It’s been four years since I’ve lived with a self-locking front door. The villa in Riyadh had a door that you had to lock with the key from either side, and the house in Langley before that was the same. It was physically impossible to lock yourself out. Great idea, but after a while you get sloppy. You don’t have to worry about having the correct keys in your pocket before you slam the door from the outside, so you get out of the habit.
This is not true of our new flat, which is my roundabout way of plucking up courage to admit that I locked us out the other night. Of course it wasn’t my fault — actually it was the scooter’s fault. Let me explain…
I always used to use a car for transport, and so my car keys and house keys were kept together on the same keyring. If I went out I’d be taking the car, and therefore I’d automatically have my house keys with me. Which I would then have to use to manually lock the front door. Now of course things are different. If I go out now it could be in the car, on the scooter, or on public transport with equal frequency, so the sensible thing to do is to keep car, scooter, and flat keys separate and choose the correct combination for the journey that day. I’d trained myself to select car-and-flat keys if taking the car, or scooter-and-flat keys, or just flat keys, depending.
This has worked fine up until one night last week. Karen and I were going out for a game of Racketball (car mode), but I was still preoccupied with the colour of the scooter’s rear indicators, so I asked Karen if she’d come down to the bike garage (the scooter is in a different garage to the car) to give me a second opinion. Encouraged by her agreement I swept up two sets of keys from the hall table along with the Racketball… erm… rackets (that should be racquets but annoyingly isn’t), and followed Karen out onto the landing, closing the door behind me with a deliberate clunk. Approximately four nanoseconds later I realised that the two bunches of keys in my hand were car and scooter, and that the flat keys were still inside. The same bunch also includes the key to the bike garage so my next thought — inappropriately– was that an inspection of the indicators was out of the question too. Bloody scooter! I love it to bits but at the time I was cursing it under my breath.
We stood there, looking at each other for a while: me trying to think up something witty to say — to lighten the situation without seeming not to be bothered by it, and Karen feeling annoyed yet at the same time accepting the inevitability of the occurrence. Now what do we do? We’re on the landing, in our sports gear, with a squash court booked in fifteen minutes’ time, and with no way of getting back into the flat. I know! We’ll call Jim the Estate Manager. Our block of flats is serviced by the holding company and part of that is the provision of a full-time Manager. That’s Jim. He lives onsite and has spare keys to every flat in his safe. I knew all of this, but the trouble is he finishes work at half past five and should only be contacted thereafter in an emergency. I wondered how his idea of an emergency compared with mine as I dialled his his home number. The answering machine picked it up. Time for Plan B, which was to go to play Racketball, cruising past Jim’s local pub on the way to see if we could spot him there. Good old Plan B! There he was, standing in the pub’s well-lit porch having a cigarette. We parked around the corner and I jumped out of the car and trotted apologetically towards him. I explained what had happened in as felf-deprecating a way as I could manage (which is pretty good though I say so myself), and Jim, being a thoroughly nice bloke, agreed to come back with us to get the spare keys. He entreated a mate to watch his pint and we drove back together for the spare key.
The drama over, and Jim reunited with his pint, we arrived only five minutes late for our squash court. The courts — owned by the local school, so only available for hire in the evenings — are in a seperate block from the sports centre Reception, so after you’ve paid and got your token for the lights you have to go back outside, along the pavement, and in through another set of gates in the wrought iron fence to get to the courts. We emerged 45 minutes later, rather pinker than we went in, to find the school gates chained and padlocked. The car, being parked right outside the gates, was only six feet away but frustratingly unreachable. We were locked in, unable to reach the car or the office. I looked around, and through the frosted glass of another locked door saw a cleaning woman hoovering a corridor inside the office building. I went up and knocked loudly to get her attention. She came over and I offered a shouted explanation of why I was bothering her. She didn’t understand so tried to open the door from the inside, but couldn’t.
“I sorry!” she said, and shrugged her shoulders. I could tell from her accent she was Eastern European. I tried again, she tried again to open the door and failed, and said, “I sorry!” again. After about four episodes of this I told her “Go to office!” and this seemed to work, because a couple of minutes later the Office Manager emerged with the cleaning woman from the sports centre entrance, some fifty yards away and separated from us by another fence. He peered through the darkness before making out our two shivering forms.
“Do you want to get into the squash courts?” he asked.
“Er no, we want to get out but someone’s locked the gates.”
“SOMEONE’S LOCKED THE GATES!”
“Oh.” And with that, he trotted down the path and let us out.
Locked out of the flat and locked into a school playing field on the same evening. If I’d read that in a novel I’d have dismissed it as far-fetched.