This story is another one which is hard to pin down in time. My best guess is that it probably dates from the winter of 1959, which was particularly foggy and unpleasant, but there are other aspects that make me wonder if it was actually a year later. Either way, it's a story firmly rooted in its time as we just don't get weather like that in Britain any more. Whatever you might think about the period atmosphere in my writing, it's definitely full of atmosphere in the strictly meteorological sense!
1: Mum's Improved Straitjacket
From the ages of five to eleven, Karen and I both attended ballet lessons. Neither of us were particularly skilled dancers, certainly not naturals, but it was a sociable activity, good exercise and, above all, great fun. The church hall where our class was held was slightly further from home than we would want to walk, but still within easy cycling distance when we were old enough to go out on our own. In the winter, when it got dark early, our mother still insisted on riding with us, as there was a busy road junction to negotiate on the way.
There were other mothers who accompanied their daughters to the class and they formed their own social group in the lobby of the hall while the class took place within. We used to accuse our Mum of coming to our ballet lessons just so that she could enjoy playing bridge with her friends for an hour.
Our ballet costume consisted of a powder blue sleeveless leotard over pale ink tights, all in that heavy stretch nylon that was used for dancewear before Spandex came along. Hair had to be slicked back with gel and put into a bun then imprisoned in a net with a handful of pins. (I hated this aspect of ballet as I have very thick wavy hair and it took immense quantities of both gel and pins to tame it sufficiently.) When we weren't actually dancing, we wore a sweater on top of our outfits and legwarmers. Some girls had the traditional crossover style cardigans that dancers traditionally wear, but most, including Karen and me, just wore ordinary sweaters or cardigans. (Mum always insisted that we wore cardigans and that we unbuttoned them fully to get them on or off, so that they wouldn't get smeared with hair gel.) Legwarmers were almost invariably hand-knitted by girls' mothers and were serious items designed to keep the leg muscles warm, not the more abbreviated fashion accessories that have sometimes been seen as streetwear in recent decades. Ours were long enough to reach from ankle to bottom and were, of course, wide enough to accommodate our thigh muscles. We would wear our sweaters and legwarmers during the warm-up at the beginning of the class and put them back on during the final stage of the cooling-down exercises at the end of the lesson.
For going home, we simply put our coats on over our ballet things with gloves and scarves as necessary. If it was raining or if it was cold enough to need the hoods up on our coats. Mum would insist on us putting on plastic rain hoods first. The purpose of these horrible items was not to keep our hair dry but rather to protect the linings of our coats from our hair gel.
One evening, as we were mounting our bicycles to go home, Mum told us that she had thought of a way of improving the security of the improvised straitjacket arrangement that my sister and I had been playing with. Karen and I had discovered a method of escaping from the sweater-straitjacket arrangement that our mother had devised, but had been deliberately secretive about how we had done it. Mum hated not knowing things, so this bothered her quite disproportionately for weeks afterwards. It was not immediately obvious why she should have thought of this during a ballet lesson, but she assured us that all would be explained later.
The first priority on returning home was to get out of our ballet costumes and to de-gunge our hair. We changed into our usual autumn and winter attire of skirt and sweater over woolly tights. Karen and I were old enough to wash each other's hair without help from our mother. Nothing resembling modern pH-balanced shampoos were available then, just viciously alkaline liquid detergents little different from the stuff you would use for washing dishes. They were very effective at cleaning hair but also de-greased it thoroughly. My coarse reddish-brown hair is pretty much impervious to maltreatment like that but my sister's much finer light brown hair could rapidly become dried-out and brittle. Our regime therefore included a lot of rinsing followed by combing a little lanolin through the wet hair.
With our hair free from the disgusting gel, we followed our usual practice of eating our evening meal with our hair still wrapped in towels before drying it in front of the lounge fire. (Electric hairdryers were still largely unknown as household appliances then.)
Long hair takes quite a long time to dry, even with vigorous brushing, just with the heat from a domestic fire, so hair drying tended to be a leisurely and drawn-out process. On this occasion, however, Mum seemed to be unusually anxious for us to get finished, even though it was a long time until our bedtime. My hair was dry first (it usually was) so I braided it into a pair of tight plaits while Karen finished off drying hers. Once Karen decided that her hair was dry enough, it only needed to be put into a ponytail which took almost no time at all.
"Finished?" our mother asked, seeing us bundling up the towels to go in the wash.
We assured her that we were.
