Puppet on a String
One of Jennifer's recent stories reminded me of a schoolfriend I had who became fascinated with tie-up games but whose mother disapproved of this as a pastime. We were happy to accommodate her passion, but soon learned that while tie-up games are good fun, you can have altogether too many of them.
From September 1960 until July 1961, my experience at school was strangely different. My sister Karen is just a little over a year older than me, so right through primary school, I always had the reassuring presence of my big sister there. We were in different classes, of course, so other than occasionally seeing each other in the playground, we would be apart from the beginning to the end of the school day, but it was nevertheless nice to know she was there. Of course, when I reached the oldest class in the school, that was also the year when Karen left our local primary school to go to the grammar school in the middle of the town, hence the strangeness of that year, a year without Karen being at school with me.
It was during the summer term of that year that I met up with Abigail, Abbie for short, who was a new girl having just joined the school after the Easter break. She was also a near neighbour of ours, living about half a dozen houses away but on the opposite side of the street.
Abbie and I generally walked home together, chattering about this and that as we went. We reached her house before getting to mine, so I would sometimes pop in for a few minutes before walking the last few yards home. It was on one such visit shortly after I got to know Abbie that I found out about her hobby of puppetry. Hanging up in her bedroom were several string puppets, or more correctly, marionettes, as Abbie explained to me. These were more than mere decoration; she had a considerable talent as a puppeteer, the result of diligent practice over several years. It was not just that she could make the puppets walk and dance; they really seemed to be alive in her hands, each with its own personality and character. Eventually, with lots of coaching from Abbie, I could just about get a marionette to walk rather unevenly and clumsily. By comparison, my friend's manual dexterity was breathtaking. She could operate a marionette equally well with either hand or even two at once. Most impressive of all, she could pass the control bar from one hand to the other while keeping the puppet smoothly animated as she did so.
I was very excited when I told Karen about Abbie's talents. We could both see an immediate connection with one of our hobbies, our model theatre. The theatre had been an ongoing project over several years. The theatre itself was constructed out of material salvaged from old tea chests, the plywood cases lined with lead foil in which bulk tea used to be transported from the Far East. We were quite young when the bare bones of the theatre were put together and it was our Dad who supplied most of the woodworking skills. At his suggestion, it was made to a scale of 1:12 or one inch to the foot. This is the larger of the two standard scales used for dolls' houses, so it was possible to use dolls' house furniture and other accessories in our stage sets. Our actors were dolls' house figures mounted on rods fed in from the wings of the stage in the traditional manner of model theatres. The proscenium arch framing the stage was about two feet wide and a little over a foot high. Scaled up, this would be rather small and intimate as the size of a real stage, but it still made for quite a big model, especially when the depth of the wings either side of the stage were included and the height to enable us to lift scenery up out of the audience's sight-line.
Karen loved designing the sets and costumes for plays (and eventually did that professionally when she left Art College.) I, on the other hand, was more interested in the technical aspects of theatre, especially lighting. My wonderful Dad put his workshop skills at our disposal so that my lighting facilities included a bank of dimmers (made using old heating elements from electric fires as resistances) and a spotlight steerable with a small wooden joystick (with the motion transmitted to the lamp via a pair of bicycle brake cables).
If the design and technical aspects of the theatre were our strong points, the performances were our weakest. Plays were difficult to adapt to the model theatre and we tended to resort to writing our own material, which was by-and-large dreadful. Our lack of skill in manipulating our miniature actors and bringing them to life with our voices compounded this shortcoming. We hoped to entice Abbie into helping with this aspect of the enterprise.
I arranged with Mum that I could bring Abbie home for tea after school one afternoon and afterwards, Karen and I proudly showed off our theatre. Abbie was genuinely impressed and, in particular, loved they way that we could have proper stage sets in scale with the actors. We explained that standing actors were dolls' house figures mounted on long wire rods, while seated actors were just posed on the furniture.
"What about that one?" Abbie asked pointing to one of our dolls.
The doll in question was one of our lady actors. She was securely tied to a chair with very thin string, only about a sixteenth of an inch thick, which was about in scale for quite heavy rope and she was gagged with a piece of very narrow white ribbon tied across her face.
"That's the plucky heroine who's being menaced by the dastardly villain," we explained.
