James Steadman, aged sixteen, had just three more weeks as a Fifth-Former in his Nottinghamshire boarding school. It was the summer of 1974 and the Summer Term was quietly petering out. Some of his classmates were involved in the Duke of Edinburgh's Award Scheme and other worthy activities, others were playing sports every day and yet others were spending their time just chilling out, playing music, going for cycle rides or better still, conducting romantic assignations with other boys in the woods that surrounded the school.
James would like to have stayed at school to enjoy these languid times with his friends, especially the weekends and the woodland assignations (he was besotted with a golden-haired boy of fourteen called Billy) but his father, a governor of the school, had other ideas.
Dr Steadman, a big wheel in industry, had been instrumental in the appointment the year before of a new headmaster, Mr Hemerdon, MA (Oxon). Dr Steadman had strict views on the education of boys and he'd been pleased that Mr Hemerdon's CV suggested that the two men thought alike on the topic of school uniform. Together, they persuaded the other governors to approve their plans and were pleased and somewhat surprised when these plans were supported by a great number of the boys' parents.
But first, let's return to Dr Steadman's ideas for James's last weekend in June. James was very tall and very slim and although a competent cross-country runner, his gangly build made him awkward at team sports like rugby, hockey and cricket. He was lithe but not especially well coordinated and years of ridicule on the sports field had taught him to try to steer clear of anything that involved more than running. And now James's father had arranged a weekend of rock-climbing for him in the Peak District - with the Headmaster.
Mr Hemerdon was a rock-climber of international renown. James had never before done any climbing so this weekend was bound to bring dire humiliation and in any case, what boy wants to spend a whole weekend with of all people his headmaster? James went home on the Friday night and was lectured by his father on the importance of giving a good impression.
"Remember, James, the Headmaster will be watching you carefully when you're in the Sixth Form so it's vital that you impress him this weekend."
James slept badly; he'd far sooner have spent the weekend at school with Billy than have to face perils unknown, with the Headmaster watching and taking notes.
Understandably, Mr Hemerdon wasn't best pleased to be encumbered with a boy who'd never climbed before so was in a bad mood when he called for James at eight on Saturday morning. He was even less impressed to see James dressed in his school uniform.
"This isn't a school outing to the theatre, Steadman! I hope you've got some proper outdoor clothes in that duffel bag."
"Sorry, sir," said a nervous James. "Father insisted I look smart for you but he let me bring my PE kit - and my sleeping bag."
"Get in," commanded Mr Hemerdon, rolling his eyes skywards. He noticed how unhappy James looked and guessed he'd been told nothing by his father about the weekend so as he drove he gave a quick briefing.
"We're going to Stanage Edge, near Hathersage. It's about fifty miles from here. It's one of the most famous areas in England for rock climbing and I had my first lessons there when I was ten. It's a four-mile cliff of millstone grit and although it's mainly less than a hundred feet high there are hundreds of different climbing routes. You could go there every weekend in your life and climb a new route every time."
James found his right thigh becoming a frequent resting place for his headmaster's left hand. This he found embarrassing but he was too polite to say anything. It was by no means the first time a man in authority had rested his hand on James's thigh. The school chaplain was always doing it.
"A climbing club at Sheffield University has use of a barn near the climbing area and that's where we're going," continued Mr Hemerdon, his hand slowly working its way to the upper region of James's thigh. "Seven boys from my last school are at Sheffield now and you'll be sleeping with them."
James was startled at this news. What if these university students didn't want to take turns sleeping with a gawky, sixteen-year-old schoolboy?
"Another boy will be there, who's still at school, so with you that makes nine. I'll be sleeping in the village, naturally."
Although not a pervert, Mr Hemerdon found James's thigh to be a particularly pleasant place to rest his hand. James was reminded of some of his father's dinner guests who seemed to like stroking his thighs under the tablecloth and he wondered whether all old men were like this. He wondered too about these so-called boys he was going to spend the weekend with. 'They'll all be tough, sporty types who'll just take the mickey out of me,' he decided, miserably.
