A New Pupil joins Miss Meanwood’s A level English class but can she adapt to life in the sixth form?
By Tara Patterson
“Okay, class, settle down!” Miss Meanwood’s voice boomed out as she swept into her classroom.
The twenty-five lower sixth girls instantly leapt to their feet and stood in orderly rows behind their desks. Like most things at Queen Anne’s School, Ambleside, the interior of Miss Meanwood’s ground floor classroom was very traditional. Light streamed in from three large sash windows. The pupils sat in pairs behind wooden desks. Miss Meanwood’s large imposing desk was at the front and behind it a large rotating blackboard. The view from the windows was quite scenic as the room over looked Lake Windermere and, beyond that, the impressive Lakeland hills, but woe betide anyone caught looking out of the window during one of Miss Meanwood’s English lessons.
“Be seated.” Miss Meanwood began as she stood behind her desk. After exchanging good mornings with the class as they sat down, she gestured towards the still open half glazed wooden door.
“We have a new student joining us today. May I introduce Meanwood?”
Elaine Meanwood nervously walked into the classroom. At twenty-five she was some years older than the girls in the room. However she was dressed just like them. Her stiff new Dr Martin, Mary Jane shoes squeaked as she moved, her right hand tightly gripped the strap of the brown leather satchel slung over her shoulder. Twenty-five pairs of eyes looked at her intently; she knew all of them through her work. It felt strange being back in school uniform again especially this one. A navy blue gymslip and blazer covered a crisp new white blouse. Thick black stockings clad Elaine’s shapely legs. On her head, under a straw boater, her brown hair was platted in a single plait, whist her blue and grey school tie was snugly knotted with the correct Windsor knot. A yellow enamel prefect’s badge was pinned to the left lapel of her blazer.
“Of course you already know my daughter through her duties as part-time librarian,” began Miss Meanwood. “Elaine has decided to join our school community part-time as a mature student in order to take her A levels in English Language and History. This arrangement comes with the full agreement and blessing of both our headmaster and our board of trustees. It is fortunate that the timetables for her chosen subjects are favourable to her time off in her usual employment. It is for that reason that during her timetable periods as a pupil, all day on Tuesdays and on Friday mornings, Meanwood will be wearing full school uniform and will be subject to the same disciplines and regulations as the rest of you with no favouritism or exception, other than she has been made an honorary prefect. However during the rest of the week, when Meanwood is back working in the library out of uniform, we will still expect you to respect and acknowledge her as a member of staff. I hope I make myself crystal clear?”
“Yes, Miss Meanwood,” the class chirped in unison.
* * *
The lesson passed quickly. As the bell rang, Elaine felt drained and mentally tired from the intense concentration that Miss Meanwood demanded. Elaine hadn’t realised just how hard the staff pushed the pupils of Queen Anne’s. Academic standards were high and fiercely maintained. Elaine was glad she had a free period before her history lesson to recharge her tired brain. She made her way along with the other prefects to the prefects common room and was pleased that someone had already put the kettle on.
As Elaine entered the room, the eight or so girls who were already there looked at her and the chatter of the common room went quiet. Elaine discreetly took a mug out of her satchel, made herself a cup of coffee and settled down on an empty sofa in the corner of the room. She took out a book and tried to relax but she was so aware the atmosphere in the normally noisy common room had changed because of her presence. Eventually the room emptied as most of the girls headed out to their next lesson. Two girls, Kelsey Potter and Robyn Thornford, came over to Elaine and sat down. Kelsey broke the awkward silence.
“How did you find your first lesson with us then, Ma’am? We have just been trying to work out how long it was since you were last at school.”
Elaine put her book down, took a sip of her coffee and smiled at the two prefects.
“Almost ten years, if you must know. Now come on please, drop the ‘Ma’am’ thing for today. While I’m wearing this uniform, we are equals. This arrangement is only going to work if everyone carries on as normal around me. I’m not going to drop anyone in it or tell tales.”