"Good, now I can show you my idea." Mum sounded quite excited as she disappeared out of the lounge.
She returned almost immediately with an armful of clothes, which she had clearly sorted out in advance while we were drying our hair.
"This is the better straitjacket?" Karen queried.
"Yes, are you two game to try it?"
Mum could be quite fiercely competitive with our occasional tie-up games, especially, it seemed, when she believed that we had stolen a march on her by developing a secret escape technique. Karen and I were experienced enough to anticipate something fiendishly inescapable, but it promised to be good fun, so we agreed willingly.
"Becca first," Mum declared.
"Why?" I asked.
"Because you're a slippery customer and I don't want you to have the advantage of watching me do Karen up first!"
I grinned sheepishly in reply. That was exactly the advantage I might have hoped to gain.
The first few steps were exactly as with our previous efforts at turning a sweater into a straitjacket. Mum started by pulling a pair of long socks over my hands and working them up over the sleeves of the sweater I was wearing. They were knee-length socks, so they came well up over my elbows. Next she helped me put on my heavy blue sweater and folded the cuffs down so that the ends of the sleeves covered my hands.
From here on, Mum's approach was different. She took a longish scarf (one from our collection of tying-up stuff) and threaded it through one of our ballet legwarmers. I noticed that the legwarmer had been doubled by pushing one end right through to the other to halve its length but still leave it as a tube. After that, she wrapped the scarf around my waist with the legwarmer across my tummy. She knotted the ends of the scarf in the middle of my back, pulling it snugly around me as she did so. The next stage was quite fiddly; Mum fed each of my forearms through the legwarmer from opposite ends so that my arms were in the classic straitjacket position. She pulled the ends of the sweater sleeves as far round behind my back as they would go and tied each of them to an end of the scarf around my waist. Lastly she arranged the legwarmer so that it was distributed neatly between my elbows, completely encasing my forearms.
"I thought of this when I was watching you two putting your legwarmers on at the end of the ballet lesson," our mother explained.
"Can I see if I can get out of it?" I asked.
"Go ahead," Mum invited.
I mounted a struggle against my bonds, but I had so little freedom of movement that not very much happened. The legwarmer clamped my forearms together so that I couldn't move them independently and the scarf around my middle ensured that I couldn't lift them together. The sweater sleeves knotted to the scarf of course ensured that I couldn't pull my arms out of the legwarmer. I could force my elbows a little closer together, but that didn't seem to achieve anything. Finally, I tried to wriggle out of the sweater, but was stymied by the scarf around my waist.
"I don't think I can get out of this," I concluded eventually.
By this time, Mum had secured Karen in the same way, so I had the opportunity to watch her struggle. She had no more success than I.
We were very impressed with Mum's idea. This version of a straitjacket was far more secure than the previous one. It was also more comfortable as it eliminated the scarf between the legs that the earlier version had relied upon to restrain our arms.
Karen and I tried this straitjacket arrangement on quite a number of occasions. Despite repeated attempts, neither of us ever managed to escape from it, except by untying the each other's knots with our teeth. Mum could of course thwart that approach quite easily by gagging us.
2: Foggy Morning
An idea that Karen and I had harboured for some time was that it would be fun if we could go out in public bound and gagged, but dressed in such a way as to conceal our bonds. We had both been seen tied up in public on occasions, but only in the context of games with other neighbourhood children. (I remember, for example, spending a considerable part of one morning during the summer holidays gagged and securely roped to a lamp-post in our street while my captors and putative rescuers fought a pitched battle with toy guns, with a succession of indecisive tactical ploys eventually degenerating to a sort of Mexican standoff.)
Rather than being obviously tied up as part of a game, the scenario that my sister and I had in mind was that we might, for example, go out shopping with our mother, but be tied up in such a way that only she and we would know about it and everyone else would be completely unaware.
Our mother was steadfastly opposed to this scheme of ours. She initially objected that if we were tied up, it would be obvious to everyone who saw us. We countered that we could think of several ways of achieving complete concealment of our bonds. Mum's next objection was that it was too dangerous: we might easily trip and fall while crossing a road. We pointed out that we often crossed roads encumbered with armfuls of shopping and could do so quite safely. I think that Mum's actual reason for forbidding this plan was the potential acute embarrassment she would suffer if she were to be discovered to be shepherding a pair of bound and gagged children around the streets of our town. However, she never actually gave that as her reason, instead raising a series of minor objections, which we tried to argue against.
