All Our Own Work
When I read Jennifer's "A Second Christmas Story", I was immediately struck by the resonance between one of my own childhood experiences and the prank that she and her siblings pulled on their parents by arranging to be discovered bound and gagged on Christmas morning. There is some context to build up first, before we get to my own Christmas prank, so there are three separate but related incidents in this story.
By the time I was twelve or thirteen, my sister Karen and I had accumulated several years experience of tie-up games. Our mother thought these games were strange, to say the least, but seemed to be of the view that as we weren't doing ourselves or anyone else any harm, they were probably all right. We could generally count on her to tie us up if we wanted to play a game where we were both prisoners. She would usually comply with these requests while shaking her head in mock wonderment at the strangeness of the pair of girls she had brought into the world, but would sometimes engage in our games with enthusiasm and considerable ingenuity. (Aunt Lizzie, our Mum's sister, would also happily tie us up on request, sometimes suggesting games herself, and seemed to derive enormous enjoyment from setting us fiendish escape challenges.)
Sometimes, of course, it wasn't convenient or practical to engage adult assistance in our tie-up games. We could always use our handcuffs to secure ourselves, or a combination of rope and handcuffs. Karen and I both found handcuffs slightly less satisfying than rope. Handcuffs are totally inescapable unless either you can get hold of the key or you happen to be Harry Houdini, whereas, with patience and working together, we could often effect an escape from even quite complicated rope ties. Nevertheless, ropes always felt more secure and restricting to us; we both enjoyed the 'hugged all over' feeling that rope could provide.
As I have mentioned in passing in a previous story, Karen and I eventually learned how to tie each other up, initially just as a crazy 'can we do it?' challenge to ourselves and later as a means of indulging in games when our mother was either not available or was too busy.
The first time we tried this, it took ages and was incredibly frustrating. I remember our Mum finding us sitting back-to-back on our bedroom floor and offering to free us as we had been sitting like that for some time and she assumed that we were tied up and stuck. When we pointed out that although Karen's wrists were tied mine weren't and we explained what we were doing, she roared with laughter at her peculiar daughters and left us to get on with it. After many false starts, Karen eventually managed to tie my wrists in such a way that the rope didn't immediately fall off them. It must have taken us well over half an hour and I was still able to escape after some determined wriggling.
With practice, it was possible to tie each other's wrists quite securely. Whichever of us was tied first naturally had to tie the other, with wrists already tied and working entirely by touch blindly behind her own back. Karen proved to be far better at this than I was, so it was usually her job to put the finishing touches to our mutual predicament.
At first, we were quite cautious deploying this technique. We only tied each other's wrists, so that if we couldn't get free again, at least we had the use of our legs either to go and seek help or to find a large pair of scissors. As we became more confident, we became more adventurous and took more risks. As I'm sure you're anticipating, we eventually came badly unstuck.
If I remember correctly (and I'm not 100% sure that I necessarily do), this occurred one Saturday morning. Our commonest Saturday routine was for the whole family to go off to the town centre to do the big weekly shopping expedition. For some reason, it was only our parents and our younger brother Timothy who went shopping that day. The only reason I can think of was that one objective might have been to buy some new clothes for our brother, a process that we always found excruciatingly boring, generally with a detrimental effect on our behaviour.
With the two of us alone in the house, my sister and I decided it would be a good opportunity to see if we could tie ourselves up as thoroughly as one of our mother's more extravagant efforts. I remember that Karen and I were wearing trousers that morning, which was something of a new departure for us. Wearing trousers could imply that this took place some time in the cooler half of the year, but I don't honestly recall when it happened and we might well simply have changed our clothes for comfort. Karen wore a pair of bright blue stretch pants, the kind that have stirrups under your feet and I was wearing jeans, quite possibly the first pair I owned. We both had fairly heavy sweaters on and I also had a pair of thick socks pulled up over the bottoms of my jeans.
We sorted out the rope and other materials that we planned to use for our adventure and heaped them on the floor between us. After agreeing a plan, we made a start by each tying our own legs. I'm fairly sure that we just did the usual wrap-and-cinch thing at ankles and knees, possibly both above and below knees.
We decided to gag ourselves at that point, as it would be trickier to do later. We chose the two-handkerchief style (one in the mouth and one between the teeth to hold it in), which was one we frequently used. It wasn't as comfortable as using a long sock to hold the packing in place, but was more secure and almost impossible to work loose without using hands.
