I pulled the bedclothes over my head and wept silently; wept for the injustices of the world, for the indignities of the evening, and for my bruised and bleeding buttocks.
“I want the boys responsible to come forward and own up,” my tyrannical housemaster had demanded earlier. No one had stirred, of course.
“Alternatively, if anyone knows who the culprits are, he can come and tell me privately. Otherwise, I shall be forced to punish you all. I’ll be waiting in my study.” Even at sixteen, I was outraged by this blackmail, and sensed he was painting himself into a corner from which none of us would escape unscathed.
Earlier that evening we had watched the monthly film, the high point of our spartan lives. Sitting in the school’s gymnasium flanked by wall-bars and climbing ropes, my classmates and I had been captivated by Rod Taylor’s adventures as he rescued the delectable Yvette Mimieux in H.G. Wells’ ‘The Time Machine.’ I doubt I was the only one who longed to fast-forward his life to escape this boys’ boarding-school prison and meet his own Weena.
Eating sweets during the film was strictly forbidden—to prepare us for the arbitrary and unreasonable demands of the real world, I suppose. But once the film was over and the chairs neatly stacked back against the wall-bars, the evidence of our crimes was incontrovertible: wrappers littered the gymnasium floor.
A happier man might have said: “Volunteers—you, you, and you! pick up those sweet wrappers and don’t let it happen again.” But instead, he chose confrontation, a choice that led almost inevitably to the caning of the entire student body.
Sixty years later, although my buttocks have healed, I still weep—for my long-dead housemaster.