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: 03 Mar 2018
Geography lessons were held on the top floor of our three-story school building amongst the science labs and sixth-form classrooms. This was a part of the school that we rarely ventured into. The top floor seemed slightly exotic and foreign with its strange chemical smells and an atmosphere of serious learning and study, dominated as it was by older sixth form boys and serious subjects such as physics and chemistry. Our weekly double geography lesson was always a drag coming straight after lunch and as a class we were hard to settle and knuckle down to the given tasks. The appointment of a new teacher presented its own additional challenge to us. Mr. Baker was middle-aged and dull. He was one of those teachers who lacked the personality and genuine inclination to work successfully with young students. He had no class presence and offered little in the way of entertainment, focusing instead on dull textbook tasks and some associated mumbling activities at the blackboard. His class discipline was poor and typically he ignored our disruptive behaviour. Chatting and low-level diversions being the most common way to get through the ordeal that was his lesson. He never even got angry? We even resented this lack of anger and ability to offer discipline in the face of our indifferent behaviour.
After all, a teacher’s outburst at poor behaviour and lack of class attention could galvanize a lesson to new heights of focus and be fun in the process. Similarly, an invitation to come to the front of the class for a quick and theatrical whack with a slipper would be a class highlight, even for the victim of the mini-ordeal assuming the status of class hero for the next half of the day.
Even better was if a student was sent out to stand in the corridor. The excluded miscreant unwillingly receiving an entry ticket to the school’s punishment lottery of being caught by a passing senior master. The consequence of this corridor discovery was almost certainly to result in a dose of formal CP at some later point in the school day. Classroom expulsions were consequently a particularly thrilling pastime. Being sent from the class offered no certainty of corporal punishment but the odds were stacked against you. Those remaining in the class were acutely attuned to this genuine dilemma and to what was happening in the unseen corridor. Would the lesson pass without incident or would the boy be apprehended and dealt with? This cat and mouse game was unique to class expulsions and the tension on both sides of the class door was palpable; one side of the door alert to any approaching footsteps and the near certainty of corporal punishment being the result of any interaction, the other focused on the tethered goat outside and conflicting feelings of both sympathy and solidarity alongside the desire to hear an approaching tiger pounce and do their worst!
Meanwhile, Mr. Baker’s dull geography lessons needed some urgent attention. In the corner of the room was a large, deep white sink. The type of square sink made famous in laundries and farm outhouses. It was never clear what function this sink occupied in a geography classroom but it was typically filled with glass beakers, tubing and Perspex shapes? A small group of us hit upon a genius plan that would provide a thrilling alternative to our monotonous geography lesson with a guaranteed riotous finale. A length of red rubber tube from a Bunsen burner was fitted over the mouth of the tap. It led into a beaker filled with water and the sink plug firmly closed. The slit that was the sink overflow device was stuffed with a piece of rag so that water could not escape safely. Our aim was to turn the tap on at the start of the lesson so that it would slowly and silently fill the sink and eventually overflow at some climactic point of the lesson. Thereby providing us with a thrilling period of anticipation and then the inevitable climax of chaos as the waters spilled and flooded across the classroom floor. The ingenious scheme had many merits. Primarily it was delayed in coming and secondly anonymous in execution. Who could prove who had rigged the sink for this heinous act, certainly no boy was seen to be at or near the sink at any point before disaster struck? It would undoubtedly prove disruptive to the point that the lesson would have to be cancelled; books and papers, boys and bags falling and slipping into the oceanic deluge as it spread across the floor. Desks being scraped back in mock terror as moisture approached across the room. Boys taking refuge on high surfaces and feigned dramatic scenes re-enacted from the sinking of unnamed battleships and liners performed across the class. Caretakers summoned with sawdust, mops and buckets galore. Mr. Baker had no chance of being boring today...
The lesson began and as planned, the sink was primed and the tap turned on to its modest and silent flow. The Bunsen tube delivering its increasingly lethal dose of fluid in a manner unforeseeable to adults but totally absorbing to a class of fifteen year-old boys. Mr. Baker rambled on as usual but seemed unsurprised by the monastic silence and rapt attention of his cohort that day. Every boy in the room was estimating the time remaining until the great flood burst over the sides of the sink. Those at the front had the best view as they could see the rising level of water against the sinks crackled white pottery sides. The tension and anticipation in the room became nearly unbearable; the deliberate slow pace of the plans execution now seemed to intolerably delay the explosion of water we longed for...
