An unusual caning, at least for a London school

By Joanna Jones

I was Headmaster at a fairly standard comprehensive school in the 1970s. The school was in North West London and was in a moderately affluent area with people from a remarkably diverse range of backgrounds. As was the norm at the time, the cane was an available sanction administered to the ‘seat’ in the case of boys and the hand for girls.

In practice, at the school I ran, corporal punishment was something for relatively serious or repeat offences. In the case of boys it was perhaps of the order of twice or thrice a week or so that it would be brought into action, and for girls, well maybe half a dozen times a year, if that.

For sixth formers the cane was rare indeed. Most of the ‘regulars’ left after their O-levels and I suspect it was once or twice a year for a boy, and, apart from the story here, I only recall caning one other sixth form girl in nine years as Headmaster.

The story I wish to recount starts at one of the sixth form dances. There were four of these in the calendar, run by a committee of pupils and with the proceeds split between school funds and a charity of the students’ choice. One of the sixth formers had a blind brother, and for the year in question the Guide Dogs was the charity.

By and large the dances went well. There was a routine and some of the troubles that dances at other schools had were things we tended to avoid.

However, it was not, at least to my knowledge, an alcohol fuelled incident that caused me to get my cane out, but a very bitter, jealous rivalry between two girls.

I never fully found out what precipitated the incident that night, though one of the female teachers told me it was boy related.

Whatever the case, the first I knew of it was the almighty scream echoing around the hall as Emily Grange collapsed to the floor in clearly a lot of pain. Simultaneously her friends were surrounding another girl, Daria James. I was second teacher on the scene and managed to prevent Emily’s friends from any form of retribution. Soon they were all speaking over each other with essentially the same story: That Daria had stamped on Emily’s foot as she had made to leave the altercation the two of them had been having. It was clear Daria had used the heel of one of her shoes, which were unfortunately a rather fine pointed pair of stilettos. Emily was now writhing on the floor in agony, clearly oblivious to what might be visible to the boys (and me) under her rather short dress, this being the very early seventies. Daria’s friends meanwhile were vociferously outlining the comments and names that had prompted Daria to lash out, and there was a view among them that Emily was faking it to get their friend into trouble.

Taking one look at the girl on the floor I doubted very much that she would be making quite such an exhibition if she was not in some considerable pain.

I got two female teachers to help Emily to the nurses’ room and told Daria to follow us. With a warning to the remainder to behave and concentrate on enjoying the rest of the dance the five of us left the dance hall.

There were some seats in the reception area near my office, which were reasonably private and I ordered Daria to wait quietly in there while I saw to Emily. She said nothing as she did as she was told. She, I think, was in shocked recognition that she had gone over the top with her reaction.

Ten minutes later, I had had to return to my office and first call an ambulance after Mrs Thorpe, a teacher with first aid training, told the sobbing girl that she would need to go to hospital as she was worried she had a broken bone. Her foot was already swelling up and turning blue with internal bruising. Neither of the next two phone calls were pleasant as I phoned Emily’s parents to indicate there had been an incident and to either come immediately to the school or go directly to the local hospital. The next was to Daria’s parents to ask them to pick her up.

Daria jumped up as soon as I re-entered the reception. Realisation that she had acted foolishly was now all too evident as she burst into an apology, which I interrupted by holding my hand up.

“You should know, Daria, that Mrs Thorpe thinks your stiletto stamp may have broken a bone in Emily’s foot. We have had to call an ambulance to take her to the hospital.”

I remember her jaw dropping aghast at that, and moments later tears were running silently down her face as she struggled to comprehend the seriousness of the injury she had inflicted.

As it sank in further she tried to give an exclamation of horror stricken apology. However, I told her I could not discuss this with her that night, but that her mother or father would be here shortly to take her home. She was to attend my office a quarter of an hour before registration on Monday when I would be prepared to discuss the incident fully.

I then had one of the female teachers sit with her as I returned to await the ambulance and Mr Grange, who both arrived concurrently.

I was glad that the ambulance had left with the irate parent following in his car before Mrs James picked up her red-eyed daughter.

Of course the girls at the dance, on both sides, wanted to know the situation as I returned to the assembly hall where the events were held. I limited the information to Emily had gone to hospital for a check up and Daria had gone home.

Their interest did however make it easy for me to extract some semblance of what had happened prior to the incident. While what prompted its start never was really clear, some comments about Daria’s racial origins and also her ‘accessibilty’ to the boys, including some words and phrases that I was shocked any eighteen year old girl (at my school at least) would use, had led to Daria spinning away with the deliberately aimed stamp. Apparently Daria had tried not to rise to the baiting until a particularly harsh comment at the end had caused her to snap. However, none of that, of course, could justify the injury caused.