We each wound a coil of rope around our upper arms and chest, knotting it off securely at the front. From there on, we had to work together and tie each other's bonds. We cinched our chest ropes between our arms and bodies. It's just about possible to do this on one's own, but much better working on each other as it's easier to get both hands in the right place to tighten the knots.
Next, Karen pulled a pair of woollen gloves on over her hands and worked them up over the sleeves of her sweater. She held her hands behind her back and I tied her wrists together. I tied them side-by-side rather than crossed, so that Karen would have enough freedom of movement to tie my wrists. Once I had the cinch secure, I made use of the two turns of rope that Karen had tied around her waist earlier on by anchoring her wrist binding to it.
It was Karen's turn to tie my wrists next. I followed her lead by putting on a pair of gloves. I already had a rope tied around my waist, so all I had to do was to hand Karen a suitable piece of rope for the wrist binding and to manoeuvre myself so I was sitting back-to-back with her. As Karen's hands were pinned tightly against the small of her back, we had to press ourselves very firmly together so that she could manipulate the rope. It took quite a long time as Karen was working entirely by feel with gloves on her hands and had very restricted movement, but eventually, she succeeded in securing my wrists much as I had done hers.
There was no doubt that my sister and I had achieved what we set out to do. We were both tied up very effectively. We spent half an hour or so exploring the almost non-existent limits of our freedom and just enjoying the feeling of being comprehensively tied up.
I can't remember how we signalled to each other that it was time to get ourselves loose again, but by mutual agreement, we positioned ourselves back-to-back again. I could feel Karen's fingers fumbling with my bonds for a long time, but they didn't seem to be getting any looser. Eventually she stopped. Our gags were fairly effective, but it was still just about possible to mumble to each other and make ourselves understood. I gathered that Karen hadn't been able to get hold of the knot securing my wrist binding to set me free. I was less competent with knots than my sister, but I decided to try to free her hands. I had tied her wrists, so I knew where to expect the knots to be. I found the final knot almost immediately, but with gloves on, I simply couldn't get enough purchase on it to loosen it, despite several minutes trying.
Karen had another go at freeing me, but eventually gave up. Gloomily, we concluded that we were stuck. We tried to get ourselves into a position where we could get at some of the other knots on our bindings, but failed miserably. Eventually, we settled down rather uncomfortably on the floor to wait out our self-imposed term of imprisonment.
On our parents' return from shopping. Mum found us almost immediately. She burst out laughing, interpreting our predicament as a practical joke on her. We were both desperate to be freed by that stage, but weren't able to communicate our urgency. Mum left the room in search of Dad and Timothy to show them what the crazy girls had been up to. It was only when they had been summoned to our bedroom, that Mum registered how distressed we actually were. Once she realised the situation, she lost no time in freeing us. We were both very stiff and more than a little sorry for ourselves, but there were no lasting effects and we were our usual cheerful selves again by the end of the day.
Another risk that we had not anticipated in these little adventures was that of subversion by our brother. As the youngest of three, our little brother Timothy (three years younger than me; four years younger than my sister) had not one, but two big sisters to contend with. Naturally, he felt a little beleaguered at times and had a need to even the score from time to time. Discovering on one occasion that his sisters had tied each other up, temptation got the better of him.
Timothy was an occasional participant in our tie-up games. He suffered from claustrophobia (and still does to some extent as an adult), which basically meant that he had to be in the right mood for a game, but once tied could easily succumb to a panic attack. In practice this meant that we included him in our games only if he specifically requested it and even then only with great caution. Nevertheless, he acquired sufficient experience to know how tying up works and where the strengths and weaknesses of different approaches lay.
On this occasion, Karen and I had tied ourselves up in much the way that I described for the disastrous we got stuck. We were a lot more careful with the way we tied each other's wrists, but nothing else was much different. I think Timothy had come to Karen's and my bedroom looking for us and was surprised to find us trussed up on the floor.