"I like the way you tied her up," Abbie commented. "It looks very realistic."
"Well, we sometimes tie each other up for fun," I explained, "so we know how the ropes should go."
"I've never been tied up," Abbie said a little wistfully. "It would be fun to try."
I received a sharp dig in the ribs from my sister's elbow at this point, so I joined Karen in steering the conversation back to the model theatre. We asked Abbie about the practicality of turning one of our dolls' house figures into a marionette. She was a little doubtful that a puppet that small would work (the male figure were only about six inches tall and the females even smaller).
Abbie examined the construction of the dolls' house figures and was immediately disappointed. The older ones had a wooden torso and head, but their arms and legs were made from pipe cleaners supporting carved wooden hands and feet. The newer ones were one-piece flexible plastic mouldings with a wire armature inside, so that the arms and legs would stay in position when they were posed. Abbie explained that marionettes needed to have proper joints in order to work at all and that they had to be quite loose to move smoothly. We asked her if it would be possible to replace the arms and legs on one of the wooden-bodied figures. That led to the problem of how to make joints that small. As the discussion progressed, Abbie mentioned that one of her marionettes had arms and legs that were just wooden tubes with a string running through them so they could flex freely at the joints. This suddenly sounded like a practical proposition. My father was already home, so we asked him to join in the discussion. He was a mechanical engineer by profession, working as a design engineer at a local engineering works and a very useful Dad to have when it came to making or fixing things.
Abbie described what she had in mind and Dad listened carefully. He initially expressed doubts that a wooden tube could be made as small as we would need and asked if it had to be wood. Abbie replied that the material didn't matter, it was just something tubular that would allow a thread to run through it freely. Dad wondered if metal might be better and asked if it was important that it was light. Abbie thought for a moment then replied that heavier would be better.
Dad went off to his workshop but returned a few minutes later empty-handed. He told us that he couldn't find anything suitable, but that he was sure he could find something at work.
Abbie offered to give Karen and me some lessons in how to manipulate a marionette and, after a quick telephone consultation with her mother, invited us to tea a couple of days later.
The next day, as we walked home from school, Abbie again raised the question of being tied up. She asked me how often my sister and I had tied each other up. I replied completely honestly that we had lost count. Abbie was fascinated and asked me all sorts of questions about tie-up games. I was actually rather uncomfortable with the direction the conversation had taken as although Karen and I were open about the games we played, we were aware that it could be considered a little peculiar, so it wasn't something we advertised widely. As we reached Abbie's house she asked me to make sure Karen and I brought some rope with us when we came for our puppetry lesson. As she was doing us a favour by offering to teach us to handle marionettes, I felt that I couldn't very well refuse.
The puppetry lesson was interesting but humbling. It was immediately apparent that Abbie's motor skills far outstripped Karen's or mine. Although Abbie wrote with her left hand, she appeared to be otherwise completely ambidextrous. Furthermore, doing completely unrelated manual tasks with her two hands seemed not to be a problem to her; the classic challenge of rubbing your stomach while patting your head would have caused her not the slightest difficulty. Nevertheless, with careful coaching, my sister and I were able to make simple five-stringed marionettes (one string for each limb and one for the head and body) walk reasonably well. Conveying a sense of character as well was entirely beyond us, but we were pleased with what we could do. It also left us somewhat in awe of the unseen puppeteers in television shows like 'Four Feather Falls' and 'Supercar'.
Eventually, after about an hour, Karen's and my hands were getting increasingly tired and wobbly, so we decided that the lesson was over.
"Did you bring some rope?" Abbie asked as we flopped on cushions in her bedroom.
"In our schoolbags," Karen confided with a giggle. The arrangement had been that I would accompany Abbie home from school and that Karen would go straight to Abbie's house from the bus stop, without going home first. Accordingly, my sister and I had each put a bundle of rope into the bottom or our leather school satchels underneath our books and pencil cases.
"Will I be all right like this?" Abbie asked, indicating her clothes.
We assured her that there would be no problem. In fact, all three of us were dressed much the same way. We were all wearing short-sleeved cotton dresses with collars: traditional summer uniforms for British schoolgirls. Mine had a fine red gingham check on a white background while Abbie's had a narrow red stripe on white. Karen's was in the approved grammar school pattern of a narrow brown stripe on a cream background. All three of us were wearing cardigans on top of our dresses: mine was grey and Abbie's red (the two approved uniform colours at our school) while Karen's was brown. All three of us were wearing knee-length white socks. I was almost certainly wearing black T-bar sandals, which were my standard summer footwear at the time but I don't remember what the other two had on.