James set his jaw and tried not to think of the fun he could've had at school and going for walks with Billy if, that is, Billy was willing. James would like to daydream about that but instead had to concentrate on bracing himself for the next arrival of that bony hand on his thigh. Each time it seemed to land higher up.
Mr Hemerdon explained the grading of climbing routes, from moderate to extremely severe. "We'll start you off on moderates and by tomorrow you could be tackling a very difficult!"
By now they were progressing through the wild and beautiful countryside of the Dark Peak and not long after nine drew up at an old stone barn beside which was a battered Ford Cortina and an ancient, black Citroen.
"Here we are!" said Mr Hemerdon.
Eight young men in jeans and sweaters materialised and greeted their former headmaster. They looked at his companion: a very tall, painfully slim, worried-looking boy with dark hair, wearing what was presumably his school uniform. They were struck by the sheer incongruity of the school cap and shiny black shoes in such a rugged environment and by the extraordinary brevity of the boy's grey shorts, very little of which showed below his jacket. Tents began to form in at least three pairs of jeans.
"This is Steadman," announced Mr Hemerdon. "He's from my new school and is joining us for the weekend." Turning to James, he said "Get the baggage out of the car, Steadman but leave my holdall – that will go with me to the village."
Mr Hemerdon went off to talk climbing with the others while James collected his duffel bag from the car and numerous items of climbing equipment and lugged it all into the barn. It took him three journeys and as he lifted the last coil of rope from the car he saw with horror a cane lying there. Assuming headmasters always carried a cane on their travels, he left it alone.
James carted the coil of rope into the barn and looked about. There was a fireplace, a table, some benches and five double-decker bunks. Strewn around was kit belonging to the eight young men. He knew the next two days were going to be awful. He went outside to where all the others were talking excitedly about climbing. Mr Hemerdon was at his car and had found the item James had neglected to unload.
"You forgot this, Steadman!" he shouted. "This cane attends all climbing expeditions! Doesn't it, boys?"
"Yes, Mr Hemerdon!" chorused the young men, more cheerfully than James thought appropriate. They turned to look at James, a couple of them sniggering.
James looked at the ground, his ears going red in embarrassment. You might be asking yourself why a Fifth-Former in 1974 England, wearing his school uniform, should have bare thighs. Well, the topic on which James's father and Mr Hemerdon wholeheartedly agreed was that all schoolboys below the Upper Sixth Form should wear short trousers. Always. This jurisdiction had now been applied in James's school where boys in the Fourth Form and below had been in short trousers since Christmas. Come September, Fifth-Formers would also be in short trousers.
By making his son wear shorts James's father had forced him to set an example to the other boys but to be the only Fifth-Former not in long trousers was a constant source of humiliation for poor James. Matters were made even worse by Dr Steadman's insistence that short trousers should be extremely short. James's had an inside leg length of less than two inches and that's why his thighs were almost totally bare.
Dan, one of the Sheffield students, looked at James and found his penis swelling. He saw an improbably tall but handsome boy whose deliciously bare, delightfully smooth thighs were well enough tanned to suggest that the boy rarely if ever wore anything longer than those absurdly short shorts. 'Bloody old Hemline is still at it,' he thought. Then he glanced at a young man with straw-coloured hair and cornflower-blue eyes to see if he, too, was looking at James. He was. Dan coughed and caught the attention of Blue-eyes, who looked a little guilty as he came over to Dan.
His name was Oliver and he whispered to Dan.
"The poor kid looks terrified. Let's be nice to him."
"Yeah, poor sod!" muttered Dan. "Look at him trying to tug his shorts down a bit. Looks like old Hemline is still up to his old tricks."
"I'm going to say hello," said Oliver and went over to James.
"Hi, my name's Ollie and I want to welcome you to the gang. This is my mate Dan."
"Hello," said James, shaking hands. "My name's James."
"Have you done much climbing before?"
"None at all," said James, still blushing. "I wasn't even told I was coming here till the day before yesterday."
