Once again, I am delighted to be able to present a childhood memory that I can date precisely. I don't know why it matters to me, but it does; I am always happier when I can place my memories accurately within my family history.
Way back when I was about eight (so it would have been 1958 or 59), a wave of chickenpox swept through the primary school that my siblings and I attended. It started quite suddenly and then seemed to go on and on. Sometimes there would be between a quarter and a half of the pupils in my class absent with it. With almost everyone disappearing for two or three weeks and then having to catch up with work on returning to school, chaos reigned for the better part of two months. At least two teachers were victims too, further straining the resources of the school. Strangely, neither my sister Karen nor I succumbed during that epidemic, although our brother Timothy did.
With almost all our friends immunised by the big outbreak, chickenpox wasn't something that figured greatly on our childhood radar for years after that. When I started to feel ill during my sister's 16th birthday party on a Saturday in mid-January 1965, it wasn't at all obvious what was wrong with me. By the time I went to bed, there were a few spots on the back of one of my hands. I attributed these to insect bites, even though it was the middle of winter.
I woke up very early on Sunday morning feeling dreadful, with a high temperature and feeling as if my skin was on fire. It was very obvious what was wrong with me by then and my mother had no difficulty diagnosing chickenpox. I took a hot bath as Mum suggested. She dried me very carefully to make sure that she didn't break any of the spots which were all over my body by then. With a towel wrapped around me, Mum took me down to the kitchen, which was always the warmest room in the house, and anointed me with calamine lotion. I stood shivering while the lotion dried then Mum helped me put a clean cotton nightdress on. I usually wore a pair of woollen tights under my nightdress in winter, but that would have been unbearably itchy, so I had to make do with a pair of cotton socks. I put a sweater on over the nightdress and went back to bed.
I slept for a while, but was soon wide awake and itching again. I knew already that chickenpox spots should never be scratched in case they leave scars later and Mum had impressed this on me further while she was smearing me with calamine. All my life I have been a compulsive spot fiddler. I would always pick off scabs from childhood cuts and grazes before they were really healed and burst blisters as soon as they appeared. (Fortunately I never had to cope with acne or eczema.) If you've had chickenpox you'll know that when the spots first appear, they are in the form of a tiny blister surrounded by a bright red circle of inflamed skin. I knew perfectly well that I shouldn't be doing it, but I couldn't resist scratching the spots on my arms, partly because of my ingrained habit of scratching spots but also in the hope of relieving the terrible itching. The spots made quite a mess as they burst, but the scratching made very little difference to the itching.
The spots looked bad before I scratched them, but afterwards they were really scary: red shiny pits oozing fluid. I got out of bed and went in search of my mother, panicking that I'd done some serious permanent damage. Mum calmed me down and told me that at worst I might have a tiny scar where each of the spots were, but that they would very probably heal without leaving a mark. She applied some more calamine lotion to my arms and suggested that it was time for some preventative measures. She cut my fingernails as short as possible (I didn't mind this as I kept them quite short anyway) and found a pair of clean white cotton socks for me to wear over my hands as scratch mitts.
I went back to bed and dozed on and off. Later on when Mum looked in to see how I was, she discovered that the sock had come off my right hand and I had been scratching the spots on my face. I had no recollection of this and had apparently done it in my sleep.
I wasn't hungry but accepted the glass of milk that my mother offered me. After I had drunk it and been to the bathroom, she made my improvised mitts a little more secure by putting a strip of Elastoplast medical tape around each wrist so that the socks wouldn't come off my hands.
I think I slept right through the night like that and only woke up when my sister was getting ready to go to school the next morning. She peeled the tape off my wrists so that I could use the bathroom. I was hot and sweaty from my fever and decided to have a long soak in the bathtub. I was feeling a bit better than I had done the previous day and the bath improved things further. I soaked myself for almost an hour, topping it up from time to time as the water got cold. Afterwards, I realised that although I felt less ill and my temperature had gone down, my spots were itching just as badly as before and more of them had appeared overnight. I wrapped myself up in a towel and went in search of my mother and the bottle of calamine lotion again.
