Painful Sixth Form Memories

A painful meeting with the headmistress for three girls. Based on a true incident. By a new writer to us.

By M Vickers

I was generally a quiet and well behaved child at school. The one exception was cigarettes. I started smoking when I was 15 when I was in the house alone one day and saw my mother’s cigarettes lying around (Sovereign if anyone remembers them) and thought I would try one. Coughing and spluttering through a few drags I can’t say I enjoyed it, but like a fool I started having the occasional cigarette over the next few weeks courtesy of my mother, although obviously she never knew until I gradually came to enjoy it.

I attended a girl’s grammar school in Coventry and always did well both from an academic and sporting perspective. A group of friends and I used to walk to and from school every day, a journey that took about 25 minutes which included walking through a fairly quiet park. When we were 16 or so we started having a cigarette in the park to and from school, believing we were so grown up and adult. We used to hide our cigarettes and matches in our school bags and make sure we always had plenty of mints to ensure our teachers and parents did not suspect that we had taken up this dreadful habit. I used to work in a newsagents shop at week-ends and could therefore get cigarettes quite easily, the owners even supplying them to me at a discount although I am sure this would be frowned upon today. Very quickly we became dependent and hooked on cigarettes and started smoking more regularly.

As our addiction to cigarettes increased, a few of us used to sneak off most lunch times for that fag we thought we so desperately needed. We knew we would be in big trouble if we were caught, but that was part of the enjoyment sneaking off and having a cigarette behind the back of authority. All this was fine until one day in February when our luck ran out and we were caught.

It was in the middle of our mock A level exams and we were all quite stressed. After lunch one day, myself and two friends, Tina and Rachel, sloped off to light up behind the swimming pool, one of our regular smoking haunts. Normally there would be a couple of other girls joining us but they were at choir practice that day so had to miss out, although later events made me wish that I had joined the choir. We were standing, chatting and enjoying a few puffs of our cigarettes when the PE teacher, Miss Grant, suddenly appeared round the back of the pool and caught us red handed. We immediately dropped our cigarettes and tried to conceal that we had been smoking but it was too late. She gave us a good telling off, confiscated our cigarettes and told us to report to the head mistress’s office immediately after school. We begged to be let off saying that it was the first time we had smoked in school (obviously not true) and promised that we would never smoke in school again which, given what we were feeling, was a lot more truthful. But to no avail. The three of us walked disconsolately back to school knowing that we were in big trouble and that a few puffs of a cigarette would likely result in painful consequences.

The school had a reputation for good discipline and behaviour, and corporal punishment was still used where necessary. For minor misdemeanours such as not doing your homework, talking in class, being rude to teachers, etc, girls were often given the choice of a 1 hour detention or the slipper. Interestingly, most girls chose the slipper and I often witnessed girls being summoned to the front of the class and having to bend over, their skirts lifted up and given six of the best with a slipper or plimsoll. Although very embarrassing being punished in front of the whole class and obviously very painful at the time, although the victims all said the pain soon wore off, girls seemed to prefer this to giving up an hour of their free time to be in detention.

However, for more serious crimes including bullying, fighting, truanting and, unfortunately, smoking, there was no choice and anyone stupid enough caught doing any of the above would know that they could expect to be caned. The cane was used very infrequently and the head mistress was the only person who could give the cane. I was aware of only two girls in our class having received six strokes of the cane for bullying a couple of years ago but remembered how much they had said it hurt and stung and would never want to go through that again. And now three more girls were about to be added to that small list of students caned at the school!

You can imagine, therefore, how the three of us felt as we made that slow walk back into school. None of us had been in any trouble at home or school before and never thought we would find ourselves in this position. A number of questions were racing through our mind; was there any way we could avoid being caned? If not, how many strokes would we receive? Would our parents be told? None of our parents knew we smoked and would be extremely angry to find out that we had been caught smoking and caned at school. How much would it really hurt? We did not have an exam that afternoon but were supposed to be spending the afternoon revising for our geography exam the next day. As you can imagine not much revising took place that afternoon as we sat worrying about what we were going to face after school and looking regularly at the clock waiting for the end of the day. Two of the most relieved girls in the class were Sarah and Liz, the two members of our normal smoking party who had choir practice that lunch time. They were very sympathetic towards us but you could sense how lucky they felt.