"You probably ought to go to the toilet though," I advised Abbie as Karen and I went downstairs to retrieve the rope from our satchels, which were in the hallway where we had dropped them on arrival.
"That's a lot of rope!" Abbie exclaimed wide-eyes as we returned to her bedroom.
I smiled at her. "It's not all for you; we though it would be fun if we were tied up too."
"Hands in front for the first time," Karen suggested.
"No, if you're going to tie me up properly, it has to be with my hands behind my back," Abbie insisted.
Karen carefully adjusted the position of Abbie's hands so that her wrists were crossed behind her back. She wound a piece of rope around them about four or five times and knotted it. I bound Abbie's ankles in much the same way.
A delighted smile spread across Abbie's face as she explored the limits of her movement. She gave up struggling after a few minutes, when it became obvious that she wasn't going to be able to break loose.
Abbie's smile gave way to a slight frown. "Don't I get something in my mouth to stop me talking?"
"A gag?" Karen responded. "Yes, if you like. Where do you keep your clean hankies?"
Abbie directed my sister to the right drawer and watched as she rummaged through it.
"Are they all this small?" Karen asked holding up a minute square of white cotton with pink flowers printed on it.
"How about a long sock?" I suggested.
Karen was directed to a different drawer and selected a pair of clean socks. Abbie opened her mouth and took the sock between her teeth while Karen knotted the ends behind her head.
"Is that all right for you?" I asked Abbie.
"Eff," she replied, apparently quite happy.
With our friend secured, Karen and I joined in the game. We each tied our own ankles and gagged ourselves using more of Abbie's socks with her permission. I tied Karen's wrists behind her back then turned around so that she could tie mine. (Doing this with Karen's hands already tied was a trick we had learned fairly recently.)
"Aw iggack!" Abbie commented, which after some thought I decoded as "All kidnapped!"
The three of us just sat looking at each other. Karen and I always enjoyed the feeling of being tied up but it was an extra pleasure watching Abbie, who was clearly having a blast.
Perhaps ten or fifteen minutes later, there was a gentle tap at the door then Mrs Bellamy, Abbie's mother let herself into the room. Her jaw dropped open.
"What..." she began, then dried. This was about the only time I ever saw Mrs Bellamy at a loss for words; she rallied quickly. "Abigail Rachel Bellamy, exactly what do you think you're up to?
Abbie mumbled something through her gag. Her mother knelt down and hooked the sock out from between her teeth so it hung damply around her neck.
"We were playing a game."
"I've told you before that you don't go playing with ropes and you don't go tying yourself up. When I tell you a thing, I expect you to obey me. I don't expect you to go sneaking behind my back like this..."
Mrs Bellamy's tirade went on for some time while all the time Abbie seemed to be trying to shrink back into the wall she was leaning against.
"If you want to be tied up you'd better just stay tied up, hadn't you?" Mrs Bellamy finished.
"Yes, Mum," Abbie replied in a very small voice.
Mrs Bellamy knelt down again and put her daughter's gag back in place.
"As for you two," she continued, turning on Karen and me, "I don't know what kind of daughters your mother thinks she has, but I'll make sure she knows exactly what you've been up to."
She lectured us at considerable length then bent down and untied our ankles.
"Up," she ordered.
Now thoroughly intimidated, Karen and I scrambled to our feet. Mrs Bellamy escorted us downstairs and out through the front door. She snatched up our schoolbags then pulled the front door shut behind her and marched us up the street to our own house, still gagged and with our hands still tied behind our backs. Fortunately there weren't many people around to witness our humiliation.
When she opened the door, our mother was somewhat bemused to find her two daughters on the doorstep bound and gagged and accompanied by a furious Mrs Bellamy.
The fulmination on the subject of our misdeeds began immediately. Our mother raised her hand and Mrs Bellamy paused for a moment.
"Go and wait in the lounge, girls," Mum told us.
