Wide Game

 

This story doesn't contain much actual tying up, but I hope it's an interesting period piece all the same. It dates from the autumn of my first year at grammar school, probably October or November 1961.

 

I really need to explain the title of this story first. 'Wide game' is the term using by Guides and Scouts for a game played over an extended geographical area, which could be open countryside or the centre of a city. I think the distinguishing feature is that the players are sufficiently spread out that they can't all see each other. As far as I can tell from a little googling, 'wide game' is used pretty much universally by Scouts and Guides all over the English-speaking world.

 

I joined the Girl Guides at the same time as I moved from my primary school to grammar school at the age of 11. These transitions are not unrelated as the Guide company I joined was attached to the grammar school. All members of the company were pupils at the school and the Guide leaders were either teachers or former pupils. Some girls felt that this led to an uncomfortable relationship between Guides and leaders, but I personally never felt it to be a issue with me.

 

Girl Guide meetings took place on Friday evenings and we always knew in advance whether it would be a regular meeting in the Guide Hut (which most meetings were), a wide game or something completely different.

 

One Friday morning at school, as I was making my way from one classroom to another, I was passed in the corridor by one of the Guide leaders. As she passed, she thrust an envelope into my hand but she didn't stop to explain her action. I looked in bewilderment at what I had been handed. It was a plain brown manilla envelope, about 8 inches by 6, neatly lettered in block capitals: TOP SECRET: FOR REBECCA BAILEY'S EYES ONLY and it had something lumpy inside it. Girl Guide meetings always took place on Friday evenings and I knew we were due to play a wide game that evening, so I tentatively concluded that it must be something to do with that and put the envelope away in my schoolbag for later examination.

 

My first opportunity to examine the mysterious package was at lunchtime. I took it to the toilets, locked myself into a cubicle, sat down and ripped the end of the envelope open. Inside was a piece of paper and a 35mm film cassette. The paper was a hand-written memo (actually a carbon copy: photocopiers were rare and expensive in 1961), addressed to me and to two other Guides, my friends Alison and Vanessa, both first years like me. It explained that we were spies on the run in England tasked with delivering three rolls of film to a double agent. I examined the film cassette. Even at that age, I was quite an experienced photographer, so I could tell immediately that it was actually an empty cassette. However, this was no ordinary film cassette: instead of the familiar Kodak or Ilford branding, this one was Russian and labelled in exotic and (to me) unreadable Cyrillic script.

 

The memo instructed us not to come to the Guide Hut (in the school grounds) at 6.30 pm as usual but instead to rendezvous with each other outside the Town Hall in the High Street. We were required to remain within a specified area of the town until 7.30 (there was a map sketched on the memo). During that time we would be at risk of capture from British agents (ie the rest of the Guide company), so we had to keep ourselves as inconspicuous as possible. The memo advised splitting up so that we would not all be captured at once and strongly suggested that we should come in disguise.

 

At 7.30, we had to make our way to a large park in the town. The park had originally been laid out as the grounds to a large country house (which had since been turned into a nursing home) and there was nearly a square mile of rolling grassland and clumps of woodland. It was a superb location for outdoor games and one we used time and again in the Guides. The precise rendezvous point was at a monument which commemorated an eighteenth century king (one of the Georges) reviewing the local militia.

 

On reaching the rendezvous, the film had to be handed over covertly to Jacqui, an older girl in the Guide company and one of the patrol leaders. She was a double agent and for us to win the game her cover had to remain unblown. If we failed to hand over the film but any of us remained uncaptured after reaching the rendezvous point when the game ended at 8 o'clock, it would be declared a draw.

 

Friday afternoon was spent on the hockey field (one of my favourite ways of spending an afternoon), so I had no opportunity to think any further about the wide game. I showered as quickly as I could after the hockey session and headed home without hanging around to talk to anyone so as to give myself as much time as possible to devise a disguise for the evening, As I sat pondering this question on the bus, it dawned on me that my biggest problem was Karen, my older sister. She would be one of the Guides out looking for secret agents with Russian film and it wouldn't be hard for her to spot me if she already knew how I was dressed.