We knew from experience that we could often sell an idea that had met opposition if we could catch our mother in a particularly good mood, in which case she would sometimes be amenable even to our crazier notions. Alternatively, we knew that we could sometimes slip something past her if she was under pressure and simply didn't have time to waste sparring with us. It was one of the latter category of situations that eventually presented itself as an opportunity.
Karen's and my mother worked as a freelance indexer of textbooks. She had occasional appointments with publishers, which usually took her off to London (only an hour away by train) for the better part of a day. Usually this happened on a weekday, in which case, we would generally be looked after by our Aunt Lizzie, our Mum's older sister, either by going to her house after school or by her coming to ours. However, I am fairly sure that on this occasion, it was on a Saturday that she had to go up to London. I can't fit my father's whereabouts into this recollection at all. It's conceivable that he had to work that day, but I really can't remember.
Mum had arranged for Karen's and my younger brother Timothy (three years younger than me) to visit a boy named Jonathan for the day. He was in the same class at school as Timothy and a particular friend of his at the time. Karen and I would go to our Aunt Lizzie's house and spend the day there.
We already knew that it was a cold foggy morning, but only realised just how foggy and cold it was when Jonathan arrived with his mother and sister to collect Timothy. The front door being open for just a few seconds while they came in was sufficient to drop the temperature in the house by several degrees. All three of them were bundled up so that just their eyes were showing and the scarves covering their faces were rimed with frost from their breath.
"Like Siberia out there," Jonathan's mother commented, pulling her scarf down and rubbing her nose with the back of a mittened hand to warm it up.
We knew Janet, Jonathan's sister, quite well, although being younger than either my sister or me, she was not a particularly close friend. She came across to speak to us while her mother was chatting to Mum and while Mum was getting Timothy ready to go out.
If we had met Janet on the street, we would never have recognised her the way she was dressed. Her mother certainly didn't seem to be taking any chances with the weather. Janet's head seemed to have been completely wrapped in a woollen scarf, with only her eyes left exposed, and the hood of her coat pulled up over it. On top of the coat, she was wearing a triangular woollen shawl, crossed on her chest and the ends knotted behind her back. It was rather too big for her so the point of the triangle hung slightly below the hem of her coat. She had a pair of Wellington boots on her feet with thick grey socks visible between their tops and her coat. Her hands were covered by another similar pair of socks pulled up over the sleeves of her coat in lieu of mittens.
Janet reached up to the scarf swathed around her face, only to be stopped by her mother. "Don't take your scarf off, dear. We'll be going out again in a minute."
Janet was forced to carry on a rather mumbled conversation with us through the layers covering her mouth.
While we were talking to our friend, our mother was dressing Timothy in extra layers preparatory to going out. He had already been subjected to the indignity of wearing a pair of outgrown grey woollen tights that had once been mine or my sister's and these were visible between the tops of his knee-length socks, also grey, and the hems of his short trousers. Mum helped him put on another sweater on top of the one he was already wearing. She toggled him into the charcoal-grey duffel coat he wore to school in the winter, pulled his balaclava over his head then raised the hood of his coat and wrapped a scarf around his neck and the lower part of his face so that only his eyes could be seen. Finally, Mum helped Timothy on with a pair of gloves and then mittens.
Jonathan's mother rearranged her scarf to cover her nose once again then there was another blast of icy air as she ushered her three charges out into the fog.
Karen whispered in my ear, I nodded in agreement then we went to put a proposition to our mother.
"We'll need to wrap ourselves up warm when we go out," Karen began, laying an unassailable foundation.
"We'll need to have lots of layers on and have our faces covered up," I added, just to reinforce the point.
"So if we were tied up under our coats, nobody would ever really know," Karen argued, revealing our agenda.
"Especially not in this fog. You can hardly see anything anyway," I pointed out.
I think in our heart of hearts we expected another refusal, but Mum surprised us.
"Very well," she replied, "but if you want to do that you'll have to tie yourselves up. I'm too busy to help and I have to be out of the house in half an hour if I'm going to get my train, so you'll have to be ready by then."
I'm not sure if our mother thought she was thwarting our plans by setting an impossible timescale, but we were not about to forego something we had been angling for for such a long time.
"I'll need to see what you look like before you go out," Mum called after us as we raced upstairs.
Karen and I had discussed this scheme of ours so many times, that we already knew what we would do; we simply had to adjust it to the day's dreadful weather.
