A secretary helps with a caning
By Robert Roberts
I held the position of Senior School Secretary at a large comprehensive school in the West Midlands. I was helped by two full time assistants, Jennifer and a junior clerk, Millie, and two part-time assistants. Sometimes sixth form students would be drafted in to help if necessary. Millie was a former student at the school and I appointed her as a junior clerk some two years after she left the school as a sixteen-year-old.
The secretaries’ office sat between the upper and lower schools, and we looked after the administration and secretarial duties for both schools. The design of the office was open-plan and visitors on school business would approach the desk and any one of us would attend to them. Adjoining the office, and set slightly back from the main corridor, were the offices of the upper school and lower school Heads. In front of the desk was a row of seats where visitors could wait and also students waiting their call from either of the Heads, sometimes for a caning.
The canings were an occasional occurrence and were part of school life, deemed to be necessary to maintain discipline by the school authorities. One of the secretariat was required to attend the canings to act as a witness and complete the punishment register. When we were not in the Head’s office to act as a witness, because of the close proximity of our office, we were not spared the sound the thwack of the cane landing on a student’s backside, and the inevitable cry of pain that followed. Not pleasant but we had to get used to it. Not pleasant, that is, for everyone except Millie. She would eagerly volunteer to act as witness to the canings and I needed to curb her enthusiasm. I took her to one side and explained it was immature to enjoy another person’s discomfort, and I reminded her of the two times she had been subjected to the cane as a student. Subsequently, she refrained from openly displaying her enjoyment of students receiving the cane, but I was reluctant to let her attend as a witness. I warned her if she was caught giggling by either of the Heads she would face a dose of the cane herself. She wouldn’t, of course, at least I didn’t think she would, but she wasn’t to know that.
Her response to me was, “It hurts like hell at the time and for a couple of hours after, but then the agony goes. Your mates find it funny, as I found it funny when they got the whack. We all knew we’d recover soon enough. It’s no big deal.”
I responded, “Nevertheless, no sniggering on my watch.”
So I would not let Millie witness the canings because I thought she would misbehave and that would reflect upon me. In all other aspects her work was very good. Thorough, conscientious, reliable, willing to work extra hours if necessary and very polite to visitors.
Some weeks there might only be a single caning but there could be as many as three in a week. Also, there were canings and spankings administered in the classrooms and, fortunately, they were out of earshot. Our only knowledge of these was when the errant pupil had to approach the desk and ask for the cane and punishment register which were then taken back to the classroom and returned by the tearful pupil after the punishment had been delivered.
With the exception of Millie I would like to think that we were as kind and compassionate as far as it was possible to be kind and passionate in this environment. Jennifer, especially, wanted to befriend every student who was facing the cane or had just been subjected to the cane. An arm around the shoulder, words of encouragement and sympathy. I had to tell her to be careful. If the Heads were aware of her warmth towards misbehaving students they might think she was undermining their efforts to punish them.
There was one particular incident that has remained in my memory. It was 4 o’clock, end of the school day. Daisy Hales approached the desk and gave me her punishment chit. I already knew from a meeting she had with the Headmistress of the upper school, Mrs Adams, earlier in the day, that she was going to receive six strokes of the cane for bullying. I read the reports from both Daisy and the girl that she had supposedly bullied, and I thought the punishment was a little bit harsh. Six of one and half a dozen of the other, but it wasn’t my business. It was clear that Daisy had been crying and was doing her best to hold it together.
“Take a seat and sit quietly, Daisy, and I’ll give you a call when Mrs Adams is ready for you.”
I always thought the wait must have been grim for the pupils but it was all part of the punishment. Suddenly Daisy let out a rather, anguished loud shout.
“Jimmy, what are you doing? You shouldn’t be here.”
Jimmy was Daisy’s younger brother from the lower school. He was 10 years old but after many tests and assessments it was found that he had the mental age of a seven year old. His mother pleaded that he be given a chance at a state school and, to be fair, the school authorities were willing to see if it could work. Jimmy had heard a rumour that his sister was going to be caned. He usually went home with a group of classmates who looked after him up to his front door where his mother was waiting. Daisy was now presented with a dilemma on top of her impending visit to the Head.
Without realising the significance, I called out to Daisy and motioned to her to be quiet. Silence when waiting for the punishment to be administered was essential otherwise extra punishment was a possibility. I could see that Daisy was taking a risk by continuing to talk to Jimmy albeit through tight lips, almost like a ventriloquist. I realised there was a problem and I told Daisy to approach the desk. She explained that Jimmy had missed going home with his escorts and she couldn’t let him go home on his own. Daisy had a look of almost desperation and I could see matters were bubbling out of control.
“Return to your seat and we will look after Jimmy,” I said as soothingly as possible.
Just at that moment, a visitor arrived and needed my attention. I noticed that Jimmy had grabbed Daisy’s arm, which was against all protocol but I wasn’t going to make a bad situation worse.
Jenny came alongside as I was trying to deal with the visitor and said, “Mrs Adams is ready for Daisy.”
I replied, “Can you take Daisy through, please?”
Jenny gave me a bit of a stare. She thought it was my job to take Daisy through and act as the witness and she could take over dealing with the visitor. She, of course, was right but she didn’t make a scene. She called out to Daisy.
“Come with me, sweetheart.”
Daisy stood up and turned to Jimmy.
“Sit here and behave yourself.”
I thought it ironic that the naughty girl just about to be punished was telling her brother to behave himself. She had my respect. Despite facing a gruelling punishment she was still taking her responsibilities to her brother seriously.
I quickly dealt with the visitor and he left. I was expecting to hear the first of six thwacks and a cry, but nothing happened. And nothing happened for about five minutes. I could make out a muffled conversation.