 

As soon as I was home, I explained to my mother what was supposed to happen that evening and why it was a problem. At least, I tried to explain. It all came out in a long complicated gabble so Mum had to get me to repeat it slowly and then had to ask a whole series of questions before she got the story straight.

 

Mum thought for a moment then said, "I think we should phone your Aunt Lizzie. She does lots of amateur dramatics and I bet she could disguise you so that even I wouldn't know you."

 

"And then Karen won't know what I look like!" I added, delighted at the suggestion.

 

Mum made a brief telephone call then told me, "Aunt Lizzie says 'yes', and she says to come now and not to waste time changing out of your school uniform and that she'll give you tea while you're there and give you a lift into town in time for your rendezvous."

 

Two minutes later, I was sitting beside Mum in the car as she drove the short distance to her sister's house. I was excited, because it was always fun doing things with my aunt. I was also nervous (but in a good sort of way) as I had seen Aunt Lizzie on stage a number of times and sometimes had completely failed to recognise her at first, so I knew that she could probably effect a complete transformation of my appearance.

 

When we arrived at her house, my aunt was waiting for me and it turned out that she had recruited her daughter, my cousin Annie as her assistant.

 

"Come upstairs," Aunt Lizzie instructed and led the way up to her bedroom with Annie following behind me.

 

It was obvious that they had used the few minutes since my mother's phone call to consider some possibilities. There were several garments already laid out on the bed.

 

"Take off your coat and let's have a look at you," my aunt told me.

 

I removed my duffel coat and the chocolate brown school cardigan that I had been wearing underneath it and laid them on the bed. I was wearing a brown school tunic (one of those pinafore dresses that some people sometimes incorrectly call gymslips) over a cream coloured blouse with a school tie.

 

Aunt Lizzie and Annie studied me critically for a while.

 

"Well, she's very tall, so we might be able to make her pass as an adult," Annie commented.

 

This was true. At the age of 11, I was already about 5'3", which was close to the average adult height for a grown woman in the early 1960s and also just fractionally shorter than my aunt.

 

"Yes, but she's also as thin as a rake," Aunt Lizzie replied.

 

This was blunt but accurate. All my recent growth had been upwards and I wouldn't begin to fill out until my later teens. (And to be brutally honest with myself, the tall, thin, bony pre-teen I was then grew up to be the tall, thin, bony woman I have been ever since.)

 

"Try this on," Annie suggested, handing me a coat.

 

I put the coat on. It was a well-worn trench coat in the usual beige coloured waterproof poplin, double breasted and belted. The length was quite good on me, coming down to mid-calf level, but even though it wasn't a particularly large size, it was vastly too roomy for me and fitted me like a sack.

 

"I wonder if we can make her fit that?" Aunt Lizzie asked, as much to herself as to Annie or me.

 

I was still trying to work out the implications of 'make her fit that' rather than 'make it fit her' when Uncle Alf called us from downstairs to tell us that food was ready.

 

Annie helped me remove the coat again and the three of us headed downstairs.

 

Uncle Alf was a competent (if not particularly adventurous) cook with the knack of adding just the right magic touch to make basic dishes just that bit special. The meal that evening was that economical British standby, baked beans on toast. The beans were perfectly ordinary Heinz, but with a dash or Worcester sauce and a hint of mustard to give it a zingy piquancy. He had also grated some cheese on top of the beans once they were spread on the toast and had crisped it under the grill.

 

As we ate, Aunt Lizzie and Annie worked out exactly how they were going to make me fit the raincoat and complete my disguise. I didn't say much, but listened as they worked through the details, fascinated by their ingenuity and the effort they were prepared to go to on my behalf.