I was wearing a medium-weight round-necked sweater with a pleated skirt and woollen tights and Karen was dressed similarly. We both began by putting on a pair of knitted leggings. These desperately inelegant garments were a relatively common solution to the problem of going out in freezing weather while wearing a skirt. They were effectively footless tights, but hand-knitted and as thick as a sweater. The waist was elasticated for a snug fit and although they were footless, they were shaped to cover the tops of our feet, like old-fashioned spats, and had strips of elastic that went under the soles of our shoes to stop them riding up.
I smoothed my skirt down over my leggings then put on a pair of gloves and covered them with a pair of thick socks, which Karen helped me work up over the sleeves of my sweater. Next I put on my heavy navy-blue sweater, which I had worn as an improvised straitjacket several times before. Following the pattern devised by our mother, Karen threaded a scarf through a doubled legwarmer and tied it around my waist, knotting it securely behind me. The scarf we used for this tie-up had a very dense texture and was chosen as the least stretchy of the ones we had accumulated for tie-up games. My sister worked my forearms through the legwarmer and, making sure that everything was pulled tight, she tied the ends of the scarf to the sleeves of my sweater.
We both checked that I was securely tied and then Karen moved on to the next stage. She balled up a handkerchief and gently worked it into my mouth, securing it in place with another handkerchief folded into a band, pulled between my teeth and knotted behind my head.
My grey balaclava, which covered my entire head apart from a slit for my eyes hid the gag quite effectively. Karen wrapped a scarf around my neck to ensure that no chilly gap appeared between balaclava and sweater collar.
Tied up like this, wearing a coat was, of course, quite out of the question, but I sometimes borrowed a tweed cape from my mother. It looked navy blue from a distance, but close-up it could be seen to be a very fine check in black and two shades of blue. It was as long as a coat and came well below the hem of my skirt. It fastened with two rows of buttons, exactly like a double-breasted coat and, like a duffel coat, it had a squarish hood secured with a buttoned tab across the throat. In place of sleeves, there were slits through which one's hands could reach, but my present situation, they were of course of very little use to me.
Karen looked me up and down and I inspected myself in a mirror. The result was as good as we could have asked for. I was helplessly bound and gagged, but, to all appearances, just well bundled up to go out on an unpleasant day. It was obvious that I had my arms folded under the cape, but lots of people hug themselves for warmth like that on cold days, so it wasn't too incongruous.
Now that I was ready to go, Karen set to work on her own bonds. She put a thick cardigan on over her sweater for warmth, then gagged herself in exactly the same way that she had gagged me. A scarf wrapped across her face and crossed on her chest hid the gag effectively. She held the scarf in place with her chin as she put her coat on and buttoned it up. Karen's coat had no hood, so she protected her head by putting on first a small round knitted cap then a white fake fur hood that buttoned under her chin, also helping to hold her scarf in place.
Karen had a big white fluffy muff which matched her hood and which hung on a cord around her neck. She put it on and then threaded the belt of her coat through the muff, buckling it to one side. She put her hands into the muff and checked that it was securely strapped around her middle.
The keys to our handcuffs were kept in our box of tie-up supplies, but always seemed to find their way to the bottom. Karen rummaged in the box until she found one. She seemed to be about to put it into her coat pocket but hesitated and instead reached up inside my cape and put it in one of the inside pockets there. She put her house keys into one of her own coat pockets.
Like me, Karen put on gloves and then socks as mittens on top, but tucked them up inside the sleeves of her coat. She took up a pair of our carefully-restored handcuffs and snapped one cuff onto her right wrist. She put her hands into the muff and after a moment I heard another click as she secured her left wrist. A nod to me indicated that she was all done.
Karen and I made our way downstairs, walking carefully so as not to trip on the steep staircase. We found our mother in the hallway with her coat already on, but not yet buttoned.
"So, did you manage to tie yourselves up?" Mum asked.
Our mother raised her eyebrows in surprise as we both nodded in reply, clearly expecting that the condition she had set would defeat our plans. She lifted my cape to see how I was tied and felt my face through my balaclava to detect the gag underneath it. Karen was subject to a similar examination.
"I'm really rather impressed," Mum admitted, "but I'm running out of time if I'm going to get my train."
Karen and I were ready to go out, so we waited while Mum buttoned up her coat, pulled a warm felt hat on and wound a scarf around her face, flinging the end over one shoulder. Her handbag had a long strap, which she wore diagonally across her body, leaving one hand free to carry the briefcase with her business papers and the other to open the front door.
