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School CP - August 1987


The Daily Telegraph, London, 12 August 1987

Cripes! -- they're swiping caning for six

Arthur Marshall remembers when beatings were good for you

YAROOOOOOOOOH! No caning, fictional or factual, could ever justify such a silly fuss as that constantly made by the deplorably cowardly Billy Bunter, a fuss recently echoed by those well-meaning busybodies bent on removing from the scholastic world one of its oldest and most picturesque methods of punishment.

Cartoon of Billy BunterIt is true that W. Bunter had, because of his embonpoint, the tightest pair of trousers in Greyfriars and that, for a beating, loosely hanging bags are preferable and produce less in the way of tingle. But, as has been said of love-making, the interesting bit is but momentary, and the position is ludicrous and there is nothing worth getting hot and bothered about.

A great deal of twaddle has been said and written about the alleged "indignity" of beatings and the damage done, not so much to the body as to the ego.

But that, surely, is one of the points -- a momentary deflation of the ego can often have beneficial results in young persons. And should schoolboys even have egos? I rather doubt it.

As with so many matters in our complicated country, the question of class is of interest here and I suspect that a boy from a public school of repute, perhaps that one near Windsor, would think far less of a caning and would bend over with considerably less concern than, say, a boy from a lesser establishment and with fewer advantages. However, with caning this week elevated to the status of a civil offence in the state school, the latter boy need bend no more.

I was beaten quite justifiably at the age of 10 for "nasty-minded sniggering" in a French lesson. We had been required to translate a sentence that I found pleasantly suggestive: "My sister cannot marry for her dot is but small."

At my public school I was unjustly beaten, together with the junior half of the house, when a daredevil placed an up-ended drawing-pin on a prefect's chair and then, his courage failing him, omitted to own up. He went into the Civil Service, obtained high office and was knighted. Draw your own conclusions.

Let me hastily say that neither of these punitive assaults has left any kind of scar.

Much that is hilarious in scholastic history is connected with corporal punishment. There was the headmaster (was it Keate of Eton?) who, on finding six boys waiting outside the study door, promptly beat them, forgetting that they were confirmands come to hear him discourse on "The meaning of the Holy Spirit".

There was the St Paul's High Master who got into a thorough muddle and beat some old boys who, their eyes misty with nostalgia, had come down for another peep at the dear old place.

In the early 1800s, an oversensitive schoolmaster, reluctant to ply the cane himself, could make use of a caning machine. Details of the contrivance have, alas, not come down to us.

Presumably there was a dial that could be set to the number of whacks decided upon, but was it steam-driven or was reliance placed on strong elastic bands?

Was there any sort of speed control, perhaps operated by the victim? We shall never know and my letter of inquiry to the Patent Office has remained unanswered.

And if no corporal punishment, what punishment, or is punishment too to be regarded as a dirty word? Are wrong-doers merely to be "reasoned with"? Oh dear! In my youth I would much rather have had a crisp four of the best than have to endure one of those lengthy and cliché-ridden pi-jaws ("not pulling your weight ... letting the side down ..."), gazing the while at the lugubrious expression on the face of the earnest pi-jawer.

Sanderson, Oundle's famous headmaster, held the view that nobody should beat a boy except in the "white heat of anger", but white heat doesn't make for accuracy and he clearly wins the prize for mishits.

On one occasion he was said to have managed, cane wildly waving, to decapitate a Dresden shepherdess winsomely simpering on a shelf several feet away.

Picture the sheer fun of being able to report that to one's friends. Those were indeed the days.

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