 

The somewhat hurried meal over, I went back upstairs with my aunt and cousin, leaving my uncle to clear away the tea things. I was sent to the bathroom with instructions to use the toilet and make sure I wouldn't need to go again for a few hours, to wash my face and neck very thoroughly and to brush my teeth (I was told where to find a spare new toothbrush). I was also instructed to strip down to my underwear.

 

I duly did as I was bid and reported back to my aunt's bedroom clad in just my vest and knickers (undershirt and panties in American terminology).

 

While I had been in the bathroom, Aunt Lizzie and Annie had accumulated a surprisingly large pile of clothes on the bed. I knew that they planned to layer me up to build up my figure, but I wasn't expecting the heap to be quite so big.

 

"Legs first," Aunt Lizzie announced. At that age, my legs were like matchsticks and would need to be padded just as much as the rest of me. My aunt and cousin worked together to build up and shape the calves of my legs with a combination of crepe bandage, cotton wool and some layers of medical lint, all held together with strategically placed bits of Elastoplast medical tape. They had obviously had occasion to do this before for some stage production as they knew exactly what to do and had both legs done within five minutes.

 

"Put your tights back on and see how it looks," Annie told me. She helped me work my brown woollen school uniform tights on over the layers of padding without disturbing anything. It felt very strange.

 

Annie examined me critically then commented, "It's a bit lumpy and there's too much white showing through."

 

"These should fix that," Aunt Lizzie responded, producing a pair of thick black stockings out of a drawer. I have no idea what my aunt ever wore these for; they were woollen and as thick as the thickest socks I possessed for wearing with walking boots. She worked them up my legs on top of my tights. As predicted they hid the whiteness of the bandages and smoothed out all the lumps. They were a bit loose on my thighs, but up to knee level, they were perfect.

 

"Now let's give you some curves, girl," Aunt Lizzie said, grinning broadly at my open-mouthed astonishment as she brandished a perfectly terrifying piece of corsetry at me.

 

The garment in question, I recognised as one of the alarming things I occasionally saw advertised or reviewed in the women's magazines my mother sometimes read. With hindsight and a bit of research, I can identify the item as a long-leg panty-corselette. It basically consisted of reinforced mid-thigh-length panties, a girdle and a support bra all combined into a single piece of corsetière's engineering. Access to this thing was through an opening in the gusset, so it had to be pulled on over the head and down the body, finally being fastened by means of a series of hooks and eyes running up one leg, across the crotch and down the other leg. I had no idea that my aunt wore anything like this.

 

Laughing at my discomfiture, Aunt Lizzie and Annie helped me wriggle into the corselette. Inevitably, it hung rather loosely on me. They checked just how loose the fit was at several strategic locations. My aunt summarised their findings as, "Waist just needs about an inch but she's got no bust and no bottom." A grin took the sting out of the criticism of my then-non-existent figure.

 

I was helped out of the elastic and nylon shell again then my aunt and cousin selected some suitable padding for me. The first item was a heavy hand-knit cardigan. As with everything else that had been tried on me, it was too big, but could be made snug on my body by wrapping it around me rather than doing up the buttons. Aunt Lizzie held it in place around me while Annie added a couple of safety pins to secure it and ran a tape measure around my waist to check the size.

 

Sorting out my narrow hips and almost non-existent bottom came next. This must have been a problem that Aunt Lizzie and Annie had encountered before as I don't remember any discussion of how to pad me up, only of what to use. The 'what' turned out to be a crocheted baby blanket about four feet square. At least I think that's what it was: it was in cream coloured wool and was thick but with a loose and lacy construction. Annie folded the blanket diagonally to form a big triangle then wrapped it around my hips and between my legs exactly as you would a baby's nappy (or diaper), pinning it in place to secure it.

 

After that, they helped me into the corselette, which was now a much more snug fit than before, at least from the ribcage downwards. Annie reached up inside the lower part of the garment, rearranging the padding around my hips until it was moulded into what she regarded as a satisfactory shape. Once she was content with the results, she fastened the hook-and-eye closure, also making sure that the heavy black stockings I was wearing were well pulled up inside the legs of the corselette. The end result felt very secure and snug indeed; I was beginning to realise the reason for Aunt Annie's emphasis on making sure I wouldn't need the bathroom for the rest of the evening.

