This story is an account of my earliest experience of being tied up. The story is a true one, but if I restricted myself to only the elements that I could swear were absolutely accurate on the proverbial stack of Bibles, it would be a very slender tale indeed, and it probably wouldn't be worth the effort of reading it.
I don't remember every tiny detail and I certainly don't remember every word of conversations that took place half a century ago, so I have quite unashamedly made them up so as to give a sense of time, place and character that seems to me to be 'true' in the broad sense. "Corroborative detail intended to give artistic verisimilitude to an otherwise bald and unconvincing narrative," as W.S.Gilbert put it in 'The Mikado'.
I think my interest in tie-up games stemmed from a fascination with the concept that you could immobilise someone by tying them up. Way back in the mid 1950s, when I was aged about six or seven, this seemed to be a regular occurrence in the books and comics I read and sometimes on television. The images on television came and went, leaving just a memory but the drawings in comics could be studied at leisure. British girls' comics provided a wide range of subject matter in these stories. There were plucky girl detectives or intrepid reporters trying to unravel sinister mysteries, there were historical dramas involving an heiress abducted in a coach and four by her wicked uncle, courageous kids aiding the Resistance in wartime France and many others. Whatever the context, a surprising number of these heroines would end up trussed up in one way or another in the course of their adventures and I was desperate to know what it felt like.
For a long time I assumed that rope was the only possible material to use for tying people up until one day I read a story where the heroine had her hands tied behind her back with her own striped woollen winter scarf. We didn't have rope in the house, but I need look no further than the chest of drawers in the bedroom I shared with my sister to find a scarf. I decided to experiment.
I think I had three scarves to work with. I selected one at random and sat down on the floor to begin my experiment. It must have been winter time as I remember that I was wearing the long woollen stockings (with their uncomfortable and awkward suspender belt) that we wore before wool tights became commonplace for girls a couple of years later. They were probably black; I think all my stockings were at that time. I'm not sure what else I was wearing, but it would probably have been something like a pleated knee-length skirt with an elasticated waist and a heavy hand-knit sweater worn over a soft short-sleeved blouse rather like a modern polo shirt.
I wrapped one of the scarves around my ankles several times and fastened it by tying a simple overhand knot, the only knot that I could make at that time. I knew that real knots were more complicated but had no idea how to go about tying one. As bindings go, it was, of course, dismally ineffective: a couple of kicks and it came undone instantly. Nevertheless, I persevered and re-tied my ankles.
I used the second scarf to tie my knees in the same way. It made the ankle binding fractionally more secure, but only to the extent that it took perhaps three kicks instead of two to get free. I re-tied my ankles once more and then my knees again.
I put my hands behind my back and tried to work out how to tie my wrists together with the third scarf. I couldn't find any way of wrapping it around my wrists while still holding it, let alone knotting it. I decided to try tying my wrists in front instead, as my second-best choice. I could see what I was doing that way, but it was equally unsuccessful. Finally, I settled for wrapping the scarf around my arms and body, just above my elbows, and tying the ends together in the middle of my chest. It would only stay in place if I kept my arms tightly pressed to my sides and didn't move.
Somewhat exasperated, I untied myself and put the scarves away again. However, I wasn't about to give up on the experiment and decided to enlist some help from Karen, my sister. She was only fifteen months older than me, but still my big sister and someone I could turn to for help.
As chance would have it, when I found her, Karen was reading the very comic that had triggered my experiment in the first place. I told her what I was trying to do and she immediately agreed to help. By pooling our own winter wear and exploring the depths of our shared dressing-up box, we amassed about six scarves. I remember that one was a tiny pink one that one of us must have worn as a toddler and one was a monster about eight feet long that our mother must have worn before the war. I think the rest were more reasonable sizes.
I sat down on the bedroom floor once again and Karen did her best to immobilise me. She tied my ankles and then my knees in the same way that I had tied my own. Her knots were exactly the same as mine and just as ineffective. However, as I wasn't struggling, they both stayed in place. I put my hands behind my back and Karen did her best to tie my wrists together. The first attempt was not at all successful: four feet or so of woolly scarf wrapped around two slender wrists resulted in an unwieldy bundle that didn't feel remotely secure. The second try, using the small pink scarf was a bit better but no more expertly knotted. Karen finished off by winding the really long scarf from the dressing-up box around my arms and chest about four times and then knotting the ends. The overall result felt snug but not terribly secure.
Our younger brother Timothy appeared at the bedroom door at this point. He is three years younger than me, so he must have been three or four at this time. He usually took an interest in the things that Karen and I did together, but would occasionally decide that we were doing scary big-girl stuff and decide not to investigate further. Seeing his sisters tying each other up seemed to come into that category, so he went away again without saying anything.
"See if you can get out of that, Becca," Karen encouraged me as I hadn't moved since she had finished tying me up.
Escape took a matter of seconds as all the knots yielded to the slightest tension. Undeterred, Karen tied me up again, pulling all the bonds just a little tighter the second time.
