Will Power


“Liam” they call me in school.  This is because my name is entered in Irish, i.e., as “Liam de Poer,” in the roll book, and that’s what the other children first heard me called.  (“Liam de Poer” is the Irish-language version of “William Power,” the surname coming from the Norman “de Poer”). At home they call me “Billy,” except for my mam, who always calls me “William,” the name on my birth cert.  But upstairs in my own room I have a secret name for myself, - “Mister Will Power.”

There’s this chap (I read about in a comic) who held his hand over a candle flame until it burned his flesh, to prove he had the will power to resist pain.  I thought about doing that, but I decided against it. There is no need to self-harm to prove you have Will Power. You prove it in your interactions with people. 

There was this other chap in China, a priest, when the Roman Catholic religion was forbidden.  He was arrested and they tried to get him to talk, by torture and everything, but he kept his eyes fixed on one point on the wall, no matter what they did to him, and all he would say was, “I have nothing to say.”  But his volunteer Sexton was also arrested, and he spilled the whole story. 

So, they locked the priest away and let the Sexton free, and gave him a new identity in a different city in China.

They kept the priest in jail for years, but then they let him out because they had him broken, they thought, in mind and body.  But his sister, who was secretly a nun, nursed him back to health, and he taught himself to walk again and he went to a gym every day and built up his body. 

Then he made inquiries, and eventually discovered where his old Sexton was living.  He went to visit him and knocked on his door.

“O, Father Yang,” said the Sexton, “I’m delighted to see you looking so well.” But the priest took a gun out from under his cloak and shot him dead.

That’s Will Power! That was in a deadly comic called “Tales of Bloody Revenge.” 

I was given a way of testing my Will Power.  I tested it against Norrie every week.  Norrie is our teacher.

Norrie goes wild if he hears us calling him that.  I really don’t know why, because that is his name – “Norbert Wisling.”  But we have to call him “Sir,” or “Master,” or “Mr Wisling.”  If he hears you call him “Norrie,” his eyes bulge and his face goes bright red.  He throws his jacket onto his chair and rolls up his sleeves and grabs his cane.  Sometimes he lines the whole class around the walls of the classroom and, starting at one end of the line, he canes furiously until everybody’s left hand is red as Norrie’s face.  He prefers to cane on the left hand, except when he is giving it to you on both hands.

The way it is in our school is like this:  all the kids try to get away with doing as little as possible, and it’s the master’s job to make us learn.  You have to do your work or you’ll get caned.  Of course, we do as little as we can.  It’s like a game to see how much you can get away with, and whether he will be able to make you learn.

Some of the kids go into the terrors when they get caned.  They bawl out and bend down over their hand and moan, as the tears stream down their cheeks.  Others try to be brave, but can’t control themselves completely and they let a little yelp when the cane impacts on the hand, but dry up the tears quickly and put on a show of indifference.

Only I have the Will Power to take it and show complete and utter indifference, no matter what the pain.

There are ways of defeating Norrie’s attempt to inflict pain, but these can cause you more trouble if Norrie catches on.  One way is to drop the hand just as the cane reaches the palm.  If you drop it a little, it can lessen the force of the strike and you can get away with it.  But if you drop it too much, Norrie will miss the sensation of the impact of the cane against the palm.  Then he will catch your hand by the wrist and give you double or triple punishment.  As well as that, the cane may catch you on the tips of the fingers instead of the palm, and this can be very painful. 

If you are a wimp, and whimper and cry, you can get off lightly.  But if you are only pretending and making a show, you get double punishment.  Similarly, if you show no reaction at all, like me!  This really gets his goat, because he thinks he has wasted his effort.  He often doubles or trebles the punishment, just to try to break you.  But he won’t break me.  Ever!  Mister Will Power!  In fact, I broke him.  I broke him over the Mars Bar incident that I am going to tell you about.

Paddy Smith brought a Mars Bar to school one day, but, when lunch-hour came, his Mars Bar was missing.  He is a whimpering, weak-willed wet, (we often have fun messing him around), and he told the teacher his Mars Bar was stolen.  Then the carnival began.

“Who took Smith’s Mars Bar?” 

Nobody said anything.  The class was lined up around the room and Norrie started at the beginning and walloped everyone, but no one owned up.  Then he came around the second time.

I had eaten a Mars Bar at break, but I did not have a Mars Bar with me when I came to school.  They didn’t actually blurt this out, but some of the guys started looking at me as if to say I should own up.  Norrie noticed this, of course, and focused his attention on me.

Did I take Paddy Smith’s Mars Bar?  No! 

Did I eat a Mars Bar at break?  Where did I get it? 

“I plead the fifth amendment.” 

This is what chaps say in the crime comics.  A person can’t be made to incriminate himself, so they say, “I plead the fifth amendment”.  But Norrie wasn’t impressed with legalities:

Six of the best on each hand!