Mum had anticipated my needs and had lit the fire in our lounge and drawn the curtains, so that it was warm and comfortable for the all-over application of calamine again. Once I dropped the towel, it was immediately obvious that I not only had more spots than the previous day, but I also had more scratched ones. It was clear from the state of my face and neck that although my fingers were covered, I had been rubbing hard enough for the fabric of the socks to break the blisters. Many of the spots on my legs had been burst too and we realised that I must have done that by rubbing with my heels. Mum repeated her assurance that most chickenpox spots disappear without a trace, so I would probably be all right. I was comforted to some extent, but I knew other girls at school who had scars on their faces from chickenpox and I didn't want it to happen to me.
The layer of calamine lotion was allowed to dry in front of the fire then my mother helped me to put on a clean nightdress. I put another pair of cotton socks on my feet and a sweater on over the nightdress then gratefully accepted Mum's offer of breakfast; I hadn't eaten at all the previous day and now felt well enough to be hungry. As the lounge was pleasantly warm, Mum brought me a boiled egg and some buttered toast on a tray rather than serving it in the kitchen.
I decided that I would like to stay up for a while and accepted Mum's offer of a radio to keep me company (this was many years before there was such a thing as daytime television). I snuggled down on the sofa under a blanket, half listening to the BBC Home Service (forerunner to BBC Radio 4) and half dozing. My pleasant drift down into sleep was suddenly halted as I realised where my fingers were; I was idly excavating one of the chickenpox spots on the side of my neck and making a surprisingly effective job of it even with my nails cut short.
My mother came into the lounge to see what was wrong (I had apparently shrieked quite loudly when I realised what I was doing). She put socks back on my hands and taped them on as she had the previous night, apologising profusely for forgetting to do so after breakfast. It took me a while to calm down after the fright I had given myself, but I must have done so, because the next thing I remember is Mum gently shaking me awake.
"I need to go out to get some groceries and some more calamine," she told me.
I had been curled up with my face towards the back of the sofa so I rolled over to face my mother. Her eyes widened and she gasped as I did so.
"Becca, look at your hands!"
I glanced down at my hands; the sock over my right hand was now streaked with yellow fluid from the chickenpox blisters and with blood. Apparently the friction between the cotton fabric of the socks and my skin was enough to cause quite a lot of damage. Mum hurried out of the room and returned with a bowl of water and a wad of cotton wool. She carefully wiped the area that I had been scratching and told me that it wasn't as bad as she first feared. She applied some more calamine lotion, which stung on the broken skin, and carefully dabbed it dry.
"Will you be all right while I go out?" Mum asked once she had finished dealing with my self-inflicted injuries.
"I don't mind being on my own," I told her, "but I think you should tie me up or something."
"That's fun when it's part of a game, but it's not going to be very nice when you're not feeling well."
"I don't mind," I assured her. "It's better than making a mess of my face."
Mum nodded her agreement then left the room, taking the bowl and cotton wool away with her. While she was out of the room, I experimented to see if I could find a position to lie in so that I would be comfortable with my hands behind my back. Other than lying face down, my weight would inevitably either be on my hands or on one arm. As my body felt rather stiff and achy with the chickenpox I realised that whatever position I adopted would very quickly become intolerable. If my hands were tied in front of me, then I could probably still scratch my face, which rather defeated the exercise.
"I don't think I can have my hands behind my back," I told Mum anxiously when she returned.
"I'd already thought of that," she replied with a reassuring smile.
My mother had armed herself with the silk sash from her dressing gown to bind my wrists. (I doubt if it was real silk, but it had the same smooth shiny finish and weight.) She tied my wrists in front of me by wrapping the sash around them twice and then forming a cinch. After adjusting the binding so that it wasn't tight against my wrists but that it was still impossible for me to pull my hands out, she tied the ends of the sash together behind my back. With my wrists tied in front but held at waist level, I felt both comfortable and safe.
