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CRISIS AT ST BRIDES

by Theo Jones


1. The Game's Afoot

Mrs Martins was puzzled. She had been Head of St Brides Secondary School for Girls for 23 years and thought she understood young women pretty well. The school used corporal punishment in what she thought was a moderate and wise way. Class teachers were able to use the slipper, carefully recorded in the Punishment Book and she kept the cane as a much feared last resort, administered only by her.

The slipper was a large, old rubber-soled plimsoll, heavy and flexible. The usual sentence was one or two strokes. It stung of course but the shame of walking through the school to fetch it and then bending over in front of your classmates was often much worse.

The cane was given in private, a letter sent to the pupil's home by recorded delivery afterwards. She had played tennis for the County and made sure that a caning really hurt. One or two strokes, delivered with vigour and an ace server's flick at the end, always had them red faced, breathless and often in tears.

Over a year there were usually two or three slipperings a week, some weeks none at all, and perhaps a caning three or four times a term. She kept her eye on the Punishment Book, noticing what was generally going on and talking with her staff. The slipper and cane were there on top of a well-worn system of lines and detention. She prided herself on running a tight ship.

She was taken aback by the sudden increase in the use of the slipper in the fourth and fifth forms: twenty-two slipperings in a week, ten times the average. Something was going on!

She sat in her office late on a Friday looking through the names, the offences and punishments. None of the names were a surprise; they were very largely the school's share of the surly, insolent little madams that were the bane of every teacher's life. What was surprising was to see them getting the slipper in their last term and that a handful of them had been slippered more than once.

Jeannette Brown! That name stuck out. She had been caned twice and was, if not always in trouble, somehow always about to be. She remembered her name coming up in a staff meeting and she'd joked that she must have had the slipper from every member of staff.

"Not me," said Mrs Jennings, the Art teacher. The Physics and R.E. teachers had also ruled themselves out.

The Punishment Book showed she'd been given the slipper for general disruption and cheek by two of them in the last week. She had a sudden revelation, a glorious moment of seeing a pattern where before there had only been chaos. Jeanette Brown was getting the set before she left! It would also seem that she was not alone.

Jeanie and her best friends Mandy and Sal would have been aghast at having their game rumbled so soon. Just before they'd returned to school for their last term they'd had a long semi-drunken conversation about their time there. The vodka bottle had slowly emptied, as they sat in Jeanie's bedroom in a smoky haze.

"I swear I have had my arse whacked more than you two put together!"

"Jeanie, that is crap! Mand and me have had just as much, if not more."

"Well, anyway, I tell you what, we three are the red-arsed queens of St Brides. Every teacher has given us the slipper, I swear!"

"Not everyone, Mrs Jennings hasn't for one."

"Well OK, but just about."

They sat in companionable silence, passing the bottle, each musing on whackings past. Jeanie spoke first.

"Hey, I tell you what, how about we make this last term a bit spicy, have a bit of fun before we go?"

"Of course! What's the idea?"

"Slipper Bingo! First one to get a full house wins."

"Get whacked on purpose you mean? Are you mental?!"

Jeanie grinned a wicked grin.

"Look this is how it works. Us three have probably only got two or three teachers to go. One of us would be sure to get it. There's another dozen or so mugs who'd fancy their chances so we do it like a sweepstake, a couple of quid each, say. It'd be maybe 30 for the winner, one of us."

"It's an idea. It's always just a whack or two anyway. It's not really terrible like the cane."

They all shuddered as they thought about the cane.

As the summer term got underway the three miscreants evangelised for Slipper Bingo. There was much joshing and shaking heads but over the first week the hard core fifth formers and a few fourth years looking to take next year's vacant crown, signed up.

Olga Hagitz thought the scheme was crazy but also very amusing; she certainly hadn't been approached and would never have signed up for it if she had. She could see that it was a really subversive plan, almost situationist in its attack on the school's ethos. They were taking one of the most feared aspects of school discipline and making a game of it.

Olga was a political refugee from an Eastern bloc country. She had been a courier for the Resistance, smuggled out of the country as she was about to be investigated. She'd been processed through a young person's holding centre and then fostered with the Extons in the small town of Wadsworth.

She was a solemn, dark haired fourth former; a studious, polite girl who'd just had her fifteenth birthday. She'd been at St Brides for the previous half term and her high intelligence and strong academic performance had been quickly recognised. She was bound for great things, everyone agreed.

She was also actually twenty-two years old.

She was an average height and had a pert rounded figure, perfectly fitting her actual age. It was her face that looked so young, unlined, untouched by the vicissitudes of life so far.

