If the soul and the ego were objects we could look at, the soul would be a translucent heart beating.
The last time I saw my school cap it was in a plastic bag on my mother’s dressing table, a venerable fetish of my misspent youth. How much of my free time had been stolen because of the absence from my head of that small green cloth accessory. Any boy spotted without his cap outside the precincts of the school was subject to detention, an hour in some musty classroom writing lines or staring at the wall. The same discipline applied to anyone not wearing regulation grey socks, grey flannels, grey or white shirt, green blazer with red moire piping and badge (bought separately and sewn on by mother or guardian), no exceptions.
As we fell under the influence of modern fashion, the penal hours accrued until there were not enough days in the week to serve all this time, and so it would be canceled with a swift bout of corporal punishment, three or four strokes of a split cane on the backside. Although the option of a beating seemed preferable to wasting long hours after school, it was in fact a fearsome ritual in which pain, humiliation and submission were the primary components, alleviated only by the fact that a boy, who had been beaten, gained, at least among his peers, a slightly elevated status. Candidates for a visit to the headmaster would be announced at morning assembly, and those accused would proceed directly to his study after prayers.
This sinister office was situated at the end of a long cloister, a corridor of redbrick and flagstones worn down by generations of feral children, echoes of laughter and distant footsteps bouncing off the varnished wooden memorials to the glorious dead. In part because of this echo effect, whenever news of a caning was announced, certain boys would station themselves along the corridor and listen for the dull report of birch on beflannelled bottom, making bets as to how many strokes would be administered, and counting them off with ill-concealed glee. Inside the study, among the cricket trophies and the fading photographs of previous rulers of the school and of the little country in which we lived, the quaking boy would face the head and be allowed to confess his criminal stupidity. The presence of a second master, usually the assistant head, guaranteed the boy a beating, since corporal punishment had to be administered in front of a witness, presumably to restrain the head should he be overwhelmed by the sight of that tight boy ass bent in compliance over a chair, gripping the spindles, (last words you heard before he struck, “Grip the spindles boy!”) lest he were to be overcome and thrash the luckless boy to death or bugger him on the spot, public schoolboys like it special.
Every teacher at the school was ex-publico, plus an undistinguished degree from the right university, Oxford or Cambridge only need apply. Striding among us in their flowing gowns, slightly soiled black robes, shiny with wear, many of these teachers epitomised the lonely bachelor, the solitary wanker in seedy rooms full of ancient texts, a menopausal landlady providing the appalling food for which English boardinghouses are so justly famed. There was an indefinable lewdness to their garments, a powerful suggestion of crusty socks, vile underwear, and in certain cases a barely suppressed yen for the surging tides of boyflesh that throbbed and lapped around them, leaking testosterone from every orifice as youth bloomed in them like great bloody orchids of desire!
The cane crashed down, its split ends making contact along three or four parallel lines across the tender cheeks, and just as the gluteal nerves received news of this gross violation it crashed down again, covering the original stripes with a second then a third and fourth slicing cut. After a brief moment of numbness, the pain flooded in. Now came the test of our English mettle. We must not scream nor faint, but take it and like it, in the spirit of the Great Britain that had produced Winston Churchill and Wilfred Owen and the millions of fine lads blown uncomplaining to shit and hell in two world wars. And so we stood to receive a handshake from our inquisitor, a gruff “Well done, boy,” to which the ruined youth would reply “Thank you sir,” (an insane rejoinder under the circumstances) and hobble off to be greeted by the stroke counters in the corridor.
Even the bullies respected a boy who could take a beating, or at the very least a boy who could qualify, as they so often did, for a beating. The chief bullies at our school were the sons of miners from the neighbouring towns of Langold and other pit villages within the radius of this, the only grammar school in the district. By some accident these hard boys had passed their 11 plus exams and now their parents had to buy them uniforms and get them on the bus every morning for the ten mile trip to school.
Stigmatized by their peers for wearing the cissy green uniforms and the implication that they might be trying to avoid the tightly circumscribed lives of their fathers—the narrow trajectory of school, pit, pub, marriage, cemetery—they vigorously denied these aspirations, asserting their true heritage by brutalizing their middle-class schoolmates, vandalizing their property and committing frequent acts of violence on their persons, all the while directing a stream of profanity at their victims in barely intelligible country accents.
