Throw away that bat, m’lord

By Graham Jay

In these enlightened times the painful practice of giving naughty boys a good old-fashioned whacking is just about dead. Apart from a few die-hard sticklers for discipline, nobody much approves of it anyway.

But on a converted barge, which members of a youth club use as their headquarters, they still know what it’s like to have their bottoms stung.

For spanking is one of the club’s punishments — administered monthly by the group’s founder, the 2nd Viscount St. Davids, no less.

He doesn’t call it whacking or spanking. His novel term for it is “paddling”. For the instrument used to send the dust flying from an offender’s trousers is a chunk of wood which looks like a small bat and is called the “paddle”.

In the old days wily youngsters would have stuffed a thick copy of Elementary Mathematics into their pants.

‘Nasty’

Today, they take a stronger line. Members of the Regent’s Boat Club, which includes girls, too, have signed a petition calling for an end to “paddling.”

“If I’m present, I invariably do the spanking myself,” said Lord St. Davids — full name Jestyn Austen Plantagenet Phillipps.

“I don’t like leaving it to anyone else. It’s a nasty task, like cleaning out the lavatories.

“If they are young members — say seven or eight — I spank them very gently and I never use the paddle on them. Only on older children. Boys have also been caned. I once had to cane a girl, too.”

Parents of youngsters who join the club, on the Regent’s Canal at Camden Town, London, are asked to sign a copy of the rules.

These say that any youngsters breaking them can choose one of three penalties:

1. Being expelled from the club.

2. Being taken off the promotion and privileges list, which involves restrictions on using the club’s 40 boats.

3. Spanking (or “in bad cases” caning) on the “seat”.

A senior skipper at the club, 14-year-old David Sprigg, said: “I know we’re supposed to have a choice, but no one wants to leave the club and the other punishment is too long. So we choose the spanking.”

Another practice which members are campaigning to do away with is “The Promise.” This is a written undertaking which offenders have been called upon to make.

It says: “I promise to behave myself, and if I break my promise my seat is to be caned hard.”

But Lord St. Davids, a 52-year-old Old Etonian, says that he is content now to have verbal promises.

‘No sulks’

He went on: “It was the members themselves who suggested the cane. I suggested the ‘bad list’ and it follows logically that they should be offered the choice of no longer attending.”

His lordship says that now he no longer uses the cane. He would only give offenders a “good spanking” with the “paddle”.

“Within a minute or two of being paddled, they’re out boating happily again,” said Lord St. Davids. “We don’t have any long sulks and that’s the whole point of it — get it over quickly.”

“I had to spank three or four girls in the spring who were rather badly behaved and annoyed our neighbours,” he said.

His lordship added: “I admit our methods are unusual. I’m a revolutionary in many ways, and no doubt revolting to many people.

“But I don’t believe I’m an ogre. I don’t even think I’m misguided. Am I?”

The anti-whacking petition was handed to a member of the committee, Mr. Paddy Walker, who runs a pleasure barge business and antique shop.

He said: “I’m a founder committee man and personally I disagree with the spanking business and always have. But I’ve been in the minority in the past and you must remember the rules were agreed by members when it was started.

“You must also appreciate the warden’s position. He’s in a very tough area, and whackings are something he’s always accepted. Remember, he is a product of the English public school system.”

Mrs. Polly Rogers, a 48-year-old architect and former treasurer of the club, said of the spankings “I think it’s a jolly good rule, especially the way Lord St. Davids applies it.

“He really loves the club and the children and gives an awful lot of time to it.”

A spokesman for the Inner London Education Authority, which subsidises the club, said: “Because of the risk of accidents, the club has strict safety rules which we’re told are rigorously enforced.

“Nevertheless, our local youth officer has told the management committee of the club that he doesn’t like the corporal punishment rules and has asked them to reconsider them.”

The club, undoubtedly, is an admirable innovation which is being copied all over the country. It has a flawless safety record. Indeed, two members have received awards for saving lives.

Strict rules are, obviously, necessary for safety and smooth running. But whacking? Is that really necessary?

In fairness, I fancy that Lord St. Davids, a respected sailor and active member of the House of Lords, is having doubts about it himself. As he told me: “I’m trying to let the children do what they want … I try to keep on learning.”

Right then. It seems a good opportunity to have all hands on deck … to see the “paddle” chucked overboard.