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Sunday, 20 April 2014

The misdirected cane

At my school pupils were caned regularly and for no good reason. The prospect terrified me and during these sessions (once because my feet were bigger than the geography master's) I was often close to screaming out. I am not ashamed. It seemed the obvious reaction.

Two fat boys in my class were caned over and over for being fat. Yet they adopted a philosophical attitude, bearing the pain with fortitude, smiling afterwards, even joking with the caning master.

I didn't like the fat boys (perhaps because they were fat; I was just as prejudiced as the sadists squiring our intellects) but I envied the way they compartmentalised pain. Now I'm not so sure.

It's Easter Day which reminds us of the infliction of suffering by those in authority. Those floggings over sixty years ago were frequently unfair. Should one remain stoic in the face of injustice? More particularly, might one be shaped in later life by such light-heartedness?

I believe my reaction was healthier. At least, it led (I think) to a lifelong detestation of the death penalty. Thanks chaps.

JOE'S NUDGE
From The Poet's Tongue (ed. Auden, Garret), celebrating the life of Joe Hyam, poetry lover and friend.

Gup, Scot,
Laudate,
Caudate
,
Set in better
Thy pentameter,
This Dundas,
This Scottish as,
He rymes and railes,
That Englishmen have tailes.


Reasons why. The English persecuted the Scots; here’s a yah-boo. Googling: laudate - "Oh praise...", caudate - "Having a tail-like appendage...",  gup - reproof, derision, remonstrance, Dundas - a Scottish surname.

Is it poetry? Definitely. On the basis of "Set in better/Thy pentameter." alone. Rough translation: Don't bother with Latin pretentious Scot, say it straight out, the English are devils. Cleverclogs. Seven out of ten. 

John Skelton (c. 1460 – 1529)

11 comments:

The Crow said...

As much as I'm enjoying the poetry, even more I'm enjoying your "Reasons why."

It's almost like having the Universe explained each time anew.

(In my schools, we were paddled. At one school I attended - there were many - the paddle looked like a shortened cricket bat, had rows of holes for the air to rush through on the down-swing. Made more of the force hit your butt, hurt more. I had learned not to cry out at home, where my drunken father's beatings lasted longer if we cried. I'm sorry you were caned, sounds much worse than the paddle!)

mike M said...

Might have meant devils in 1500. My immediate reaction to "have tailes" is "simple brutes".

Lucy said...

Admiration for that kind of stoicism quite misplaced. I can understand the envy of it though, if it seemed to indicate being inured.

Do you think there was more or less bullying amongst the boys when it was the teachers who were the chief bullies? Did it foster and reinforce the acceptability of bullying generally, or create a degree of solidarity, or simply submission and a kind of tyrannically imposed order?

Whatever, it's always a horrible thing to hear about. Whatever anyone says, and sometimes even against perception, the world was not a better place in the old days.

The poem is funny, and I'm with Crow on enjoying the reasons why. I read 'Gup' as a contraction of 'Get up!'.

Rouchswalwe said...

Those in authority when I was a girl tried to protect me from the bullies who came after me because of my stutter and my German mother (this made me a "nazi" in their eyes). I became a very fast runner. I agree that your reaction was healthier, and now as an adult, I also detest the death penalty and mob rule.

Roderick Robinson said...

The Crow: That bit about the Universe is the most extreme bit of flattery I've ever experienced. It's too good to let go waste and will reappear shortly.

Paddle vs. cane. I'm not a true connoisseur of pain; I've always tried hard to avoid it.The disadvantage of the cane (to the canee) is that it can be delivered very precisely, notably along the groove at which the buttock joins the thigh. Thus there is no let-up. Brother Nick went to a residential public (ie, private) school where older kids, in the role of prefects, were allowed to cane the younger boys. Thus there was more caning (than at my school) and it was completely random. He was caned almost daily until he bled. Bullied too.

MikeM: Too namby-pamby. The Scots have good reason to hate the English; read about the Glencoe Massacre, the battle of Culloden and - especially - the Highland Clearances to find out why. I favour the strongest possible interpretation and I sympathise with the Scots. Presently the Scots are campaigning for independence and the referendum is only five months way. I'll hate for them to go, but I'll understand.

Lucy: Bullying among kids went on - David Hockney, for instance, was bullied for his strange ways - but I didn't suffer too much. You have to remember that I was always in the lowest class, where intellectual aspiration didn't really exist. The concepts of anti-authority or pupil solidarity would have required too much effort and the rest of the class, like me, merely waited for school to end for good. Virtually all my classmates, like me, left school at 15/16. You are right - there were no golden days and the fees my father paid were, in the main, wasted.

That was why starting at the newspaper and being among those with shared interests and beliefs was complete heaven.

Initially I was discouraged by this poem which didn't seem to be poetry. But a little research with the words and I quickly discovered that if verse written in the sixteenth century survives, there's usually a good reason.

RW (zS): Only if your mother had been Japanese could things have been worse. The one terror at school was being regarded as "different". Plus of course the stutter. How delightful that you went on to master Japanese, later still to develop into the exotic melange of qualities we all appreciate and love. American is too bald a term to describe you.

