Crime and punishment

Yesterday there was a pre-view piece on BBC TV that interested me. It seems they have re-made a series of Richmel Crompton’s immortal Just William. I look forward to viewing it, but it took me back a wee bit …

Soon after I was installed as a 12 year old school boarder (yes cheeky, I can remember that far back!) my friend Sidney and I slipped away one summer’s afternoon, leaving the school environs without permission. This was an offence punishable only by a caning from our housemaster. But of course one had first to be found out.

Furtively we hurried through Abingdon town and down to the banks of the river Thames. There we climbed a willow tree overhanging the river to get a better view of just what that couple were up to down there in the long grass. (Some may remember a similar incident in my novel, More Deaths Than One.) All was going very well on the sex education front until my buddy was stung on the leg by an angry hornet. His shout would have woken the dead but, conversely, killed the male/female proceedings down below stone dead. I think they call it coitus interruptus.

Up jumped an extremely angry ‘himself’. His language appalled us. It was clear he was going to wait for however long it took for us to come down out of the tree and take our punishment. She, by then, had re-arranged herself before running away red-faced. There was nothing for it but  … ‘Come on’ said Sidney, and jumped from a not inconsiderable height into the cold black waters of the Thames, closely followed by yours truly. I can only assume that ‘himself’ either could not swim or was living in hopes we could not swim. If so he was unlucky.

You know how some things when you were young made such an everlasting impression on you? No I’m not talking so much about the shenannagins in the grass as much as the plunge from on high into the depths and the panic as waterweed brushed by my hands and face. Everyone knew how underwater weed would wrap you up, consigning you to a most horrible end.

Anyway we made it to the opposite bank of the river, dragged ourselves out to a cavalcade of awful threats from he who had been frustrated and ran back through Abingdon. Unfortunately we were apprehended en route by a sixth form prefect, muddy, soaking, cap-less. We were escorted straight away to the housemaster’s office. Six of the best - actually, the worst  - ensued, but of course you neither protested false innocence beforehand nor cried during, much less after, the caning. And the multicoloured weals across our gluti maximi were admired by the other boys for days on end.

But I decided against a life of crime, preferring later to write about it.

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