Then with no indication of urgency or alarm Mr. Baker turned casually towards the sink, now about half an inch from the top edge, and without any gesture or comment turned the silent running tap off. Returning to the backboard he continued the lesson as if nothing had happened. Glances were exchanged across the room but there was no choice now other than to knuckle down and maintain the level of attention we had already established. During one of the more tedious textbook exercises we were set, Mr. Baker left the room leaving the class door open behind him. He was gone for no more that five minutes and returned without ceremony or comment. Eventually the lesson came to a close as the bell rang to indicate that our misery had ended and we wondered what would happen next, if anything? People started to pack their bags and belongings away in their bags...
Just hold on a couple of minutes boys – I need to hold you back for a brief conversation
with Mr. Harding, who will join us shortly.
Please sit back down and wait quietly, he concluded.
We all shuffled back into our seats and looked around the class at each other, mouthing questions at our
near neighbours and others close by wondering as a group what was this turn of events all about? Surly
not the business with the sink? Nothing had even happened and none of us were implicated in the scheme
Mr. Harding you will recall was the newly appointed Deputy Headmaster at our Grammar School and already established an early reputation of being a bit of a disciplinarian. He had recently given me a three-stroke caning for being involved in playing with a tennis ball in the playground for example. He told me at the start of the punishment that it was a warning to the other boys and he wanted news of my caning to spread far and wide as a warning to others. This had certainly been the case and my swishing in his office had assumed a semi-legendary status in the school, especially as it was given as a warning to others and I really hadn’t broken any school rules myself.
Suddenly and with some force, Mr. Harding opened the class door and entered. He was tall, large and
imposing and carried with him a natural sense of authority as he stood in the doorframe.
you have had some issues in your class Mr. Baker?, he enquired.
Not really Deputy Headmaster but
some boy or boys had planned for a flood in my class by blocking the sink whilst leaving it running.
fortunately I saw the sink filling-up and turned off the tap before disaster struck,
but this was a clear case of sabotage
Mr. Harding seemed genuinely taken aback and barked at the class,
Who of you knew about this disgraceful
plan? After a brief pause he shouted,
Stand up immediately if you knew about it at once!. There
was a brief delay but then one by one, boys in the class started standing up at their desks. A few boys
remained seated by were willed into a standing position by whispered gestures and encouragement of the
standing. After a few moments all of the class was standing, silent and glum at their desks. This was
not how it was supposed to be...
Every one of us was wondering what was going to happen next? At least every boy was involved and
the responsibility inevitably shared across the whole class, it couldn’t be that serious, after all no
damage was done. Mr. Harding interrupted our private musing.
Boys, follow me in complete silence,
he barked as he turned and exited the classroom with a flourish.
We followed Mr. Harding like ducklings following their mother, down the stairs and into the general
melee of a school lesson change.
What’s going on, many enquired of us as we snaked through the
school. We had a sense that talking at this point in time would not be beneficial to our fate and focused
on our passage through the building. Nonetheless, the sight of fourteen boys following the Deputy Headmaster
in a snaking line was significantly unusual to be notable and cause significant speculation in the school.
Not knowing where we were headed we eventually found ourselves in the large school hall with its
stage at one end. Mr. Harding ordered us to,
Stop and wait here in total silence. All the chairs
had been removed and were piled up in stacks at the side of the hall. The space seemed eerily empty and
echoed to any noise.
We comprised fourteen boys stood in a huddle in the large empty hall having no idea what was going
to happen to us but fearing the very worst. Mr. Harding left the hall with the departing instruction,
Wait here boys and don’t wander off for any reason whatsoever
As he left we waited a minute or two before we started to speculate what was likely to happen on
his return What might be his justification for punishment and how would he deal with such a large group?
It’s bound to be a caning given how I was dealt with the other day for kicking a tiny ball
in the playground. Glumly, there was a sense of foreboding and agreement with these sentiments but
no certainty about what to do next. We waited in our fearful group, there was nothing else to do...
