Undercover author, Kitty Churchill, faces up to her interview with the dreaded Miss Prim, headmistress of the Muir Academy.
I knocked on the Headmistress’s door. She opened it in gown and mortar-board and ushered me in. It smelt like a schoolroom. A mixture of musty books, sweaty little boys and chalk. As my eyes darted about the room I avoided paying undue attention to Miss Prim’s rod rack. The woman had a frightening arsenal at her disposal.
‘Sit down, Churchill!’ she commanded, the softly spoken voice completely gone.
‘How old are you girl?’
‘Do you mean real or pretend. Miss Prim?’
‘Well, what age do you think you are girl?’ Miss Prim was losing her patience already.
‘Fourteen.’ God, the waist band on my pleated skirt was tight.
Miss Prim then asked me to stand so that she could give my uniform the once over. She skimmed over the griffin logo on my blouse without a word. All seemed to be going well but then she asked to see if I was wearing my regulation blue knickers. Unfortunately, Oxfam had been all out and I was wearing a white tanga. I had barely lifted my skirt and I was straight over her knee, tanga down and six of the best with the palm of her hand.
‘Pax’ I wanted to say but it came out as, ‘Thank you. Miss Prim,
‘Do you know why you’ve been sent to this school?’ asked the headmistress, completely unflustered from her exertions.
‘Because I’ve been a bad girl, Miss Prim.’
‘Yes, and do you know what corporal punishment is?’
Illegal? ‘Caning, Miss’
‘It’s more than that, Churchill, it is any punishment of a physical nature. You will learn discipline here as well as humiliation,’ she told me, sternly.
I felt a surge of defiance. Her cane could not humiliate me any more than the beret had done already.
Miss Prim then recited the school rules. I was to count every stroke of the cane I was given and if I miscounted she would start again. I was not to rub my backside or call out as this would, once again, mean repeating the punishment. I was not to move until I was told to and I had to thank her at the end of each punishment session. Then she pointed to the blackboard.
‘Read this!’ she barked.
‘Four demerits equal six whacks of the cane.’
The entrance exam was a fiasco. The first test was English Literature and whenever I didn’t know an answer I said King Lear. I said that Shakespeare’s wife was called Annie. I forgot the name of A Midsummer Night’s Dream and said it was ‘the one with the fairies in.’ I got six out of twelve wrong. Miss Prim brought out the gym shoe. Back down over my desk holding on to my chair. I prayed that my tit wouldn’t get lodged in the ink well.
Thwack went Miss Prim’s gym shoe six times.
‘You’ve obviously been spending too much time behind the bike shed with the boys.’
If only she knew.
Mere mention of the next test filled me with dread. Home Economics. I tried to remember four ways to serve a baked apple and how to remove Windowlene stains from an ironing-board cover. Thanks to the grace of God, or at least the ghost of Elizabeth David, I scraped through with nine out of twelve. Had I not said that the principal ingredient of a Quiche Lorraine was Sainsbury’s it would have been ten. Nevertheless three were wrong and I was back over the desk having my bum tanned with a leather paddle. I didn’t know why I pulled my knickers up, I knew they were coming down again.
Sooner than I thought. Flushed with my cookery triumph I got cocky and made a big mistake. I forgot to thank Miss Prim for her troubles. Out came the tawse – a flat whip with a number of leather tails.
‘Rude!’ Swish ‘Disobedient!’ Swish. ‘Stupid!’ Swish.
As my buttocks began to glow, I thought about the time that Ben was run over outside of No Sex please We’re British and then, as he was lying in the road, got punched by the driver for denting his fender.
Round three, the History Test, and Miss Prim wasn’t even out of breath. Despite having History A level I floundered. Eleven out of fifteen wrong. I certainly didn’t know what started the English Civil War. Should Miss Prim be asking you at a future date it’s apparently something to do with a woman throwing a chair at a Dean over the Common Prayer. The Headmistress seemed to have a sudden lapse in inventiveness and for my punishment I was back over her knee with her using her hand. Unfortunately, I miscounted just on the last stroke. She began again. I started to laugh, almost uncontrollably. Tears streamed down my face.
And still the CP kept coming. Somehow throughout the afternoon I had gained four demerits. My knickers had whiplash from being jerked backwards and forwards so quickly. Over the desk once more, I gratefully received my caning. As she swished the cane behind me I felt faint. I had never been caned in my life before and by now my bottom was seared from an hour of her ministrations. I swore under my breath as I counted out the six blows, telling myself it would soon be over. It had become a battle of wits. I knew I could say ‘pax’ and it would stop, but I wouldn’t give Miss Prim the satisfaction.
‘Judy Garland!’ I yelled by way of consolation.
As a final note Miss Prim asked me if I was going to write a letter to my previous school apologising for my past behaviour and promise to try harder at the Muir Reform Academy. Saying no would have meant the birch but I was definitely tempted.
‘Oh, yes, Miss Prim. Yes’
To all at my former school,
I, Kitty Churchill do hereby apologise for the bin room incidents, for excessively backcombing my hair, for hitting Carol Parsons of 4C in the mouth with a G-clamp, for my non-regulation knickers, for laughing till I peed when the deaconess fell off the stage during Harvest Festival, for locking Mr Blunden in the art cupboard and thus contributing to his eventual nervous breakdown and for robbing the sanitary dispenser blind. What can I say? I was crying out for attention and it was a shame that I had to go as far as I have to find it. If only you lot at the secondary modern had believed in Miss Prim’s brand of tough love.
I took off my uniform and Miss Prim was waiting for me in the kitchen with tea and sympathy.
‘Did you think your punishment was light, medium or severe? she asked, removing the tea cosy.
Severe, I thought, but I knew that if I said that she would wonder why I went there in the first place. ‘Medium. No sugar for me, thank you.’
Miss Prim played mum and told me that on the contrary my punishment had been very light. She said that I obviously had a low pain threshold and would write this down on my school card for the new term. We discussed the possible school days and weekends I could attend. I must say I was very tempted by the weekend girls-only (special girls allowed) school which placed particular emphasis on the ‘feminine arts’. These included deportment, elocution and flower arranging. But thinking about what I could do to a handful of ‘mums and a block of oasis, I decided that maybe it would be easier on my bum if I went for a one-day mixed school.
The train home was full of businessmen talking in very loud voices. As I sat, squirming from my bruises, I began to wonder about the task I’d set myself. I felt very removed from the normality around me. Then thinking about it further, I realised that the ‘normal’ businessmen sitting around me were probably doing the same things as me on a far more regular basis.
Ben was waiting for me when I got home. He insisted that I show him my bruises.
‘So what video have you rented?’ I asked, pulling down my knickers for the nth time that day.
‘Magnificent Obsession,’ he replied. ‘You want to put something on that.’