An unfortunate accident has unfortunate consequences

By Joanna Jones

I went to a state funded all-girls grammar school in the late sixties /early seventies. At the school only your form teacher or one of the heads” (including assistant/deputy) could slipper you with the exception of the two games teachers who also could for some reason. As a result, lines and detentions were most common. If you got too many detentions then generally at some point your form teacher would get her – or his (although the majority of teachers were women) – slipper out, but it was quite rare. The cane was even rarer and only the headmistress used it. I suspect most girls tried to keep it secret but even allowing for that I would reckon it happened at most half a dozen times a year.

Thus, unlike my big brother (who had gone to the neighbouring boys’ grammar where corporal punishment was an apparently daily occurrence) and being by nature well behaved, I had successfully avoided anything other than a solitary detention for talking in class by the time I was in the upper sixth.

How that changed is an experience that is still a vivid memory even now, over forty years later.

I was in a hurry, as I knew would be my fellow sixth formers Tracy and Angela. We had decided to go for a chat in the cafe just outside the school gates, a popular haunt for many groups of girls before going their separate ways home.

The trouble was it was rather too popular and one needed to be quick to get a table. I got to the cloakroom area, basically a set of pegs in alcoves off the main corridor next to the exit, and waited impatiently for them.

I had arrived slightly before them as their maths classroom was slightly further away (we were studying different A-level subjects). As soon as they were in our cloakroom area I grabbed my bag and raincoat and, turning to look behind at them as I exited, said: “Hurry up, let’s go.”

Crash!

I had run (more or less literally) into Mrs Williamson, our headmistress, who had clearly been walking purposefully back to her office.

In the process she had fallen to her knees, and dropped her, thankfully empty china tea mug, which was now in pieces on the tiled, concrete corridor floor.

My look of horror and shocked, spluttered apology clearly did nothing to appease her rising anger. Picking herself up along with the folder she also had dropped she turned to my two friends.

“You two, find Mr Hawkes (our school caretaker) and help him clear up this mess.”

Then turning to me: “You, girl, follow me!” And she resumed her purposeful walk down the corridor.

I left my bag and raincoat with my friends and did as I was told. My stomach was twisting nervously as I followed her along the rapidly filling corridor as pupils began to exit at the end of the school day. All, of course, rapidly got out of her way with me trotting disconsolately in her wake.

Her office was only just round the corner so it took less than a minute to get there. I remember a coldness sinking onto me as we went from the noisy corridor into her secretary’s office, where the sounds of girls chatting happily to their friends as they left was muffled. I was now apart from that end-of-day frivolity.

Marching through, she opened the door at the other side.

“In!” She ordered.

As she closed the door behind me the sound level diminished to near silence. The office was fairly modern, light and airy. However, it seemed oppressive to me as I paused in the middle, not knowing where to go.

“I will teach you to charge around the school like a marauding elephant!” She said as she walked across the office from the door to her desk.

That was the sum total of the lecture. Pushing a few papers to one side of her desk, her next order left my legs weak. “Get your skirt up!”

I looked slack jawed for a moment as the command sank in. “P-please,” I stammered. “It was an accident.”

She turned and gave me a look that clearly indicated that accidents that knocked her over and broke her china mug were ones that had consequences. I felt sick as I slowly hitched up the tight skirt, revealing my knickers, both front and back.

As I was doing so, she went to her cupboard to fetch what I assumed would be her slipper.

Wrong.

I felt a sudden urge below when she produced her cane and the school punishment book. I controlled that, but I failed to prevent the urge for my eyes to pass water.

Slamming them on the desk and opening the book she demanded: “Name and Class?”

“Please miss.” I begged. I was looking in panic at the thin, crook-handled, yellowy-brown rod that was, I reckon, a little less than three feet in length.

She did not even look up but repeated implacably with her pen poised: “Name and Class!?”

Any hope of even a reduced sentence left me. I was sniffling as I said: “Denise Roberts, U6B, miss.”

“Denise Roberts, U-Six-B,” she repeated as she wrote. “Four strokes.”

I stood there disbelievingly, most girls had got two or three, or so I heard. The tears were now more than pricking at the edges of my eyes.

I suspect she was about to tell me to get over the desk and into position as she looked up. However, instead I saw a further flash of anger in her face.

“What are they?” She asked, angrily pointing at my crotch.

I knew exactly what she was getting at. No pupil was officially exempt from wearing the navy school knickers that we all disliked. However, it was not policed, apart from occasionally at games in first through fourth forms. As a result, like most if not all of my friends in the sixth form, I wore what I liked. That day they were a dusty pale pink.

I whispered: “Sorry,” as I sniffed miserably.

Glaring at me she said: “Two extra, now get over that desk before it is more!”

Legs like jelly, I fearfully took the last step to the desk and got into position, gripping the far side.

“Hold tight! This will be painful.” Was her final order.

I could feel my heart thumping and whole body tingling in anticipation as I waited. She picked up the cane and stood to my left.

I did not wait long. A single light touch to line up, then a whistle and a loud crack.

A fraction of a second later I screamed as the pain hit me. It was horrible; it was awful; it was agony, and it was only one stroke.

A brief pause, then a second whistle and a crack. The pain was worse. Desperately I gripped the desk edge and gave heartfelt wail, as I tried to be brave. My parents had occasionally spanked me but the last time had been years ago. This was much worse than anything I remember from them.

On the third whistle and crack I screamed. Wherever it landed it was just agony.

The fourth installment. I screamed again and started sobbing uncontrollably, something that continued through strokes five and six, as she whipped my poor bottom seemingly mercilessly. The sixth may have been harder, and the one that left a tramline right on the lower crease of my bottom, but to be honest I cannot really recall anything but the intolerable pain that was being inflicted.

As soon as the sixth stroke was over I jumped up and clamped my hands to my rear and I danced on the spot in her office tears flooding everywhere. When I had raised my skirt I had felt embarrassed to be displaying myself in her office. Now I didn’t care. Meanwhile Mrs Williamson was at her desk modifying her entry in the punishment book, then scribbling a very brief note which she stuffed in an envelope.

As soon as she finished I was brusquely ordered to pull my skirt down and, giving me the note to be signed by my parents, she picked up the file that she’d been carrying when I collided with her, escorted me out of her office and disappeared down the corridor walking briskly to, I presume, some other meeting.

I staggered back to the cloakroom area. My friends were waiting for me in the corridor having just finished with a brush and pan which, I could see through glazed eyes, Mr Hawkes taking away.

A few girls were still drifting out slowly. I was in no state to pretend nothing had happened with tears streaming down my face and my hands still clamped to my rear.

Tracy looked at me and said with a shocked look: “You got the slipper? How many did she give you?”

I could not bring myself to speak, and just shook my head.

It was Angela who gasped and mouthed the word ‘Cane’ as a question.

I just nodded and briefly released my hands to hold up six fingers, five on one hand and one on the other.

They both looked appalled for a second before I burst into audible sobs again on Angela’s shoulder. Tracy meanwhile tried to shoo away a few curious stragglers.

After few minutes they dragged me to the, mercifully now empty, toilets. After a lot of washing my face I eventually had some composure back. I suspect both of them wanted to see the damage, but I didn’t offer. I had no desire to raise that tight skirt again.

Finally I was in a state to walk home slowly, a process where every step was pained.

Tracy told me it had taken only five minutes from me bumping our Head to my return from her office.

Five minutes from carefree – looking forward to an enjoyable time with friends – to careworn; a tear-stained wreck with a note in my pocket that was likely to lead to yet more tears, given what I knew had happened in our family to my big brother when he’d got caned.

Five minutes I will never forget.

The End