Spitfire backfires

 An 18th birthday gift is well received, but then things go horribly wrong.

By Wendy A

I will never forget Christmas 1965. I was in my last year at St Mary’s, a prefect and in the first team for hockey. Rather than flying out to spend Christmas with my parents in India, the whole extended family was gathered at home in Oxfordshire. We had gathered to celebrate my Great Grandmother’s 100th birthday and for me, more importantly, my 18th birthday.

Our house was large by modern standards and could accommodate most of the close family; a few more distant relatives and friends had been placed at the local pub and a rather elegant hotel nearby.

The weather was reasonable for the time of year, cloudy but dry and mild.

My parents, John and Matty (Mathilda), had organised the events for my great grandmother’s birthday on 23rd December, whereas my Brother, Roger, in his second year at Oxford, had prepared the events for my 18th with the help of my Cousin, Rosie (Rosemary). My actual birthday fell on the Saturday between Christmas and New Year, and a disco would be set up in the ballroom. About 100 guests of my age had been invited plus, of course, parents, uncles, aunts, etc.

It was fantastic being with so many of my friends and family present. The hayloft of the stables had been set up as the hub of contact for us younger ones whereas the older ones availed themselves of the lounge and sitting room.

The hayloft was decorated for Christmas. It was heated with a wood-burning stove, had ample seating including hay bales, a kitchen area and bar, table tennis and a scalextric car racing track, Roger’s contribution.

Us younger ones came and went much as we pleased. Some meals were formal but everyone could not be accommodated at one sitting so there was usually an overflow for the younger ones.

On the day of my birthday, drinks and canapes were arranged at 11am. Everyone was gathered in the dining room and the entrance hall. I had no idea what my parents had in mind as a present; Roger seemed to know but was sworn to secrecy. My Father called everyone to order and started singing my praises, mainly school, being appointed a prefect, sports teams and of course academic studies which were predicted to permit me to follow Roger to Oxford. Fortunately he omitted some of the not-so-great achievements and run-in’s with the school authorities.

He then put his hand in his pocket and pulled out a set of keys, displaying them to all present.

“If you would all please follow me to the front door.”

The doors swung open and we filed through. The area in front of the house was clear of cars with the exception of a dark blue Triumph Spitfire. My Father took my hand and kissed me several times on the cheeks.

“Happy Birthday, Darling,” and with that he handed me the keys. All I can remember of the minutes that followed were floods of tears.

I had passed my driving test the previous summer and had been allowed to borrow my Mother’s car from time to time.

Roger took charge as the older ones headed back indoors. He explained that the hardtop roof could be removed to make it a convertible. He then told me to get in the driver’s seat while he went round to get in the passenger’s side. “OK, off we go,” he said. I put the key in the ignition and fired, it came to life. “Take it easy to start with, it’s a lot nippier than Mother’s car.”

He was right. I stalled the engine before we had even moved and my friends laughed uproariously.

We were out on the open road and I had fallen in love.

“Let’s head back home,” said Roger. By the time we reached the front door most of the crowd had left for the warmth inside. Roger got out and said: “Off you go, one circuit on your own.” I revved the engine and hurtled off. I had never been so happy, my passport to freedom.

My Parents left for India before the end of the holidays so I had plenty time to show off my ‘pride and joy’. I visited friends and family within a 100 mile radius including Helen, my best friend from school.

The holidays came to an end all too soon for my Spitfire, it was put in the garage in the space usually reserved for my Mother’s car. Roger would be using that including delivering me back to school.

Unfortunately cars were strictly banned at school and there were pages of rules about only driving with parents present, having permission to travel in a car without parents present, etc. Roger already had permission to drive me to and from school. Previously either family or school friends’ parents had driven me around.

How it hurt to leave my Spitfire at home. My teddy bear was relegated and my car keys had pride of place under my pillow.

The first half of the Winter term was interminable but finally half term arrived and Roger collected me. Of course my first action was to take my car out for a spin.