We stepped out into the bitter cold of the freezing fog. Even through all the layers of clothes I was wearing, I could feel the cold bite into me as we walked down the garden path to the street. Before we parted company, Mum hugged each of us and nuzzled us briefly on the cheek as a proper kiss was impossible through the layers of wool covering all our faces.
Mum turned right to walk to the railway station and waved as she disappeared into the fog. Karen and I turned left to begin our half-hour walk to Aunt Lizzie's house.
It was eerily silent walking in the fog. Our footsteps were just about audible through the layers over my ears, but nothing else. Very occasionally we saw another pedestrian, mostly as bundled up as we were and offering no more than a mumbled greeting. We couldn't speak in reply, of course, but we were at least able to return the mumble.
We saw no vehicles moving until we reached the one main road that we had to cross. There was not much traffic and it was all moving slowly, but car headlights only became visible an alarmingly short distance before reaching us. Fortunately, there was a small traffic island in the middle of the road, so we were able to cross the road in two stages without mishap.
We were probably walking more slowly both because of the fog and because we were tied up, so it took us quite a bit longer than we anticipated to walk to Aunt Lizzie's house. We usually presented ourselves at the back door when we visited our aunt, but that would have involved unlatching the gate to the back garden, which was completely out of the question in our current situation. However, the front door also presented an unanticipated problem. The front door was recessed a couple of feet into the front of the house, with two steps leading up to the shallow porch that the recess formed. The doorbell push was on the wall just outside the porch and about five feet off the ground. Normally, of course, this was no problem, but the way we were tied up, neither of us was able to lift our arms that high. After some experimenting, I stood precariously on tiptoe on the first step and was just able to press the button with my forehead.
After a couple of moments' wait, the front door opened by a few inches and we saw our Aunt Lizzie's face in the gap. She opened the door wide and urged us to come in quickly before the house got cold.
Once we were inside in Uncle Alf and Aunt Lizzie's hallway, we weren't sure what do do; this was as far as our plan reached.
"Are you just going to stand there?" Aunt Lizzie demanded. "You could at least say 'Hello' to your auntie."
Karen and I mumbled in reply. Aunt Lizzie stared at us in slightly irritated puzzlement, then enlightenment dawned in her eyes. "Are you two wearing gags?"
We nodded in reply.
Aunt Lizzie glanced rapidly at each of us. "Tied up too?"
We nodded again.
Our aunt gave us a closer inspection. She found the handcuffs hidden inside Karen's muff immediately then lifted up my cape to see what was underneath. She shrieked with laughter when she saw my bound arms.
"Alf! Annie! You have to see this!" Aunt Lizzie called out.
Uncle Alf and our cousin Annie converged on the hallway from different directions.
"What's to see?" Annie asked, puzzled.
"Lift up Becca's cape and see what's underneath," Aunt Lizzie prompted.
Still baffled, Annie did as her mother suggested, then burst out laughing.
"Karen's wearing handcuffs and they're both gagged too," Aunt Lizzie said.
Annie started undoing the buttons on my cape. "I want to get a better view of this," she explained.
Once the cape was off, Annie unwound my scarf and pulled my balaclava off, revealing my gagged face.
"Did you two walk all the way here like that?" Uncle Alf asked, grinning broadly.
Karen and I were still gagged, so we just nodded again.
"We could just leave them like that," Aunt Lizzie suggested.
"We'll have to get Karen's handcuffs off before we can take her coat off," Annie pointed out practically.
"But we don't have a key," our aunt objected.
Karen and I both spoke together, but were completely unintelligible through our gags.
"I think that means that they've got one somewhere," Annie said as she patted Karen down. "House keys but no handcuff key," she added a moment later.
A search of my cape, which was already hanging up on the hall stand, yielded the missing key. Annie was familiar with our handcuffs so she used the key to unlock one cuff. As she did so, she exchanged a distinctly mischievous look with her mother. I was certain I knew what was going to happen next but I didn't think Karen had spotted the silent collusion between her aunt and cousin.
Working together, Annie and Aunt Lizzie unfastened Karen's coat, disentangling the belt from her muff as they did so. Aunt Lizzie was holding the coat while Karen worked her arms out of it. At the precise moment when Karen's arms were almost out of the sleeves but still extended behind her, she nodded at Annie. My cousin moved like lightening and there was a sharp click as she refastened the handcuffs on Karen, securing her hands behind her back the instant they were out of the sleeves. The resulting snarl of protest was rather muffled by the presence of Karen's gag and the scarf she wore over it.