Mum lifted the hem of my nightdress and inspected my legs. It was obvious that I had been doing the same thing with my feet that I had with my hands: using the friction of socks against skin to rub as a substitute for scratching.
"I thought I might have to do your feet as well," she told me.
Anticipating this eventuality, Mum had also brought a silk headscarf with her. (Again, I suspect it was probably actually rayon or another artificial silk.) She folded it into a band and neatly tied my ankles, cinching between them.
With my blanket tucked around me once more, I was quite comfortable and content to be left while Mum went out to do her errands. As before, I settled into a semi-doze, half listening to the radio but zoning out when the programme material failed to hold my attention.
When my mother returned, she was more laden with shopping than I expected. In addition to the calamine and other supplies from the pharmacy and the groceries, she had been clothes shopping. I only possessed two all-cotton nightdresses (the others all being mixtures of fibres and therefore probably too itchy for someone with chickenpox) so she had bought me two more. In the two days that I had been suffering from chickenpox, I had got through almost all the cotton socks that my sister and I owned, so she had bought some more of those too. Lastly there were two or three pairs of white ribbed tights. I think I had last worn white tights to a party when I was about 10, so I was surprised at this purchase until Mum explained that they were made from a mix with a high proportion of cotton in them, which should be kind to my skin while being fairly scratchproof and keeping me warm.
I was fairly hot and sticky, so I decided that another bath and a change of clothes would be a good idea. I went up to the bathroom and filled the bathtub as soon as I had been untied.
After the bath, my mother and I repeated the ritual with calamine lotion then she helped me get dressed, carefully avoiding any damage to my spots. She was right about the tights; I did feel much more comfortable with them on. We ate lunch together (probably just soup and bread) then I decided to settle on the sofa again.
My mother had work to do (she worked at home as an indexer of textbooks) so she said I would have to amuse myself for the afternoon. I was more awake than I had been in the morning, so I was unlikely to sleep, but there was also a good radio programme to look forward to: a play which I had heard announced that morning. Mum helped me pull a pair of socks on over my hands and then asked if I wanted to be tied up again. I told her that I probably should be and she secured me in exactly the same way that she had done earlier.
My sister and brother came home from school in the late afternoon as usual and I watched some children's television with them. (Many of the programmes were a little juvenile for us, but watching them passed the time.)
I was untied again to eat an evening meal after our Dad came home from work. I decided after that, that I could safely be left untied as there were other family members around to tell me to stop if they saw me scratching myself. It had been strange, but quite good fun to be tied up for so long.
I went to bed fairly early in the evening and asked Mum to come upstairs with me so that she could tie me up for the night. Karen was still working on her homework at her desk in our shared bedroom. I told her that I just wanted to be in bed and really didn't mind if the light was on, so she carried on working while our mother tied my wrists and ankles again and tucked me in.
I must have dropped off to sleep quite quickly, because the next thing I remember was waking up with a start realising that someone was enthusiastically tickling my feet. Karen had untucked the sheets and blankets at the bottom of my bed so that she could reach up underneath. She was holding my ankle binding with one hand and tickling with the other, so I couldn't get away.
Normally, I quite enjoy tickling, but I was tired and ill and not remotely in the mood for it. I told my sister to stop, but she just carried on. Finally, tears welling up, I yelled "MUM!"
Our mother appeared in the room within seconds and caught my sister still tickling me. Karen's rather lame explanation was that she thought it would cheer me up and that she would have stopped if I had asked. Now properly in tears, I told Mum, between sobs, that I had asked several times and Karen had ignored me.
Mum was under quite enough stress having to look after me as well as running the household and doing her own paid work. While ordinarily not too serious, my sister's behaviour was clearly the last straw for our mother. "I’ve a good mind to put you to bed tied up too," she told Karen.
Karen's eyes widened and she swallowed but said nothing. I knew exactly what was going through her mind: she was weighing up whether or not this was merely a threat on our mother's part and, if so, whether anything she might say would carry the risk of converting a threat to an actual punishment.
After an uncomfortable silence, Mum continued, "Get ready for bed while I think about it."