It would be nice to write of an evil grin spreading across Timothy's face as a plan occurred to him, but our brother is one of nature's poker players and his face betrayed nothing as he inspected our bonds. I was expecting any interference to take the form of being released long before we wanted to be, a form of sabotage that he had indulged in previously. However, his plan that day was much cleverer than that. He helped himself to some thin cord, barely thicker than household string, that we had in our stash of binding materials. He tackled Karen first. I couldn't see what he was doing, but soon found out as he turned his attention to me. He used the cord to tie my thumbs together, winding it around them and then cinching it snugly enough that it wouldn't slip up over the knuckles. My sister and I realised immediately that this minor addition to our bonds made our predicament utterly inescapable. We registered our protest as volubly as we could through our gags, but Timothy had an answer to that as well. We had a number of old scarves in our collection of tying-up materials, among them two enormously long ones that had once belonged to our mother. Timothy used these to supplement our gags winding them tightly across our mouths three or four times, muffling the little sound we could make almost to silence. He completed our humiliation by blindfolding us both with shorter scarves.
Our mother was in the house while all this was going on, but hard at work (she indexed textbooks on a freelance basis, working at home) and therefore quite unaware of our situation. I have no idea how long it was before she found us (or indeed whether she had gone looking for us or if it was just chance), but it felt like a very long time. I remember the relief I felt at hearing her ask if we were all right and urgently shaking my head in reply. As soon as Mum saw how we were tied, it was obvious that we couldn't have done it all ourselves. She removed our blindfolds and gags first and as soon as our voices were working again, we told her what had happened. It didn't take long to untie us and it felt very good to be able to move again and to breath freely without the layers of stifling scarf across my face.
As the identity of the culprit was obvious, our mother called out Timothy's name in a stern voice that clearly signalled, "You are in so much trouble."
Timothy appeared after about the third call. He must have realised that it was only a matter of time before his crime was discovered and he looked extremely guilty. He admitted the facts of the matter immediately when Mum challenged him, but claimed that he thought it was an embellishment to our game that we might enjoy. His defence crumbled fairly rapidly as our mother questioned him further and he eventually confessed that he did it because he was feeling left out of our game and wanted to get back at us.
"If he feels left out, maybe we should tie him up for hours and hours and see how he likes it," Karen suggested crossly.
Our mother had made it abundantly clear to us on previous occasions that tying Timothy up without his willing consent and particularly as any kind of revenge was strictly forbidden. This was because of the likelihood of Timothy suffering a claustrophobia-induced panic attack under those circumstances.
I was expecting Mum to tell Karen off for even suggesting such a thing, but she just looked thoughtful and commented, "Maybe it would teach him a lesson."
The look of horror on Timothy's face suggested that it might well be a very apt punishment. Given Mum's rules, our brother had believed himself immune to any such sanctions and had probably expected to be scolded then sent to his room.
"Can we really?" I asked, as keen as my sister to wreak vengeance on our brother.
"No you may not," our mother replied firmly. "I will not have anarchy in this house. If any punishment is deserving, your father or I will see to it."
"Does that mean that you're going to tie him up?" Karen asked in an awed voice.
"Under the circumstances, I think that's only fair," Mum declared. Turning to our brother, she continued, "Go to the toilet first, Tim, then get yourself ready; I'm sure you know what to expect. I'll be waiting for you downstairs." Turning to my sister and me, she added, "You two help Tim to get ready if he needs it." She gathered up our tying-up supplies and put them in the cardboard box that we usually stored them in. "I'm sure you won't mind, if I borrow these," she said as she left the room.
Timothy was visibly shaking after our Mum left the room. Our sisterly instincts kicked in and Karen's and my lust for vengeance was replaced with a concern for our brother facing his punishment.
"Don't worry," Karen assured him. "Mum is strict but never cruel, you know that don't you?"
"And you really do deserve this you know," she added.
Timothy nodded again.
Karen embraced Timothy in a big sisterly hug and I joined in. He looked a little better after that.
Timothy went to the toilet as instructed. While he was there, Karen and I had a brief discussion about what he should wear for the greatest comfort in his forthcoming ordeal. We eventually decided that his winter pyjamas, which were made of thick soft cotton fabric (rather like sweatshirt material) might be best. We helped him change into them then to put on a thick sweater and to put a pair of heavy socks on and pull them up over the legs of his pyjama trousers.
We pointed out that Mum would probably gag him and that it would be prudent to choose his own gag rather than letting her choose for him. He selected a handkerchief held in with a long sock. We looked those out for him and also selected another pair of socks for him to wear over his hands.
Tim was still looking apprehensive, but no longer quite so scared as we accompanied him downstairs.