If I sat perfectly still, I had some faint inkling of what it might feel like to be tied up, but I knew that escape was trivially easy, so there wasn't the remotest sense of helplessness, let alone peril. All-in-all, this wasn't very satisfactory.
Just then, my mother passed the bedroom door. "Mum, can you help, please?" I called out.
My mother came back to the doorway. Timothy was with her, solemnly surveying my predicament. "Becca, you're all tied up!" my mother exclaimed. "Do you need help to get out?"
Karen and I explained that I had just the opposite problem and I needed help to stay tied up. I pointed out that our knots didn't work and asked our Mum if she could show us how to do better ones.
"Have you been to the toilet?" my mother asked, apparently changing the subject.
I was puzzled, but replied that I hadn't done so recently.
"It's always a good idea to do that first before you play games like this and do a lot of energetic struggling," she advised. "You go and do that while I put these clothes away and then I'll help," she added, indicating the pile of clean laundry she was carrying.
I quickly shed my bonds and headed for the bathroom. When I returned to the bedroom, my mother and sister were kneeling on the floor untangling the scarves that I had kicked my way out of a few minutes earlier. I felt a little tingle of excitement in anticipation of finally finding out what it was like to be tied up.
As I entered the room, my mother briefly rummaged through the drawer where she kept my winter things and handed me a pair of mittens.
"But I'm not cold," I protested.
"If you get tied up on bare skin, you can get quite badly rubbed," my Mum pointed out, "even if you're tied up with soft things like scarves."
Damage to skin wasn't something that had occurred to me. I put the mittens on, pulling the cuffs well up over the sleeves of my sweater, and sat down next to where my mother and sister were kneeling. Timothy was still standing just inside the door, watching the proceedings with interest.
My mother began as I and my sister had done, by tying my ankles. She pulled the scarf much tighter than I had done. "It's too easy to wriggle out of if it's not tight," she explained. I was surprised to see my mother form a knot exactly as I had, but then she showed us how to add another similar knot, but going the other way, to make a reef (or square) knot. The result felt satisfyingly secure.
The same procedure was repeated just below my knees and my mother showed us how to make sure we tied a real reef knot and not a granny knot.
I shuffled myself around, so that my back was towards my mother and put my hands together side-by-side. She gently rearranged them so that my wrists were crossed then wrapped the short pink scarf around them twice, pulling it much tighter than Karen had. She tied the first half of the knot and then jerked the binding tight before completing the reef knot.
My mother finished off by tying the long scarf from the dressing-up box around my arms and chest. Once again, she pulled it very tight and may even have got one more turn around my body than Karen managed. She knotted it off in the middle of my chest then leaned forwards and kissed me on the top of my head.
As soon as my mother had finished, I knew that I was completely helpless and would stay tied up until someone freed me. Nothing was so tight that it was painful, but it all felt incredibly constricting. Simply being tied up was much scarier than I had imagined, but in an exciting way, like a good funfair ride, and I was thoroughly enjoying the experience.
"See if you can get out," Karen suggested.
I wriggled and squirmed on the floor for several minutes, but it was quickly apparent that my mother had done a good job and that I had no chance whatever of escaping unaided.
"No, I'm stuck," I concluded, "but it's really good fun trying."
"Can I be tied up too, please?" Karen asked our mother, feeling left out of the fun.
"We've almost run out of scarves, but I'll see what I can do," she replied, standing up and walking out of the room.
While our mother was gone, Karen took a trip to the bathroom as I had done. I lay on the floor quite contentedly and waited. Timothy watched me in silence. My mother returned first, carrying a long tartan scarf and a pair of long socks she wore with walking boots. As soon as my sister was back in the room, she found a pair of mittens, put them on and sat down next to me.
My mother helped me sit and propped me against the side of my bed, mainly so that I didn't occupy so much floor space. It took far less time to tie Karen up than it had taken for me, mainly because my mother didn't have to pause to explain what she was doing. She used the socks to tie Karen's wrists and ankles but bound her knees and arms with scarves.
Karen engaged in a heroic struggle against her bonds before declaring herself satisfied that she was completely helpless. "Can we stay like this until tea time?" she asked.
"If you like," our mother replied with an indulgent smile.
"Do you want to be tied up too, Tim?" I asked as my brother was still standing silently examining his trussed-up sisters. He shook his head and left the room hurriedly; we heard him going downstairs.
I glanced at the clock. It was about quarter past four. Children's television programmes would start in half an hour. There were only two channels in Britain at that time and they each only put out a little over an hour of children's material each afternoon. I was keen not to miss my daily dose. "But we'll miss Robin Hood!" I protested. (Actually, I can't remember what it was that we were in danger of missing, but 'The Adventures of Robin Hood', starring Richard Greene, was a firm favourite of Karen's and mine. Timothy used to sit through it too, but was a little young to appreciate the story-lines.)
"I could carry you downstairs," my mother offered, "so you can enjoy your programmes and still stay tied up."