 

Adding some padding above waist level was simpler. Annie and Aunt Lizzie progressively filled the bra cups with carefully rolled socks and stockings until I had quite an impressive bosom. With the whole of the corselette now padded out, I felt as if I could hardly move; certainly my waist wasn't going to bend easily. I pointed this out to my aunt, but she simply smiled and told me that being less lithe and supple was going to help me look and move like an older woman.

 

The next layer to go on was a fairly heavy ribbed grey sweater with a turtle neck. I was surprised at how good a fit it was on me; I had evidently gained a good few inches on all vital statistics. Annie and Aunt Lizzie examined me from all angles and eventually concluded that the results were good: I now had reasonably convincing curves. A grey herringbone tweed skirt came next. It was fastened over the sweater as my waist was still a little slim for it. The padding on my hips and bottom filled it out so that it hung as it should. The skirt was my aunt's and as she was still a little taller than me at that time, the hem came much lower on me, a couple of inches below knee level and just fractionally shorter than the trench coat.

 

"Make-up time!" Annie announced with obvious glee. I knew from the discussions that had taken place earlier that this was her forte. She helped me to sit down on Aunt Lizzie's dressing table stool (with some difficulty) and wrapped a towel around my shoulders, tucking it inside the collar of my sweater.

 

With all these layers on, I was getting quite warm. Aunt Lizzie threw the bedroom window wide open so that I wouldn't be sweating as the make-up was applied to me.

 

The first stage of my transformation was to modify the shape of my face. I had a fairly narrow elfin face with a rather pointed chin. Aunt Lizzie used cotton wool pads (basically the same as a dentist uses) between my gums and cheeks, giving me a fatter face and the illusion of a squarer jawline.

 

The next job was to apply what Aunt Lizzie referred to as 'Annie's wrinkle gloop'. (This was apparently what they called it in their amateur dramatic group.) I eventually learned that this stuff was a mix of 'Copydex' (the well-known latex-emulsion craft glue) and surgical spirit (the British term for rubbing alcohol). The alcohol was present both to thin the glue and to make it more volatile.

 

The gloop was applied to my cheeks first by painting it on thinly with a brush. As soon as it was on, Annie held the skin taut, stretching my cheeks down as far as she could, while Aunt Lizzie wielded an electric fan heater to blow-dry the coating. (Hair-driers weren't common domestic appliances at that time.) The gloop shrank quite dramatically as it dried, so as soon as Annie let go of my skin, a pattern of fine wrinkles appeared. Annie treated my forehead and the area around my mouth in the same way, always pulling the skin in such a way that the wrinkles would appear running in the correct direction.

 

One I had been suitable wrinkled, it was simply a matter of applying a conventional foundation (Max Factor liquid stage foundation was Annie's preference I think), then painting in all the natural creases and shadow lines on my face. Aunt Lizzie complimented Annie on her artistry, but frustratingly, they wouldn't let me see the result yet; I would have to wait until the whole makeover was complete.

 

My hair had been the subject of some debate over tea and I knew that Annie had decided to recolour the fringe at the front and to hide the rest. The recolouring was achieved using some fine white powder (it looked like talc but was even more finely divided than that) which Annie patiently combed into my hair then fixed with hairspray.

 

With my make-up complete, it was back to clothes. I stood up again and was helped into a fairly heavy high-necked cardigan in a slightly darker shade of grey than the sweater I had on. Grey seemed to be very much the theme of the costume so far. With that on, my aunt and cousin decided that I probably had enough clothes on to fill the trench coat. I put it on and they tugged at various parts of it to check the fit. "Just a bit more on the shoulders?" Annie suggested.