Mum was waiting in the small room that she used as a study. She had moved one of the dining room chairs in there, one of a set of ladder-backed wooden chair we had in various parts of the house. The small hymn-book-sized shelf under the seat of each of these chairs betrayed their previous life as church furniture. Mum had also sorted out a selection of lengths of rope. We explained about Timothy's choice of gag and offered to help with the tying. Mum repeated that punishment was her responsibility and shooed us out of the room. Karen and I retreated to the lounge and sat side-by-side on the sofa, wondering what we should do.
After a few minutes, we heard the high-pitched whining sound that was symptomatic of Timothy having a panic attack. We were both very worried, but could do nothing but wait. We could also hear our mother's voice, but couldn't make out the words through the intervening door. It was low and calm as if she was soothing Timothy out of his panic. After a while, there was silence.
Some minutes later, Mum came into the lounge, told us not to worry and reassured us that Timothy would be all right. Somewhat self-consciously, Karen and I went back to our bedroom to find something to do. We managed to occupy ourselves but remained preoccupied with Timothy's well-being.
After an hour or so, we heard our mother calling our names and went downstairs.
"I think Timothy has had long enough to reflect on what he did to you two. It would be kind if you would untie him for me please," she told us.
We followed our mother into her study. As I had anticipated, Timothy was very securely tied to the dining room chair. He was sitting cross-legged as his legs were too short for his knees to reach the front of the seat (he usually sat with a cushion behind him at mealtimes). He was tied to the chair back with ropes around his waist and chest and over his shoulders. His legs were tied together where his shins crossed and held down with rope over his lap. His wrists were crossed and tied in front of him and tied down to the rope securing his legs.
Rather than the gag that Timothy had requested, Mum had applied something that looked much more drastic. He was wearing a grey balaclava (which had been passed on from me) that covered his entire head except for a slit for his eyes. He had been gagged with a long sock that pulled the fabric of the balaclava back between his teeth and had been blindfolded with another sock. Mum explained that she wanted a gag that was impossible to swallow, should Timothy have another panic attack, and which also reflected in part the discomfort of the arrangement he had inflicted on my sister and me.
Karen and I worked as quickly as we could to relieve our brother of his bonds. As soon as he was free, Mum gave him a long hug to emphasise that it was all over and that nothing would be said about the incident in future.
It has to be said that Timothy never again took advantage of Karen and me in that way. Having discovered that the limits of his endurance were somewhat greater than he had believed, our brother also joined in Karen's and my games more often than he had previously.
I can't date the first two incidents described above with any great accuracy beyond 'about 1961 or 1962', however, this third part of the story can be pinned down with certainty to Christmas 1962.
I was twelve and my sister thirteen that Christmas, so we were a bit more help to our mother than we had been when we were much younger. Nevertheless, the workload she shouldered on the run-up to Christmas was enormous. Although she worked (and put in some very long hours at times), because she worked from home, it was far too easy for the rest of us to give her odd errands to run. Bear in mind also that many of the domestic conveniences we take for granted today were not available. We did have a small fridge by then (only bought a year or so before), but frozen food simply didn't feature on our menu: if you wanted vegetables, it involved the use of a sharp knife or a potato peeler and often a scrubbing brush to clean them first.
Equally, the turkey was delivered by the butcher's boy (that was one thing that was better then: most tradesmen delivered) but still needed to be cleaned thoroughly before preparing it for the oven.
Our mother was a very methodical woman (which probably went with her chosen occupation as a book indexer) and her weapons to deal with the complexity of Christmas were lists and timetables, all pinned up neatly on the kitchen notice board. Anything that came to mind had a place on a list or a timetable, possibly both, and could be managed as part of the grand scheme of things. It was a few days before Christmas, while Mum was trying to work out how to fit all the necessary activities into Christmas Eve, that she remarked that she really ought to make sure she had lots of rope in stock.
This was a fairly obvious feed line to get us to ask why, which we dutifully did. She pointed out how little sleep she and Dad got on the night before Christmas. Our usual family routine was to go to the watch-night service at church just before midnight on Christmas Eve. This usually involved dropping all the half-finished kitchen tasks at about 11:15 and a mad scramble to make ourselves presentable before turning up at church at the last possible moment. It would usually be gone 12:30 by the time we got back home. My brother would go off to bed immediately and Karen and I shortly afterwards. This left some kitchen chores still to be done by our mother and then she and Dad would have to transfer Christmas presents from their mysterious hiding place to place them under the tree. It would often be getting on for 2 o'clock before they got to bed themselves. On Christmas morning, we kids would, of course bounce out of bed at about 6 o'clock, and make enough noise to wake our parents (irrespective of how quiet we thought we were). Mum's suggestion (which we all knew was a joke) was that if she tied us all up for the night, she and Dad would get a full night's sleep for once.