It still wasn't clear whether Karen was actually going to be sent to bed tied up or if our mother was simply prolonging the uncertainty to torment her.
"I'm sorry, Becca," Karen whispered. "I didn't realise quite how horrible you were feeling."
I grunted non-committally in reply.
Karen went to the bathroom and changed out of her day clothes and into her nightdress. Our bedroom was a very chilly place in winter, so she kept her tights on for warmth and added a sweater as an extra layer. She sat down on her desk chair again to await our mother's return.
When she reappeared, Mum went straight to the cardboard box in the bottom of the wardrobe where my siblings and I kept the supplies we used for tying-up games. I was snuggled well down into my blankets, but from my vantage point on the bottom bunk, I had a good view as our mother rummaged through the box. She eventually found what she was looking for: two of the old winter scarves we had in our collection. They were badly stretched and not really in a fit condition to be used for any purpose other than tying each other up, certainly not for wearing. However, we had discovered that scarves were far more comfortable than ropes (especially if we were tied up for a prolonged period), almost never left a mark and, when deployed skilfully, could be just as hard to escape from.
"Now Karen-Anne, can you give me any reason why I shouldn't put you to bed tied up like Becca?"
This was one of those totally unfair pieces of parental rhetoric for which there was no answer that was not likely to get one into deeper trouble. Karen just sat in silence wondering what to say.
"Mum," I interjected into the awkward silence, "please don't tie Karen up; if I need something during the night, she won't be able to help me if you do."
"Becca has a good point," Mum conceded. "But consider yourself warned, Karen."
Karen still said nothing, but nodded her head in agreement. Mum wished us both goodnight and left the room, switching off the light as she went and leaving us in just the dim light of my bedside lamp.
"Thank you Becca," Karen said, relief evident in her voice. Rather than kiss me and risk infection, my sister kissed the end of one finger then lightly pressed it against my forehead, making a kissing sound as she did so. Lastly, she clicked off my bedside light and climbed the ladder to her top bunk in darkness.
I slept much better than I had done on previous nights. My temperature had dropped almost to normal and I think that helped me enter a deeper sleep. I usually slept on one side with my hands tucked up under my chin, but having them tied at my waist didn't seem to be an impediment to sleeping.
Tuesday was a normal school day for Karen, so I was woken by the alarm clock as usual. There was nowhere to put it on a level with Karen's bunk, so it was always on my bedside table, close to my ear. I normally pressed the button that stopped it ringing but of course I was in no position to do that so I had to wait for Karen to surface into consciousness and then make her way down the ladder.
"Morning Karen," I said as the alarm was silenced and my bedside light went on.
I expected Karen to reply in kind. (Omitting the 'good' from our morning greeting on schooldays was a tradition we had shared for many years.) Instead, she stared at me in horror and exclaimed, "Becca! Your face!"
Without saying anything else, my sister rushed out of the room, returning a few minutes later with our mother.
"Oh, Becca!" Mum said after studying my face gravely for a moment. "I thought you'd be all right done up like that."
I had no idea what had happened, but I was getting quite frightened by Mum and Karen's obvious agitation. My sister held a mirror so that I could see for myself what had happened. There had been a cluster of half a dozen or so spots just above my left eye; now there was a suppurating and bleeding mass of red flesh. It seemed that I had just enough freedom of movement to be able to bring my hands far enough up and to bend my head far enough down to reach my face with my fingertips. Once again, the friction of sock-covered hands against skin was sufficient to do considerable damage and once again I had done the whole thing in my sleep.
Mum cleaned me up while Karen got herself ready for school. Once the blood I had smeared across my face had gone it didn't look quite as alarming but it was nevertheless clear that I had made quite a mess of myself. Mum finished off by bathing my face with disinfectant then untied me and sent me off to have a bath. She counselled me sternly not to touch my face; I didn't need to be told twice.