“Glad to hear it, Meanwood,” said Robyn with a sigh of relief. “I think you are being very brave doing you’re ‘A’ levels at your age, and in your mum’s class too. What made you want to do it?”
“Oi! What do you mean; ‘at my age’?” grinned Elaine. “Well I don’t know if you know it or not, I was a bit of a rebel back in my day, always in some sort of trouble. I hated school. I went to the secondary school in Windermere I left in 2006, granted with a good set of GCSEs, but by then I’d had enough of school so I went to Agricultural college. I got qualified in farm accounting and estate administration.
It was hard growing up here though. They didn’t use corporal punishment at my school but I didn’t escape. I was always being whacked at home for one thing or another. I couldn’t wait to get away from it all but eventually something drew me back here. I got made redundant so I took the library job. It seemed the ideal solution, seeing as I grew up in Lodge Cottage in the grounds. This place has always been such a big part of my life.
I didn’t know it at the time, but Mum, ooops, I’m supposed to call her ‘Miss Meanwood’ when I’m like this, was quite disappointed that I left school at sixteen. She thought I had potential to do more than what I had done. We didn’t get on back then; she terrified me at times. So I’m doing this to prove to her that I still have that potential. Oh, and I’m thinking that perhaps I might retrain one day to be a teaching assistant. I’ll need ‘A’ level English to do that.”
Elaine looked down at her new uniform.
“You know, I still can’t believe I’m wearing a school uniform again at twenty-five. Still, it’s what the headmaster wants me to do, so you girls know when I’m a pupil and when I’m not. Everyone so far has been so supportive; Miss Meanwood for suggesting the Idea and having me in her class, The headmaster and the trustees for allowing me. My dad bought me my uniform and is totally behind me too. This arrived in the post for me this morning, and I’ve got to hand it in to the office later.”
Elaine unfolded a signed school discipline parental consent form, Her Fathers details were neatly filled out in the parent or guardian section. The two prefects smiled.
“Crikey, you are being treated fairly,” chirped Robyn.
“Dad knows me too well, Robyn. It’s His way of saying ‘behaved’. He phoned me yesterday from his place in up in Scotland to wish me luck, and Mum gave me quite a lecture, too, about not getting the rest of you in trouble.”
* * *
The weeks passed quickly. Elaine soon got in to a routine and began to enjoy her lessons. The girls responded well to Elaine’s changes in uniform and status. Elaine threw herself into her work and her studies with a passion and a vigour that she had never know as a sixteen year old. In the prefects common room the girls began to be relaxed around Elaine. Early on in her time as a pupil Elaine gathered the prefects around and assured them that what she saw and heard from them in the common room or classroom whilst she was in uniform would stay there.
One Tuesday in mid-January, Elaine arrived early for her English lesson. The classroom was already filling up. Elaine sat next to Robyn and the two of them were soon chatting away excitedly discussing the forthcoming history field trip. They were unaware of Philippa Vines who crept quietly into the classroom. Philippa’s eyes were red; big fat tears ran down her cheeks.
“Let’s see them, Philly?” Came a voice from the back of the room.
“See what?” Asked the still crying sixth former.
“Your stripes, Philly; how many did old Meanwood give you this time? Come on, up on that desk, show us all.”
Philippa brushed a stray strand of blonde hair away from her face and wiped her eyes with her hand.
“No, I won’t!” She snapped. “Haven’t I suffered enough? The old bag gave me six this time, you normally only get four for smoking.”
“Come on, it’s tradition,” shouted the voice. “Now come on, Vines, up on the desk, show us your stripes.”
Quietly at first the class began to chant: “Show us your stripes, show us your stripes!”
As the noise level grew, Elaine looked at Robyn. “As prefects, we ought to stop this.”
Elaine and Robyn got up out of their seats.
“Come on, that’s enough, settle down girls,” said Elaine but her voice was drowned out by the chants of the class.