Given my sister's and my proclivity for tying ourselves and each other up and the enthusiasm with which our mother often joined in our games, we thought it would be really funny to turn Mum's joke around and arrange that she really did have to untie us on Christmas morning. Karen and I were expert at tying each other up unaided, so trussing up all three of us would present no difficulties. I don't know how much big-sisterly coercion we might have applied to Timothy to persuade him to join in the prank, but it was the idea of turning Mum's joke back on her that eventually sold the idea to him.
We worked out our plan before going to bed on Christmas Eve. As the occupant of the lower bunk in the bedroom I shared with my sister, I was custodian of our alarm clock. It was one of those traditional round-faced brass alarms with two big hemispherical bells on top and was very, very loud. I set it for 6 am and muffled it with some blobs of plasticine (modelling clay) so that it would rattle rather than ringing clearly.
It was pitch dark and bitterly cold when the alarm woke me. It was odd that we naturally seemed to wake that early on Christmas morning through sheer excitement, but obeying the dictates of an alarm clock somehow made it seem more difficult. I crawled out of bed and shivered in the cold morning air. At that time there was no central heating in the house at all. The kitchen was heated by the big coke-fired boiler that heated our hot water and the main downstairs rooms had coal fires. We had some portable electric fan heaters, but they were expensive to run and were only ever used to take the chill off the bedroom air for a few minutes immediately before bedtime. Essentially, we just relied on wearing more clothes in winter.
I climbed the first couple of steps of the ladder up to Karen's top bunk and prodded her until she woke up. She was always better than me at waking early and seemed to be instantly alert. I made my way as quietly as I could to Timothy's room. He was slightly harder to wake than my sister, but woke after a gentle shake and immediately remembered why we were getting up early.
I returned to my bedroom by way of a short visit to the bathroom. Karen was already busy sorting out the rope we would need for our prank.
"I'm so cold, I think I need my dressing gown on," I told her.
"Me too," she agreed as she went to take her turn in the bathroom.
Our plan was that we would be found wearing our night things as if Father Christmas had abducted us from our beds and tied us up to give our parents a longer sleep. Winter nightwear for us comprised a formidable quantity of clothing. Karen and I both wore heavy ankle-length nightdresses made of Winceyette (a sort of brushed cotton). We both had warm sweaters on top and woolly tights underneath. I always suffered from cold hands and feet, so I wore thick socks and mittens too. While Karen was out of the room, I put on my dressing gown (robe, if you prefer). It was ankle-length and made of a blanket-like woollen fabric. There was a zip at the front which curiously only went down to about knee level, so it was necessary to step into the garment before putting one's arms in the sleeves. I zipped it right up to the collar of my sweater and put my mittens in its pockets.
I gathered up as many of the required pieces of rope as I could carry in one armful and made my way as quietly as I could to the lounge. I dumped them on the sofa then turned on a small table lamp to give us some light. Karen arrived a moment later with the rest of the rope and our gags. She had also donned her dressing gown. Like mine it was in a warm woollen fabric and was ankle length, but instead of a zip, it simply crossed over in front with a tie belt. She had supplemented its warmth with a scarf wound around her throat and tucked into the collar.
My sister checked through our supplies to make sure we had exactly what we needed. While she was doing that, I brought three chairs from the dining room and set them up in the middle of the floor. By the time I had brought the third one through, our brother had joined us.
Timothy appeared to be wearing just his usual winter nightwear, a pair of warm cotton pyjamas (built somewhat like a tracksuit) with a sweater and thick socks on top. He was also wearing thick socks over his hands to protect his wrists as well as to keep his fingers warm.
"Will you be warm enough like that, Tim?" Karen asked.
"Got longjohns on underneath," Timothy replied with a grin. Our brother clearly needed less looking after than his big sister's instincts suggested.
Our first task was to tie Timothy to a chair. This wasn't the first time he had been tied to one of these, so we were quite well practised. We started with a couple of turns of rope around his waist, fastening him to the back of the chair. This binding made sure that Timothy wouldn't slide around on the chair seat as we worked on the rest of the tie-up.