Poor Roger, how he suffered. I spent all my time pleading with him to let me take the Spitfire back to school after half term. We both knew that our parents would never agree to such an arrangement. I cajoled, bullied, pleaded, cried, without end; he really did suffer at the hands of his little sister.

On the evening before half term ended he broke. He had made arrangements with a friend to park the Spitfire in his parents’ drive. It was close but not too close to school and his parents would be in Australia till the summer. My heart was beating fast as he drove me back to school, one of his friends following. We went first to his friend’s family house, parked the Spitfire and headed back to school with the car keys tucked into a corner of my bag.

On the first Sunday I walked to his friend’s house and took my car out for a spin. The following week I persuaded Helen to join me. She was reluctant at first but once on the open road we both soon forgot all about school and stupid rules. We did this on several Sundays.

About four weeks later I was invited to a party only about 20 miles from school. It was a friends 18th birthday and there would be a disco all night till dawn after a formal dinner. I asked Helen if she wanted to go, the problem was that we would not get permission to be absent from school for such an event.

Over the next couple of days we chatted continuously about plans to attend the party. Finally the plan was complete. The day before I would go to the car and take a bag with our party clothes in it. We would wait till 11.30 and then use a fire escape jamming the door open to facilitate our return at about 4am. We would then drive the 20 miles and party the night away.

With everything set we crept out and walked the short distance to the Spitfire. We were off, freedom, and were at the party at just after midnight. Lots of my friends were there and they were intrigued about our escape from school. I took care not to drink too much but no doubt the excitement caused me to down more punch than I had intended.

At 3.30 we headed off back to school. It was mostly country lanes to start with. On one bend a car came hurtling towards us, I braked and swung the wheel, hit the bank at the side of the road and turned the car over. I am not sure how long we spent upside down and unable to open the doors. All I remember is blue flashing lights and firemen breaking open the doors to get us out.

The hours that followed are like a dream (or nightmare). Doctors, nurses, bright lights, dark rooms.

I was woken by a nurse who informed me that breakfast was on its way. I turned over and saw Helen in the next bed. There were just the two of us in the room. Breakfast arrived but neither of us could manage more than a few sips of tea and a few bites of a piece of toast. Soon after the nurse returned and told us that a couple of doctors would be along shortly. We would be x-rayed. She told Helen that her parents would be visiting about 10am. Roger and my Aunt Brenda would be visiting at about the same time. Mrs Hudson, our housemistress, would be coming at about 11am and a police officer soon thereafter. A busy day in store then.

We hardly had a moment to chat about the trouble we were in. Doctors, nurses and visitors put paid to discussion between us. All we could decide was to tell the truth and accept the consequences.

Helen’s parents arrived at about 10am. One glance at me clearly indicated that I was to blame for their daughter’s predicament. They had seen one of the doctors and been told that neither of us had any broken bones, a miracle, nor was there evidence of internal bleeding. All we had apparently suffered was severe bruising and some cuts.

Fortunately Roger and Aunt Brenda arrived soon after 10am. This deflected from the anger expressed by the faces of Helen’s parents. They had brought some clothes, pyjamas and a change of clothes. Both were relieved there were no serious injuries and Roger couldn’t help saying that I was in real trouble. He had phoned our parents; they were furious at the two of us. Hopefully their anger would have subsided before the Easter holidays.

A doctor came into our room and confirmed that neither of us had any broken bones or internal bleeding. As a precaution we would be kept in overnight and if all was well we would be discharged during the day on Monday.

Mrs Hudson, our housemistress, popped her head round the door. She suggested that our families should remain while she ran through some practical considerations.

She informed us that the Police were yet to report what actions they were considering and the Headmaster would not consider any sanctions until he had heard from the police. Helen’s parents suggested that Helen should recover at home for at least a few days. Despite my parents being away there was no mention of me staying with them. Mrs Hudson, however, had other ideas. On the basis that we would be discharged on the Monday, the school would arrange transport to school and we would be staying in the Sanitorium for at least a few days so that Matron could keep an eye on us. In this way we could continue to attend lessons and complete work assignments.