Finally 4.00 pm came and the end of the school day. Most of the girls immediately left for home, although Sarah and Liz agreed to wait for us and walk home with us. However, myself, Tina and Rachel followed a different route and walked to the head’s office with a feeling of dread, although we were all keen now just to get it over with. We knocked at the Secretary’s door and said that we had been told to report to the head after school. The secretary, a young girl in her early twenties, did not ease our anxiety by saying that we must be the three smokers and that she was glad she wasn’t in our shoes. The Head wasn’t in the office so once again we had to sit down and wait. As we sat in silence the secretary occasionally glanced up from her work and gave us a sympathetic smile.

After what was only fifteen minutes, but seemed like an eternity, the head finally appeared and we were summoned into the office. The three of us filed in slowly and stood in front of her, hands behind our backs and heads bowed. The head, normally a quiet, friendly and approachable lady, was clearly very angry and proceeded to give us an almighty telling off; very disappointed in us; smoking is a disgusting and filthy habit; not tolerated in this school; you are a bad example to others; let yourselves, parents and school down, and so on. A few puffs of a cigarette behind the swimming pool which, being eighteen, we were legally allowed to do and where we were doing no-one any harm but ourselves, suddenly sounded like a most heinous crime. And then came the moment we were dreading.

The head paused and looked at us before saying: “You realise you have broken the school rules and therefore must be punished. I have no option but to give you each six strokes of the cane.”

Our hearts fell. This was worse than we feared, believing we might get away with just two or three strokes. It seemed grossly unfair that smoking and bullying received the same number of strokes. Rachel pleaded with the head not to cane us, saying that we had learnt our lesson and would never smoke again. The head was not moved and just said she hoped our resolve not to smoke would be even greater in a few minutes time when we would leave the office with very sore bottoms.

The head proceeded to go to the cupboard and retrieve the cane which was about to inflict so much pain on our poor bottoms; a thin, whippy type of cane about 3 feet in length with a slightly curved top. The punishments were going to be meted out in alphabetical order, which with a surname beginning with ‘V’ meant even more waiting for me. Tina was told to step forward and bend over, whilst Rachel and I were told to stand in the corner facing the wall with our hands on our heads. Although we were unable to see the pain being inflicted on poor Tina, we could still hear it. After a few moments we heard the cane swish through the air, land on Tina’s bottom with an almighty thwack and the ‘owww’ emanating from Tina’s lips from the pain of receiving the first stroke. I stole a quick glance at Rachel and we both knew the next few minutes were going to be worse than we ever imagined. After five further strokes, which seemed even harder and caused Tina to cry out even louder, it was all over. Tina was told to stand up and take Rachel’s place in the corner, with Rachel having to bend over in her place.

I looked at poor Tina. She was obviously in a great deal of pain, was hopping from one foot to the other to try to assuage the fire in her bottom and with tears running down her cheeks. I mouthed to her asking whether she was all right. She nodded and mouthed back: “God, it really hurt,” which did nothing to reduce my increasing anxiety.

Rachel was a more petite girl than either of us, with a small pert bottom. She was not known to be particularly brave and I imagined the caning would have a much greater impact on her. However, to be fair, she took the caning reasonably well, letting out the occasional grunt and ‘owww’, particularly after the first and last two strokes, and she had started crying by the end. After the last stroke I heard the head put the cane on the desk and Rachel returned to her place by the window. I knew my time for judgment had come. I walked slowly over to the desk, smiling weakly at Rachel as we passed each other, and then my eyes were fixated on that thin whippy cane lying on the desk.

