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Christmas with Granddad

by Dr Keate

Copyright on this story text belongs at all times to the original author only, whether stated explicitly in the text or not. The original date of posting to the MMSA was: 07 Dec 2006


Just after autumn half-term in my final year in Prep. School, my father’s job with British Petroleum took him to Tehran (this was the 1960s, dear readers). As he and my mother were still in the process of settling down in their new house in Iran, it was decided that I should spend Christmas with my grandfather in Surrey. I rather fancied a chance to visit the exotic East, but my parents were insistent that they were not ready to receive me, and I suspect both the cost of a return flight and the thought of looking after a youngster in a large, chaotic, city put paid to that idea.

My grandfather was a retired army Brigadier and diplomat, a former military attaché to Paris. We were really quite close. He was always great fun to stay with, and as he was a widower he had plenty of time to give me. I was his only grandson. He enjoyed taking me on trips – he tried to instil some culture into me by taking me to symphony concerts, but I preferred it when he took me to see a rugger match! He had a large garden in his house in Hampton Court and was willing to indulge a boy’s need to play adventurous games. In the summer he would sometimes take me sailing at Lymington. A family two doors up had a son about my age, also at a Prep., and I liked playing football and scratch cricket games with Philip.

Needless to say, my grandfather was also a strict disciplinarian, although one didn’t think very much about that in those days. Adults were. That was just the way it was.

On the Friday before Christmas, I left school in the company of many school colleagues, but after the train arrived at Euston, I was entrusted with the great honour of crossing London by tube all by myself to pick up the Hampton train at Waterloo. It was a bright and breezy day, and my grandfather met me at the Hampton Court station in his comfortable Humber and welcomed me to his home with a great steaming mug of cocoa.

After I had settled and unpacked, he sat me down in his study for a little chat.

“I know you miss your parents, William, but it’s wonderful to have you here for Christmas and I hope we’ll have a super time together. Unfortunately, Philip’s parents have gone to Cyprus, would you credit, with him for the holidays so you won’t have the company you usually do.”

I must have looked a little crestfallen, so he gave me the good news.

“To cheer you up, I have managed to obtain tickets for the Army-Navy rugger match next week” – I let out a little cheer – “and we shall also be going to Covent Garden on Wednesday evening... you can take that look of your face, boy, it’s not Tristan und Isolde this time but the Puccini triptych of Gianni Schicchi, Il tabarro and Suor Angelica, which I think you’ll find altogether more agreeable. Honestly, they’re really rather fun, so I’d like you to wipe that sour puss away, please.

“And as you’re a little older, m’boy, you’ll be allowed to bicycle further on your own, if the weather holds, and I’ll give you a little more pocket money as well… ah, here comes the grin back, I thought that might do the trick.

“The other rules are as before – you must be in bed before nine o’clock, although as you’re thirteen you may read until ten, you must keep your room tidy and you most certainly must keep the rest of my house tidy. And don’t vex Colonel and Mrs. Saltington-Deane next door. The Colonel has a dickey ticker I should really rather hate to have to give you a flogging at Christmas.”

“Yes, Granddad.”

“Right then”, he said getting up and patting me on the shoulder, “off you go into the garden. There must be at least an hour of daylight left.”

The rest of the week was really rather idyllic. It was cold, not much more than five degrees during the daytime but the wind was light and one day I bicycled as far as Guildford and back in the short December day. We did get the train up to London to go the opera and, much to my surprise, my grandfather was right. Puccini’s shorts were rather more agreeable than Wagner and we both laughed lustily at the antics in Gianni Schicchi. Other than that, I made improvements to my treehouse, read action comics and indulged in my new furtive thirteen year old vices of masturbation and smoking. My grandfather had enough experience of teenage boys to pretend not to notice either.

In the evenings, I would help my grandfather heap the open fire until it was roaring, and although I was now too old to sit on his lap, I would sit cross-legged at his feet reading comics while he smoked his pipe and listened to Vaughan-Williams. I was developing mature tastes in music as well, and really felt quite emotional as my grandfather explained how the peaceful pastoralia of the Third Symphony was conceived amid the horrors of the trenches of World War One.

Grandad’s attempts to interest me in Sophocles, however, fell on fallow ground. A boy who has just endured an Autumn term of Latin under the tedious Mr. Boake is in no mood for the Greek classics when Victor is at hand.

Christmas Eve was a Friday, and as my grandfather was an active churchgoer of rather Anglo-Catholic tendencies, he had arranged for me to be an altar server along with him at the Midnight Mass, as I served at school chapel during term time. In the afternoon I bicycled to the Parish Church for practice. To my annoyance, my grandfather mouthed “too young” at the Vicar’s wife when she was about to pour me a large glass of mulled wine to go with my mince pie afterwards.

