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"... bend over!"
It was around the time this photo was taken that I made my one
and only trip to my headmaster's study for a beating - flying paper aeroplanes around the classroom when you are supposed
to be doing homework was not a cost-free exercise in 1967, even at Cardiff High School, where canings of any of the 'rank
and file' while I was there were fairly rare, unlike many other schools at the time, like my primary school.
I say 'rank and file' as, like most boys' secondary schools
at the time, there was always the small 'hard core' of habitual juvenile 'miscreants' who, at my school, almost every week,
had to queue up outside our headmaster's study on a particular morning to await the inevitable 'invitation' from
him or Dr Williams (the deputy head), to enter therein, one at a time, to exchange the 6 (or more) 'black' marks (we called them
"X's") the prefects had awarded them over the previous week, for 6 long red ones. This involved bending over for the firm
and painful application, with a cane, of the proverbial 'six of the best' across the backside, the usual penalty at Cardiff
High School for too many transgressions the week before.
I'm told that both men sometimes laid on the cane with a will,
and it was not unknown for a young lad in my year - mentioning no names - to be witnessed emerging noisily
from the study when it was all over, in floods of tears, clutching his now stinging, bruised and lacerated bottom with
both hands as tightly as he could, no doubt instilling absolute dread in the remaining waiting boys whose turn to be beaten
had yet to come. I'm glad I never had the opportunity to join those particular queues!
Sometimes the number of strokes given exceeded the maximum number
- six - legally permitted, (one boy in my year claims to have received ten strokes on one occasion!). Apparently,
Mr Diamond - the longtime headmaster of the school who liked a drink - thought that 'one for the road' was a maxim
that could usefully be extended to his canings as well, his obvious difficulty in counting the 'roads' perhaps
being caused by him having 'had a few' too many beforehand, which he frequently did! (Luckily for him, being 'drunk in charge
of a cane' wasn't an offence!)
Mr Bellot, an otherwise kindly old gentleman, despite his intimidating
appearance, who usually taught Classics and acted as de-facto headmaster for the 'lower' school, was also authorised
to administer canings. While he was rarely called upon to do so, I'm told that when he did, he made up for his infrequency
by his severity, which outdid both that of Mr Diamond and Dr Williams, and then some.
Much more frequent however - a daily occurrence in fact - was the
'unofficial' (and illegal) corporal punishment of the 'Kes' variety (uncannily accurate in parts, that film, don't you think?)
when a master (though not all, to their credit) belted a boy hard across the face. Like many other boys at
Cardiff High School, I'd already had some of that. (OUCH! Bastards! These days, people get sent to jail for less.) Two
masters in particular were leading exponents of it - Ivor Jones, and 'Homo' Fletcher. I had little contact with Fletcher,
so didn't ever feel this expression of his cold-blooded sadism (though I did see it performed on others) and as for Ivor Jones,
well, he had more sense than to hit me 'cos he knew I hated him so much I'd have hit the bastard back, and then
all hell would have broken loose as I doubt if either of us would have left it at that!
But most of the 'old guard' mentioned above had recently retired,
and there was now new blood at the helm of Cardiff High School - in the personage of David Maland, a former senior History
teacher from Lincoln in his mid thirties. What was he going to be like? I was now going to get the chance to find out!
I prayed, hope against hope, that my 'Flight of the Phoenix' adventure
would not lead to a whacking, as I placed my aeronautical pride and joy - it took me half the lesson to make it! - on the
headmaster's desk, telling him, as I'd been directed to, what I'd just been doing with it.
" Over there and bend over! " said Mr Maland, as he fished out the
cane from God knows where.
My heart sank. 'Thank you God, yer bastard', I thought. I was going
to get my first caning at the school!