Gratefully, we scuttled past her and sat down side-by-side on the sofa. We could hear Mrs Bellamy continue to harangue our mother at length, with just the occasional word in response. At length, we heard the front door close and peace returned to the house.
"That woman!" Mum commented, rolling her eyes heavenwards, as she entered the lounge.
We grinned sympathetically around our gags.
"I'm sorry girls, but I got so flustered by that... that... harridan," Mum smiled at her choice of word, "that I let her demand that I keep you tied up for another whole hour. I just said 'yes' to shut her up; I'm not going to let a dragon like that dictate how I punish my children."
Mum pulled Karen's gag out of her mouth and reached around to undo the knot.
"No, Mum, you really must keep us tied up for an hour," Karen told her.
"She's loud and scary, but you don't have to be intimidated and do what she says."
"Mum, she goes on like that all the time. If she ever asks us, we'll probably tell her or we might let it slip to Abbie and then she'll be in trouble."
"I see what you mean," Mum conceded, "but are you sure you really want to be tied up for another hour?"
"Well, we don't want to be, but it's for Abbie."
I nodded my agreement.
"I'm proud of you standing by your friend like that," Mum said with an approving smile. "I'll just put your gag back and leave you to it then."
"Mum, we're not really tied up very well," Karen pointed out. "Could you do our hands properly and tie our feet again, so we're not tempted to escape before the hour's up?"
Mum smiled again then went to fetch some more rope from the stash in our bedroom. A few minutes later, our wrists were tied more securely with turns going both horizontally and vertically and our ankles were bound and cinched. We were still gagged with Abbie's socks, but now each had a handkerchief stuffed into our mouths. With the television on, the hour soon passed.
When I saw Abbie at school the next day, I asked anxiously how she had fared after we had left. She told me that her mother had left her tied up for about an hour then freed her with the admonition that she hoped Abbie had learned a lesson. Nothing more had been said after that. I related Karen's and my experience. Abbie was quite touched that we had complied with her mother's demands for her sake and gave me a hug.
A day or two later, Abbie came around to Karen's and my house again. She apologised to our mother for her mother's treatment of Karen and me. Mum wouldn't hear of an apology, telling Abbie that she wasn't responsible for her mother's behaviour. Diplomatically she refrained from criticising Mrs Bellamy in front of Abbie.
After we had eaten an early tea, we went upstairs and looked at the model theatre again. Now that Karen and I had some actual experience of puppetry, we could engage in an intelligent discussion with Abbie about the practicalities of operating miniature marionettes within the tight confines of our model stage.
While we were deep in conversation, there was a brisk knock on the bedroom door and our father's voice announcing, "It's me!"
We invited him in and he showed us some offcuts of silvery grey metal tubing. They were about an eighth of an inch in diameter with a hole down the middle about a sixteenth of an inch in diameter. (Many years later, when I was training as a professional engineer myself, I realised that what Dad had provided for us was seamless stainless steel pressure tubing and that it would have been hideously expensive if we had actually had to buy it new.)
Abbie was delighted with the tubing and declared it perfect for the job.
Dad offered to cut it to length for us as it would be far too hard for us to cut with our ordinary hand tools. Abbie worked out the lengths we would need to provide arms and legs for male and female wooden-bodied figures. Each leg needed two pieces and each arm two slightly shorter pieces. Dad warned us that it would take him a couple of hours to cut that many pieces and then to de-burr the ends and grind them to a dome shape, so we shouldn't count on using them that evening.
Part of the time we had been talking to Dad, I had been aware of raised voices downstairs, but hadn't paid much attention to them. Shortly after Dad left to go down to his workshop, Mum came into our bedroom, looking slightly flustered.
"Your Mum came over to talk to me," she told Abbie."It seems that she's worried that you three might be tying each other up again."
We all shook our heads innocently.
"Well, I'd better tell you what she said, anyway," Mum continued. "She told me that if I found that her Abbie had been tied up by my two girls, then I was to see to it that they got a taste of their own medicine by giving them the same treatment for just as long."
"And what did you say, Mum?" I asked.
"I didn't get much chance to say anything."
"She told you what to do if you found out that we'd tied Abbie up, but did she actually tell you to forbid us to do it?" Karen asked, always liking to have rules spelled out crystally clear.
A smile appeared on Mum's face. "You know, I don't think she did; she just went on about what I had to do if it happened.
