I wanted to tell you this little story today but I couldn’t get into it until the DIY got done. So I ran to the hardware shop yesterday and bought what I needed. Now it’s done so I can tell all.
It ain’t much, really, I did something stupid late on Christmas Eve and it was quite messy for a little while. Messy in that way that seems quite comical in retrospect but which wasn’t even a teeny bit amusing at the time.
Trish was working all day on Christmas Eve last so I spent the day getting the house in fine festive shape and, um, tweeting a bit. When she arrived home at about four, the house was looking all nice and 'food-ey' and present-ridden and welcoming and good. We were going out for an hour or so as we usually do on Christmas Eve and that was something we looked forward to. Now. the coming back to this nice house was also something to anticipate.
We go over to our friend’s house and have a touch of mulled wine and some cake and gently dissect the year. It’s always a special visit. Out in the town, the shops are all closing up and the poor harassed retail people finally get to think about their own holidays. The roads are thinning of traffic and the world is generally settling down to a little well-earned time off.
So Trish and me (I hate ‘myself’) and the two boys headed out the front door of our seasonal house, looking forward to our seasonal visit.
All was well.
Even as the front door was swinging shut behind me, I sensed something was amiss. Even before it clicked into place, I knew exactly what it was but I was too late to stop it. The momentum was too great.
“Trish… you brought your house keys with you, yeah?”
“No. They’re in my other coat.”
Sam doesn’t carry keys.
I looked at the bunch of keys in my hand. The wrong keys. The heavens opened and a huge shower of hail came down on us. It was suddenly dark and cold and distinctly unseasonable.
I had the wrong set of keys in my hand.
We were locked out of our house.
There is always a spare key available close by. I won’t say where, for fairly obvious reasons. It’s always there… except for now. A man had been in to fix the heating in the previous week. I had given him that key. He hadn’t given it back. He lived in another town…
We were right-royally locked out.
All the windows were locked shut. They were all doubled–glazed too so even breaking one wasn’t going to be the easiest business. There was also the consideration of which window I could even try to break. There would be no glazing-repair men around in the next week or so. Whatever I did not would consign us to a draughty insecure house for the entire holiday.
I had tuned out during all this reckoning. Now I noticed my family shivering and looking rather despairingly at me in the rapidly-increasing hail storm.
“Into the car,” I said, a bit like a sodden Batman. Whatever I was going to do, it was best done without my family as an audience. I drove them to the friend’s house, explained the situation, refused all offers of help, and then rushed back and stood looking at the house in the pitch dark and wondered what the hell to do.
I have a pretty good brain, even if I say so myself, and I’m quite proud of what I came up with. I had the relative liberation of knowing I could pick up a rock and smash my way in anytime I wanted but was there a neater way? Was there anything else to try before I resorted to this.
I knew the key was in the lock of the back door and I was aware of the old Famous Five trick of pushing the key out onto a piece of newspaper and then sliding it out the gap under the door. But there was no gap under that door. I was also aware of the James Bond, 'On Her Majesty’s Secret Service', ploy of slipping the night latch with a credit card but the hard fact is that you need a pretty silly door jamb for that to ever work in real life. So it was a ‘no’ to both of those.
Our bathroom window is on the side of the house on the ground floor (everything is ground floor) and it is high up and about 2 foot deep. It is held with a simple window handle on the bottom, the kind with two holes and two prongs sitting up through them. I pictured it in my head, rather like a rugby kicker must do before taking a shot at goal. If I could grab the opening part of the window on the outside and wrench it hard enough, then the simple handle might pop up out of its two pronged resting place and the window might swing upward and open.
I inched around to the side of the house in the hail and the darkness with a step ladder I somehow found in the pitch-black shed. Across the side garden wall, I could see my neighbours in their kitchen, three generations of family toasting each other and smiling. I got on the ladder and climbed the few steps required to get me level with the bathroom window. I grabbed each side of the opening light, closed my eyes, and pulled with all my might.
The window opened.
Just like that. It opened.
I couldn’t believe it. I thought I had been entirely making this eventuality up in my head out of desperation and, here, it had worked.
But the night’s work wasn’t over yet. This window was tight, very tight, and it dropped down on the inside into the bath. I still had to get my ass through it without damaging myself.
I tried one leg, then the other but it was far too dodgy. Something was bound to go wrong. I climbed over the garden wall and called on my neighbour to come and please help me out. I felt I needed someone nearby to phone an ambulance after I had broken my neck.
Let’s call my neighbour ‘John’, because that’s his name. John has helped me out many times over the years that we have been neighbours and, to the best of my recollection, I have never helped him out with anything in return.
John willingly left the bosom of his family and came to see what could be done. He brought his own step ladder over. We inched his ladder through the window and managed to erect it inside the bathroom, rather precariously in the bath. Now all I had to do was climb up my ladder, through the window, down John’s ladder, hop out of the bath and run down the hall to open my front door.
Nothing to it.
John is retired. Fit as a fiddle but this was no job for him. It had to be me.
I went up the first ladder and stuck my leg through the window. The window was top-hinged so I had to hold it up as I tried to climb in. I started to roll through, one leg in, one leg out... and I got stuck. Not terribly stuck, just enough to envisage getting more stuck and having to call the Fire Service to come and butter me up and ease me back out. This thought scared me sufficiently that I withdrew hastily to the outside again.
“You’re not as small as you think you are,” John observed and his three generations of family seemed to nod agreement from behind their own double glazing.
I did note there were small children in that kitchen over there but it seemed too much to ask – too Dickensian – to ask to push one of them into my toilet on Christmas Eve.
“It’s my glasses,” I said, “they’re getting in the way. Obvious crap but it was buying me a moment to get my nerve up before the next attempt on the window. “I’ll leave them on top of your car for a minute, John.” I stepped over the garden wall into John’s domain and placed my glasses on the roof of his car. Then I saw myself forgetting the glasses and John driving off in the morning and me losing them forever so I quickly took them off and walked over to leave them on John’s window cill, waving to all of the three generations of family so cosy within, all enjoying the unexpected free show.
Then I turned to face the window again.
All this had only taken a few seconds but, in that time, John must have nipped up the first ladder, through the window and down the second ladder and into my bath. He was inside, smiling and waving out at me.
John must be sixty-five if he’s a day but he nipped in that window when my back was turned like the coolest of cat burglars. It was amazing.
John padded though the darkened house and opened my front door. I was in again. No glass had been broken, no damage done.
I wish you all had a good neighbour like that.
John went back home to his family and I collapsed in a heap on the couch. The joy, the utter relief of being back in my own house for Christmas was vast. I forgot how hail-drenched and sodden I was. I drove back to my family and friends but not before secreting front door keys all over the exterior of the house.
Of course, I couldn’t tell you this until I had secured the bathroom window so that it could never be opened in that rudimentary way again. So don’t be treating this as a guide to how to break into my house. There’s very little of value to you in here anyway and that window is totally secure now…
I only hope I don’t ever get locked out again.