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Saturday, 26 January 2013

The Mark of Cane

You may recall that, before we were rudely interrupted by the festive season, I was recounting the everyday corporal punishment that was meted out for even the most minor transgression,  and my trials and tribulations with (amongst other things) woodworking at my school, Anglesey Secondary Modern in Burton (see Hitting the Woodwork)?

As the months passed, and my woodworking ability failed to improve, the collection of mangled pieces of wood continued to build in my workbench, as Mr. W. told me to "put that in your cupboard to finish later" whenever he wanted to move the class on to the next project.  Finally, we reached what was intended to be the piece de resistance of the course; a small mahogany bookcase.  Before we embarked upon this grand project we were warned, in no uncertain terms, that this was a very expensive piece of wood and we were to take the greatest possible care of it. 

I can't remember much about this project, thankfully, but I know that we were required to plane the wood to ensure a nice, smooth, and above all, straight series of edges.   So I planed away with gusto, checking the edges every now and then with a spirit level (which I didn't really understand, but it looked good anyway). 
My problem was that I'm a bit of a perfectionist.  This is something of a handicap in someone with no discernible practical ability.  As time went by, it became clear to me that, instead of the edges becoming ever more level and smooth, they were beginning to take on the appearance of the Bay of Biscay in a storm.  They say that the definition of madness is to continue with an action in the expectation of a different outcome.  I can only say that I was gripped with a form of madness as the plane slid over the wood again and again, and the appearance of the edges got steadily worse.

Eventually, Mr. W. came over to see how I was progressing, and the conversation went something like this:

Mr. W. "What do you think you're doing?"

Me: "I'm planning the edges straight"

Mr. W. (turning red with anger) "But…look at them! They're like a dog's hind leg!  You've ruined this wood.  Take it to Mr. R. (our Headmaster) and tell him to give you the cane."

The class fell absolutely silent as I removed my mutilated mahogany from the vice and headed miserably for the door.  The idea of 'goody, goody' Whiteland being sent for the cane, was a shock to most and a cause of some hilarity in others.  I can only assume that Mr. W. thought that I had committed this desecration deliberately, although a quick glance in my workbench would have told a different story.

Shaking with fear and deep in misery, I marched down to the Headmaster's office and knocked, timidly, on the door.  There was no reply.  In an agony of indecision, I hung about in the vestibule that separated the various offices from the entrance to the school hall.  Eventually, the Deputy Headmistress came out and saw me forlornly clutching my piece of mahogany.

"What are you standing there for, Philip?"  Miss A. asked

"Mr. W. sent me to see the Headmaster with this." I indicated the tortured timber, but diplomatically failed to indicate exactly why he had sent me on this errand.

"You'd better go back and tell Mr. W. that the Headmaster is out at the moment"

Grateful for this reprieve, I scuttled back to my class, although I was rather worried about how Mr. W. might take this news.  As luck would have it, he had calmed down in the interim and probably thought better of his actions.  I blubbered to him that Mr. R. was out at the moment and he sent me back to my bench and said he would see if he could help me to repair the damage.  Thankfully, the idea of the cane seemed to have taken a back seat (as opposed to my back seat).

I never did complete the mahogany bookcase.  It joined the rest of the prospective firewood in my workbench and the matter was never discussed again.

This story, and many others, will be part of the new compilation, A Kick at the Pantry Door, scheduled for publication March/April 2013.  You can find the existing compilations by following these links: Steady Past Your Granny's and Crutches for Ducks