"And Mrs Bellamy didn't say you had to report back to her if you did catch us?" I asked.
Karen smiled as she spotted the loophole. "So, just supposing Abbie were to ask us to tie her up again and we did it, it would be perfectly all right as long as you tied us up in the same way for the same time?"
"I suppose it would," Mum agreed, now grinning broadly.
Abbie had been silent through all this exchange, but now had an impish grin on her face. "Perhaps we should try it out, so we all know how the rules work," she suggested.
"Good idea," Karen agreed. "We can't do anything more on the marionettes today anyway."
"Better go to the toilet while Karen and I sort out some rope," I advised Abbie.
"Can you tie me up a bit more than last time, please?" Abbie asked from the door.
Karen and I sorted out some rope, making sure there was enough to tie us up too. We disentangled it, sorted it into different lengths and laid it out on my bed ready for use.
"Rope marks?" hinted Mum, who was still standing by the door watching our progress.
Our mother's point was a good one if we didn't want Abbie to be found out, so we sorted out a pair of Karen's winter tights that should fit her and a pair of socks to wear over her hands. Abbie was surprised when we offered them to her and didn't want to wear extra clothes on a warm summer day. We explained about rope makes and how they might give away what we had been doing. She understood immediately from her first-hand experience of being tied up by us a few days before.
We started by crossing Abbie's wrists behind her back and then lashing them together both vertically and horizontally, taking care not to pull the rope so tight that it would imprint the pattern of the socks on her skin.
We tied her legs at the ankles and just above her knees, cinching each binding so that it was snug but not too tight.
"Enough?" Karen asked.
Abbie wriggled a bit and made a non-committal "Hmmm" sound.
Abbie nodded shyly.
"Maybe just a little bit more?" I suggested.
I noticed Mum nodding her agreement in the background.
Karen wound a long length of rope about half a dozen times around Abbie's chest and arms and knotted it off at the front.
"I think you're done," Karen declared.
"Don't I get a gag?"
We gagged Abbie with a balled-up handkerchief held in place with a long sock between her teeth.
"Now you're done!"
Abbie contentedly grunted her agreement through her gag.
Mum stepped forward from where she had been leaning against the wall, watching proceedings. She lifted her hands in mock horror then spoke as if she was reading woodenly from a script: "Oh. You. Naughty. Girls. You've. Tied. Poor. Abbie. Up."
"Mum, did Mrs Bellamy say you had to untie Abbie if you found her tied up?" Karen queried.
"No, I don't think she did," Mum replied with a chuckle, then returned to her script. "I. Shall. Have. To. Tie. You. Both. Up. To. Teach. You. A. Lesson."
Karen started to reply in kind, "Oh. Dear. We. Are. Most. Dreadfully. Sorry..." but couldn't keep a straight face and dissolved into giggles.
With two of us to tie up and only one pair of hands on the job, it took Mum a little longer to secure Karen and me than it had taken us to tie Abbie, but within five minutes we were trussed up and gagged just like our friend.
"Do you think you will have 'learned your lesson' in an hour?" Mum asked from the bedroom door.
Karen and I exchanged a glance and then nodded our agreement.
More on principle than because we really wanted to escape, my sister and I struggled with our ropes for a few minutes but once we had assured ourselves that we couldn't escape, we settled down to enjoy our predicament.
I fully expected Abbie to become restless after a while, but she seemed to pass the hour in blissful calm, simply taking pleasure in being tied up.
Our next session with Abbie was taken up with attaching the new arms and legs to the two figures we were converting into marionettes. We had found from somewhere some thin nylon cord which was just the right thickness to go through the steel tubes making up the puppets' arms and legs. We glued the cord into the holes in their torsos formerly occupied by the ends of the pipe-cleaner arms and legs. Abbie explained to us that the marionettes would be easier to control if they had fairly heavy feet. Accordingly, they both received a thin layer of lead on the soles of their feet, rather like divers' boots. Abbie threaded the metal tubes onto the cords for one puppet's arm. She offered the end of the cord up to the hand and checked how flexible the elbow was. After some adjustment, she trimmed the cord to length and glued it in place. It took about another twenty minutes to repeat this process for the remaining three limbs.
"So we just wait for the glue to dry next?" Karen asked.
