the remaining three strokes with interest, as well as whatever you are due. Secondly, you will write, in your finest literary style, an essay entitled: The Essentials of Being an English Gentleman. Is that agreeable to you?
"Oh yes, sir! Thank you, sir!" he enthusiastically replied and started to get up.
"Tut, tut," I said. "I never gave you permission to get up."
"Sorry, sir." He hurriedly got back over the chair.
"If I ever have need to thrash you again for ill manners I shall not hesitate to do so in front of the whole house and I shall not spare your modesty. Do you understand?"
"Right. You may now get up. If you wish you may ask Matron to apply a salve to your wounded pride and bottom. What figure of speech have I just used, boy?"
"Excellent! I am pleased to note that attention to your rear end has not affected the other. Get dressed and go."
I watched as the boy gingerly drew his underpants over his tender bottom (a small detail I always enjoy) and adjusted the rest of his clothing. I do not know if my lesson had begun to sink in, but as the boy was leaving he turned to me and said, "I shall not thank you for beating me sir as I know you would consider that to be meretricious; no sensible person would be grateful for a beating. I do, however appreciate the trouble you have taken to try and make me into a gentleman."
I never did get to give him the extra three.
Someone is stealing apostrophes. In all the previous stories they were correctly in place when they (the stories) were posted, but have mysteriously disappeared. Please can I have them back? My English master is a stickler for punctuation and I shall get a stroke of the cane for every one that is missing. You must believe me as anyone who can spell apostrophes always uses them correctly. I cannot afford another beating as I have just been thrashed by the senior modern languages master and the music master for writing "Soave sia il viento" instead of "Soave sia il vento " [See "My Nepew 1963" (Sorry about the dropped "h". I know it was careless, sir. No! Please! Not the long strap!)]