We returned home to eat, bathe and dress in our best clothes, even though they would spend the period of Mass beneath our cottas and surplices. My grandfather was every inch the dignified officer as he processed through the Church with the processional cross, and I was very proud to be allowed to serve with him, although my part as a taperer was very much a minor one. As I had been confirmed in school that Spring, this was the first Christmas that I was able to make my communion, which meant a great deal to me.

On Christmas Day I got my presents – annuals of the Beano and Boy’s Own as well an electronics kit and a record player, complete with a few classical pieces my grandfather knew that I liked, although he observed with a wince that “you’ll be spending all your pocket money on that Mod and Rocker rubbish, I suppose”.

At Christmas Dinner, my grandfather relented and let me have a glass of wine with my meal while listening to the Queen’s Speech, and he had rather a lot of whiskey himself. On Christmas afternoon great banks of slate-grey cloud came rolling along the Thames Valley from the West, releasing great outbursts of rain that would stay with us for the rest of the week.

On Boxing Day we went to Twickers for the Army-Navy match, wrapped up in heavy coats and scarves, although no long trousers for me still. To Grandfather’s delight the Army won convincingly through ruthlessly effective forward play and we returned home to a steaming mug of cocoa for me and a hot whiskey or three for grandfather. However, Monday dawned to great wind and storm, as did Tuesday, and I had more or less finished everything in the electronics kit. By Wednesday I had listened to every record at least three times and still the rain came, turning the garden into a deep put of mud.

I was starting to get crotchety, and I was making grandfather crotchety too. He shooed me outside to play in the rain, but I soon got cold and, without company, bored, and then he complained when I deposited mud over the house when I returned. I played with my toy cars for a while, but I was really getting too old for that and soon tired of it, retiring to my bedroom to listen to Tchaikovsky.

As the ravishing strains of the Capriccio Italien played a voice boomed from downstairs, “William! William! What is the meaning of this mess in my drawing room?”

I bounded down the stairs seeing with horror a dozen or so cars left in a multiple pileup next to the coffee table.

“Sorry grandfather”, I ejaculated breathlessly, “I’ll tidy them up now.”

“Thank you kindly, m’boy”, he said with sarcasm, “but you really should have tidied them up before.”

I really should have been on my best behaviour, but I was living proof of the motto that “a boy’s ears are on his bottom, for he hears best when he is beaten”. A few hours later I was trying to see the highest stair I could dare myself to jump from onto the floor, I had managed the sixth stair, the highest I had ever done, with quite a bit of room to spare, three times in a row. Plucking my courage up I leapt from the seventh stair...

...right in front of my grandfather who was coming out of the kitchen with a mug of tea. Granddad jumped. The mug flew from his hand, spun through the air for what seemed like an eternity then crashed onto the hard tile floor splintering into several dozen pieces.

Silence reined for a few seconds and a closed my eyes and tried to imagine that I hadn’t done that. I had almost convinced myself that nothing had happened, when my grandfather’s firm tones brought me back to reality with a crash.

“William, you really are becoming most exasperating this week. We shall have to take you in hand, shan’t we boy?”

“Sorry, Sir”, I sheepishly whimpered rather lamely.

“Well, you shall soon be very sorry indeed. Boys who behave so foolishly must expect to be punished. I had really hoped not to give you a thrashing these hols.”, he sighed deeply, “You are nearly fourteen after all.”

“I’ll clean it up, Grandad, I promise, and I’m not just saying that to get out of a beating.”

“I dare say, m’boy, but you’ve caused enough damage already. You will come upstairs with me now.”

My grandfather’s firm right hand applied itself to the nape of my neck and I was gently guided up the stairs with him. I tried not to think of the last time my grandfather caned me, and the livid read weals which had stayed with me for a week afterwards. Involuntarily, me knees began to shake a little and I felt my stomach perform a somersault. Some boys would protest before a beating, and indeed I would with masters at school. But with Granddad, there was no point. When he made up his mind, you got exactly what he felt you deserved.

To my unbounded relief, at the top of the stairs I was marched right towards my bedroom rather than left towards his study, which meant I was not going to have to bend over the old leather armchair for a caning. He guided me through my bedroom door, and to a blank spot on the wall where me placed me with my nose against the wall.

“While I clean the mess that you made up, you can wait there and contemplate the richly deserved punishment which you shall be receiving on account of your foolishness. Place your hands on your head, please, boy, and if you so much as move a muscle, I shall thrash you within an inch of your life, do you understand?”

“Yes, grandfather”, I nodded meekly.

From below, I heard the noise of broken porcelain being swept away. I stretched my arms a little and looked out at the bleak winter twilight. I wished that I was not going to be beaten, for Granddad did not give one love-taps.