"Nylon's a bit tricky to glue, so we probably ought to leave it overnight so it hardens properly," Abbie said.
"What shall we do now?" I asked.
"You could tie me up again," Abbie suggested, with a winning smile.
Having found a loophole in her mother's rules, Abbie was obviously out to take as much advantage of the opportunity for tie-up games as she could. We tied her up in much she same way that we had done the previous evening, then went and 'confessed' to our mother, who was a little surprised at another session so soon after the previous one. Nevertheless she played her part and rendered Karen and me helpless again.
There were quite a number of operations to be done to complete the marionettes. The dolls we had started with already had the outfits we wanted: a tuxedo for the man and a ball gown for the woman. However, the way these were made, they would be too stiff to allow the marionettes to be manipulated smoothly. The costumes had to be reconstructed so that they would not impede movement. In the case of the tuxedo, this consisted of reducing the construction to a single layer of thin fabric on the sleeves and trouser legs. The ball gown was less problematic, but still needed to have its skirt made less stiff. Only after that would it be possible to attach the strings and the control bars.
Progress was far slower than Karen and I had anticipated. The problem was not the amount of work that had to be done but Abbie's insistence on a tie-up session every time she visited us. My sister and I both enjoyed tie-ups, but not to the exclusion of everything else. On the other hand, Abbie was giving up a lot of her free time to help with out theatre project and the only thing she wanted in return was to be tied up, so it would have seemed churlish to refuse.
Karen and I discussed the situation with our Mum. I can remember whose idea it was, but we concluded that making the tie-ups a little more uncomfortable, might diminish Abbie's ardour a little. We tried tying Abbie to a chair; we took her outside and tied her to the old apple tree in our back garden (which was fun with the three of us tied almost shoulder to shoulder); we even hog-tied her (not that we actually knew that term at the time), which Karen and I found quite uncomfortable, despite being quite flexible from our ballet lessons. Abbie loved it all and it was my sister and I who found ourselves becoming less anxious to be tied up. We did our best to maximise the time that was spent on the marionette project, not just for its own sake, but also in an attempt to lessen the time available for tie-up games.
In desperation, we even devised a tie-up specifically to be uncomfortable and offputting for our friend. We sound terribly mean even to contemplate that, but we were that desperate. What we came up with was not truly original (I've seen pictures of this) but was discovered independently by us. We had Abbie sit on the floor with her feet flat on the carpet and her ankles crossed. We tied her ankles together with rope running both vertically and horizontally, so that her legs crossed approximately at right angles. The ends of the rope around her ankles were wound around her waist and knotted behind her. We helped Abbie to lean forward so that her hands would go under her knees and then tied her wrists together in front of her bound ankles and used the ends of the rope to fasten the two bindings together. A gag followed as usual.
Mum saw how fearsome a position it was when she came to administer Karen's and my 'punishment', but we assured her we would be all right. A whole hour of that turned out to be fairly arduous for the back as well as almost every arm and leg joint. My sister and I were glad to get out of it when our mother freed us, but once again Abbie seemed to revel in it.
The half-term holiday in the summer term was always the Friday and Monday of the Whitsun (Pentecost) weekend. (The last Monday in May, known as the Spring Bank Holiday, now replaces that as a statutory holiday in Britain.) We had arranged that Abbie would spend the Friday night with us so that we could have a final push on completing the marionettes. We made superb progress during the day, finishing the costumes and attaching the strings, leaving just the control bars to be attached on the Saturday.
Sleeping accommodation for Karen and me was our usual bunk beds (as the older sister, Karen had the top bunk, while I slept below). We had two camp beds for occasional guests and Mum put one of these in our bedroom for Abbie. It was a traditional camp bed, consisting of a canvas sleeping surface stiffened by a metal rod at each side. A series of four or five supports, each in the form of a shallow W, both tensioned the canvas and held it about nine inches off the floor.
When we changed to go to bed, Abbie's nightwear drew instant admiration from both Karen and me. We both wore traditional ankle-length nightdresses: heavy winceyette ones in winter and light cotton ones in summer, but Abbie had pyjamas. They were exactly like old-fashioned (but then contemporary) boys' or men's pyjamas, with separate trousers and jacket in a striped cotton fabric. They were proper girls' pyjamas though: the jacket buttoned right over left and the stripes were pink.