The dance finished about half an hour later, and I left a couple of other teachers to coordinate the ending and headed to the hospital.

It was as Mrs Thorpe feared. The force of the blow had fractured some metatarsal bone, and Emily was having a foot plaster applied as Mr Grange waited.

A cold anger seemed to have settled on him as we talked in the fortunately quiet waiting room. He clearly wanted the perpetrator expelled. While I had some sympathy for his view I also felt he needed to know the whole story.

He grudgingly listened as I explained the lead up to the incident, emphasising I had only spoken to both Emily and Daria’s friends, not the two girls themselves. To say he was shocked at the language and attitude of his daughter was an understatement. It was clear he recognised that the school might also view his daughter’s behaviour rather dimly.

We agreed I would phone him first thing on Monday to determine Emily’s condition and leave him to discuss her actions in the family.

Over the weekend I had time to reflect on the incident and by Monday morning I was pretty convinced that, knowing Daria’s nature and prior record, expulsion would be disproportionate, which left suspension or the cane. As regards Emily, the injury was probably punishment enough, other than a formal admonishment about the appalling attitude and language she had used.

I was very glad that a calmer Mr Grange agreed with me when I phoned him early. He also said that Emily would be going for a further examination that day and to collect some crutches, but should be back on Tuesday. I made a brief note to ensure the message got to her form teacher as I listened.

Ominously he went on to say that, as I was not going to punish her other than a reprimand, he would be ensuring, injured foot or not, that Emily would be experiencing some discomfort in sitting by then. He also intimated that Daria had visited with her parents and both girls had made heartfelt apologies to each other.

That latter fact helped settle my mind as to the course of action I was planning as I waited for Daria to arrive.

I was not totally surprised when my secretary knocked about five minutes early to say Daria was here with her parents. Rather than keep them waiting I invited them in. The office was fairly large and there were two sofas facing each other for informal chats, rather than the harder chairs I used in front of my desk.

Mr James started with what was clearly going to be a plea not to expel his daughter, who was staring fixedly at the carpet with a sick look on her face. I was very surprised she had elected not to wear the standard sixth form uniform of tights, but was wearing white cotton socks as the younger girls did. It made her look a little younger and more vulnerable than she did normally, having already turned eighteen.

I decided to interrupt Daria’s father, and started by explaining what a serious matter it was and that an attack of this nature could not be ignored by the school. As he started to interject, I overrode him to explain that, after discussion and thought, and knowing Daria’s previous character and the comments I knew she had been subjected to I thought expulsion was not appropriate on this occasion.

I rather emphasised the ‘on this occasion’ to ensure that they all knew that that consequence might be very likely if there was ever a repeat.

There was a pregnant pause before Mrs James, who had a somewhat Middle Eastern complexion that her daughter had clearly inherited, asked: “Can I ask, Mr Gibson, what sanction are you considering?”

I looked at her carefully before saying: “I think the most appropriate punishment would be the cane.”

There was a nod from both parents and an intake of breath as Daria glanced up from the carpet for the first time to look rather nervously at me. Her eyes held mine for a brief moment before falling to contemplate the floor once again.

Mrs James continued, asking: “So, so how do you plan to cane Daria?”

“I am proposing give four strokes to her hands, which is the school equivalent to a boy getting six of the best bent over.”

Daria bit her lip as she continued to stare at the carpet. However, her parents looked at each other unhappily. Assuming they were opposed to canings I started to consider my response to a request for a suspension, which would not be a good idea given that A-levels were only about three months away.

However, that was not the issue, and it was Mrs James who said: “I think you know Daria is quite accomplished on the piano. She has an assessment to get a place in the London School of Music in a couple of weeks, and the cane to her hands might…” She tailed off.

Mr James was the one who put the question: “Can’t you give her six of the best, like a boy? My wife can witness or a female teacher.”

I looked at them for a moment, before having to reply: “I am sorry, school and education authority rules do not permit it.”

The two of then looked at each other again, while Daria just looked sick as the discussion of her punishment carried on around her.

It was Mrs James who asked a very odd question. “Can I ask, does the wording of the rules insist on hands only, or just forbid the cane to the bottom for girls?”

I was stunned and confused by the question and could not see the difference, but having remembered the meeting where it was decided, about four years prior to this story I did actually know the answer. “It is the latter, but I don’t know what difference that makes, there is no other place I would consider a caning to be acceptably safe.” I replied.

