I posted t’other day about a company manufacturing polo sticks, whose staff make an annual pilgrimage to remote areas to hunt down the rattan harvest. It made me ponder the origins of the use of this particular material for corporal punishment purposes.
I wonder who first looked at a length of rattan and decided, “That’s the material I’ve been looking for all this time. I must purchase some forthwith from the local farmers, and export it to the finest schools in the Empire.”
Perhaps tales were told of a few villages, deep in the forest , where the local girls were unusually well-behaved? “Head forty miles up river, old chap, hire a donkey, trek for two days – and you’ll come to the region in question.”
Or was it perhaps some marketing ploy in the mid-1800s by the farmers concerned: sitting round at their annual sales conference, brainstorming ways in which they could diversify away from an over-dependence on the furniture market?
Then again….. I’m reading a book at the moment about leisure in the Victorian era (“Consuming Passions” by Judith Flanders – very highly recommended). The opening chapter deals at length with the Great Exhibition of 1851 – that landmark event in the development of society and enterprise. Perhaps that was the moment at which the cane became popular: “Stand 498. A length of rattan from the east, designed for the discipline of young ladies.” Maybe the Prince Consort noticed it on one of his many visits to the Crystal Palace, and his patronage led to the gentlemen of the day placing large orders?
Speaking of the Victorians, and meandering aimlessly in my kinky thoughts, I’m reminded that I read a review of a CD by a new band the other day. They’re called “The Victorian English Gentlemen’s Club”. I can just imagine such an august body, gathering weekly in their splendid Pall Mall premises to try out the latest batch of canes purchased from the Exhibition. Their constitution would require them to bring with them any of their servant girls who may have misbehaved in the previous week, for discipline in front of the assembled group. Learned discussions on caning technique would follow, with proceedings written up into leather-bound books.
All this talk of caning is making me want to fetch Haron. A rare bout of tidying up last weekend before my parents came to stay means that our spare bedroom – usually impenetrably untidy – is completely clear. Acres of cane-swinging space. Seems a shame to waste it…