Annie and her mother removed Karen's hood, scarf and hat, revealing her gag.
"They'll be no trouble at all like that," Annie declared, agreeing with her mother's suggestion. "I'll sit them down in the living room."
Annie grabbed each of us by an elbow and marched us into their front room. She helped us to sit down on the sofa then offered to remove our leggings. I was getting rather hot (not least because of my extra sweater, the legwarmer and the scarf binding me) so I agreed with a nod of my head. Annie knelt down and unfastened my shoes then pulled the woollen leggings off me. Karen nodded to indicate that she would like to have the same done for her and Annie complied.
I was not expecting the next stage, but it was consistent with Annie's frequent delight at tying her cousins up. As soon as our leggings had been taken off, Annie used the scarves that we had been wearing around our necks to tie our ankles together.
"That should keep you occupied for a while," Annie remarked as she left the room.
I hadn't anticipated our adventure to turn into an escape challenge, but it was as good a way of filling a foggy Saturday morning as any. I was completely helpless tied up as I was, but I knew that Karen would have less difficulty in making the first move. With her wrists tied behind her back with rope, Karen could almost always get her hands in front of her. With the extra couple of inches of slack in a pair of handcuffs, it was even easier, so almost as soon as Annie had left us alone, she worked the cuffs down over her bottom and under her feet while still staying seated next to me on the sofa.
Karen attempted to make a start on the knots linking my sweater to the scarf that bound me, but with her hands covered by gloves and then socks, she was unable to get sufficient purchase to loosen them. She tried to get the socks off her hands, but they overlapped the sleeves of her cardigan far enough that the friction prevented her working them out from under the handcuffs.
After a moment's pause for thought, Karen reached up and hooked her sock-covered fingers over her gag. She pulled the handkerchief out from between her teeth and started working it down towards her chin by brute force. The succession of grunts she made while doing this testified to just how much effort and discomfort was involved. After no more than a minute, the gag was hanging loose around Karen's neck and she spat out the handkerchief that had been stuffed into her mouth.
"Let's have another go at those knots," Karen croaked hoarsely and ducked down to bring her teeth to bear on my bonds.
It took no more than about three minutes for Karen to get my arms loose and after that it was just a few minutes more before we were both completely free of our bonds. Free, except for Karen's handcuffs of course. I was able to work the socks and gloves off her hands but either Aunt Lizzie or Annie still had the key.
Feeling suitably proud of our success, my sister and I went in search of our aunt and cousin so that we could boast about it. We found them both in the kitchen.
"Could you get these off me please?" Karen asked, holding up her cuffed hands.
"You two don't need much of an opening to do the Houdini thing, do you?" Aunt Lizzie commented as she unlocked Karen's handcuffs.
We just grinned back proudly.
3: Foggier Evening
The fog lifted a little about the middle of the day and visibility improved to perhaps a hundred yards, affording a better view of frost-covered gardens and cars. It was still a day best spent on indoor pursuits at the fireside.
As darkness came in the late afternoon, the fog returned. We had not seen the sun all day, but it had warmed the air above the fog sufficiently to form an inversion layer. Because of that, the smoke from the coal fire we had huddled around that day and the smoke from everyone else's fires had nowhere to go and the fog that descended was thick, yellow and choking, what we called a 'pea-souper'. With the first of the Clean Air Acts of the 1950s already in force, these fogs were less common than they had been but would still happen from time to time right up into the early 1960s. Provincial towns like ours suffered less in this respect than famously foggy London, but it was still a depressingly common feature of winter until the use of coal as a domestic and industrial fuel was brought under control.
As the time for us to return home drew closer, Aunt Lizzie pointed out the weather to Annie and suggested that she ought to walk with us to make sure we got home safely. Karen and I protested that we were perfectly capable of finding our way home, even in the fog.
"Well, we could make it a bit of a challenge if you like," Annie offered enigmatically.
A challenge was always intriguing, so we asked her what she meant.
"I'm assuming that you want to be tied up again for the walk home?"
We assured our cousin that was our plan.
"So, how would it be if you were blindfolded as well?" Annie suggested. "I'd be there to guide you so it would be quite safe."
As a pair of junior thrill-seekers, there was, of course, no question: the idea was outrageous enough to appeal instantly to us. "Can we?" we asked Aunt Lizzie.