 

After some deliberation, Aunt Lizzie selected a crocheted triangular shawl in a deep maroon colour. I removed the coat and stood patiently while Annie draped the shawl around my shoulders, crossed it over on my chest and pinned the ends together at the back of my waist. I was helped back into the coat again, the buttons done up and the belt buckled. "Perfect," Annie declared. "It just looks as though she has a scarf on under the coat."

 

"Shoes," Annie announced, offering her mother a pair of what I thought of as 'granny boots': fake-fur-lined suede boots coming slightly above the ankle, with a rubber sole, a low heel and a zip fastener up the front. With the heavy stockings on over my tights, they were quite a good fit.

 

"Hat," Aunt Lizzie said, equally emphatically. They were getting quite excited at the way my makeover was working out and the conversation between them seemed to have degenerated into an exchange of headline announcements. The selected hat was a knitted pull-on one (a watch-cap if you're American or a tuque if you're Canadian). It was maroon to match the shawl. The idea was to hide all my hair except the fringe, but there were bits at the back that remained annoyingly visible. Aunt Lizzie's solution was to add a headscarf over the top of the hat. The one she chose was a fairly heavy one woven from some woollen material in a black and grey pseudo-tartan check pattern. She folded the square into a triangle, positioned it over my head, then crossed the ends under my chin and knotted them at the nape of my neck. She made sure that the tails of the headscarf and any stray hair was all hidden inside the collar of my sweater.

 

"Spectacles," Annie added as an afterthought. Aunt Lizzie lent me a spare pair of her reading glasses (probably a pair with an out-of-date prescription). They were slightly unusual in that they were bifocals but the upper part of each lens was plain glass as my aunt's distance vision was fine. That meant that I could wear them with no discomfort but would have to remember not to look at my feet while I was walking, especially if I was negotiating steps.

 

I was given a pair of maroon woollen gloves to wear and was declared done. At long last, I was led to a mirror to see the finished effect.

 

The result was utterly astonishing. I expected to see a slightly altered version of my usual self. Instead, a complete stranger stared back at me out of the mirror. Her figure was not fat, but distinctly curvy instead of my rail-thin straight-up-and-down physique. The face conveyed an impression of late middle age and reminded me quite strongly of my father's mother. Whoever this woman was, she wasn't me; as a disguise, it was superb. As my initial astonishment waned, I broke into a delighted grin.

 

"Don't do that too much," Annie warned. "The make-up is fairly robust but it won't take too much extreme stretching."

 

It was almost quarter past six by this time. After some further discussion, which involved me this time, I was equipped with a prop to go with my character: a wicker shopping basket on wheels to go with my assumed persona. We had concluded that it would be suspicious if I spent the whole of the time I was to be at large in the designated part of the town just wandering around, so the basket contained a copy of the weekly local newspaper, a paperback book and a bag of breadcrumbs. The plan was that I could spend the time sitting on a bench in a small public garden in the town centre, reading my paper and feeding the birds.

 

Just after quarter past six, Aunt Lizzie gave me a lift to the initial rendezvous point at the Town Hall. It was a few minutes before half past six when I was dropped off, but I was still the last of the three of us to arrive.

 

I was delighted that neither of my friends recognised me until I greeted them. Their astonishment at my disguise was a real boost to my confidence; I had felt incredibly conspicuous going out like that, but it was obvious that they hadn't even given me a second glance when they first saw me.

 

My friends Alison and Vanessa had both taken very different approaches to disguise than the one I had followed (or more accurately, the one my aunt and cousin had organised for me).

 

Alison was one of a pair of twins. Although obviously not identical twins in the biological sense, she and her twin brother bore a striking resemblance to each other. On more than one occasion, I had seen them dressed up in each other's clothes as fancy dress as a party. At that age they were still of very similar build and height and had hairstyles not greatly different in length. The effect for anyone who knew either of them well was distinctly disconcerting. For her disguise, Alison had chosen to wear her brother's clothes: grey shorts with grey knee-length socks, a navy blue sweater with a lighter blue zip-up jacket on top and her brother's school scarf wrapped around her neck (he was at the boys' counterpart of the girls' grammar school we attended). The effect was good and as convincing as usual, but it occurred to me that the fundamental flaw was that, although she was dressed as a boy, she still looked exactly like herself.