Mrs Hudson mentioned the headmaster would like to have a meeting with our families. She suggested that after leaving the hospital they should all make their way to school. This was agreed and she went to phone the headmaster to advise him of the timing of the meeting.

We were then interrupted by two female police officers. Helen’s parents suggested they should stay but the senior of the two officers was of the opinion this was not necessary. All they required at this stage was a statement of facts from the two of us. She mentioned the other driver had been interviewed and had made a statement. The two officers would report back to their superiors who would take a decision of what further information was required and what actions were being considered. At that, the others left with Mrs Hudson after both Helen’s parents and Roger confirmed that they would be back that evening.

The senior officer introduced herself as Sue, and Jane her colleague. We were asked to describe events in our own words. We went through the whole escapade in detail from sneaking out to the car crash. She then asked about the car and I explained that it had been left with friends of my brother close to school. I confirmed that cars were formally banned for all pupils. I also confirmed that I had been driving and that I had some punch at the party. Sue then dropped a bombshell; my blood/alcohol level was above the limit, although only marginally, and that even a modest excess over the limit was an offence.

They informed us that our statements would be typed up and we would be asked to sign them within the next couple of days.

Sue turned to me and smiled. “You really are in serious trouble; not only drink driving but also being absent from school without permission. 18 or not, you are still subject to the rules.”

With that parting shot they left.

Finally we had the room to ourselves and I could not hold back the tears. Helen did her best to comfort me but could not deny that I was really in serious trouble. Lunch interrupted us and then both of us fell asleep for an hour or two.

Roger was first back. He updated us on their discussions with the headmaster. He had been speaking to a senior police officer about my fate. It revolved round whether the matter of my driving under the influence would be reported to the Courts or whether the school would handle the whole matter. He was in favour of the latter as he hoped to keep the matter out of the local press. Apparently the other driver had admitted to driving a little too fast but on the other hand he had not been drinking.

The headmaster had concentrated his remarks on the car. Roger had admitted to his own (reluctant) involvement. Being out of school without permission, attending the party and drinking were all serious offences none the less.

He pointed out that given the seriousness of the misdemeanours, he would have to consult the school governor’s committee. Expulsion was clearly a consideration, particularly for me. He would take account of previous good behaviour and the fact that we were due to take our A levels the following term. Expulsion would almost certainly impact negatively on our futures as University entrance could probably be totally excluded.

Helen’s parents came in and I still got the same reaction from them; I was definitely the devil that had led their daughter astray. Roger left soon after, saying he would return the following evening.

I turned over and tried to read as Helen’s parents castigated me and were disappointed by their daughter’s stupidity. They clearly thought that I should be expelled and hoped that I would get a good thrashing before being expelled.

The next day was another round of tests and doctors’ examinations. The conclusion was that neither of us had any serious injuries. The policewomen returned with typed copies of our statements. They made unhappy reading but did reflect the truth. We both signed them with just a few corrections. Finally we were told we would be discharged at about 3pm and someone from the school would collect us.

We were sitting in a lounge at 3pm and wondered who would be coming. We were both very surprised to see Mr King, the headmaster, open the door.

“OK you, two follow me.”

We filed from the room and followed him out to the car park. He told us to get in the back of his car. It was a silent drive back to school and took about 20 minutes, while Helen and I exchanged glances and glum grimaces.

The headmaster dropped us off at the front door and told us to report to Matron. Fortunately afternoon classes were in progress so the corridors were empty. Matron showed us into a two-bedded room and told us to go to our room to collect anything we might need that evening and the following morning. We were to attend dinner at 6.30 and do our prep; she handed us a list of work to be done. The following day we would attend classes as usual but were exempt from all physical activity. On the Friday afternoon we would return to the hospital for a final check-up and hopefully be signed off as fit; fit for what I thought.

Dinner was an ordeal. Everyone wanted to know the details. We were to some extent heroes but when asked what would happen to us I was very near to tears. Roger did appear and was allowed to have 20 minutes with me in Matron’s lounge. He had heard from the headmaster that the police were prepared to drop all charges against me provided the school undertook to punish me in such a way that I would never drink/drive again. The headmaster would discuss this with the Governor’s committee and then advise each set of parents. Then and only then would we learn our fate.