This had led the Resistance to get her a second identity card taking seven years off her age, as cover for her work as a courier. It worked well, very well. Unfortunately, when she was spirited out of the country that was the only I.D. she had. When approached through formal channels to check her story, a malign Regime official had written and confirmed her age as fourteen.

These official documents, and her appearance, had convinced everybody that her assertions that she was an adult were lies, designed to secure her freedom to continue to engage in all the drinking, smoking and sexual adventures that had been part of her 'grown up' dissident life.

She had been taken firmly in hand by her centre worker, Mary Freshwell. She'd been repeatedly spanked for smoking, insolence and refusing to go to bed on time. She had been reduced to sorry tears as her bottom felt Mary's hard hand, even harder hairbrush and the scary, terrible strap.

Usually these punishments had been on her bare bottom; the memories were so shameful. They had certainly swiftly concentrated her thoughts. What was to be gained from continuing to assert that she was an adult?

However, she had also felt loved, nurtured and cared about for the first time in many years. She understood Mary's point of view, given that she truly believed Olga was fourteen, and this understanding helped too. Olga decided to accept her 'Catch 22' situation and make the best of things. She calmed down, she was studious and obedient and slowly fell in love with her new country.

Dora Exton had much in common with Mary, not surprisingly as she had been handpicked by her. There was motherly love and concern, a close family, jokes and laughter and, if needed, a proper smacked bottom. The temptations of a local cigarette machine had been the cause of Olga's only Wadsworth spanking. Dora found out everything!

At St Brides, she'd become a source of help and advice for other 'good girls', academically and personally. Some of them called her Aunty Olga. This was how she heard about the Slipper Bingo. Julie Jones asked her opinion.

"Aunty, do you know that some of the bad girls in the fourth and fifth years are having a competition to see who can be first to be slippered by every teacher?"

"Julie, I am seriously not your auntie!" Olga actually enjoyed the title; someone recognised she was older, even if they just thought it was her personality. "As for this game it is crazy, first you get your bottom hit and it hurts and second the teachers are being bothered by this nonsense when they are doing their best to help us learn."

"So, should we snitch, Auntie?"

"Tell the tale? No, if they want the slipper, they're welcome to it!"

Afterwards Olga wondered if this had been the best decision. The trouble was that she knew snitching was almost the worst thing you could do in the pupil culture and she did want to fit in, as well as do well. It was all best left alone. She was not alone in this stance, remarkably no Prefect, not even the Head Girl, 'told the tale'.

As for Slipper Bingo, the public nature of the punishment, generally agreed to be the worst thing about it, became the strength of the project. There was always a class full of witnesses and so an individual tally sheet could be agreed for each player. There could be no cheating.

There were seventeen contestants in all. Each of them produced a list of the teachers who'd slippered them and who was left. Doubles, or for some of them trebles, only counted once. There were a few heated arguments as one or two tried to up their score but in the end an accurate record was agreed.

Jeanie was right, the three of them were tops. She and Sal needed three and Mand needed four.

Gemma Watkins was the oldest girl in school, she had been sixteen two days after the start of the Autumn Term. She thought they were all completely crazy but agreed to hold the records, the stakes and be the judge of last resort.

"Just so long as we understand that whoever wins owes me a drink!"

The following Monday was set for the game to begin. By lunchtime both Jeanie and Sal had been slippered together by Mrs Jennings, for persistent squabbling.

"Right, that's enough. You two have been warned. Go and get the slipper and Punishment Book, both of you, and be quick about it."

As they left the classroom they gave each other a quick grin. Mrs Bryant, the school secretary sighed as they appeared at the door.

"Two at once. I won't say it never happens but it's not common."

Now they faced the walk of shame back to their classroom through the echoing corridors, their feet clacking on the polished parquet floor. If anyone saw you then there was every chance they might add to your misery by making whacking noises, little cries of 'Oh, no, not so hard' or ouching. Some smiles were just as bad in their mocking knowledge of your ordeal.

Fortunately, today they met no-one, although their little procession was noticed through half a dozen windows. Sal carried the slipper, looking a little less than pleased with herself, and Jeanie held the big, blue Punishment Book, also starting to feel a bit anxious. Mrs Jennings was an unknown quantity, someone who rarely resorted to physical punishment.

Mrs Jennings was a middle aged, tall and wiry woman. Her hair was always in a flurry, often flecked with paint, and increasingly, with grey. Her clothes had an exotic air of far-away places, her earrings and bracelets jangling as she moved. She was generally tolerant of high spirits, if she couldn't keep their interest in creating things she wouldn't have thought much of herself as a teacher. However, she had limits.



© Theo Jones
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