Ever since Grandma told me she'd been birched at her school, I had wanted to ask her about it. Today she seemed in a very bright and talkative mood, so as we sat in the in the garden watching the sun go down, I raised the subject.
"Grandma," I said, "you remember that day I came home from school and was all upset because I'd been paddled, and you comforted me, and told me that you'd suffered worse things during your schooldays?"
"Yes, of course I remember, and it was certainly much worse in my day. We often got the birch. They don't birch you young people these days, do they?"
"No, thank goodness. Will you tell me about it?"
"Well, it was all rather awful. If you'd done something very bad - like being caught out of bounds - the headmistress would call you in and tell you that you were going to be birched after school finished on Friday afternoon. I suppose that was so that you would have the weekend to recover. But of course, if you were told on Monday that you were going to be punished at the end of the week, you had to get through the whole week knowing what was going to happen.
Then the headmistress would ask the school secretary to tell the groundsman to make up a birch for Friday afternoon. Sometimes we would watch from the classroom and see him coming into the school carrying something wrapped in a an old sack. That would be the birch and I can tell you, nothing makes your tummy churn so much as the sight of the birch arriving if it's meant for you!
After school, when all the other lucky girls were going home, you'd have to go to the secretary's office and collect the birch. She'd hand it over with a sympathetic look in her eyes and mutter something about "Good luck!"
Then you had to go and knock on the headmistress's door. I can still remember that awful floral wallpaper in the hallway outside her study. She'd call you in with a gruff voice.
In the study, a sort of low, padded bench would have been placed in the middle of the room. The headmistress would hold out her hand for the birch and tell you to prepare yourself. That meant you had to take your bloomers down, lift up your long skirt, and lie across the bench.
Then you'd feel those horrible, prickly twigs placed against your backside for a moment. There was a pause, you'd realise the birch was no longer touching you, and then there'd be a swish and a sort of crunching sound as the twigs lashed into you.
Oh my! How it hurt! I'd yell and cry, but the headmistress was quite unmoved. Usually, you'd get six, but sometimes she was really angry and would give you twelve. Then she'd tell you to stand in the corner while she filled out the Punishment Book, and after that you could pull up your bloomers and go.
You'd have arranged for your best friend to wait for you and you'd dash to the lavatory, where you'd bend over with your hands against the wall while your friend picked all the little splinters out of your bottom.
Oh dear! Even now, on cold days in the winter, I sometimes think I can still feel the sting of that birch."