Making It Hurt Less

When corporal punishment was in force, students had various ideas about how to cope with the cane, and how to make it hurt less.

When the two boys are caned on their hands in Grange Hill, one of them passes on the advice that if you spit on the palms of your hands and rub it in, this will reduce the pain.

A lad at my school once told me, confidentially “If you are even caned, remember to clench the muscles in your bum…that makes it easier to cope with.”

In the book version of “Kes,” the regular customers (who are caned twice a week!) know that they need to put their fingers close together and cup their hands. The unfortunate boy who is getting it for the first time spreads his fingers out, which is much worse.

I remember a description of a caning on the hand in some school story, in which the headmaster tells the boy “Stretch your hand right out, or it will be the worse for you.”

There was a rumor that it hurt less if you stood under a light bulb — maybe just because the headmaster couldn’t raise the cane so high.

And of course, if the Beano taught us anything, it taught us that a dictionary pushed down the back of your trousers is completely undetectable and makes the whacking completely painless.

Does anyone remember any other remedies of this kind? Did any of them have a practical basis, or were they just superstitions?


Absolutely no personal experience, but I seem to recall from somewhere a theory that a hair laid across the palm of the hand would cause the cane to split on the first stroke and render it useless for the infliction of further punishment.

And again absolutely no personal experience, but I recall something to the effect that clenching the buttocks might indeed render the immediate experience slightly less painful.  However the consequence might be increased bruising which could make the after-effects more evident and long-lasting than would otherwise have been the case.  I am sure someone more expert than me will be able to confirm or deny this.


Oh, and wasn’t there a theory that warming the portion of the anatomy shortly to be chastised on a radiator if available would render the experience less painful?


I am led to believe, by those who know about these things, that a “cold caning” is more painful than one received after a warm-up spanking. It’s apparently something to do with blood flow. (The people who know about these things are, I hasten to add, “consenting adults” who for some reason enjoy the experience.)


Wouldn’t the people who for some reason enjoy the experience want to find ways of making it hurt more?


I recall one tactic that didn’t work; not for me but one of my classmates.  This lad knew he was going to be slippered in a forthcoming lesson, and put on a thick pair of rugby shorts under his trousers, which sounds quite a sensible precaution.  What he hadn’t realized is that his normal trousers rode down when he bent over, and the teacher could see he was wearing more protection than normal.  The teacher then announced he would get hit harder than usual, and he got a couple of extra whacks.


I can confirm from experiments in my misspent youth which, ridiculous as it now sounds, included an ice bath!  With the skin very cold, the initial pain was no worse, but it was “deeper” and continued for much longer.

Vigorous exercise before caning helps to improve circulation, marginally reducing the pain and its duration.  Having to wait in a line outside the headmaster’s door definitely doesn’t help, so the advice would be to keep moving and discreetly massage the target area.  For the hands, there is little that can be done except to keep them as warm as possible.  It is also important to hold them out flat to avoid the thumb being hit and to spread the impact over a larger area.


How did he know in advance he was in for a slippering?

Did he do a cost/benefit analysis for future reference? Did eight through rugby shorts hurt worse than six through normal trousers would have done?

Did the other guys think he was a coward for padding? Or did they approve of him trying to catch the teacher out?


It was an unusual situation, as normally slipperings in the classroom were carried out straight away.  If you were given an appointment to be disciplined, then that was because it was being done in private, for example, a caning.  We had a tutorial system; I think this teacher was his tutor, and he was in trouble for something not related to the subject of the lesson.  I can’t remember that being discussed at the time.  Really, in the 1970s, corporal punishment wasn’t particularly unusual, so it was the fact that his wheeze didn’t work that was memorable, rather than that he was slippered, or why.

I can’t remember there being any court of popular opinion in the classroom as to whether he was a coward, or clever.  It was a bit of a moot point really, considering it didn’t work!


For some reason, I am interested in how the ordinary, not particularly unusual punishments worked….

I had a sense that if you cried, or asked to be let off, or begged for mercy, or refused to bend over, you were regarded as a coward: but if you managed to put padding in place, or otherwise reduce the pain, you were thought to be clever. But I think that comes from stories rather than anything I heard about in real life.

A guy in the sixth form had transferred from a minor private boarding school. He regaled is with tales of frequent whackings. (He seemed genuinely surprised that so few of us had ever been caned, so some of it may have been true.) He told us that he had once been due for caning for smoking, and had reported with swimming trunks under his trousers. The teacher asked if he had anything extra on, checked, and proceeded to give him 3 for smoking and a further 6 for lying!


I am also led to believe, by those who know about these things, that it is possible to distance yourself from the pain by psychological efforts. The term they use is “going into subspace”. I have seen somebody in this strange state, and I believe the effect is that the pain is still there, but somehow you’re disconnected from the painful part of your body. Like having work done on your teeth with a pain-killing injection — you can still feel the dentist cut into your gum, but the pain is separated from the rest of your nervous system.

I’ve no idea whether this would work in school, though!


Good to see the endeavors of US students in taking punishment, American Way.  I noticed a similarity with schools in England in the 1970s; they felt obliged to say that it didn’t hurt, even though they cried.