"Yes please," we both replied.
Karen was nearer to the door, so our mother picked her up first and carried her cradled in her arms, supporting her weight under her knees and shoulders. I heard a loud "Oops!" as they negotiated the stairs.
A few moments later my mother returned for me. "Not easy getting round the corner on the stairs," she commented, "so I'll put you over my shoulder instead." So saying, she lifted me to my feet and, once she was sure I wouldn't fall over, went down on one knee and hoisted me up so I was folded over her right shoulder at waist level. She steadied me with her right arm across my thighs and stood up. I enjoyed the novelty of the high-up-but-looking-down vantage point until we got to the stairs; being able to see only my mother's feet and the stairs behind us was distinctly unnerving.
When we reached the lounge, my mother carefully deposited me so that I was sitting at one end of the two-seater sofa. As she stood up, I saw that my sister was already ensconced at the other end. As this was our preferred seat for watching television, we were perfectly set up for the rest of the afternoon.
"I'll come back and switch the television on at quarter to four," our mother promised. "Don't get into any mischief until then." Laughing at her own joke, my mother headed for the door out into the hallway.
A thought occurred to me and I called her back. "Mum, if we're tied up like this, we really ought to be gagged too, so we can't yell for help." I had been familiar with the concept of a gag for as long as I had been intrigued by the idea of being tied up. Many pictures of tied-up individuals in comics also showed them gagged. I understood that a piece of cloth tied over the victim's mouth was intended to prevent them talking, but had only recently learned the word for it from having Peter Pan read to Karen and me as a bed-time story.
"That's right, we really ought to be gagged to do this properly," Karen agreed, clearly keen to follow the same script as me.
"Anything for a quiet life," my mother replied as she left the room.
She returned a moment later carrying two of her own cotton headscarves. She spread one out flat on a coffee table, folded it diagonally into a triangle, just as she would if she was going to wear it herself, then into a narrow band. She held it up next to my face, then re-folded it to adjust the width of the band. I kept still while the band of cloth was positioned over my mouth and then tied snugly behind my head. My mother repeated the process on Karen and then planted a kiss on top of each of our heads and left us to our own devices.
Gags were something of a puzzle. I understood the principle that if you tied something over someone's mouth, they wouldn't be able to speak and it always seemed to work in comics and on television. However, when we went to school on really frosty mornings, our mother would sometimes send my sister and me out with scarves tied over our mouths and I knew from experience that, although our voices were a little muffled, they did nothing to inhibit our usual chatter. I had experimented some time previously and discovered that no matter how tightly I tied a scarf over my mouth, it didn't make much difference to my ability to speak. By unspoken mutual consent, Karen and I just pretended that the gags our mother had given us really worked and sat side-by-side in companionable silence.
Just as she had promised, my mother returned just before quarter to four and switched on the television. When the picture stabilised, it was still showing the test-card. (It would be another twenty years or so before there was regular daytime television in Britain.)
Timothy generally joined us for our fix of television and usually sat on the sofa between Karen and me. That afternoon, however, he decided to sit on one of the other chairs rather than between his inexplicably bound and gagged sisters.
It would have made a neat story if it actually had been Robin Hood we were watching and if it was one of those episodes where Maid Marian was tied up, but the truth is that I really can't remember what we watched.
Our father generally got home from work just as children's television was ending. He usually came into the lounge long enough to greet us and to watch the weather forecast and at least the beginning of the six o'clock news before going upstairs to change out of the suit he wore to the office. That afternoon, of course, he came home to find his two daughters contentedly watching television while bound hand and foot.
He paused and looked at each of us in turn then raised one eyebrow quizzically. "That explains why it's so quiet in here," he commented and then kissed each of us on top of the head.
Just what was it about being tied up that made our parents suddenly want to kiss us on the tops of our heads, I wondered.
"Fun being tied up?" he asked.
We both nodded enthusiastically.
"Do you two think you could get out of that?" our father asked after inspecting our bonds.
We shook our heads.
"Tell you what," he said, "there's a shilling if either of you can escape before I come back downstairs."
A shilling doesn't sound like much, only five pence in modern decimal money, or about a dime in American currency, but back then it had quite respectable purchasing power and was what Karen and I each received as our weekly pocket money. It would be the equivalent of maybe a pound or about two dollars today. Suffice it to say it was enough incentive for us both to engage in a furious struggle with our bonds, far more earnest than the testing we had done when our mother first tied us.
When our father returned to the lounge, now wearing a comfortable old sweater and rather baggy trousers, he found us just as securely tied up as when he left us. Our mother had done a very good job.
"Ready to be untied?" he asked.
We both nodded, tacitly admitting defeat. Once our Dad had freed us, he split the shilling between us, awarding us sixpence each as a consolation prize.
Being tied up had not only satisfied my curiosity but had been enormous fun in its own right. While it felt very good to be free after being bound and gagged for well over an hour and a half, I was looking forward to another opportunity to be tied up.
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