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Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Stories from my Wicked Past: Caned at 6 [Part 2]

[continued from Part 1] 
Old Jim had told us specifically that they had to be finished by the time he came back inside, and there was to be No Talking.

Well, we talked of course, our hands cupped across our faces under the fateful and fanciful illusion that this was invisible from the back verandah. We didn't understanding the subtleties of the Headmaster's Big Room management. As rookies in that department, we were way too optimistic about not being noticed, or simply were unaware that Old Jim saw all from his vantage post and could in any case spot a whisper from forty paces. Thus it was only a matter of minutes before he entered the Big Room through the front door, and walked in silence to the cane rack. 
   Had the Angel of Death appeared instead, but with an interest in the canes, the impact on me would have been just the same.
   The cane was State Department of Education issue; rattan I think, not bamboo, about a centimetre thick and a metre long. Old Jim had three or four of these on a rack on the wall, like billiard cues, and if there was any slacking off on a given day, he would take them out one by one, whip them up and down a little to get the accumulation of chalkdust off them, test his accuracy on an imaginary offender's hand, and then put them back in the rack. 

Warming up
Illustration by Watto

The work rate in the room always improved considerably after those demonstrations. For an hour afterwards, essays on 'What I did at the Gladstone Show' were written with remarkable speed, accuracy and neatness, and times tables were sung aloud with the fervour of students at a Madrassah learning their Qur'an.
   The canes terrified me, especially the guillotine-like swish and howl of pain I had heard all to often when one was applied. Watching a caning [and we all did, for the viewing was regarded as a salutary experience for boys and girls alike] was like attending a public hanging, all the more impressive if you hadn’t being caned yourself, because you knew there were all sorts of reasons why you could be next. 
   Not having been caned, it seemed to me a fate only just slightly less horrific than death. It had all the allure of a serious car accident for those of us who stumble upon them. The main attraction for the voyeur is that not only is it dramatic, it’s someone else and not actually you, though it could easily be.
   Not so for me on this occasion. My time had come.
   I knew what was on its way, for Old Jim was nothing if not fair, and he would have made sure that every boy about to be caned had disobeyed his instruction. By Departmental regulation, only boys could be caned, not girls, up to a maximum of six strokes. For some strange reason, they were delivered in pairs, 2, 4 or 6, and each chastisement was duly recorded in the Punishment Register, against the name of the offender. 
   Had I been given the chance to protest my innocence, I would gladly have yielded up any or all of my classmates to any fate, including burning at the stake or garotting, in a desperate effort to wriggle my way out of the horror that was upon me. But Old Jim was working his way up the row towards me, dragging the left hand of every boy out in front of each yowling child and delivering two cuts to the fingers of the hand. 
   I should point out that they were not actually cuts in the physical sense, but we always referred to them like that – e.g., ‘Kelvin Thompson got 4 cuts today, Mum’ – not an unusual occurrence for Kelvin, who, as a seasoned veteran, took them stoically, with a bit of an affected wince to guarantee he didn’t get more – but it was an entirely novel and terrifying prospect for me.
   What was I to do? Well, what would any 6 year old do in such circumstances? 
   Howl and scream before the event, naturally, in a vain attempt to prove contrition. Some of the others, also new to this form of correction, had even snatched up their slate pencils and were pretending to work out the twelve-fold division of the five quid with its troublesome coins detailed on the uncompleted Sum Card, but it was a forlorn hope. I did not even attempt it. I knew nothing was going to save me. So I did what any sensible 6 year old scared utterly witless at the sight of the approaching cane would do.
   What would you do? I’ll eat my hat, no salt and pepper either, if you’d have done what I did.


  1. Run? No, you'd do something more Parried with the sum card? Recited a relevant piece of Mahabharata?


    Anyway, what news of yesterday and today?

  2. Didn't run.... yes, it was fairly creative.... Sum Card wasn't involved. Not a great fan of the Mahabharata in Gr 3.... In fact I taught Indian history for some years before becoming a fan of that galaxy of wisdom!
    Not a bad first day getting my hit of Avastin and chemo drugs. I'm feeling a little weary now and that will get worse as the week goes on, but I'm not complaining. My drugs to counter the effect of the anti-nausea drugs make me a little nauseous! Oh and in a minute I have to take an anti-reflux drug that makes me want to throw up for a while, and have my anti-clot injection and have your anti-allergy solution [cider vinegar] for the anti-clotting agent. Do you think there are some fundamental flaws in Western medicine? :)
    Maybe you're the only one reading my caning torture! Shall I give people a few days to contemplate what THEY would have done....

  3. No!! And I'm glad you didn't -but why do I feel I am hogging the response?? Too bad, I still will.

    And I can't think what I would have done, but maybe something similar -sat on my hands, definitely crying (I think) just as much from the humiliation as the fear. I always wanted to be a GOOD girl, insecure as I was. How could that man do that to a 6 year old...

    I WAS a good girl, too, except for the time I stole my grandma's chocolates when she was staying with us, and tried to blame it on my brother. They knew though. HOW did they know!! How embarrassing. So I lied AND stole...and was gluttonous (some things never change).


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