When I heard Granddad’s heavy footfall on the stairs, I resumed my position, and waited with increasing nervousness as his steps turned towards his study. A brief pause, then the steps resumed again. I heard the door open, but did not dare turn around for fear of what might result. The light was switched on, and I heard my grandfather close the curtains, then wheeze a little as he stretched up to turn the crucifix to the wall. That was not a good sign. More footsteps, then I felt a hand on my shoulder.

“Turn and face me, please, William.”

I turned around, and to my dismay saw that Granddad had his heavy old Army-issue Sam Brown belt in his hands. This was not as bad as the cane in one sense, but at least with the cane, Granddad would give you a set number of strokes and ask you to count them. With the belt, he simply beat you until he felt you had had enough. That was never a rapid process.

He fixed me with his steely grey eyes. “There is no point telling you why you are going to get this whipping. You know why you are going to get this whipping. You have become more and more irascible all week and I can see now that you took my previously expressed wish to spare you a beating on account of Christmas as carte blanche to behave like a fool.

“Now turn square on to me, please, boy. That’s good. Put out your right hand please.”

Granddad raised the thick brown belt over his shoulders, then lashed down on to my unprotected hand. One always thought that a strapping on the hands was less painful than on the bottom, but Grandad’s handers gave lie to that idea. I gasped for breath and felt tears well up in my eyes after the first stroke.

My grandfather ignored me and let fly with a second stroke. Then a third, fourth, fifth. Sixth. Sometimes on the tips of the fingers, sometimes on the wrist, but always with considerable pain. My eyes were watering, but I managed not to cry out.

“Boy, this hurts me more than it hurts you. Remember, this would not be happening but for your damn foolishness. Now put out your left hand.”

I always found it hurt more on the left hand. I had been at junior prep. in Scotland and was well used to the strap on my hands, but the Sam Brown was much heavier than a school tawse. Again, grandfather raised the strap well over his shoulder before whipping it down on my hand. With every stroke he would raise the strap over his shoulder and I would look into his impassive, eyes, as he leathered the strap on my hands. Again, six hard strokes and both hands were red and well and truly stinging.

“Stand to attention please, boy. Now, tell me why you are being beaten, William?”

“Because I was very naughty, Granddad.”

“Not so much very naughty, m’boy, as downright foolish and vexing. Why do I say that a boy’s ears are on his bottom, William?”

That old chestnut, again, “Because he hears best when he is beaten, grandfather.”

“That’s right. Well, we shall have do give you a good dose of the belt on your bottom now, William. Take down your trousers and underpants, please.”

I tried to undo the clasp on my belt with my chastised hands, but when my grandfather saw how much I was struggling with my sore hands, he intervened.

“That’s alright, boy, I can see that I’m starting to make an impression. I’ll take care of that.”

He undid my belt, then slid my shorts and underpants down to my ankles, where I stepped out of them, as I had done many times in the past. Always vowing never to repeat the experience, and always finding myself at the end of a good thrashing anyway.

Again my grandfather guided my by the neck to the other side of the room, where my little workstool was.

“Bend over and grab the stool please, boy. You are going to receive the sound flogging you have so thoroughly merited.”

I gasped a little as the hard wood stung my injured hands.

“Does that hurt, boy?”

“Yes, Sir.”

“Good. It’s supposed to hurt. That’s why you get the belt on your hands to start with. There’s no point beating a boy, if it doesn’t hurt, is there William?”

“No, Grandfather” I sniffled.

“I’m glad you understand, because I can assure you that this will hurt a great deal. Now, try to be a brave boy and take your punishment as quietly as possible.”

The stool was very low and I was not bent quite double, but still enough to see Grandad’s heavy cavalry twill trousers behind me. I saw him take another long swing behind his shoulder and then, whack!, the belt landed on my right cheek. And again. And again. And again. Hot tears welled up in my eyes but I didn’t cry. All told six strokes were delivered to my right cheek, then my grandfather changed his position.

Another six strokes were delivered, this time to my left cheek, and my bottom was glowing red. My eyes were blubbery and wet but I managed to stop myself from crying out loud.

“Why am I beating you, boy?”

“Because”, I sniffled, “I was foolish sniff and vexing, Grandfather.”

“That’s right, William. Now be brave, here comes another dozen.”

Again, six stinging strokes on the left cheek, six blazing whallops on the right. Had this been with the cane, I would have been a quivering mass by now, but the belt was superficially more tolerable. Except that Grandfather gave you a lot more of it. I could feel the steady blaze of my bottom, though, as my grandfather began to intone, “This isn’t a very pleasant way to spend the Christmas hols., is it?”

“No, Sir.”

“Well, you shall have to try very hard not to make us both repeat the experience. I very much dislike this but I should be failing in my duty as a grandfather if I didn’t punish you when you deserved it. I suppose you get enough of this in school, what?”

“Not very often, Grandfather, and not as hard as this.”

“Really? Well, that explains a few things. Th