"You're clearly both completely bonkers," our aunt informed us with a smile, "but I don't see any harm in it as long as you're careful."
All our extra layers had already been put in the hallway ready for us going home, so we went there to get ready. It was also much cooler than the living room, so we were less likely to overheat. Karen and I sat on the bottom step of the stairs to get our leggings then our shoes back on. I put my gloves on then Karen helped me pull the socks I was wearing as mittens on over them and up over the sleeves of my sweater, just as she had done before we left home. I put my extra sweater on and, while Annie watched with interest, my sister used the scarf and legwarmer to convert it into an efficient straitjacket once again.
"They'll need something to protect their lungs from the fog," Aunt Lizzie pointed out.
"My balaclava will do that," I assured her.
"I still think you need something extra, even with gags in your mouths," our aunt persisted.
"I'll leave doing up their heads until last then, Mum," Annie replied.
Karen put on her cardigan and gloves then Annie pulled socks on over her hands and helped her on with her coat. It had been something of a struggle for Karen to get her muff and handcuffs arranged properly earlier, but with Annie's help, it was all done quickly.
"You've just got handcuffs, Karen, but Becca's properly tied up," Annie pointed out. "Would you like something around your arms to make it a bit more snug?"
"But everyone will see!" my sister objected.
"I can think of a way to hide it."
"Yes, please, then."
Annie went upstairs, presumably to her bedroom, and returned with two long straps. I thought at first that these were belts, but on examination, it was obvious that they were luggage straps made from canvas webbing and intended to secure suitcases. Annie wound these around Karen's arms and chest and buckled them firmly behind her.
"Mum, can Karen borrow your big black shawl?" Annie called out.
"It's in the hall cupboard," Aunt Lizzie replied from the kitchen.
The shawl was indeed big and black, nothing dressy, just a stoutly-knitted old-fashioned triangular woollen shawl. They had been out of fashion for decades, but many women, my Aunt Lizzie amongst them, found they were invaluable as a quick wrap-up on cold days.
Annie draped the shawl across Karen's shoulders, crossed it over on her chest and knotted the ends behind her back. Anyone looking really closely might have wondered why the shawl was wrapped on top of Karen's arms rather than under them, but to a casual observer, she was just well bundled-up to go out on a horrible night.
"You can still see the top strap at the front," our aunt commented as she emerged from the kitchen. She was right; it was visible in the V formed by the shawl as it crossed over.
"Her scarf will cover that," Annie said after a moment's thought.
"I've washed out the hankies you were gagged with this morning," Aunt Lizzie told us. "They're clean and dry, but I didn't bother ironing them when they were going to be used as gags. I'll lend some more so you can use them as pads to breathe though to protect you against this fog, too."
Annie thanked her mother and used two of the handkerchiefs to gag Karen in much the same way that she had gagged herself earlier. I was silenced with another two. Aunt Lizzie folded another one into a rectangular pad and held it in place over Karen's mouth and nose, while Annie put Karen's knitted cap on her head and then used a long scarf, which I recognised as belonging to Aunt Lizzie, to wrap my sister's head. When she had finished, Karen's face was completely covered and just the top of her hat was showing above the scarf.
"Can you see anything?" Annie asked.
Karen shook her head.
Annie added the finishing touches to Karen's wrappings by putting her fake fur hood back on. It was just as well it was slightly too large for her with all the layers covering her head. She turned the collar of Karen's coat up and tied her scarf around her neck, tucking the ends into the shawl. The faceless look that Karen now had was a little disturbing to see, but as I was already gagged, I couldn't comment.
"Now for you, Becca," Annie said, turning her attention to me.
I too was given a folded handkerchief to breathe through, but mine was held in place with a headscarf folded into a triangle and tied across my face as if I was a bank robber. Annie used a short black scarf to blindfold me, then pulled my balaclava over my head to hold everything in place.
Now completely blind as well as trussed up and gagged, I felt my cape being put on me again and then buttoned up and finally my scarf being tied around my neck over the hood.
"Just wait a minute while I get ready," Annie told us.
I could just make out the soft sounds of outdoor clothes being put on then Aunt Lizzie's voice bidding us all goodnight and safe journey.
"Bye, Mum," Annie said, then "OK, you two, let's get going." Annie's voice was oddly muffled. I surmised that she too was breathing through some sort of fog mask.
I heard the front door open then I was gently led by the elbow.