"Well, I'm not much good at it but Dan's an ace climber and a fantastic instructor! The others are all prima donnas so they can go and do the severe climbs and we can do the moderate ones. How about that?"
James looked down at Ollie's honest face and knew he'd found a friend. "Thanks. I'd much sooner be with you than Mr Hemerdon. But honestly, I know absolutely nothing about climbing. I don't want to hold you back."
"No, James," said Dan. "You won't be holding us back. We'd love to take you climbing. And with your build, you're made for it!"
"Unlike me," said Ollie.
"You're good for other things, Ollie," said Dan, with a saucy grin. Now it was Ollie who was blushing. "Let's have a quick stroll."
As the three boys walked along a grassy path James looked up at Stanage Edge. It's a near-vertical wall of dark rock, with occasional overhanging bits and James viewed it with dread. Soon Mr Hemerdon and the other six had changed into climbing gear and were carrying ropes and things up to the gritstone cliff. Dan turned to head to the barn and told Ollie it was high time he took his clothes off. Ollie blushed again and looked at the ground and then at James.
"Come on, James," he said, "you don't want to hang around all day in school uniform. Come with us!"
In the barn, Dan took his jeans off to reveal, to James's surprise, a pair of purple tights. Ollie stripped off to reveal a pair of well-tanned legs, then put on some tight, blue denim shorts only just long enough to cover his prominent bottom. James took off his uniform and put on his PE kit, having first asked Ollie if it was OK to wear briefs under his PE shorts.
"Of course, James, you're not at school now, under the evil eye of the PE master!"
Ollie noted how James's floppy white PE shorts, although extremely short (as was the fashion) were actually slightly longer than the grey shorts he'd just been wearing.
For his part, James was comforted by the fact that Ollie's legs were as smooth and burnished as his own, with an obvious tan-line only an inch or so below his blue shorts. Ollie was six inches shorter than James and looked about fifteen.
"Are you at university?" asked James.
"No, I've got another year at school yet," said Ollie. "But Dan's been at Sheffield a year and drags me along to these climbing things. How about you, James? How old are you?"
"Sixteen," said James, "hoping to join the Sixth Form next term."
"So that's the Fifth Form uniform, is it?" asked Dan, rubbing his crotch. "With those obscenely short shorts? I knew old Hemline was still up to no good!"
"I don't understand," said James, his face turning pink.
"He means Hemline Hemerdon," chuckled Ollie. "That's what we used to call him. He made us all wear shorts and the hemlines got higher with every passing year!"
"But that's exactly what he's doing at my school!" said James. "Eventually he wants all boys to be in shorts – incredibly short ones!"
"Like yours," said Dan, now scarily close to climax. "And I bet he had his hand on those nice thighs of yours as he drove you here."
"Yes, he did," replied James, his face now bright red.
"I still have to wear shorts in the Lower Sixth," said Ollie. "That Hemline's a bloody pervert! But he's gone now and most of the new kids are turning up in long trousers, which is humiliating for us older ones. But in the Upper Sixth I'm getting long trousers – at long, bloody last."
"Yeah, and that's a pity," said Dan, still massaging his crotch and winking at Ollie. "Come on, we'd better get up the hill and look at a bit of rock." Moving to the door he gave Ollie a hefty slap on his denim-clad bottom, making a sharp report and causing Ollie to gasp.
The sun was warm and the air still. Ollie told James that Dan's purple tights were the latest thing.
"They come in all colours these days. You've got to see exactly where you're putting your feet so baggy trousers would be hopeless. My flared jeans would be lethal. Tight shorts are OK so long as you don't mind the occasional grazed leg. But avoid any loose clothing that could get in the way or snag on a bit of rock. Your PE kit's fine, James."
James was taken to the foot of a 35 foot high cliff.
"Here's a good place to start," said Dan. "I'll nip up with the rope and make it secure at the top. We're not allowed to hammer anything into the rock face anywhere at Stanage so I'll do what's known as free climbing. Once we've got the rope fixed you and Ollie can use it to climb and don't worry, you'll be attached to the rope so if you slip you won't fall."