As soon as she was ready for bed and had brushed her teeth and seen to the other necessary bathroom activities, Abby requested to be tied up.
"But it's bedtime," we protested.
"Yes, and I want to go to bed tied up," our friend insisted.
This was actually an eventuality that Karen, Mum and I had anticipated and one we had a contingency plan for, continuing the policy of aversion therapy that we had been applying to Abbie's requests (unsuccessful though it had been so far).
Karen and I pointed out to Abbie that being tied up in bed could get very uncomfortable and that we thought it was a bad idea. She was adamant that she wanted to do it and was certain that it would be fun. Abbie being uncomfortable was part of our plan but having warned her and having had the warning brushed aside, we felt that we were now absolved from whatever consequences followed.
We suggested to Abbie that she ought to have some wrist and ankle protection. She produced two pairs of socks out of her overnight bag, apparently brought with her for just that purpose, and put them on her hands and feet.
Karen and I had already discovered that lying in bed with the hands tied behind the back rapidly becomes very uncomfortable. If you lie on your back, your hands get squashed and they press into your spine. Lying on one side is fractionally more comfortable, but you are inevitably lying on one arm which quickly develops pins and needles or goes to sleep. Needless to say this was precisely how we intended to tie Abbie up.
Having sorted out a pile of pieces of rope, we started by crossing Abbie's wrists behind her back and tying them securely together with the rope running both ways as usual. We left fairly long ends on the knot, which we were able to wind around her waist and knot in front of her. We wrapped a long length of rope around her arms and chest and then cinched it between her arms and body. We tied Abbie's legs together at the ankles and both above and below her knees, with five or six wrapping turns and two or three cinching turns each time. We gagged Abbie with a sock tied between her teeth.
Karen and I lifted Abbie onto the camp bed and did our somewhat untidy best to organise the sheet and blankets to cover her (our household had not yet discovered sleeping bags at that time) then tucked a pillow under her head and went off to find our mother to confess our 'misdeed'.
When we came back upstairs with Mum, we were engaged in a complex debate about how important it was that we were tied up in precisely the same way that Abbie was, the point being that as we were wearing nightdresses not pyjamas, our leg bindings couldn't be cinched in the same way as hers.
"I don't think it's a very good idea to be gagged overnight," Mum commented as soon as she saw Abbie. "It's just possible you might choke on it," she added by way of explanation.
"But I like being gagged," Abbie protested as soon as she could speak again. "It's part of being tied up properly."
"How about a blindfold instead?" Mum offered.
I'm not sure why our mother thought that a blindfold would offer Abbie an equivalent experience to being gagged but Abbie nevertheless seemed to be satisfied with this as an alternative. Mum used the partner of the sock that had been used to gag Abbie (and which was still dry) to blindfold her.
"Let's see if we can tidy you up a bit."
Our mother removed the heap of bedclothes from on top of Abbie. She paused to examine the way we had tied her up and nodded in apparent approval of our work. She smoothed out the blanket on the floor and then laid the sheet on top of it. Once she had that smoothed out satisfactorily too, she lifted Abbie onto the sheet then rolled her up in it and the blanket. Once our friend was completely swathed with just her head sticking out, Mum lifted her back onto the camp bed.
"Now, I'll just make sure you don't roll off."
Mum took another length of rope from our stash and tied one end of it to the top of the camp bed leg nearest Abbie's head. She pulled it diagonally across Abbie's blanket-swathed body, looped it around the top of the next leg down the bed, back across to the other side and so on until the zigzag pattern of rope reached the foot of the camp bed. Mum took the rope across to the other side of the bed and then zigzagged her way back up until she reached the top again, where she knotted it off at the top of the bed leg opposite to where she had started.
There was an almost imperceptible movement as Abbie tested the limits of her fredom.
"Are you all right like that?" Mum asked.
"It's all very tight, but it's really quite comfy, thanks, Mrs Bailey," Abbie assured her.
Mum looked at Karen and me and put her finger to her lips to forestall any comment we might make. We were both aware that the apparent comfort of Abbie's situation might well be very short-lived and Mum knew that we knew it.