Roger had been to see my ‘pride and joy’. It was a hell of a mess and would have to be written off as it was too badly damaged to repair, not least where the fire brigade had to force the doors to get us out.

We settled back into school routine and after the medical check on Friday we were allowed back into our room; Helen and I shared a room reserved for prefects. At least we had not yet been demoted. However, Mrs Hudson had removed our names from the duty rota and usual prefect privileges were suspended. It was like having an infectious disease; nobody wanted to be too close to us in case they would catch the disease.

Mrs Hudson advised us that there would be a meeting after chapel on Sunday with the headmaster. Our parents would attend, in my case it would be Roger. This sounded ominous. Would we be suspended or even expelled? Would they take us away immediately? Why were both of us to attend? Clearly I was in worse trouble. It was my car and I had drunk too much punch. Helen’s misdemeanours were, by comparison, minor and would have merited a short suspension or a few strokes of the cane.

Waiting for Sunday was a living nightmare. What were they going to impose on us? Why would our parents be attending?

Finally the bell tolled at the end of chapel and we made our way to the headmaster’s study. We stood in silence in the corridor wondering whether to knock on his secretary’s door. I finally picked up courage and knocked. We immediately heard her say: “Come in.” She had been expecting us and told us to stand by the side wall.

There was noise in the corridor and we could hear the headmaster in conversation with Helen’s father. The door opened and in came the headmaster followed by Helen’s parents, then Roger, and finally Mrs Hudson. The headmaster briefly looked at the two of us and said: “I’ll call you in when we are ready.”

We could sometimes hear voices from inside but could not make out what was being said. By the clock next to the secretary’s desk, it was a full 15 minutes before the door opened and we were told to come in by Mrs Hudson. She indicated that we should stand in front of the headmaster’s desk while she sat to our left where Roger was seated. Helen’s parents were to our right.

The headmaster cleared his throat and started. “You have both totally disregarded school rules and placed yourselves in a situation where the consequences could well have been far more serious than a few cuts and bruises. You, Wendy, have transgressed to such an extent that your future in this school and your whole education have been placed in jeopardy. The use of a car during term time is forbidden, as you well know, and for reasons that must now be clear as crystal to you, you could both have been seriously injured or worse. Roger acknowledges his part in making the car available and regrets his actions, confirmed by your parents as crass stupidity.”

He continued. “Let me first deal with you, Helen. You could be suspended for being absent without leave at night, attending a party and drinking. I might add that your parents are in agreement with the punishment I propose. You have a choice; a two week suspension, one week now and you leave with your parents, then a second week if there are any further lapses. Your position as a prefect will be suspended for a period of two weeks after your return to school. Alternatively, you will receive 6 strokes of the cane on your bottom and a one week suspension of prefect privileges. I expect to be advised of your decision once you have discussed the matter with your parents.”

“Now Wendy. The police have agreed to drop all charges against you, principally being over the permitted alcohol limit by a modest amount. The other driver has signed a statement that he was driving too fast for the road conditions and therefore contributed to the accident. This agreement is subject to the School meeting out a sufficient punishment to ensure that in future you will think twice about drinking and driving. You could easily have had your driving licence suspended and a criminal record.

“Then there is the matter of keeping a car available to you in term time. Add to that being absent without permission, attending a party, and drinking alcohol. In your case it is not possible to consider suspension as your parents are in India. Expulsion would seem to be the most appropriate; either one of your parents could relocate to the UK or you could join them in India. I am prepared to offer you an alternative; ten strokes of the cane on your bottom, withdrawal of prefect status and all privileges until the end of term. Reinstatement as a prefect will be considered at the beginning of the summer term. I expect to be advised of your decision once Roger has spoken to your parents immediately after this meeting.