Timothy already knew that the most comfortable position for his legs was to sit with them crossed like a Victorian tailor, so he adopted that pose without being asked.
Tying Timothy's arms was somewhat problematical: they were too short for us to to tie his wrists together behind the chair-back, so we had to tie them separately. We did this by tying a rope to each wrist with several turns so as not to apply too much pressure. We tied these so as to leave a long tail of rope which could be taken across the back of the chair and fastened off to the upright at the other side. His hands had a little more independence of movement tied this way rather than together, but it was still perfectly secure, with all of the knots well out of reach of probing fingers.
We finished off the top half of Timothy's tie-up by winding a long length of rope around his chest and upper arms. We looped it around and through the structure of the chair back as well, to make sure there was no possibility of his wiggling the rope up over his shoulders.
We had solved the problem of how to tie crossed legs on a previous occasions we had tied Timothy to a chair like this. We tied his shins together where they crossed, but left quite long tails of rope after forming the knot. One of these was tied off to his waist rope at the front and the other taken down over the front of the chair and fastened to one of the braces between the chair legs. Another few turns of rope across Timothy's lap and under the chair seat completed his imprisonment.
We carefully eased a handkerchief, which we had moistened under the tap, into Timothy's mouth and waited until he had it comfortably settled in place. We secured the gag with a long sock between his teeth and tied behind his head. We used a bright red sock to give the whole thing a suitably Christmassy air.
Karen asked Timothy if he was comfortable enough. He replied with a nod of his head and an affirmative grunt.
The next job was to tie Karen to her chair. I started with a rope around her waist then tied her wrists behind her back. She had swapped the mittens she had worn for sleeping for a pair of thin woollen gloves so that she would be able to perform the last stage of our practical joke: tying my hands. Karen put her hands behind the chair and held them so that there was a gap of a couple of inches between them. I put several turns of rope around her wrists and then formed a cinch by winding the rope around those turns. The cinch ended up as a sausage of rope about two or three inches long between Karen's wrists and the whole arrangement resembled a pair of handcuffs made of rope. In this way she would have enough freedom of movement to manipulate the rope that would bind my wrists.
Once I was satisfied with the job I had done on my sister's hands, I wrapped a long length of rope around her chest and upper arms. Just as we had done with Timothy, I made sure that it was also well attached to the frame of the chair.
I had expected to tie Karen's ankles to the front legs of the chair, but discovered that the hem of her nightdress wouldn't quite permit that comfortably. Instead, I settled for tying her ankles together and fastening the ends of the rope to the chair legs. I tied her knees as well for good measure then finished off with a coil of rope over her lap. Karen's gag was a replica of Timothy's.
I positioned Karen's and Timothy's chairs so that they were facing the Christmas tree and left a gap where mine would eventually stand. I handed Karen the length of rope that she would eventually use to complete my binding then set to work to tie myself up.
I made sure that everything I would need was laid out in easy reach along one arm of the sofa. I then set to work to replicate Karen's tie-up on myself, beginning at my feet and working upwards. Ankles and knees were easy to do, leaning forward on my chair to reach them. My lap ropes were a little trickier as I had to pass the rope from hand to hand under the chair seat, but the waist rope was quite easy again.
I decided to gag myself at that point, using the same arrangement of damp handkerchief and red sock that my brother and sister were both wearing. Once I was satisfied that my gag was secure, but as comfortable as possible, I started to arrange the most difficult rope of all: the one around my arms and chest. It was awkward to wind the rope around myself and thread it through the framework of the chair and progressively more so as my movements became more restricted. The finished result was probably not as tightly tied as the equivalent rope on Karen or Timothy, but I judged that it was adequately secure.
I had enough freedom of movement that I was able to use my feet to shuffle my chair around. I manoeuvred the chair so that it was back-to-back with Karen's. I put my mittens on, which had been waiting ready on my lap, and then worked my arms around behind my back and crossed my wrists.
It would have been a complete disaster if Karen had dropped the rope she was holding as I would have had to untie myself again to retrieve it, but all went well and she was able to tie my wrists without too much difficulty. She simply lashed my wrists together, but the rope was quite tight and as I had relatively little scope for moving my arms anyway, it was probably escape-proof. To tie the final knot, Karen was able to reach around my hands and form the knot so that as it tightened it lay against the side of my wrists towards my own back and away from her. That way, the knot ended up completely inaccessible to her fingers, making our self-imposed predicament irreversible.