While our mother had been putting the finishing touches to Abbie's predicament, my sister and I had changed out of our nightdresses and put on our 'long coms', short for 'combinations', the British name for a union suit. We both had these invaluable but desperately unglamourous garments as winter underwear and sometimes used them as winter pyjamas. They were the only things we could sensibly sleep in that had separate legs so that we could be tied up in exactly the way that we had tied our friend. We added socks over our feet and hands and then submitted to our mother's 'punishment' for our 'crime' of tying up Abbie.
It took Mum only about five minutes to bind Karen and me. There was no way that she could lift Karen up into her own top bunk tied up like that, so she helped us to lie down side by side on my bed. Encased as we were in cream-coloured wool from neck to ankle, we would have been much too warm actually in bed like that on a summer night, so we lay down on top of the covers, face down so as not to be lying on our bound hands.
Once we were settled, Mum blindfolded my sister and me with a pair of long socks then whispered in my ear that she wouldn't be far away if we needed her help. I nodded to indicate that I understood the reason for that comment.
I hadn't expected to sleep, but must have dozed off fairly quickly. I was roused from my slumber by Abbie's voice: "Becca, are you awake?"
"I am now," I replied sleepily.
"My arms and back hurt," Abbie told me. "I thought I was going to be all right, but I'm not. Can you untie me please?"
"I can't because I'm all tied up too," I reminded her.
Mum had told us that she would be on call if we needed her. I knew that she fully expected to be called upon when Abbie discovered how uncomfortable she was, so I had no hesitation in calling out to her. My yells of "Mum!" chorused by my sister were accompanied by Abbie calling out "Mrs Bailey!"
With surprising suddenness, Mum was by our side, shushing our yells into silence. (We discovered later that she had decided to sleep in Karen's vacant top bunk so that she would be on the spot immediately if needed.)
"I'm sorry, Mrs Bailey, but I'm really uncomfortable and I need to be untied," Abbie explained somewhat sheepishly.
"That's all right," our mother assured her. "I really didn't expect you to last the whole night tied up like that."
I listened to the series of soft sounds of rope being untied and blankets unwound as Mum worked on freeing our friend.
"All done," Mum announced. "How's that?"
"Much better, thank you," Abbie replied, in obvious relief.
"Anything hurting?" There was a touch of concern in Mum's voice.
"Just wrists a bit," Abbie decided, after checking herself over.
"It looks as though they may bruise a bit," Mum advised her. "I'll put some arnica on them to make sure they don't."
"Can we be untied too, please?" I asked, worried that the first aid might take a while.
"Just wait a minute," Mum replied.
"But we're uncomfortable too!" Karen pleaded.
"That's quite enough noise out of you, young lady," Mum told her firmly.
I wondered what was happening as Mum's voice was very close to the bed. A moment later, I found out as my blindfold was pulled away from my eyes, slid down my face and pushed between my teeth. She had already done the same to Karen, whose face was very close to mine on the pillow we were sharing.
"Now just be patient," Mum instructed as she led Abbie out of the room.
A few minutes later, they returned, Abbie with a bandage around each wrist and carrying the astringent scent of arnica with her. Mum untied my sister and me while Abbie settled herself down under her heap of blankets.
We played a few more tie-up games with Abbie after that, but that night's experience seemed to have satisfied her urge to be tied up every time we met.
Once the puppet project was complete, we put on a show for our parents and brother and for Abbie's mother. Karen had become far more adept at manipulating our puppets than I had, so Abbie and Karen put on a show in the model theatre, making the new marionettes perform a Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers style dance routine (with music from an LP of numbers from 'Top Hat'). I operated the lights, focussing on the dancing puppets with the follow spot.
Karen had also become reasonably adept at operating Abbie's own much larger puppets (although not nearly in Abbie's class), so the second part of the show was a dance number performed using those. Abbie had set up a black backdrop which she had brought with her to cover one wall of our lounge. Karen and Abbie were dressed in black tights and sweaters with black stockings over their heads, somewhat in the tradition of Japanese 'bunraku' puppeteers. My job was to keep both marionettes brightly illuminated with a pair of powerful electric torches.
Alas, our productive collaboration with Abbie was short-lived. Before school started again in September (when I would be going up to the grammar school), Abbie and her mother moved house again. (I think they had moved to join Abbie's father who had just started a new job, but my memory is very vague.) We exchanged addresses and I wrote from time to time, but lost touch after a couple of years.