Dan checked his rock-climbing shoes and put on a kind of harness dangling with important-looking metal gadgets called karabiners and attached one end of the rope to it. Then he began to climb, shouting a running commentary, explaining his selection of handholds and toeholds. Dan was lean and lithe and made it all look so easy. He was soon at the top and disappeared from sight as he made the rope fast at its mid-point. Then he flung the ends of the rope down so now there were two ropes lying against the near-vertical cliff. Using one of the ropes he quickly descended and stood in front of Ollie and James, beaming.
"Your turn, Ollie!" said Dan, helping his juicy friend to attach a harness and having a good grope of those smooth, bare thighs and that prominent bottom.
"Not in front of James!" protested Ollie.
James watched as Ollie's harness was secured by Dan to a rope. Then Ollie began to climb, with Dan right below him, attached to the other rope, offering advice and sometimes guiding Oliver's foot to a good toehold. It wasn't easy for Ollie, with his relatively short arms and legs, but he made it to the top, followed quickly by Dan, to disappear from James's view. As James was looking blankly at the rock face he heard a sharp report and wondered if Ollie was getting another smack on his bottom. Then Ollie came into view, standing at the top of the cliff and rubbing his nicely rounded bottom, so James knew he'd guessed correctly.
Dan descended again and helped James on with a harness, not touching James's body any more than necessary.
"All I want you to do is climb up that cliff, James. I'll be right below you and I'll help. You're secured to the rope and Ollie and another climber will be pulling on it as you move upwards. It won't pull you up but it'll take your weight and you can't fall down. All you have to do is find holds for your hands and toes and with your build you'll find it easy. Your plimsolls look nice and tight. Ready?"
James nodded nervously and offered himself into Dan's care. It was very strange going up the near-vertical face but he could feel the rope taking his weight and was surprised how he could make his fingers and toes locate in little dents and crevices on the rock. He slipped a few times but the rope stopped him falling and he felt Dan's strong hand putting one of his feet into the next toehold. Although trembling with the effort by the time he reached the top to be pulled into waiting Ollie's arms, he felt quite jubilant.
By the end of the morning, having climbed another two routes, James had not only learnt to climb the rock face but also to descend it, by abseiling. After lunch in the barn, Dan took Ollie and James to another part of the cliff, a little higher than the first place. "Now for something more demanding!" he declared.
By teatime James had managed his first difficult grade climb, attached by karabiner to a static rope but no longer with anyone taking his weight. Mr Hemerdon was told and expressed pleasure. "Well done, Steadman. Your father will be impressed!"
As far as James knew, nothing he'd ever done had impressed his father. Quite the opposite. The weekend wasn't turning out too badly. In the bright afternoon sunshine, Dan and Ollie took James for a walk to the end of Stanage Edge, looking at some very scary-looking places for a climb. Several climbers were at it and James watched them in fascination.
On the way back to the barn James asked what was going to happen that evening.
"Oh, plenty!" said Dan, giving Ollie's bottom another slap. "We have a meal and a few drinks and Birthday Boy here will get his thrashing. He's seventeen today, you know!"
"Oh, happy birthday, Ollie," said James, feeling strangely aroused. He rather fancied seeing Ollie's superb bottom being spanked, so long as it didn't hurt too much.
"Thanks, James," said Ollie. "And as Hemline's here, you won't be the only one in shorts. We'll all be in 'em. A real sight for sore eyes!"
It was eight in the evening and everyone was in the barn, except for Mr Hemerdon, who'd driven to his accommodation in the village to bathe and change. A big stew was bubbling on the stove and a few cans of beer had been opened and boys were enjoying a slurp or two. Ollie gave a can to James, saying it was time to get changed. But all James had was his school uniform.
"That's perfect," said Ollie, "Don't worry about tie or jacket. If you're cold I'll lend you my spare sweater.
