Sunday, 27 March 2016

Crime and Punishment - and Complicity

Earlier in the week I said I had an insight into school corporal punishment after the Snowdon climb with some old boys from my school.

I was sat bracketed between a couple of chaps who attended my school in the early to mid 60s, a few years before me. Having heard the stories of different generations, I can definitely say that the terrors of punishments meted out by both teachers and pupils alike became more civilized by my time. In the 'olden days' it was quite horrific and medieval.

School terrorism comprised 3 elements, officially sanctioned punishment by teachers, officially sanctioned punishment by the Senior Cadet Captains (prefects) and the Chief Cadet Captain (Head Boy) and unofficial punishments - or bullying - by the King of the Woods, the latter usually being the most pugnacious (and sometimes sheer evil) boy in his last term at the school. The King of the Woods was effectively the school bully and arch recidivist. Official punishment varied from early heave outs (getting up an hour early to perform strenuous exercises) to cuts (being beaten over the backside with a bell rope).

Richard, who was King of the Woods just before he left my school, was recounting an incident over dinner when he was ordered to the Gun Room by the Chief Cadet Captain for cuts. a punishment for some misdemeanour. As Head Boy, the CCC was authorised to administer cuts as he saw fit, but an official log of punishments had to be kept. Richard refused to attend the Gun Room - it was a head to head clash between officialdom and an unofficial, but very real power. The CCC was not empowered to simply have a bunch of senior boys just grab him and frogmarch him to the Gun Room for punishment, and therefore the weakness of the official punishment system was exposed - it relied 100% on the complicity of the person being punished by presenting himself for punishment. As Richard said; "There was no law that said I had to present myself for punishment."

Richard was a renowned King of the Woods, as corroborated by several people I know from his era. A confirmed recidivist who, I get the impression, now regrets a lot of his intimidatory activities at school and has to live with the fact that he came to be hated by a lot of his contemporaries. He  now has to live with that. The result is he never attends the annual reunions. This was the first event he has attended, albeit a much smaller affair than the annual reunion. Nevertheless, his insight into the complicity of punishment was quite enlightening and can be extrapolated to wider social spheres.

Richard is now a very nice bloke but, I suspect, is haunted by his time at school.


  1. I went to the pub with Richard for a few hours. There is a lot more to it.. as always

    1. He hated his time there, but there's also a nostalgia. He wiped a tear from his eye a couple of times.