What was the delay? Jenny would tell me later.
Jenny related to me her role in the episode.
Daisy had to extricate herself from Jimmy, who was hanging on tightly to her arm. As she approached, she was looking quite frightened. Jenny put her arm around her and gave her a gentle squeeze.
“You are going to get through this, honey. Be brave.”
They entered the room and immediately Daisy started pleading and trying to negotiate with Mrs Adams.
“Please, Miss, I have a really good record. I’ve only ever had one detention. There’s no need to cane me.”
“Yes, Daisy, your record is excellent and you should be proud and I hope you will continue with your good behaviour, but bullying carries a mandatory six stroke caning across your knickers, so step up to my desk and remove your skirt.”
“But Miss, I’ve made it up with Eileen and she doesn’t want me to have the cane.”
Daisy was refusing to take up the necessary position, all the time sobbing and promising she would never repeat her bad behaviour. For her part, Mrs Adams was showing patience recognising that this was Daisy’s first caning and she was really scared, but she was not going to relent. The punishment must be carried out.
Eventually, Daisy was coaxed, cajoled and threatened to get to the desk where she was meant to bend over and take the caning. Very slowly, she removed her skirt but would not bend over.
“Daisy, lots of students have come here for corporal punishment. It’s not nice but all have lived to tell the tale. You will survive.”
Daisy eventually bent over the desk and Mrs Adams was about to unleash the first stroke when Daisy stood up. Mrs Adams was now getting angry.
“If you don’t get down and stay down I am going to ask Mr Ashton to join us and he will manhandle you into position and hold you down. Do you want that?”
Once again Daisy, ever so slowly and reluctantly, took up the position, still pleading for clemency, and Mrs Adams once again readied herself to deliver. But again Daisy stood up, this time mid-stroke and Mrs Adams did well not to connect with anything.
“Right, that’s it. Jenny, go and ask Mr Ashton to join us.”
Jenny was sure that none of them wanted this. She tried a softly-softly approach.
She addressed Daisy as gently and calmly as she could and said, “I’m going to hold your hands. Get yourself across the desk and reach out to me.”
She moved around to the other side of the desk and leaned forward so that she could grasp Daisy’s hands. Daisy cooperated and Jenny held her in position so the caning could begin.
Mrs Adam’s cane flashed through the air and bit into Daisy’s bottom. She let loose with an ear-splitting shriek and tried desperately to stand up, but Jenny held on to her knowing she would be liable for extra punishment if she couldn’t remain in position.
I take up the story on what was happening on the other side of the door. Jimmy heard his sister’s indescribable howl of pain after the first thwack. He leapt to his feet and, with tears in his eyes, he frantically called out.
“Daisy! Daisy is my sister and I don’t want her be hurt.”
He began to make his way to where he thought she was. I was impressed with Millie’s quick reaction. She managed to intercept him and distract him. We needed to get him away from the immediate vicinity because another thwack and agonising screech was on its way. Sure enough the inevitable happened. Jimmy was trembling.
Millie said to him, “It’s OK, Jimmy. Daisy is very brave and she will be all right. She will be out to see you very soon.”
She ushered him away and called out to me that she was taking him around to the vending machine, but not before the third thwack followed by the inevitable screech.
‘That girl has got a powerful pair of lungs,’ I thought to myself.
Jimmy was clearly upset and worried. He knew his sister was being hurt and he didn’t like it, but Millie was able to divert his attention by taking him round the corner to the vending machine, out of earshot of the woeful cries of his sister, and telling him to choose his favourite bar of chocolate.
Jenny takes up the drama from inside the Headmistress’s office. The second and third strokes were delivered rapidly with accompanying screams from Daisy. She was trying to break free from Jenny’s grasp but Jenny made sure to hold on. Mrs Adams completed the fourth stroke and briefly paused. Daisy was whimpering and Mrs Adams addressed her.
“I know this is hurting, but it’s important you understand that your behaviour was indefensible and this caning is meant to discourage you from repeating it. Have you learnt the lesson?”
“Yes Miss,” wailed Daisy. “Please, no more. Please stop.”
“Just two more to come and then it will be over.”
Mrs Adams unleashed the fifth stroke. Jenny was sure Daisy would have jumped up if she was not holding on to her. She told me that in all her time of witnessing canings she had never experienced a student so distressed. Mrs Adams was not delivering particularly severe strokes but Daisy had got herself wound up and perhaps her pain threshold was quite low. The sixth stroke was firm but perhaps not as hard as the previous five strokes, but it still elicited the inevitable howl from the now emotionally exhausted Daisy. After completion of the punishment, she remained slumped over the desk making no attempt to get up or even rub her raw bottom.
“Thank you for your intervention, Jenny,” remarked the Headmistress. “As for you, Daisy, it’s now over and you can get up and compose yourself. I was not impressed with your ridiculous performance but that’s now an end to it.”
Daisy took her time to calm down and was quietly sobbing as she eventually slowly raised herself from the desk. Jenny wanted to hug her, but thought that wouldn’t be a good idea in front of the Headmistress. She completed the punishment book while Daisy tried to compose herself and then they left the office together and came out into the office. Daisy was not in a good place. She struggled to get herself in the right frame of mind to deal with the excruciating pain. We stepped outside and Jimmy, who was accompanied by Millie, ran up to her and threw his arms around her.
Jenny looked at me and said, “That was a most harrowing experience.”
I replied, “It was not pleasant out here. Jimmy was distraught.”
Daisy and Jimmy slowly made their way out of school, Jimmy happy to be reunited with his sister and Daisy trying to bravely hide her pain.
Life goes on.
© Robert Roberts 2020