The head, in a strong and firm voice, told me to bend over, which I did, and she lifted up my skirt to reveal a pair of green cotton knickers which were all the protection I was going to get from that vicious cane. A number of things raced through my mind; how I regretted having that fag at lunch time, and how stupid I had been; how I would never smoke at school again; as I was the third to be caned would the head be tiring and therefore cane less hard or as in cricket parlance would she now have her eye in and my caning could be even harder; how I was determined to be brave and not cry out, although I could still hear Tina and Rachel sobbing in the corner.

I heard the head pick up the cane and she rested it on my bottom, giving it a couple of gentle taps. I closed my eyes, tensed my buttocks, took a couple of deep breaths and tried to compose myself. However, nothing could prepare me for that first stroke. The head suddenly lifted the cane high and I heard the swish as it descended and landed in the middle of my poor bottom with an almighty thwack.

My determination to be brave was broken after just one stroke as I cried out: “That hurt,” and rocked forward at the power of that first stroke.

I had never known pain like it. My bottom seemed to be on fire and all I could think of was how on earth I could take another five strokes. But I had no choice. I had to. After some twenty seconds the second stroke landed, a little higher than the first, but just as painful, causing to me to cry out again although somewhat quieter. The next three strokes landed at regular intervals with all parts of my bottom feeling the full sting of that whippy cane. My bottom was weaving from side to side in an attempt to alleviate the pain, although I managed not to cry out again although tears started rolling down my face, partly due to the pain and partly due to the shame of being punished. After the fifth stroke the head ordered me to be still or there would be an extra stroke. I composed myself again ready for the final stroke. There seemed to be a longer gap between strokes which should have made me even more apprehensive. But finally the last stroke landed, much harder than any of the rest and clearly demonstrating that the head had now got her eye in. The final stroke seemed to cut across the previous five and the pain spread across my whole bottom and I started sobbing. But at least it was over. My skirt was let down and I was told to stand up as the head placed the cane on the table and asked Rachel and Tina to join me in front of her desk.

We all just wanted to rub our throbbing bottoms but were still not allowed to do so as the head gave us another telling off and warned us that if we were caught smoking again on school premises then we would be caned on the bare bottom and given a one week exclusion. Even then our shame was not over as we were all given a letter to pass to our parents explaining that we had been caught smoking on school premises, that we had received six strokes of the cane and that there would be serious consequences if we were caught smoking again.

Finally we were told to leave the study and our hands immediately went to our bottoms in an attempt to soothe them. We must have looked a sorry state as we passed by the secretary with bedraggled and tear stained faces and our hands rubbing our sore bottoms. We made straight for the toilets where we took our skirts off, carefully took down our pants and gently caressed our bottoms to try and get rid of the pain. We hugged each other, agreeing that it was much worse than we ever feared and made a vow never to smoke at school again or indeed do anything else which may have resulted in a repeat of the cane. After a few minutes, having pulled ourselves together a little, washed our faces and with the pain finally starting to reduce, we made our way slowly home, worrying now more about what our parents would say when they read the letter from the head.

When I finally got home my mother, having read the letter, was also angry and disappointed. She was not sympathetic at all and just said that she hoped it hurt and that I would learn my lesson, which I was able to re-assure her without any hesitation that the answer to both questions was yes! I was sent to my room and spent the next few hours feeling very sorry for myself, lying face down on my bed, rubbing my bottom occasionally and feeling the six weals that had now appeared which would act as a reminder of my caning for the next few days.

I am pleased to say that we did learn our lesson and none of us ever smoked on school premises again, or did anything else naughty which may have resulted in us bent over in the head’s study again. Unfortunately I did not take this opportunity to give up smoking completely and I still smoke today, some 45 years on. You may also be wondering how we did in the geography exam the next day. You may not be surprised to hear that none of us did particularly well, which may been down to the lack of revision that previous afternoon when our minds were elsewhere, or the difficulty in sitting comfortably for a three hour exam on a hard chair when your bottom is still suffering the effects of six of the best.

The End

© M Vickers 2017