“Nah then yooth wot you fuckinlookinat?
Here comes a small band now, strolling along the corridor of the New Block, so-called because it was built more recently than the rest of this venerable pile, in 1926 or thereabouts, so we call it the New Block you see in our quaint English way are we not unbearably cute? We are. Ching Fensome, nobody knows how he got the nickname Ching, is the leader of the miners’ boys. At 15 he already has the build of a rugby player, hair fashionably quiffed in post-Ted style, Brylcreem holding in place an immaculate d.a.
Ching is ignorant of why the New Block is called new even though it is an old building, ignorant of French and Latin verbs, happily ignorant, conscious only of his own power as children scurry for cover at his approach. Gordon Biggs, on his way to biology, his favorite class, turns a corner and is immediately seized and stunned by a deadleg to the thigh, (judicious application of the knee to the fleshy part of the upper leg, resulting in prolonged numbness, hence the term deadleg). Ching has a minute or two before the masters arrive to teach their ragged armies, the noise still swells and churns from every classroom, barely contained by prefects now supervising the randy boys, the angelic boys, pretty as a picture, a sea of forest green, a seething adolescent ocean.
“Biggs, oppen yer gob!”
Biggs, terrified, complies.
Ching now audibly hawks up from his throat a good size chunk of phlegm, takes careful aim, and spits it into Biggs’s open mouth. Jaw agape, glasses awry like the nurse in Potemkin, Biggs has little choice but to swallow, the spit having landed so far back as to deny regurgitation except by vomiting.
“Down thee ’atch,” Ching remarks, provoking gales of hilarity from his little band, and off they sail, inviolable as pike in a lake, untouchable, deadly, constantly seeking out the halt and the lame, the small and the chubby, and anyone looking remotely studious.
I thought of Ching and his gang years later, when I was reading about the Khmer Rouge killing anyone who wore eyeglasses, and I thought of Biggs once too, when by some arcane whim I found myself within the sordid nimbus of a sex club on Ninth Avenue in Manhattan. There was a raised dias in the center of the room where all manner of kinkiness was being enacted with varying degrees of enthusiasm. There was also a long corridor with small cubicles off to the sides, where people dressed in elaborate outfits were beating each other with small paddles and whips, inserting devices into orifices and generally carrying on in a most extraordinary fashion. I watched with a certain interest and after a few beers I made my way to the bathroom to pee.
To my surprise there was in addition to the regular toilet an old bathtub, in which a man was sitting, soaked in piss, begging all comers to hose him down. As he turned his face up to swallow another golden stream I saw Biggs’s mouth open compliantly in that corridor years before, the flemmy glob of Ching Fensome’s spit arcing into his mouth, the glasses askew, a nitwit gleam in his good eye, happy to serve, bathed now in the golden sewage of other bullies, ordinary people who, given the opportunity, preferred a human latrine to clean white porcelain.
Following this brief epiphany I made my way back to the bar, where to my delight I spotted my good friend Colley Adams, known to his friends as “Sister,” a patronymic ironically bestowed on account of the wild and occasionally flaming nature concealed beneath the mild mannered countenance of a bespectacled schoolteacher. Sister ordered us a round of beers and we settled in to watch the show. I remarked as to how the potential for gross indecency seemed imminent.
“Yes, I feel the distinct possibility of a little action tonight, without a doubt,” Sister replied.
“Are your sprockets well oiled my lad?”
I had never really understood Sister’s cryptic lingo so I merely nodded and smiled, directing my gaze at the cuspery multitudes, egregious in their shifty prurience, shindigging, larruping, strutting, and fretting on this little stage. A slightly chubby Venus now bestrode the velvet swagged dias, clad in boots of an eccentric length and a frothy peignoir tossed, quite casually it seemed, over a black leather bra and matching panties perforated by brass grommets. Various epicene creatures grovelled at her feet, taking turns to lick her boots and perform other tasks of a servile nature in response to her shouted commands and the occasional flick of a cat o’nine tails she was brandishing. I felt the tableau somehow lacked conviction.