James realised Ollie was making sense when he saw the other boys changing into grey school shorts! The oldest boy's shorts nearly reached mid-thigh but the hem-lines rose progressively until Ollie, the youngest, presented himself in the shortest of all, which explained why his tan-line was so high.
"This is the 1973 style," he said to James, grimacing as he tugged down on the hems of his shorts to try to fully cover his bottom. "And in a month I'll be able to burn them!".
"No you won't!" said Dan. "I want to see you in those for years to come!"
Dan did a twirl for James. "And mine are 1970 vintage," he said, patting his much longer shorts. "Inside leg all of five inches!"
Helped by the beer he'd drunk, James suddenly felt good, and no longer a figure of fun. He gladly accepted Ollie's offer of a sweater. It smelt slightly of Ollie and James liked it.
Mr Hemerdon arrived and more beer was consumed. He didn't seem at all perturbed to see James drinking beer and went to him and called for silence.
"Gentlemen," he said. "Young Steadman has learnt a lot about rock climbing today and he's acquitted himself well. Now he's going to see what you get up to after a day of climbing. I'm glad to see you're all dressed correctly, in the fine traditions of the club. Now, let's have supper!"
More beer cans were opened and plates piled high with stew. A radio played pop music. Everyone found somewhere to sit and eat his meal. James saw Dan and Ollie sitting very close together, deep in conversation, their bare legs rammed together. James thought Ollie had the most fabulous thighs.
"You're a boarder at school, aren't you, James?" asked another boy, Colin, perching himself next to James, who nodded his head, too polite to speak with his mouth full. Colin's shorts were longer than Ollie's but shorter than Dan's.
"Well, you'll understand then. Ollie's been Dan's plaything ever since he was fourteen. Dan's obsessed with him. We used to call him Desperate Dan. Sweet, isn't it?"
"I've got a friend," said James, all inhibitions vanished. "He's younger than me. I miss him."
"What's his name?"
"Well, d'you think Billy would like rock climbing? You could bring him here one weekend. You're a natural, and if he's anything like you, he'd take to it like a fish to water, as you have."
James enjoyed the flattery and felt a surge of lust for Billy. "He's slim like me and he's got lovely long legs. He's fantastic!"
"Sounds perfect," said Colin. "Look, the Citroen outside's mine – I could collect you both and bring you here one weekend! And old Hemline won't be here."
James smiled and said thank you but Colin had more to say.
"Look, things might get a bit strange soon but don't worry, it's just fun so don't take anything too seriously. And afterwards I'd like to get to know you better, so don't run away, will you?"
James wondered what on earth Colin meant but he hadn't long to wait to find out.
The meal was cleared away, more cans were opened and Mr Hemerdon, reading from a sheet of paper, made an announcement.
"Weather forecast for tomorrow: Pressure remaining high; wind light, westerly; no significant cloud; no precipitation; max temperature seventy degrees; visibility good. Now would someone care to look outside and tell us what he sees?"
Colin went to the door, popped out and was back in ten seconds. "Red sky, Mr Hemerdon."
James felt his arm being grasped gently. It was Ollie, who whispered "It's OK, don't worry. It's only a ritual."
Before James could wonder what this meant the other boys chanted: "Red sky at night, shepherds' delight!" And then, in a darker tone: "Red thighs at night, schoolboys take fright!"
"We're the only schoolboys here," said Ollie to James. "But relax – they'll only go for me."
The chant was repeated, louder this time and the main event was about to begin. Trying to look cheerful, Ollie walked to the table and made to lie on it but was halted by Colin, now visibly very highly aroused.
"Sweater off, Ollie and shorts higher, I think," he said.
Everyone stared as Ollie pulled off his sweater and stood still to allow Colin to force his little grey shorts up an inch or so, revealing the start of his lovely bottom. He was no longer smiling but blushing as he lay on his back on the table. Dan held his hands and Colin held his ankles and a bombardment of slapping commenced. James watched, enthralled.