“Take that for impudence! Fifth Amendment, indeed!  I’ll give you the fifth amendment!”

Did I take Paddy Smith’s Mars Bar?  I have already answered that question.  If he was listening he should remember what my answer was.  I refuse to answer any further. 

Another six of the very best!  I show complete and utter, dry-eyed, determined indifference, despite the pain.  Actually, the pain doesn’t matter after a while and, as the blows rain down, you just get a feeling of not being there at all, as if it’s happening to somebody else.  Norrie is in a mad, sweaty, crimson, red-eyed, temper.  He knows that this is a contest to the end.  Either he breaks me, or I have broken him in front of the deadly silent class. 

Down comes the cane again and again.  Every bit of my hand is red and raw from the tips of the fingers right up to the wrists, and still the blows rain down.  And still Norrie’s wrath rises and still I stand there totally obdurate and unbending. 

At length Norrie plops exhausted and defeated into his chair.  In fact, he is sobbing, because he knows himself he got carried away and went too far.  The temper has worn itself out and he realises what a pig he has been.

 I turn straight to the door of the classroom.  My hand is so bruised, it can’t press the door handle down.  I put my two hands to it, and with considerable effort, get the door to open.  Calmly I leave the classroom.  I ignore the voice calling me back.  I walk swiftly out.  I know where I am going and what I am doing.  It is all clear as crystal in my cool, clear brain.

My hands are hot and stinging. Actually, I feel a bit sick, but ignore this and kept myself going.

Normally, dad would take the teacher’s side.  “Spare the rod and spoil the child,” is a guiding principle all adults share.  But I knew that the teacher had played into my hands in this case, because the bruising of my hands went beyond anything that anybody could stand for.

I walked in to where dad was taking a cup of tea between jobs.  I showed him my hands. 

“Christ almighty,” he said, “who did this to you?  Let me get my coat.”

“Dad,” I said, “What we have to do is go to Slimy Jones.  This is a law case.” 

I was afraid that dad would go straight over to the school and have a go at Norrie.  Slimy Jones is a local solicitor well known for taking compensation cases against doctors, lawyers, hospitals and so on.  They call him “Slimy” as a nickname, but not to his face.  He doesn’t charge fees, but takes a share of the winnings in a case.

“Oh yes,” my dad said.  “You’re right!  We must make an appointment.”

“No,” I said, “we must go right over there now.”  I knew we must get the evidence together while the matter was fresh.  My hands were swelling up nicely, a mixture of red and black, and real ugly.

Slimy’s secretary knew the importance of quick action.  When she saw the state of my hands, she buzzed Slimy immediately, and he came out.  He told her to call Doctor Sweeney and a photographer, and he would see us when this was done.

“Mr Jones,” I said, “It’s important to get a statement from Crooked Annie today while certain facts are still fresh in her mind.” 

Crooked Annie keeps a little sweet shop near our school, and it was she that sold me my Mars Bar.  I didn’t know her real name.  We call her “Crooked Annie” because she is all bent over.  She uses a walking stick to help her to walk.

“Crooked Annie didn’t do this to you?” asked Slimy.

“No, but she sold me the Mars Bar I was accused of stealing,” I said.

I had slipped out of the schoolyard during “little break” and bought the Mars Bar with the money I had got for doing messages for Mrs Brown the evening before.  I couldn’t incriminate myself by admitting this, because we were forbidden to leave the yard during break.  If I said I had done that, I would be letting the whole school down, because they would lock the schoolyard door.

“O, very good!” said Slimy.  “You’ll make an excellent solicitor, one day.  Yes, we must see Annie as soon as we have done the medical evidence.  She will remember selling the bar to you today, but, if we leave it till tomorrow, she might not remember exactly when she sold you the bar.”

Well, you know the rest, because you read about it in the papers.  Our court case was the beginning of the end for corporal punishment in the schools of Ireland. 

As well as a doctor giving evidence of my bruised hands, Slimy hired a psychologist to give evidence about “trauma-induced personality abnormalities,” “obsessive thought patterns,” “concrete thinking,” and a lot of other baloney.

 I didn’t set out to ruin Norrie; in fact, I have some regret for how his life fell to pieces.  He wasn’t a bad man, just a person doing his job with the methods of his day.  I always had great respect for him and really owe him a lot for all he did for me. 

One day I mentioned to an older guy how I regretted having driven Norrie to drink. “You must be joking,” said this guy; “Norrie was always on the booze, even in my time. He only got worse as time passed.”

Besides Norrie, of course, the whole educational system suffered as a result of my case. Teachers lost control of the classroom, because there was no longer any discipline. Well, if I were a teacher, even without the cane, the kids would know who was in control!

I didn’t set out to ruin Norrie, or the educational system. For me it was all an exercise in Will Power.  My father, who seemed strong and articulates in front of the media, championing the abolition of Corporal Punishment, was, in reality, my puppet.  My solicitor was in it for the money.


-  END  -

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