Philippa responded to the chanting which got louder and louder. She reluctantly stood on a chair at the front of the class room and lifted her gymslip. Just as she began to ease down her navy blue knickers, Miss Meanwood burst into the room.
“What the devil is going on here? Silence now, the lot of you. Is this how a sixth form class behaves when they are unsupervised? Vines, get down from that chair this instant.”
The whole class scrambled to get behind their desks. Most of them stood with their heads bowed and their hands clasped in front of them. Elaine thought she noted a small smile of satisfaction from Miss Meanwood as she caught a glimpse of her handiwork; six evenly spaced angry red wheals across Philippa Vines’ bottom. For a moment there was silence as Miss Meanwood walked up and down the rows of desks, the only sound the click, click of her heels on the wood floor. This wasn’t good, Elaine thought. She knew Miss Meanwood’s ways only too well. Miss Meanwood was the expert of what the girls often dubbed ‘the slow execution’. She would often prolong a punishment or a chastisement in order to build tension and fear for the recipient.
Finally Miss Meanwood stood behind her desk. Her eyes made contact with those nearest to her as she began to speak.
“What a disgraceful way to behave. I would have expected more of my first year class but to hear you, my sixth form group, chanting like a gang of football hooligans; absolutely inexcusable. I do not wish to hear any excuses from any of you. I saw and heard quite enough. I could hear your shouting from down the corridor; in fact I heard it the moment I stepped out of my study.”
Miss Meanwood paused for a moment. Elaine knew she was considering her options how to punish the class, she could feel the tension and anticipation building.
“There is a word for this type of behaviour and the way you have treated your fellow, you are bullies the lot of you. Vines was punished by me for an unfortunate transgression and that should have been the end of the matter. However you still seem to take pleasure in the old humiliating practice of making those who have been recently punished publicly display their cane stripes for you all to mock. What you have all done is as barbaric as throwing rotten fruit at some poor unfortunate in the village stocks. I have it in my mind that seeing how much you all admire Vines’ cane strokes then perhaps I ought to give all of you a set of your very own.”
Some of the class gasped and a few of the braver ones looked at each other as Miss Meanwood continued to pass her judgement on the class.
“But no, a caning would be too easy for some of you, get things over nice and quickly so you can move on, that’s the way isn’t it? But no, not this time, I’m going to place the entire class, every one of you, in detention for the whole of Saturday afternoon. I know that will hurt some of you more, to miss your afternoon sports. And Vines, that includes you too, you should have known better than to go along with this silliness. The next time, young lady, you just walk away.”
A girl at the back of the room bravely spoke up.
“Can’t I be caned instead of detention, Ma’am? It’s the semi-finals of the inter house badminton on Saturday. I just can’t miss my game.”
“Well you should have thought about that before you started joined in with this silly chanting, shouldn’t you?” Snapped Miss Meanwood. “There are three prefects in this room who should have acted much better too. You also are such a disappointment to me. You should have stopped this nonsense before it began but it looks like you joined in; two of you were standing up when I came in. You three will report to my study at three-thirty this afternoon. Now class, I think we have wasted enough of our time on this matter for the time being. Be seated.”
* * *
Elaine and Kelsey stood nervously outside Miss Meanwood’s study. The time seemed to drag since Robyn had been summoned inside. Slowly the door opened and Robyn limped out in obvious pain and discomfort. She was trying her best to keep her composure and not to cry.
“The old cow is on form today. Cripes that hurt!” She muttered in a soft voice. “Good luck, you two, she wants you next, Potter.”
Kelsey reluctantly knocked on the study door. As she opened the door she smiled at Elaine. It wasn’t long before Elaine heard the all too familiar sound of the crack of Miss Meanwood’s cane. Elaine daren’t count the number of strokes that she heard coming from behind the door. She desperately tried to take her mind off her impending interview with the deputy headmistress. As she waited, Elaine fiddled with the buttons on her blazer, straightened her tie and kept looking down at her uniform.