 

Vanessa was a tiny girl, possibly the smallest in our year at school. She was probably only about 4'8" tall and had a tiny frame. Her plan was to lurk in the shadows as much as possible and essentially to be invisible. To this end, she was dressed from head to toe in black like a cat burglar. She had on her black canvas school gym shoes, tight black stretch pants tucked into black socks, a black sweater and a black balaclava, which was currently thrown back from her head like a hood. To make herself completely invisible, especially after it got dark, she planned to pull the balaclava up, wear a black scarf across the lower part of her face and to wear a black domino mask, so that with her black gloves on, the only part of her exposed would be her eyes. Given that Vanessa was small enough to squeeze into some surprisingly tiny hiding places, I thought her strategy might just work.

 

We split up as agreed. I made my way at a leisurely pace to the garden where I planned to spend the majority of the hour before moving to the second rendezvous point. I discovered that maintaining a slow and slightly stiff walk was not difficult; my costume and all that padding permitted very little else.

 

On my way to the garden, I encountered two groups of Guides on the lookout for spies. When we played wide games, it was unpredictable whether Guide uniform would be required or not. On this occasion, only we three spies were not in uniform, whereas all the others searching for us were. In theory, this ought to have made them very conspicuous, but as it was a chilly evening, the bright blue uniform blouses were hidden under various types of coat and jacket and only the navy blue felt berets were clearly on show. Nevertheless it did afford a small advantage.

 

My heart was in my mouth as I passed the first group of Guides I encountered, but none of them paid me the slightest attention. It was almost as if I was invisible.

 

Once I reached my goal, I sat down on a bench with my wheeled basket parked beside me. I took out the newspaper and unfolded it. I had decided that the only way to appear to be reading a paper was actually to read it. Aunt Lizzie's reading glasses were actually a bit too strong for me to read through the lower part of the lenses. I just hoped that nobody would pay me enough attention to realise that I was actually reading through the top part. When I reached the end of the main article on the front page, I reached into the basket and drew out the paper bag of breadcrumbs I had brought with me. I scattered a small handful in front of me and soon had a surprising number of birds pecking them up (mainly sparrows, starlings and pigeons). I carried on reading, moving on to the inside pages of the paper. Every ten minutes or so, I scattered another handful of crumbs to keep my circle of devoted fans happy.

 

While I sat passing the time reading, several groups of Guides, my own sister amongst them, walked past right in front of me but, other than a cursory glance, paid me no attention. Two of the Guide leaders strolled past at one point and stopped to look at the number of birds I had attracted. My heart was thumping as I looked up at them and smiled. I didn't see the least glimmer of recognition in their eyes, but I was very glad that they moved on without speaking to me; I really don't know what I would have done.

 

At around twenty past seven, I folded my paper and returned it to my basket. I scattered the remaining breadcrumbs on the ground and stood up. The empty paper bag went into a convenient litter bin as I made my way back towards the High Street. I had calculated, that it would take me about ten minutes walking to reach the perimeter of the area where we were supposed to be from 6.30 until 7.30. In the event, I may have been a minute or so ahead of time leaving the area, but no more than that. I heaved a silent sigh of relief that my disguise had held up to scrutiny for a whole hour. The daylight was fading fast by this time and I felt that my disguise would be less likely to be penetrated as darkness fell.

 

I had until the eight o'clock cut-off time to reach the rendezvous point in the park. I planned to use a lot of that time by taking a circuitous route which would take me around the park so that I entered it through a gate quite distant from the town centre. That way, as I crossed the park, I would be walking towards the town centre, not away from it as might be expected. (I hoped that I would be subject to less scrutiny that way.) I knew that Jacqui, the girl to whom I had to give the film would not recognise me, so I just hoped that she would be standing by the path so that I could pass it to her surreptitiously without stopping.