“When I was young my mother, who was from Persia, would cane my feet, which is about as safe as hands.” She said.

Before I had a chance to register the concept in my mind, Daria gave a small wail and bit her lip, putting her hands to her face.

Mrs James glanced at her daughter. “Three years ago Daria was quite rude to her grandmother, and found that the caning on her feet she got from her was more painful than anything she has ever had from me. Isn’t that right young lady?”

“P… please mum!” She whispered as her cheeks flushed pink.

I found myself in shock. While there were no critical organs in the feet of course I had no idea of the real risks or pain involved in her proposal.

Mr and Mrs James could sense my reluctance. However with Daria now cringing miserably I was eventually persuaded to give her eight, relatively light, strokes using one of my ‘girl’s canes’, which would be four to each foot. She did start to plead based on the fact it was to four on the hands rather than eight, but the look from her mother silenced her.

I suppose what sealed it for me was the certain level of poetic justice in caning her feet given the location of the broken bone she had caused Emily.

Daria looked terrified as we came to the agreement. Her mother took over as I picked out a suitable light cane. I watched as she reluctantly undid the buckles on her black leather school sandals and then slowly slid her socks down and off. I noticed she was blessed with shapely calves tapering to two dainty ankles and petite narrow feet.

Her mother then made her kneel on the sofa and sort of drape her upper body over the low back. If it were not for her two feet sticking up in the air behind her, the position could have indeed been used to beat her backside.

Mrs James looked at me and I took over. The two parents chose to stand as discretely as they could near the office wall to let me get on with it.

Daria had tears in her eyes as she waited.

“Right foot down.” I ordered

Complying, the pale sole of her left foot was left facing up to the ceiling by itself.

Gently I tapped the cane on the exposed sole, noting that her skin on her calves was showing goose pimples with nerves. Similarly her toes were twitching up and down in anticipation. As I waited for her to relax I wondered how much force to use? A difficult question if one has never caned in this way before, though Daria’s parents had indicated it was best to not be too heavy, but to aim to sting with each stroke (hence the doubling of strokes from that I would have used on her hands). Eventually I decided to go for the same as a stroke to the hands for a first timer, and with a faint hiss swept it down across the middle of the sole once it had more or less stilled.

The effect was electric as Daria’s body jumped and convulsed as she stifled an agonised wail.

Her foot waved around a bit before stilling again for me to administer a second cut roughly parallel to the first.

Another stifled wail as the tears began to fall.

Rather than give her the remaining two blows to her left foot I ordered her to swap and gave her the first blow to her right foot, creating a first faint tramline of pain across that sole. The wail was less well controlled as she struggled to cope. I now saw why her mother had insisted she drape herself right over the sofa back. The pain was such I am sure she would have tried to get up if it were easy to do so.

Thwick!

The fourth blow led to a full scream as the cane cut into her sole, and she broke into open sobs.

“Left foot again.” I ordered.

It took quite some time for her to get ready and I swished the cane down twice, the second ever so slightly harder, getting a more massive scream amongst the sobs as a result.

As she raised her right foot for the final time her soles clenched and unclenched seemingly uncontrollably in anticipation. Finally she stilled enough that I could whack down two further strokes, the second slightly harder, to further almighty wails.

Desperately she struggled up from over the sofa back and clutched at her feet. She was totally unaware that with her legs in their current position and skirt riding up she was giving both her parents and me a rather full view of her plain white panties at the top of her legs.

I would have given her some privacy as I returned the canes, and then a few minutes to get some composure back. However, perhaps due to the exhibition she was making, her mother had other ideas, telling her to stop sniveling and get her shoes and socks on.

Slowly she did so, and I completed the line in the punishment book, glad that the record did not include a column for where the cane was administered, though hoping no-one would ever question the number eight I wrote in the strokes column.

As she stood it was clear that she was finding it difficult to walk. Not knowing how long that would last, and not really wanting the whole school to know the method I had used, I suggested she take the day off to recover.

After she thanked me, her mother then also thanked me for being so flexible and then continued; to say that Daria’s day off would give a chance for her to punish her too. As fresh embarrassed misery etched itself on Daria’s face, it was made clear that her mother was going to ensure that my ‘neglect’ in leaving her bottom unchastised was going to be thoroughly rectified.

Thus, like Emily, I doubted she would be sleeping on her back that night, though in neither girl’s case was that going to be any of my doing.

As Daria miserably hobbled out of my office after her parents I reflected on what certainly was the most unusual caning I ever gave.

The End