Avus said...

That brought back some memories, RR. The cane was infrequent at my (grammar)school and was confined to use by the headmaster. So when you were up for it, it was serious. Even to me, at about 15, it was obvious that he enjoyed inflicting it immensely. (A cold sadist).
About 4 of us were interviewed by him, in his study. Our misdemeanour had been some potentially harmless larking around, when one boy tripped over and needed hospital treatment for a small eye injury - his parents complained and said we were bullying him (we weren't - he was all part of our group and the action, but you are not listened to at 15).
He then told us that we would be caned, tomorrow, at the end of the day, so we had overnight and all the next school day to cultivate the fear. When the time came I vividly remember, more than the actual caning, how he seemed to savour positioning me, bent over, and ensuring that my buttocks were firmly and tightly stretched to receive the blows. 6 of 'em and they hurt like hell but I did not give him the satisfaction of seeing me in pain. Although almost squirming with it I unfolded myself, said, "thank you sir" and walked out of his study (dancing with pain in the corridor outside)

None of our masters were(officially) allowed to hit us but we had one or two sadists amongst them.(The woodwork teacher used a 3 foot steel rule to whack us)
All prefects were allowed to use a gym slipper on our bums and treated it as a "sport" - positioning us at the end of their common room and then taking a run at us for the full length of the room before landing the blows (a bit like the run up when bowling at cricket, I suppose)
No doubt it made a man of me (?) and National Service in the army was a piece of cake after that preparation!

mike M said...

Stumbled upon this this morning.

http://archive.thetablet.co.uk/article/14th-november-1936/8/why-englishmen-have-tails

You can hardly say I'm not a fan, as I finished GT last night as well, and woke to ponder it more from 3 to 4 AM. But I'll have more to say on that later.

Stella said...

Since the mention of your grandfather's cane, I have been hauling up memories of punishments and retribution. In my school, in order to be strapped, you had to be sent down to the Principal's office. (You have to wonder if it was a line item in the job description......"must be capable of beating on small children".) A child who didn't need much intimidation to bring me into line, I was never sent out of the room for anything more criminal than talking or gum chewing, but my husband says he was strapped. Boys were prone to it. Alarmed enough for the memory to last all these years later, I recall the older sister of my friend was sent into the classroom to spell off the teacher for some reason and she took the opportunity to display what I can only think she interpreted the opportunity to represent -- a chance to display her teacherpower -- expressing disappontment in a "wrong" answer by slamming (and breaking) a ruler on the offender's desk. It wasn't a usual behaviour of any of my teachers, but she got the idea somewhere. I was quietly satisfied with the act, knowing that breaking school property was the bigger sin and one she would have to answer for. In my case, fear of violence kept me wary and observant (did i develop any sensory skills?) but in some surely prompted feelings of resentment and buried anger. It's a provocative topic.

Roderick Robinson said...

Avus: I never held back from giving "him the satisfaction". I was afraid he might think I hadn't suffered enough and dish out some more. Just for fun. His fun. This wasn't a situation where I could see myself winning a single point.

I think there were other ways of becoming a man than having one's backside lashed. Unless of course one had already mapped out a sado-masochistic future.

MikeM: Well, there you go. It seems a very minor insult in comparison with the afflictions the English rained down on the Scots. However the three incidents I mention - Culloden (1746), the Glencoe Massacre (1692, actually inflicted by other Scots but only because the victims, the MacDonalds, had delayed pledging allegiance to the new English monarchs, William and Mary) and the Clearances (18th - 19th centuries) - all happened after the poem was written and perhaps the Scots hadn't worked up enough anti-Sassenach fervour by then. Me, I'm not sure I wouldn't mind a tail. Might help with swimming.

I applaud your application in finishing GT in the small hours, given the demands your work seems to impose. Should you ever visit London let me know ahead of time and I'll draw you a map detailing the route of the walk that forms the final pages. Nothing would give me greater pleasure than that someone would follow it, echoing those who love Ulysses and who assemble on June 16 to follow Bloom's route through Dublin - said to describe a question mark.

Stella: Are you suggesting that girls were strapped in your school? That seems incredibly barbaric, although I do remember a girl in primary school getting smacked on the thigh (the fleshy part), albeit by a female teacher.

My post didn't attempt to cover all the forms of punishment we underwent. Being pulled out of one's seat and over one's desk, grasped by pinched folds of cheek, was another. In fact the most painful of all was to be rapped on the knuckles with a ruler used sideways.

Staying wary and observant (but not necessarily obedient) seems like a sound policy, typical of the wisdom I have come to expect from The Creek Runs On All Night.

Ellena said...

Reading this post and comments takes me to a place that I don't want to go to.
I know too much about suffering for being different. Today I understand and am not angry only sad knowing that things could have been less hurtful had I known
what I know today.

mike M said...

I didn't finish GT in the wee hours. It took 80 pages or so to get me well hooked, and I spent a sunny Easter Sunday afternoon finishing it up. The wee hours thing was rumination, and it's ongoing. Jotted a few notes to myself at work today in fact.