 

As I neared the monument that was the rendezvous point, I could see that things had gone badly for my fellow spies. Sitting on a wooden park bench adjacent to the path I was following was Jacqui, flanked by Alison and Vanessa. All three were gagged with white handkerchiefs between their teeth. I couldn't see their hands, which were behind their backs, presumably tied. I could see that their ankles had been bound too.

 

I wasn't sure how a passer-by should react to this. Whatever I did, I didn't want to draw attention to myself by my reaction. Equally, I thought that no reaction at all might also look strange. I settled for a brief, mildly curious stare. I couldn't avoid making eye contact with at least one of the captives as I did so. Alison and Vanessa must both have recognised me, but neither reacted visibly.

 

Winning the game was now clearly out of the question, but if I could make it out of the park without being caught, then that would at least make it a draw.

 

I had progressed maybe ten yards or so from the bench where my fellow spies sat when there was a yell from behind me. "That's Becca!" The voice was my sister's.

 

I'm sure I flinched, but I forced myself to keep walking at the same pace; it would have been a dead give-away if I'd broken into a run. I could hear running footsteps approaching from behind but I kept my pace even, although my heart was thumping. A Guide drew level with me walking on the grass beside the path. I could sense her staring at me, so I favoured her with what I hoped would look like a friendly glance.

 

I heard my sister's voice again, still behind me but closer: "That's Becca. Stop her!"

 

The other Guide was possibly not convinced enough to risk accosting an innocent member of the public, so she did nothing but kept pace with me. I glanced at her again, slightly quizzically. It would have been natural to say something, but I dared not speak for fear of giving myself away.

 

A few seconds later my sister arrived on the other side of and turned to get a good look at my face. "See? I told you it was Becca!" she yelled triumphantly.

 

The game was quite clearly up, so I stopped walking. I was relieved of my wheeled shopping basket and offered no resistance as my arms were pulled behind my back and my wrists tied. I was surrounded by several other Guides now; one of them had a handkerchief stretched between her hands which was obviously going to be my gag.

 

Karen intervened. "Don't gag her; that make-up's too good to mess up."

 

I was escorted back to the bench where the other three captured spies were sitting. They shuffled along to make room for me and I sat down next to Vanessa. As soon as I sat down, my ankles were tied. I noticed that although Alison, Jacqui and I simply had our wrists and ankles bound, Vanessa was much more thoroughly tied up, with ropes around her arms and chest, her waist and her knees.

 

One of the Guide leaders came across to confirm that all the spies had been captured, checked her watch (it was almost 8 o'clock when the game was due to end anyway) and declared the game over. She blew a series of short blasts on her whistle to summon the rest of the company, who were scattered over most of the park.

 

It took about five minutes before the last of the stragglers arrived. Once everyone was gathered around, the leaders suggested it was time to free the prisoners so that we could tell everyone how we had all got on. Karen seemed to have appointed herself the jailer for the evening, so she set about removing gags and untying us.

 

As the stories emerged, it was interesting to hear how successful (or otherwise) our various strategies had been.

 

It turned out that Alison had been recognised and captured only about ten minutes after we three spies had rendezvoused and then separated. As I had feared, Alison's disguise had offered her no protection at all. Although she was wearing her brother's clothes, she had done nothing about any other aspect of her appearance and was effectively disguised as herself. She had been gagged and had her hands tied behind her back when she was caught and was sat under guard on a bench in the town centre until 7.30, when she was marched to the park to the bench where the four of us now sat, where her ankles were also tied. As a result, she had been tied up and gagged for well over an hour.

 

Vanessa had been much more successful. She relied on her small stature and black clothes to hide in dark corners in the town centre. When it was time to go to the park, she used as many passageways and back alleys as she could to avoid principal streets and successfully evaded capture. She had taken time after school but before the beginning of the game to carry out some reconnaissance to identify suitable routes.