(This self-inflicted injury resulted in the only lasting scar from my bout of chickenpox. It was bright red immediately after it healed, but eventually settled down to a white scar about half an inch long and a quarter of an inch wide which crosses the line of my left eyebrow. No hair grows there, so I used to fill in the gap by sketching in hairs with an eyebrow pencil. Now that I'm middle-aged, I rarely bother.)
I was shocked at what I had done to myself and anxious to prevent any repetition of this behaviour. Over breakfast, Mum and I discussed what to do. I was desperate enough to consider any remedy. I remember seriously suggesting that perhaps I ought to be kept tied to a chair or tied spread-eagled on my bed until the chickenpox was gone. Mum complimented me on taking the situation seriously but felt that we needn't take quite such drastic action as I had suggested. We eventually decided that the improvised straitjacket that Mum had devised for Karen and me a few years before might well be a good approach to try. (I wrote about improvised straitjackets in my stories Straitjackets and Going Out.)
Once I had finished eating, had another visit to the bathroom and brushed my teeth, Mum offered to restrain me as we had agreed. I had changed my clothes after I got up, but was still dressed in much the same way that I had been since I fell ill, with a long cotton nightdress over a pair of white cotton tights and a warm sweater on top. We decided that the sweater I was wearing was not quite ideal for the purpose we had in mind, so we went to my bedroom and sorted through my winter clothes until we found a better alternative: a heavy woollen hooded cardigan with sleeves which were rather too long for me so that I always wore them folded back to form quite deep cuffs.
We returned to the lounge and Mum started by pulling a pair of knee-length white cotton socks on over my hands while I hung on to the ends of my nightdress sleeves to stop them rumpling up. The tops of the socks came well up above my elbows, so there would be no chance of them coming off my hands accidentally or otherwise. I put the cardigan on next and waited while Mum buttoned it up to my throat. Next, Mum threaded a long scarf (taken from the box of tying-up supplies I shared with my sister) through one of the legwarmers that I wore when I was at ballet lessons. She tied the scarf around my waist so that the knot was at the back and the legwarmer at the front of my waist. Next, she folded the cuffs of my cardigan down over my hands and guided my hands and forearms through the legwarmer in opposite directions. Once the ends of the scarf had been knotted to the ends of the sleeves, I was securely but comfortably held in the classic straitjacket position.
I sat down on the sofa where I planned to spend the rest of the morning and Mum completed our anti-scratch precautions by tying my ankles and knees with short scarves (again from the tying-up box).
"Yell if you need anything; I'll be in my work room," my mother advised me.
"Would you turn the radio on please?"
"I think I can do better than that," Mum replied mysteriously as she left the room.
She returned a few minutes later with a stack of records in her hands. This was the fruit of a visit to the local library. The records were the vinyl equivalent of modern talking books on CD or cassette. Strangely, I can remember the technical details that they ran at 16 RPM, giving 40 minutes of spoken word on each side and were arranged to stack on an auto-changer and be turned once half way through, but I have no recollection whatsoever of the books that I listened to.
I swung my feet up onto the sofa to snuggle down and enjoy being read to. Mum put a cushion under my head and draped a blanket over me, kissed me on the top of my head and departed to get on with her morning's work.
Mum untied me so that I could eat lunch then did me up again for the afternoon which I spent listening to the radio. Timothy and Karen arrived home together about quarter to five (Karen and I were at the girl's Grammar School in the town while Timothy was at the boys' counterpart but we often found ourselves on the same bus home). Now that I had some supervision, I judged that I was safe to be untied, which Karen did for me. I kept my hands covered by socks to defend me against any inadvertent scratching. It had not been particularly uncomfortable being tied up for the day, but I was nevertheless glad to be able to move again.
Mum put me into the cardigan straitjacket again when it was time for bed and I was pleased to wake the next morning without having scratched myself. The following day and possibly the one after that followed much the same pattern.
By the end of the first week of my chickenpox, I was feeling almost completely well again, but became tired very easily. There had been no new blisters for a couple of days and the oldest ones had already formed dry scabs, so there was far less temptation to scratch and far less risk of serious damage to my skin if I did so. I decided that I wanted to be dressed in proper clothes for the rest of my time off school, so I wore what I usually wore in the winter back then: a sweater over a skirt or dress and woollen tights.