Once I was tied up, I shuffled my chair into position between Karen and Timothy. Now all we had to do was to await our parents discovering us.
We remembered clearly that the previous year, our mother had joined us in the lounge shortly after 7 am. (I now have no recollection of how or why we remembered that fact, only that we did remember it and with complete certainty.) It was a little after 6:30 by the time we were all tied up, so we estimated that we had half an hour to wait, maybe a little more, maybe a little less.
In the event. we had considerably longer to wait. 7 o'clock came and went; 8 o'clock came and went. Finally at around 8:45, I heard an alarm clock ringing and then being switched off. I heard the bathroom door close and open again a few minutes later. There were footsteps on the stairs then noises from the kitchen that I recognised as the sound of the turkey being put in the oven. It must be Mum who came downstairs, I concluded. I heard water running as a kettle was filled. There was a long silence then I heard the back door being unbolted and opened. A few moments later, I heard it close, then almost immediately our mother appeared in the lounge doorway in her dressing gown and carrying a bucket of coal. I distinctly heard the beginning of a startled shriek as she was confronted by the sight of three bound and gagged children in what she expected to be an empty room, but it immediately turned into laughter. At least twice, she tried to say something to us but burst out laughing again. Finally, with tears streaming down her face, she managed to wish us all Merry Christmas and kissed each of us on the top of the head.
Still barely able to control herself, Mum left the room and we heard her feet on the stairs again. We heard her excitedly summon our Dad: "Jim, you have to come and see this!"
We couldn't hear our Dad's reply but he appeared in the lounge a few minutes later, already shaved and dressed in shirt and trousers. He too was convulsed with laughter at the sight of the three of us all tied up.
Finally able to speak coherently, he declared, "This needs a photo!"
My Dad was a keen amateur photographer, so it wasn't simply a matter of digging out the family's box Brownie. He disappeared out of the room and reappeared a few minutes later with his capacious camera bag and a cassette of film. He loaded the camera (a Leica IIIF: definitely not a box Brownie) and mounted the flash unit on it (Phillips blue flashbulbs then, not an electronic flash). He repositioned the three of us so we were in a row in front of the fireplace and took a picture of us like that, then he took pictures of each of us individually in turn and detail shots of how we had tied ourselves up. Finally, he summoned Mum back into the room and took a picture of the whole family using a cable release and with the camera on a tripod.
After that, Mum went back to the kitchen and Dad disappeared off into his darkroom to develop the film. The three of us were left still securely bound to our chairs and exchanging helpless glances.
It was several minutes later that our mother returned to the lounge, now dressed, to finish the job of lighting the fire that she had set out to do when she first found us.
She stopped as soon as she saw us still tied up. "Are you three stuck?"
"I'd better get you loose then."
We nodded even more emphatically.
As soon as our gags were off, Mum asked us how long we had been tied up for. We told her the whole plan as she worked on untying our ropes. It turned out that she and Dad had decided to set their alarm clock for the latest possible time they could, consistent with the turkey being cooked, and had anticipated being woken far earlier than that by noisy children. We were of course in no position to make any noise, so they slept right through until 8:45. After discovering us, Mum had wrongly assumed that we had tied ourselves up in such a way that we could free ourselves at any time. She herself pointed out that if she had thought about it a bit more she would have realised that we would never do that: tie-ups always had to be real for us if they were any good.
Having been tied up for the greater part of three hours, we were all quite stiff by the time we were freed. It was a good joke and we were glad it was enjoyed, but we weren't sure it was really worth being tied up for that length of time.
After a hot bath, we still had time for a late breakfast before getting dressed smartly and going out to the Christmas morning church service. After inspecting the state of our wrists, Karen and I decided to wear fingerless gloves to hide the marks and not to take them off during the service. Fortunately our gags had left no visible traces.
After church, our mother's sister, Aunt Lizzie and her Canadian husband, our Uncle Alf, joined us, together with our cousin Annie. By that time, Dad's photos had been developed and printed and then dried out on top of the kitchen boiler ready to be shown to our guests. Further laughter followed.
We never repeated this escapade but its memory lived on and it would remain a standing joke at many Christmases after that.