The Deputy Headmaster reappeared at the side door of the hall. In his hand, and in clear view of all us huddled together in our bedraggled group, were two rattan canes with crook handles. We had all grown up seeing such canes in the comics and films of our era. Their shape, colour and form had been culturally imprinted on us and every other schoolboy in the land. To imagine that this punishment rod had been made in a factory somewhere by normal people and sold by respectable companies to the myriad of schools up and down the land who ordered the things by the dozen seemed odd. Just like pencils, chalk and rubbers and all the other paraphernalia of schools – factories and stockists were busy in their daily trade of crook-handled canes but nothing else in their catalogues and stores could cast such a powerful spell over a group of boys like a school punishment cane.
Each boy fetch a chair from the stack and place it carefully at the front of the stage, commanded
Mr. Harding. Each of us went to the side of the hall and lifted a stacking chair from the top of its pile
and moved towards the stage end of the hall. Mr. Harding had already arrived at the stage and had placed
the two canes he carried on the stage decking.
You boys have conspired to disrupt a lesson, humiliate
a member of the teaching staff and potentially cause considerable damage to your school. He lectured,
I will not tolerate this behaviour and regardless of your specific role in this silly scheme –
you will all receive a taste of my displeasure
First take off you jackets and place them on the back of your chair, then place your chair right
up against the stage about three feet apart from each other and then position yourselves over the back
of the chair with you bottom in the air
This was an unbelievable situation. Fourteen boys bent over chairs with their bottoms in the air all in a line along the front of the school stage. However odd, we obeyed his command and without a murmur of complaint positioned ourselves as instructed. It felt odd being bent over in this public place and with so many boys waiting for his private appointment with the cane. Small movements combined to cause a symphony of creaks as the aging chairs adjusted to our assumed positions and the unusual usage we were making of them.
Starting on the far left of the stage Mr. Harding picked up one of his crook-handled canes and moved
into position behind the first boy. Whop, Whop, Whop, Whop in quick succession followed by the instruction,
Don’t move lad. These were four hard strokes with a senior cane wielded by a proficient expert
in dishing out corporal punishment. Confident and accurate in his purpose he moved along the row of bottoms
giving each boy their dose of four hard swishing strokes. I was fifth in the sequence line and find it
hard to describe the feelings of fear and anticipation as the muscular caning machine drew ever closer
to me. Each boy, in turn, heard their colleagues to the left being well and truly swished and their bottoms
striped. There was certainly some deep breathing noises and occasional gasping as each boy was beaten
but schoolboy stoicism and peer pressure meant that nobody wanted to cry out and show their real fear
or pain. The four strokes of the cane landed on the boy to the left of me. I could feel the movement of
air as the cane swished and flayed so close to me. I could see that the Deputy Headmaster had removed
his jacket and I saw the flash of his white shirted arm and the yellow cane flying through the air inches
away from me. I knew it was now just a matter of seconds before the wicked yellow rod would be brought
sharply down on my own tender flesh. Whop, Whop, Whop, Whop – my body shuddered as each stroke
of the cane laid into my flesh. That initial unbearable burning sensation and sense of being on fire followed
by a sharp slash of pain right across your bum. Each stroke was given in quick succession and there was
no time to agonise over staying down. Mr. Harding moved on to my right until he had completed his caning
mission at the far right hand side of the stage.
He had successfully caned fourteen boys with four strokes each of the cane in less than a five minutes and done it without argument or coercion. We had provided him with the most efficient set of bent-over bottoms possible and I can only imagine the picture of all of us bent over and lined up in my minds eye.
Place the chairs back quietly where you got them from ordered Mr. Harding. He stood at the
front of the hall and slipped his jacket back on and clearly looked a little flushed form the forty-two
strokes of the cane he had just dished out. He picked up the two punishment canes and made to leave the
Get to your next lesson as quickly and quietly as possible and never forget what has happened
to you this afternoon – it is a measure I have chosen to inhibit your silliness and poor behaviour.
I realise your bottoms are sore but go straight to your classes please – your sore bottoms
will act as a reminder of the consequence of poor choices
We left the hall, all with burning bottoms and a sense that we had participated in something exceptional, the like of which the school had not seen before. Mr. Harding was proving himself to be something of a whacking legend and we had been an early example of the new possibilities opening up for boys at the school...