0009 On Being Caned, Frequently
Ooh! Ow! ...I'm a victim! ...I've got a psychic scar! ...
by Michael Shepherd
not in my schooldays,
I have to say;
how quickly the world changes!
Life was straightforward at my schools –
you disobeyed the rules, you got beaten, caned –
simple as that.
And if you were the adventurous type,
you disobeyed often, just for the hell of it,
got beaten often; the heroic aura glowed from you;
modest hero too – you never showed the marks when asked…
though perhaps paused a moment longer
when putting your pyjamas on
if you were at boarding school
to show you hadn’t stuffed any foreign substance
in your pants. You quickly learned
that cardboard made a giveaway hollow sound,
soft paper like toilet roll was better,
otherwise next time the ultimate indignity –
‘take down your trousers, boy! ’
The football stars sometimes took a running kick at you instead.
For minor infringements, you were beaten
by a prefect, all of one or two years older than you
(as you would have to do in your turn) :
taken from the homework room,
‘Shepherd, go to the prefects’ study’ –
justice reigned, you were questioned first;
pathetic excuses were not in the hero's book.
the whole room knew it was coming,
the washroom next door was the place it was carried out:
they listened to count the strokes – usually six;
checked your face for tears in younger years;
if they saw them, turned away, questioned themselves;
later you learned to stroll in, head held high
as if you’d rather enjoyed the experience,
had come out on top..
and savoured the covert, inquisitive hush
that descended on the homework room..
glanced a minute or two later
at your mates with triumphal grin,
shifting slightly on your wooden locker seat...
In fact, I was a physical coward; but soon found out
that holding the record for being beaten
was a good path to status, almost, if not quite,
equal to being good at football or at gym…
Riskier was bad behaviour in the dormitory,
like talking above whisper, or general hubbub
heard by a stalking prefect lurking outside the door;
that meant being caned in your thin pyjamas..
but with a cadet officer’s swagger stick –
more bruise than cut as with a cane..
and they were gentle schools –
our hands were never caned…
or more serious conduct would be more awesome,
beaten by the housemaster in his room …
and worst of all – I only remember it once –
a public caning by the headmaster
in front of the whole assembled school…
perhaps we were a fortunate generation:
misbehaviour; and just punishment; a simple world;
an ordered system; and in such,
no victor and no victim, no psyche to be bruised;
many in those times went on
to be traumatised or killed
in wars less just.