“I suggest you retire to the library where you will be joined by your family members shortly. You should inform them of your decision. If that includes suspension or expulsion then they will inform me and you may make arrangements to leave school by this evening. If you choose the alternative corporal punishment then I expect you in my study at 6pm dressed in sports kit.”

With a wave of the hand Helen and I were dismissed.

We made our way to the library. “What are you intending to accept?” I asked Helen.

“I think it will have to be the cane,” she replied. “If I am suspended I can expect a dose of the cane at home and life at home will be hell for weeks. What about you?”

“However unpleasant the prospect of ten strokes and suspension as a prefect for the next few weeks, it will be over and should not disrupt my plans for being accepted at Oxford.”

We then split and sat at opposite ends of the library to await our family members. They were not long.

Roger was clearly very upset at the prospect of my being caned. My parents had opted for that solution. He cuddled me and tears flowed.

“Why did I give in to letting you have the car? It was so stupid. I know from experience how a caning feels but I never had more than 6 at one time and only once bare. You will survive but expect to be uncomfortable for a couple of days and the bruises to last up to 10 days. Loss of privileges will also hurt your pride. Keep one thought in mind, you will feel humiliation but rest assured that many of your friends would have loved to be as brave as you both and sneak out to the party. You broke the rules, and how, but are strong enough to take the consequences.”

Helen’s parents made a move to leave so Roger stood, kissed me on the cheek and left with them.

Helen and I retired to our room. The reality of what we had accepted was sinking in. Butterflies fluttered in the pit of our stomachs, trembling of legs, short breaths, and close to floods of tears. We had a couple of hours to wait, so we lay on our beds deep in thought, our own thoughts not to be shared.

At 5.30 we got up and put on our sports kit, white top, navy skirt and knickers, white socks and gym shoes. We set off for the headmaster’s study. The corridors were busy, probably because word had leaked out that we would be taking the walk of shame. Our friends expressed sympathy and wished us luck.

We arrived at his secretary’s door a few minutes early and knocked, we were both anxious to get this over as soon as possible. She indicated we should stand by the wall and rang through to the headmaster. She replaced the phone and told us to go through. A knock on the door and we were back where we had been standing only a few short hours previously.

Mr King was standing behind his desk and Mrs Hudson to his right. “I assume that you have each made your decision and have chosen corporal punishment.”

We nodded our heads.

“Right, let’s not drag this out. I will take Helen first. Wendy, go and wait in my secretary’s office.”

I left at a slow pace, my legs were not responding as they should.

The secretary was sitting at her desk working on some papers. There were muffled voices then silence. The sound of the cane striking Helen’s bottom was like a pistol shot. He was certainly not holding back and intended to give us both a sound thrashing. I counted the strokes and could hear gasps after each one. She was doing well not to scream out and I assume she held in place as there was a similar delay between each stroke and no extra ones. After what seemed like 10 minutes, but probably less, she emerged walking stiffly with tears pouring down her face. The secretary stood up and offered her some tissues which she accepted. She resumed her position next to me.

Within a minute the door opened and Mrs Hudson summoned me into the study.

“Right Wendy, 10 strokes. First please remove your skirt.”

I did and placed it on the chair in front of me.

“When I tell you, please bend over and hold on to the sides of the chair. You must not move from that position until I tell you to do so. If you move you will receive extra strokes and I may have to ask Mrs Hudson to hold you down. Are you ready?”

I squeaked: “Yes, sir.”

“Then bend over, Wendy.”

I moved half a step closer to the chair and bent over. I had to bend quite low in order to grip the sides on the chair. My knickers tightened, it was quite uncomfortable so I moved my legs a few inches apart. Uncomfortable, perhaps, and humiliating for sure, but nothing compared to what was to come. I felt the cane touch my bottom, it moved, there was a swishing sound and then an explosion. Then the pain shot through me. It felt like being scalded by a red hot poker. I so wanted to jump up and clutch my bottom. How I held on, I do not know. There were 9 more to come.