The blows fell with great rapidity on Ollie's bronzed thighs, which quickly took on a pinkish hue, from knee to crotch. He took it very stoically, his eyes screwed up and his teeth bared. James was encouraged to deliver a few hefty slaps and he found it strangely satisfying to slap those magnificent thighs but he didn't want to hurt Ollie, who'd been so kind to him all day.
Eventually the deepening pink of Ollie's thighs matched the colour of the sunset outside. But it wasn't over for Ollie yet.
Mr Hemerdon, the only person not in grey shorts but in long trousers, had taken no part in the slapping but now he advanced with his cane and called for silence.
"All right, boys, I think we can safely terminate the red thighs at night game; now it's time for this schoolboy to take fright!"
Ollie was helped to his feet and James saw that his bonny face was flushed and sweaty but with no sign of tears. James's heart went out to Ollie and wondered how many strokes of the cane he'd get.
This time without Colin's assistance Ollie tugged up his shorts, then faced the table and leaned right over until his chest was resting on it. He moved his feet well apart and waited. The start of his bottom was exposed by his little grey shorts. James held his breath, guiltily aware that his penis was rigid.
Mr Hemerdon took aim by tapping Ollie's bottom with his cane and then dealt it a withering blow. But instead of going for the crown of Ollie's juicy bottom he'd struck the very top of his thighs, generating a shriek of pain.
"All right, boys," said Mr Hemerdon, one hand fiddling in his trouser pocket. "That's enough for tonight. There's serious climbing to do tomorrow but after it's all over, I'll be happy to give you all a stroke of my cane, young Steadman excepted, of course. Now let's give the birthday boy a rousing cheer!"
Ollie was wiping tears from his eyes as he got to his feet but somehow managed to smile as all present gave him three cheers and wished him happy birthday. All, that is, except for Colin, who'd seen the livid weal the cane had made on the back of Ollie's thighs and had popped outside to deal with an urgent personal matter.
As James shook Ollie's sweaty hand he thrilled to the seventeen-year-old's firm grasp and, not for the first time that day, felt he understood Dan's obsession with Ollie's film star looks. He guessed that beautiful body had probably graced a thousand wet dreams and would surely inspire thousands more.
More beer was consumed. Mr Hemerdon took himself back to the village. Ollie stood rubbing the front of his thighs but more for effect than because of real pain. The real pain was concentrated on the vicious weal made by Mr Hemerdon's cane. Dan hadn't slapped Ollie during the ritual and stood with his arm around his dear friend's shoulders. James watched, fascinated.
"Sweet, isn't it?" It was Colin, returned from his outdoor wank and seating himself next to James.
"What will happen tomorrow?" asked James. "What will Mr Hemline – I mean, Mr Hemerdon, do?"
"After tea he'll give anyone who wants one a stroke of his cane. It used to be a matter of honour to turn up on a Monday morning with a cane mark just below the hems of your shorts. It showed you'd been climbing with old Hemline. Of course, Ollie's the only one of us still at school but he'll show his marks to his mates on Monday and they'll be dead impressed. After the caning old Hemline will tell us mountaineering stories about his times in the Alps and the Andes. That's how our weekends always finish; kinky but fun."
Colin put his arm around James. "Look, James, I meant it about collecting you if you want to come up here again. And Billy too, if he wants to come. We're having four days here in August, without Mr Hemline, as you call him. You could be really good at climbing, you know. Why don't you ask your parents for some good rock-climbing shoes?"
James glanced over at Dan and Ollie, who each gave him a big smile and a thumbs-up. This was good. He felt grown-up; he'd discovered something he was good at and it made him happy. He pictured Billy with him at Stanage Edge, with Ollie and these other nice people and their funny rituals. It made him strangely happy. And then there was Colin.
Colin was a redhead with twinkling eyes and a very obvious liking for James as well as for Ollie. He was as slim as James but not so tall and he had hairs on his legs. This wasn't unusual for a boy of eighteen but it made James a bit jealous. James's father had told him he'd have long trousers only when he looked like a man, having to shave his face and with hairs on his legs. How long would that be? Months, or years?
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