Although I was much better at not scratching, my mother insisted that I wore a pair of white cotton gloves so that my skin would be protected from any unconscious scratching and I would be less likely to infect any areas I did scratch. Just to make sure they stayed on, she taped them on with Elastoplast.
Although I was feeling a lot better I was still feeling far from completely well so I was content to spend time reading (which I could do now that I could turn the pages of a book) alternating with dozing on the sofa.
I generally dealt with any urge to scratch by finding a displacement activity, often by offering to make a pot of tea for Mum and me and busying myself in the kitchen that way. There were inevitably occasions when my mother had to go out for a while, to the Post Office to send material back to a publisher or to pick up provisions from the local shops. These errands usually took between fifteen minutes and half an hour and I was quite content to have my hands tied behind my back with a scarf as a security measure while she was away.
There was one occasion about the middle of the second week of my chickenpox when Mum told me she would have to go out for a couple of hours on business. I don't now remember the precise details. Visits to book publishers usually involved trips to London on the train, which would take a lot longer than two hours. Possibly she had arranged for someone to come down from London to meet her somewhere in our town, but that's really only a guess. If child-care was needed, Mum generally called on her sister, my Aunt Lizzie to help out. (At the age of 14, I no longer needed babysitting as such, but the arrangement still stood.) I remember that Aunt Lizzie wasn't available that day (probably because of her own work commitments), which left Mum in something of a quandary.
One option was for me to accompany my mother on her trip, but I really didn't feel well enough for that and far preferred to stay at home. I was still worried about scratching my spots and didn't really trust myself so I said, "Just turn the radio on and tie me up when you go out, like you did yesterday; I'm sure I'll be fine here like that."
Mum still wasn't sure. "But that was only for a few minutes; I'll be at least two hours today, maybe longer."
"I've been tied up for much longer than that and been all right," I pointed out.
Mum was running out of time and had to make a decision, so she agreed to my suggestion, still a little reluctantly. It was my idea, so she left it to me to choose how I wanted to be tied. I decided to try out an idea that had occurred to me while I was wearing the improvised cardigan-straitjacket: to combine that with a chair-tie. Mum was in her work room sorting out papers ready for her appointment, so rather than disturb her, I organised all the materials I thought I would need, including the big hooded cardigan and the cardboard box of tying-up materials. I took them into the kitchen as it was the warmest room in the house and also had straight wooden chairs which would be suitable for tying me to. As I would be immobile for quite some time, I had Mum remove my gloves so that I could use the bathroom.
Despite her initial reluctance, Mum soon warmed to the task of immobilising me. She almost always seemed to enjoy participating in the silly tying-up games that my siblings and I indulged in. As I had several years of experience of these games by this time, I was quite adept at escaping if there was the slimmest chance of doing so. Accordingly, my mother regarded it as a matter of pride to see to it that I stayed tied up if she had done the tying, so she applied herself to the task with diligence.
The first job was to pull a pair of socks up over the sleeves of the sweater I had on in place of the cotton gloves I had been wearing earlier. After that, Mum helped me on with the cardigan, buttoning it up for me and folding the ends of the sleeves down over my hands. I sat down on one of the kitchen chairs ready for my mother to make sure I stayed on it. She started by placing an old scarf across my hips, tying the ends to the very tops of the back legs of the chair where they were joined to the seat so that I was held both back into the chair and down onto it. Mum had me lift my arms up while she tied a scarf around my chest just below my arms (and just above my bust which was just becoming noticeable at that age), again fastening it securely to the frame of the chair. She followed this with another one lower down, about level with the bottom of my ribs.