The next stroke felt worse. It seemed to land lower down and hurt like hell. He continued to lay each stroke on hard and seemed to be picking an area not already wounded. After the 6th stroke I felt a numbness in my backside, it didn’t feel like it was mine. Yes there was pain, but less now. The tears had started after the second stroke but now there were none. I was beginning to wonder how many strokes I could take. I had lost count before he had finished. All I knew was that he had moved to the side of his desk and I was not sure if he had told me to stand. I felt Mrs Hudson’s hand on my shoulder as she applied upward pressure.

I eased myself up and could not resist touching my bottom; it was rough and felt hot. I adjusted my knickers which had ridden up during my caning. Mrs Hudson handed me my games skirt, which I put on.

Mrs Hudson went to the door and called Helen in.

The headmaster put the cane away in a cupboard and spoke. “I hope that I will never again see you in my study under similar circumstances. There are rules for a reason and we expect all pupils, including prefects, to abide by them. Minor breaches will never be sanctioned but your transgressions surpass any other event that has come to my notice in 10 years as headmaster. Let that be a closure and resume your studies with diligence so as to achieve the highest results possible and excel in whatever direction your life ahead takes you. Off to dinner or to bed as you choose.”

We left walking stiffly. Fortunately dinner had started so the corridors were empty. We decided to head for our room and lay face down on our beds. After a while Helen asked if I wanted some cold cream on my bottom. I readily agreed. I unhooked my skirt and she eased my knickers down.

“Oh god,” she exclaimed. “What a mess?” She very gently applied copious amounts of cream, what a relief. After a while I reciprocated. We put on nightdresses, had a quick wash and headed for bed. We must have fallen asleep in minutes.

The next morning we awoke early and headed for the showers before any others would be there. We returned to our room without seeing any other pupils. Sitting was uncomfortable. How would I manage to sit on wooden benches? Helen made two mugs of coffee; it tasted good and cheered us up.

The bell rang for breakfast and we made our way to the dining hall. We were the centre of attention. Younger girls whispered amongst themselves whilst most of the 6th formers sympathised. A few gloated in our present state. School was as usual. It was unpleasant sitting on the wooden seats but there was nothing we could do to relieve the discomfort. Fortunately we had both been excused physical exercise until the Wednesday and so avoided having to appear in the showers in front of everyone else.

That evening Mrs Hudson came to our room to inform me that as a result of my suspension as a prefect I would be relocated to one of the 6th form dormitories. Helen could remain as her suspension was limited to one week. Another girl, Sandra, had been nominated as a prefect in my place and we would have to swap beds. As soon as Mrs Hudson left I broke out in tears; being separated from Helen was almost as bad as the cane. Helen consoled me and gave me a long cuddle before there was a knock on the door. It was Sandra with a pile of her clothes. The humiliation was complete.

There was one glimmer of sunshine. In the few weeks remaining of the winter term there was a Sunday out and Roger would be coming to collect me for a few hours away from the hell that I had orchestrated for myself. It was great seeing his happy face and he was very concerned to find out how I had coped with the cane, demotion, etc. He concentrated on the Easter holidays and would be coming to collect me from school. There would be no trip to India as our Mother would be coming to the UK for a few days. I was not sure whether to be pleased or worried by having to face my Mother. At least it would be a break from the prison that school had become.

The last few weeks of term slowly improved and the bruising disappeared. We won several hockey matches against other schools and I was accepted back in the fold, no longer a leper. I did suffer several doses of the slipper for minor offences but these were mild compared to the caning. Finally on the last day of term Mrs Hudson informed me that I would be reinstated as a prefect from the start of the summer term and there would be no reference made to the events in communications to universities. All I had to do was concentrate and achieve the required results.

Roger collected me the following morning and my Mother arrived back that afternoon. She only briefly touched on the delicate matter of recent events but the sting was in the tail; the Spitfire would not be replaced and I would not be allowed to drive without either her or Roger being present. The question of a car would be revisited during the summer and once we knew whether I had been accepted for Oxford.

It would be some time before I would be forgiven but at least the process had started. I never will forget my dark blue Spitfire and the fact that I never did drive it with the roof off.

The End

© Wendy A 2015


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