"Step here," Annie told me, "then two more down to the path."
The path up to Aunt Lizzie and Uncle Alf's front door was not really wide enough for all three of us, but one we were out on the street, Annie positioned herself between Karen and me, steering each of us by an elbow.
After we had gone a short distance, Annie spoke to us, "You won't see any better by leaning forwards, you know. Keep your backs straight and walk like you usually do. I'll make sure you don't bump into anything and I'll tell you about steps and kerbs."
It was very strange and more than a little scary striding along confidently while having to be completely dependent on our cousin, but nevertheless it was satisfyingly exciting.
Other than recognising the main road by the short wait we had while Annie made sure it was safe to cross, I was utterly disorientated for the entire walk home. The fog and the layers covering my ears killed almost every sound other than our own footsteps and, without visual clues, my sense of direction deserted me after the first few turns.
Given that we were in no state to engage in a conversation, Annie confined her comments to instructions regarding obstacles as we walked. Eventually, I recognised the sound of our own garden gate being unlatched and then the sound of the doorbell as Annie announced our presence.
"Hello girls; come in quick so I can shut the door." The voice was my father's. "Is that Annie?" he added, seeing that there were three muffled figures not two on the doorstep.
"Yes, it's me," Annie confirmed as she helped us over the doorstep and into the hallway.
We heard our mother's voice next. "Can they see all wrapped up like that?"
There was a chuckle in Annie's voice as she replied, "No, and they're both tied up again, too."
I felt a hand on my shoulder briefly then heard Annie's voice again. "Undo Karen first, Aunt Sheila; she didn't have a chance to see how I did Becca up."
"The hanky was to breathe through," I heard Annie comment, presumably as the wrappings came off Karen's head.
"Very sensible too on a filthy night like this," Mum agreed.
At last Karen's voice joined in the conversation with a simple, "Hello, Mum." It was a little hoarse, as I knew mine would be with the combination of a gag and the raw foggy air that had seeped past all the layers.
I felt the scarf around my neck being loosened and a moment later I was blinking in the light as my mother threw back my hood, pulled off my balaclava and untied my blindfold.
"You two really are the limit," Mum exclaimed, looking at her two tied-up daughters, but she said it with a broad grin and there was laughter in her voice.
After that, it just took another three or four minutes for Annie and my mother to finish freeing Karen and me completely.
"Would you like to stay for tea?" Mum asked Annie, injecting some normality into the surreal situation.
"Thank you, but I'd really rather get back, if it's all right with you, Aunt Sheila. I don't want to risk the fog getting worse and I expect my Mum will have something ready when I get home. Besides, I'd have to get all my layers off and then put them on again!"
Annie's head and hands were bare, but she was still wearing the rest of her outdoor clothes. Her hooded jacket was a memento of a visit to her Canadian relatives and was in a bright red heavy tartan fabric with a fleecy lining and a fake fur trim to the hood. She also had on a pair of trousers in a warm chocolate brown woollen fabric which were tucked into a pair of sheepskin boots. (I rather envied the trousers; other than snowsuits and some shorts for summer wear, trousers simply didn't feature in Karen's or my wardrobe at that time.)
It took any a couple of minutes for Annie to prepare herself for the appalling weather outside. She had a proper smog mask, very similar to the ones favoured in China and Japan today: a rectangular pad of gauze held in place by loops of cotton tape hooked behind her ears. Her stocking cap went on next, pulled right down to her eyebrows, then a scarf wound around her face leaving only the narrowest gap to see through. Her head suitably wrapped, she pulled up her hood and put her sheepskin mittens on.
"What about this stuff?" Karen asked, indicating the straps and other items that had been used to supplement her covert tie-up.
"We could always lend her our handcuffs and do her up the way you were," I suggested cheekily.
Annie politely declined my offer and instead we put the two luggage straps around her waist, wound the scarf that had wrapped Karen's head around our cousin's neck on top of her hooded jacket then draped the shawl around her shoulders and tied the ends, converting her neat winter outfit into a shapeless bundle of garments. The remaining smaller items were stuffed into her pockets.
Karen and I enjoyed our experience of being tied up secretly like that, but never repeated it. While it was fun, it had a practical limitation that once tied up, we could really only go from one place to another as it was impossible to do anything on the way without having someone on hand to free us, and being freed in public would also give the game away that we had been tied up in public. On the whole, I think our Mum was relieved that we had finally got this obsession out of our systems.