With my torso securely anchored to the chair, Mum turned her attention to my arms. She threaded another scarf through a legwarmer and tied the ends to the verticals at either side of the chair-back so it was across my stomach at a comfortable level for my arms. Just as when I had been straitjacketed on previous days, Mum guided my arms through the legwarmer from opposite ends then tied the ends of the sleeves to the ends of the scarf. I checked the result for comfort and security and approved on both counts. After some rummaging in the box, Mum found some old winter stockings of hers. My sister and I had switched to wearing tights as soon as they became available for children in the late 1950s, but for winter wear at least, our mother preferred stockings and continued to wear them at least up until the end of the 1960s. They could be darned once after wearing out at the heel, but after that they were discarded and a few of them had been diverted to our tying-up box.
Mum was just about to start tying my legs with the stockings when she asked if my feet would be warm enough. From the waist up, I was very warmly bundled up by now, but below the hem of my skirt, I just had a pair of tights on. They were warm woollen ones, but Mum had a point; I knew from experience how cold one could get sitting immobile in a chair like this. She went up to my bedroom and returned a moment or two later with the knitted bootees I often wore as slippers around the house and a pair of legwarmers, this time to be used for their intended purpose of keeping legs warm. With my extra layer of insulation in place, Mum tied my ankles to the front legs of the chair, using one stocking for each. She used two more to secure my knees, in each case starting by going across my leg above the knee and also across the corner of the chair seat, so that the stocking crossed over under the chair seat and behind the top of the chair leg. She then brought the ends around in front of my leg and round behind the chair leg again, where she knotted them. My legs were very securely restrained this way and the combination of the knee binding and the scarf across my hips meant that it wasn't necessary to tie anything across my lap.
My mother surveyed her handiwork critically then searched through the box again. She found another two stockings which she used to tie my upper arms to the verticals at either side of the chair back.
I was very impressed with the finished tie-up. I couldn't move anything apart from my feet and head, yet I was perfectly comfortable and there was no undue pressure or chafing that might irritate the remaining scabs on my chickenpox rash. I complimented Mum on a job well done and thanked her for the impromptu tie-up game.
"All part of the service, ma'am," Mum replied bowing in reply to my praise. "Anything else I can do for madam? A gag perhaps? Or a blindfold?"
If I hadn't been laughing so much at Mum's show of obsequiousness, I might have thought a little bit longer how long I was going to be gagged before replying, "Yes, please."
Mum didn't want to risk anything I could choke on, so the gag was a long sock pulled between my teeth and knotted behind my head. The blindfold was slightly less understated; Mum used my own brown and yellow striped school scarf for this, first wrapping it across the lower part of my face, covering me from my throat to the bridge of my nose, then wrapping it across the upper half, going from slightly below my nose to my hairline. She knotted the ends behind my head then pulled up the hood of my cardigan. The scarf wasn't completely opaque; I still could see pinpoints of light through the fabric, but I didn't have any useful vision through it.
"Are you sure you're going to be all right like that?" Mum asked, with a small note of concern in her voice.
"Eff," I assured her. (The gag was more a token than a serious impediment to speech, but it didn't do a lot for my consonants.)
"Nothing too tight or rubbing?"
Mum turned on the portable radio we kept in the kitchen and tuned it to the BBC Home Service. I felt a gentle nudge on the top of my head, which I assumed was Mum kissing me. I heard the front door open and close and I settled down to enjoy my afternoon of radio listening and voluntary imprisonment.
I have always preferred the spoken word to music for my radio listening (unless I am trying to write something, in which case it's an impossible distraction), so an afternoon of the Home Service had plenty to keep me entertained. There was "Woman's Hour", a magazine programme which is still going strong 45 years later; a short play; a 15-minute segment of a book and "Home This Afternoon", another magazine programme but one that didn't outlive the 60s.
It turned out that my mother's meeting went on longer than she had anticipated so that it was actually my brother and sister who returned home first. They tried the back door first (our usual route in and out of the house) before discovering it was locked and going round to the front door to open it with the latch-key. Even though it was getting dark by then, they must have caught at least a glimpse of me through the window and seen that I was tied up. However, it was only when they actually came into the kitchen that they were able to appreciate fully just how thoroughly tied up I was.
"Did Mum do that to you?" Karen asked unnecessarily.