I wasn't really worried about it hurting me, so much as whether
it was going to hurt so much it would make me cry. This was not an unreasonable fear, as Mr Maland had only been at the school
a few months and was still a bit of an unknown quantity. Besides, the only canings I had experienced up until then - at my
Primary school - did make me cry, and I wasn't the only boy there to do so. Mr John's canings bloody hurt
- a lot! But there is a world of difference between crying when you're eight or nine, and crying when you're
fourteen or fifteen as I now was. Only babies cried, we boys were constantly told, not 'big boys' like me. (Of course, I know
differently now. 'Big boys' do cry, even when they're thirtyseven, and feel all the better for it afterwards, a lesson
many of us have to re-learn the hard way in our adulthood.)
Now bent over, almost touching my toes, I had never felt so much
trepidation at the school since the time three years earlier when, much against my wishes, I was about to drop my gym shorts to
have my first compulsory communal shower in the nude with the rest of my class after our first gym lesson.
But like that earlier occasion, I was to have nothing to worry about. To my great relief, the two strokes of the cane Mr Maland
now quickly delivered across my backside didn't hurt much, nor, I suspect, were they intended to. God wasn't such a bastard
after all! And neither was David Maland.
If truth be told, I was now a little disappointed, as I wouldn't
have minded a couple of nice red weals across my bum to show my brother at bedtime that night as proof that I could take a
good beating just as well as he could - he'd had quite a number by this time at his secondary school (Bishop of Llandaff).
No such 'luck'. Cardiff High School just wasn't that type of school under Mr Maland's leadership.
Even so, that day, aeronautical engineering was crossed off my list
of potential occupations to pursue when I left school!
If you look at my upper lip, you may notice a dark smudge. No, it's
not a trick of the light, or a fault on your VDU. It's my first inklings of a moustache! Weren't we boys all proud of ourselves
when we arrived at this stage, although our dads invariably pooh-poohed the claims we made for it. "That's just bum-fluff,
son!" said mine. Well, I didn't care what he thought it was. It was a moustache to me! It was my passport that
now enabled me to enter the world of men, and its arrival had given me my first acceptable opportunity to display my manhood
to the whole world (well, I could hardly display to all and sundry the other place I had recently started to grow hair, now
What pleased me most about it wasn't that I might now be able
to impress girls - although I feared I had precious little else to impress them with - nor that I could now compete on more
equal terms with my peers. It was the fact that now I looked more like my dad - well, sort of. (My
dad had worn a 'proper' moustache for all the time I had known him). And that was important to me. It was as if, by becoming
more like my dad, I could get closer to him. When they are young, boys first want their mum, as did I, but inevitably, they
both grow apart as the boy gets older. (Even so, I was still happy to let my mum bath me well into my teens, but these naked bathtime sessions with her could not go on for ever, and inevitably they ended, quite naturally,
as these things do, but not before I was ready to end them, which is as it should be I think.)
But during this period of growing alienation between a mother and
her 'little boy', culminating with the breaking of these last 'apron strings', the boy grows more attached to his dad. When
I was 10, I wanted my mum to cuddle me more than anything, but when I was 20, I wanted my dad to come down the pub with me
for a drink, which he sometimes did, and a great time we had together, no longer just father and son but the best of mates
At the dentists.
If you look closely at my left temple, you might just see two
small indentations about an inch apart just above and to the right of my eyebrow. These were chicken-pox scars, and I had
loads more like it all over my body. It damn-near finished me off when I was three, and the medicine they gave me turned my
teeth green! I had to have some of them out not long afterwards. Jesus, that was the most harrowing experience
of my life so far - having gas at the dentists!
I tried so hard to be the brave little boy my mum had asked
me to be for her, but one whiff of that awful gas was enough for my courage to desert me. In the end, I recall someone
holding me down in the dentist's chair as I struggled, kicking and screaming, while someone else pushed
that horrible mask down over my face and held it there. I remember pins and needles, numbness, weird sounding 'Pinky and Perky'-like
chanting, and falling into a swirling pit of yellow and black.
I hope I never have to go through anything like that again. (Are
hospital anaesthetics like that? God, I hope not!) Not very brave, am I! Still, I fared better than a schoofriend of mine's
sister who died from chicken-pox, aged only four, around 1960. It sounds extraordinary today that children could die
from what are now considered minor illnesses, but that was how it sometimes was then.
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