Finally, the heavy dark varnished door creaked open and Kelsey crept out. Both her hands were on her bottom and she was crying. She carried her blazer folded up and tucked under her arm. Elaine didn’t say a word. She felt history repeating itself as she took a deep breath, and knocked on the door.
“Enter,” came the curt reply.
Miss Meanwood was standing in front of her desk. Elaine was always intimidated by her Mother’s appearance at work. Miss Meanwood stood tall and erect in a pair of black high heels; she was wearing her usual tight fitting black skirt and a spotless white blouse. She looked critically at Elaine as she took her place in front of her. Instinctively Elaine stood to attention. She felt so intimidated and small.
“So, Elaine Meanwood, I’m most disappointed in you and the other prefects. Not only did you not stop that disgraceful mocking of poor Vines but I seem to recall you out of your seat as I entered the room. I do hope you were not participating.”
“N-no Mum, err, I mean Ma’am,” began Elaine. Her mouth was dry, her voice croaked as she spoke. “I didn’t know what was happening until it got out of hand. I was talking to Thornford when they all picked on Vines. I did try and calm the girls down but you came in just as I got up.”
“Excuses, excuses,” snapped Miss Meanwood as she began to pace around the room. “You know, I expected much more of a girl as senior as you. Haven’t you learnt anything in all your years around this establishment?”
“Sorry Ma’am I ought to have spotted it happening sooner but…”
“Well it won’t happen again, will it Meanwood? That is why I am punishing the whole class. And I have caned the other two prefects. To teach them all a lesson. I’m all for tradition, but humiliating girls like Vines is no longer going to be tolerated. Surely you remember what it felt like when it happened to you, the time I caned you along with those fourth form girls when I caught you drinking? I found it worse than the actual caning when it happened to me.”
“I do, Ma’am. I’m sorry Miss Meanwood,” said Elaine quietly. “I have let you down, haven’t I? I have got to learn to be more assertive.”
Miss Meanwood’s demeanour suddenly changed, and she began to smile.
“Yes you have. Now consider yourself well and truly told off, Elaine. You may go.”
“That’s it?” Asked Elaine. “What about my punishment? You caned the other two prefects, I was expecting that you would do the same to me.”
Miss Meanwood sat down and an apologetic frown came across her face.
“Well Elaine, I have slipped up too, really. When I gave the whole class detention and demanded that the prefects report to my office, I did it through anger. In the heat of the moment that was wrong of me. I totally forgot about you. It’s to your credit that when you are in my lessons you blend in so well. I’m really quite proud of you how you are progressing with your work. I don’t see you anymore; to me, in lesson, you are just another one of the girls. I realise now that you can’t join us for detention on Saturday. I know it’s your turn to be on library duty. I wrote the staff rota. Perhaps, on hindsight, I expected too much in my anger, expecting you to stop what happened. After all, you are in my class as a pupil, not as staff. I suppose I should have thought about something like this happening and the conflict of interest, it’s not as simple as just putting on a uniform is it?”
“I’m coming on Saturday, Ma’am,” smiled Elaine. “I’ve already sorted it. I didn’t think I had a choice not to come to a full class detention, so I’ve swapped shifts with Under-Matron Patterson. She is going to cover the library for me. As for the conflict of interest, well as I see it you promised at the beginning that I would be treated fairly with no favouritism. It’s taken me most of last term to get a reasonable rapport with the some of the girls. I think some of them still see me as a double agent. You ought to be treating me fairly today. What sort of message would that send out if you didn’t, double standards and all that?”
Miss Meanwood looked with surprise at her daughter.
“I gave Potter and Thornford six strokes each, and a real verbal admonishment. Is that what you are asking me to do to you?”
Elaine thought, trying to choose her words carefully.