"Ooh, you're gagged too! Do you want to be untied now?"
"Eff, weave." It had been fun being tied up, but I was getting a bit bored not being able to do anything. I was also regretting my impulsive acceptance of Mum's offer of a gag and blindfold; the hinge of my jaw had been increasingly uncomfortable for some time and I never really enjoyed blindfolds that much anyway.
"Wait just a minute," Karen told me.
I heard my sister scamper out of the room, then her feet pounding on the stairs. A minute or two later, she returned. There was a lengthy silence while I wondered what she was doing. A brilliant light visible through my blindfold coupled with the pop of a flashbulb and the click of a camera shutter revealed exactly what she was doing.
I felt my hood being pulled down then the scarf swathed around my head was removed to reveal the grinning faces of my siblings.
"One more," Karen told me, kneeling on the floor and framing me up in the viewfinder of her camera. There was another flash and a click as she took the second photograph.
(My father was a keen and skilled amateur photographer and taught all three of us to take photographs and to develop and print them ourselves. He also bought us what were quite good cameras for the time, although very primitive by today's standards: an Agfa Silette for me and a Voigtländer Vito for Karen. And, in case you're wondering: yes, I do still have those photographs and no, no-one outside my family will ever see them.)
Karen and Timothy set to work together to free me while I blinked away the purple after-images left by the flashbulb. They took off my gag first, so I was able to explain exactly how and why I came to be tied up as they untied knots. Our mother returned home while this was going on and was very apologetic about leaving me so long. (Karen pointed out that if Mum hadn't been late then she and Timothy would have missed seeing a really good chair-tie; so much for sisterly love and concern.)
On the Thursday afternoon of my second week of chickenpox, by which time I was feeling perfectly well but was still in quarantine, Karen came home from school feeling a little unwell. There was no sign of any rash but she didn't feel like eating much and went to bed early.
On the Friday morning, our suspicions were confirmed; Karen was feeling very ill and was extremely spotty when she woke up. She came down the ladder from her bunk rather unsteadily and staggered off to the bathroom. A few seconds later, there was a shriek of anguish. I kicked the bedclothes off myself and swung my legs out of bed. It was a bit of an effort to get upright as my wrists were tied in front at my waist but it wasn't long before I was outside the bathroom door.
"What's wrong, Karen?" I asked.
"There's spots all over my face!" she wailed.
"They'll heal up and disappear if you don't scratch them," I assured her.
"But they're so itchy!" Karen complained. "I need to be tied up right now!"
I went downstairs to find Mum. She untied me and we went back upstairs together to see what we could for Karen. My sister told us that she didn't want breakfast and just wanted to go straight back to bed. She was also adamant that she absolutely needed to be tied up immediately so that she wouldn't make a mess of her face like I had. After a brief discussion, we decided that if Karen was going to be tied up, she couldn't be in her own top bunk, so I set to work to strip the linen off both bunks and remade them with clean sheets and pillow-cases. While I did that, Mum treated Karen with calamine lotion and dressed her in a cotton nightdress and one of the pairs of cotton tights that had been bought for me (even though they were too long for her). Cotton socks over her hands followed and a sweater-straitjacket much like the one I had worn. We helped Karen get into my bunk and left her to sleep for the rest of the morning.
Next comes the reason why I remember the date of this episode so precisely. Sir Winston Churchill, Britain's prime minister during World War 2, had died at the age of 90 on Sunday 24 January 1965, the middle weekend of my chickenpox. His state funeral was held on Saturday 30 January (the day after Karen's chickenpox began in earnest) and the whole family watched the funeral service and procession on television. My siblings and I were born after World War 2, but we were old enough to understand how great a statesman Churchill had been and were aware that we were watching history: the passing of the last of the Great Victorians.
In bizarre contrast to the solemnity of the occasion we were watching, while the rest of us were dressed quite normally for a Saturday (apart from my white cotton gloves), Karen was sitting on the sofa beside me watching the television trussed up in her sweater-straitjacket and with her ankles and knees tied together with scarves.