Adjacent to us at the bar an attractive blonde, rendered slightly surreal by her Wall Street business suit with the seat of the skirt removed, was discussing real estate with a man wearing nothing but a skimpy jock and mousetraps attached to his nipples. But my attention was soon distracted by a very tall policeman, quite authentic in appearance from cap to belt, his lower half shockingly transformed by the substitution of black vinyl hot pants and matching boots in place of blue serge trousers and scuffed street shoes. I felt a sudden brief craving to be placed under arrest, and I was moved, too, by a pang of love for these unusual people, a little ode, a panegyric. If they could find a place in the world, then surely, so could I.
Sister and I continued to drink and speak languidly of many things: a new study of Ronald Firbank that compared him, favorably, to Joyce; the elitist machinations of the St. Agatha’s School of Poets, whether rat traps might perhaps have signalled a deeper level of committment on the part of our neighbour, how X had lost the sight of one eye in a brawl at a tavern much like this one, and he too drunk to even identify his assailant.
“Why was sight to such a tender ball as the eye confined, so obvious, so easy to be quench’d?” Sister suddenly demanded, with an imperious toss of the head. The beast was beginning to stir.
“Milton, Samson Agonistes,” I smugly replied, flouting my pedantry, and rather ruining the mood of erudition that we had erected around ourselves, a protective screen of civilization raised against the scenes of paganism and degeneracy that were unfolding in every nook and cranny of this squalid basement. Sister merely smiled, ignoring my dull rejoinder. The beers traversed my innards and soon I had to pee again. Not wishing to re-view the urophage splashing in his tub, I persuaded Sister to join me in what appeared to be the ladies’ room. This chamber too was packed, the stalls busy with vice. It had the vibrant air of a souk, and just as many eager buyers and sellers. We finally secured an empty stall, but just as we were about to relieve ourselves, the door crashed open and the deity from the stage rushed in.
Pushing us brusquely aside, she presumptuously dropped her leather panties and ensconced herself on the toilet seat. From throne to throne. Sister had already unshackled his equipment, prior to micturation, but she was giving him a better idea.
“Worship in the true church, my daughter!” he suavely remarked, waving his lingam in her face.
“No, no you asshole, I’m a dom! Get away you maggot! This is the ladies’ room anyway, you disgusting little slaves!”
“You’re a dom? The fuck you are baby!”
With that Sister pulled the woman forward on the seat, and began waling away at her bare bum with a firm schoolteacher’s stroke. I watched in amazement as the scarlet outline of his hand appeared like a stigmata on the white cheek of her buttock.
“Stop it, I am so a dom,” she said again, without much conviction, shifting around on the seat to expose more of her reddening arse. This only served to inflame Sister’s ardor, and he applied himself to his task with renewed vigor.
“Dom, schlom, my pretty,” he remarked, and laughed coarsely.
The unknown dominatrix seemed to be undergoing a very rapid conversion, as, uttering faint cries that seemed to contain no hint of protest, she surrendered absolutely to this chastisement.
Soon her entire bottom was covered with a multiplicity of delicate blushing traceries. She squirmed on the seat, offering first one cheek and then the other in rhythmic alternation. Shifting again, she raised her head and took Sister’s splendid empurpled knob into her mouth with what might have been a sigh.
It seemed indeed she was no dom, as she labored beneath his unrelenting hand, turning adroitly on the toilet seat until she was stretched across it, as across a bastinado, her mouth glued to Sister’s unstopped organ, her rosy nether limbs now presenting themselves to my critical gaze. I locked the door of the stall, unzipped, and maneuvered myself into position between those fiery globes.
“Bedeckt, ornate and gay,” I said to Sister,
“with all her bravery on and tackle trim,
sails filled and streamers waving,
courted by all the winds that hold them play,
an amber scent of odorous perfume her harbinger … . ”
Sister looked up from his labors. The glass of his spectacles caught the overhead light and caused his eyes to blaze, the pleasant schoolmaster’s face transfigured by a leonine snarl, another image worthy of Eisenstein.
“Milton again,” he snapped, “same poem.”
We’ll call this scene, two pedants pumping in a pissoir, I thought to myself, and we went to it.
Max Blagg is a writer who lives and works in New York.
If the soul and the ego were objects we could look at, the soul would be a translucent heart beating.