“In a way, yes Ma’am, but I’m not asking really. I think you ought to punish me as fairly as the others. I genuinely feel that we would both loose the respect of the girls if you didn’t treat me like them on this one. If that means me being thrashed then that’s the way it’s got to be. Although I can’t promise to take it as well as the other two seemed to. You usually used to get me bawling my eyes out by stroke four.”
Miss Meanwood thought for a moment and picked up her straight handled senior cane from her desk.
“Okay then, Elaine. In a spirit of fairness and equality I shall continue to treat you in line with the way you appear before me as Meanwood, Sixth form pupil, a member of form 6R and Wordsworth house. But just for you I won’t drag it out. Let’s get this over as quickly as we can, shall we?”
Elaine closed her eyes; the butterflies were starting in her stomach.
“For your involvement in the disgraceful mocking of Vines and your wilful inaction in your duties as prefect I am going to give you six strokes of the cane, now prepare yourself and bend over.”
Elaine took off her blazer and boater and laid them on Miss Meanwood’s desk. Then she removed her glasses and lifted up her gymslip before she assumed the familiar school punishment position across the Deputy Headmistress’s desk. As she gripped the far edge of the desk she could feel Miss Meanwood’s presence behind her. Elaine lifted her head and instantly wished she hadn’t. Through the reflection in the window she saw the cane being lifted high, then…
Elaine saw the cane land on her tightly stretched blue knickers, then the stinging pain cut across her like a knife. She screamed out in pain.
Miss Meanwood said nothing and lifted the cane again.
Elaine screamed again.
“It’s best if you don’t look at your reflection,” said Miss Meanwood. “I can see your bottom tensing up before each stroke, try and relax, it will hurt less”
“Haa relax” muttered Elaine through her pain “that’s a good one”
SWISH CRACK, SWISH CRACK.
“Four down” Elaine thought she could feel the tears welling up inside her; the sting of the cane seemed much sharper than she remembered. Elaine gripped the desk tighter and waited,
“Last two coming Elaine” encouraged Miss Meanwood “keep it together now”
SWISH CRACK, SWISH CRACK.
“OWWW, ARRGGH! Christ!” Cried Elaine.
“Up you get, Elaine, well done. I think we can call this matter closed,” said Miss Meanwood as she put down her cane.
Outside in the corridor, Elaine moved very slowly and gingerly, but she felt a small glimmer of satisfaction that somehow she had endured a caning from her mother without being reduced to a total sobbing wreck. She put on her blazer and began to walk slowly back to Lodge Cottage; she needed something to numb the pain. She wanted to cry, to be on her own and just let her emotions out. As she passed the entrance to the PE and sports facility, Elaine had an Idea. She remembered where she used to go and sit after a caning before, somewhere to be on her own for a while and somewhere with a lovely cold soothing floor, just the thing to take the pain away.
Elaine pushed open the door of the girls changing room and slipped inside. She thought the room would be empty at this time of day. Her heart sank as she rounded the corner into the main changing area and saw two pairs of black stockinged legs.
Robyn and Kelsey both sat with their backs resting against the wall, their knees were hunched up, they had both lowered their knickers and lifted their gymslips as they sat bare bottomed on the cold tiled floor.
Robyn looked up.
“She went through with it then?” She asked. “Kelsey reckoned you wouldn’t get caned despite Miss Meanwood’s talk of equal treatment and all. She thought that Miss wouldn’t go as far as thrashing you. But it looks like you have been. How did you know we would be in here?”
Elaine lifted her gymslip and sat down next to her two friends.
“I got the full six just the same as you two. You were right, Kelsey; bugger it hurt, more than I remember it doing. If it’s one thing my old mum is, she’s fare. I told you I would be treated the same wearing this. She certainly hasn’t lost her touch though. And this is where I’ve always come after the cane, or a spanking. The soothing powers of this floor and a good cry are just what I need right now. I told you I was an old hand.”
© Tara Patterson 2016