 

She had been even more ingenious in the way she entered the park. It had never occurred to me that there were any options other than the public gates, but Vanessa had noticed that fairly close to the part of the park where the monument stood, the back gardens of houses abutted the boundary wall. She identified the point at which she felt she could most easily scale the wall then went out of the park and around the perimeter to the house nearest the point she had found. She rang the doorbell, introduced herself and asked if she could climb the back wall later that evening, explaining the reason for her odd request. As is often the case, if you ask politely, even the strangest of requests may well be granted. Accordingly, later on, she rang the bell again, now in her black-clad spy persona, to let the occupants know she was back and climbed into the park.

 

She successfully located Jacqui, who was lurking next to the monument, and handed over her film. Vanessa's plan had been to hide herself in the shadow of some bushes next to the park's boundary wall, but the handing over of the film had been observed so that both she and Jacqui were captured. She had apparently managed to escape briefly after that, which is why she was more securely tied than the rest of us.

 

I have already related my story, so I won't repeat it again here. In telling it, I gave full credit to Aunt Lizzie and Annie for their brilliant job of disguising me. Several of the other Guides and both of the leaders who had seen me in the town centre told me that it had never occurred to them that I might not be who I appeared to be. I asked what finally gave me away. There was a long pause before Karen spoke; apparently she was the only one who had seen through my disguise.

 

"You were going the wrong way," Karen explained. "When I saw you, I recognised you as the woman I had seen feeding the birds. I had seen you in the town centre and here you were apparently going back there. That seemed just odd enough to make me look a bit harder at you and, even though you were all dressed up and the wrong shape, there was just something about the way you walked that made me think of you. As soon as I'd thought that I could see it was you."

 

I think there's a Sherlock Holmes story where Holmes points out that disguising one's face is quite easy, but it takes a real expert to disguise one's back. My experience seemed to prove the point.

 

With the game over, we were all invited to accompany the leaders to a camper van parked just outside the park entrance where the husband of one of the leaders was preparing quantities of hot chocolate. (I was offered a straw with mine so as not to damage my make-up, which still seemed to be a source of wonderment to everyone.)

 

As it wasn't a formal Guide meeting, we didn't have a formal dismissal, but instead made our farewells to the leaders and to our friends and dispersed to make our various ways home. Karen and I walked down to the end of the road leading into the park, where we knew we would find a public telephone box. Aunt Lizzie had instructed me to telephone after the game and she would pick me up by car (and I had four pennies in my pocket to make the call).

 

The temperature had dropped dramatically at sunset and it was now getting quite cold. I was feeling perfectly comfortable in all my layers, but Karen was shivering and hugging herself for warmth. (She had her brown school duffel coat on over her Guide uniform, but could really have done with a sweater and a scarf too.) Fortunately, we didn't have too long to wait before the familiar sight of Aunt Lizzie's green Austin A35 came into sight. During the journey, I told my aunt how impressed everyone had been with the costume and make-up and that it was only because Karen knew me so well that she had been able to penetrate my disguise.

 

Back at my aunt's house, Annie and her mother helped me to remove my layers of padding while making sure that my make-up didn't get onto any of the clothes. Karen was hugely amused at the massively-constructed corselette that gave the whole thing shape.

 

When I was undressed down to my underwear, Annie took me into the bathroom to tackle the make-up. Her wrinkle gloop didn't actually stick to skin particularly well, so it could be peeled off in sheets, taking the foundation and painted shadows with it. (That said, I seemed to be finding and picking off tiny crumbs of latex from my eyebrows for several days after that.) The areas that hadn't been artificially wrinkled (mainly the areas around my eyes and the edges of my nose) needed to be scrubbed clean with make-up remover in the usual way.

 

I put on my school uniform (except for the tie, which went in my coat pocket) and thanked Annie and Aunt Lizzie once again for the brilliant job that they had done. Aunt Lizzie drove us home and then, of course, we had to tell the whole story to our parents and brother after that.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Return to the Rebecca index

 

Return to the main index