Yesterday, I had to go to my brother’s house to pick up some stuff for my nephews which I need to take to Greece with me when I go.  My brother lives in the leafy suburb of Barnes just over Hammersmith Bridge.  Living as I do in NW London, going to SW London is always a schlep, even though his wife, H, always insists that Barnes is only 10 minutes away from everything.  I think she means that Barnes is 10 minutes away from everything in Barnes, but whatever, she insists. Maybe she has a faster car than me, or a different sense of time.

Anyway, I remembered to take their spare key out of the key box (a fairly major operation involving the moving of a lot of furniture) and set off to get the stuff.  I should pause here to pat myself on the back for remembering the key; so many times I have set out for my aunt’s house to water the plants only to remember outside their house that their keys are still at my house.  I am in fact practically a professional keyholder.  I have in my possession keys to almost all of my friends’ and family’s homes – I assume it’s because I never go anywhere, so am always around when they get locked out or forget stuff.

So off to Barnes I went, it was a pleasant drive because London is quiet at this time of year, and it was a quiet time of day anyway.  J had mentioned that the key is sometimes stiff in the lock, but I assumed that I would be alright to open their door.  I arrived on their doorstep, took out the key and started to try and get in.  The key turned slightly, then I would pull hard and it would turn a little more, then – nothing.  I started to rattle the door, pulling, pushing and even kicking it a bit all to no avail.  I dialled H’s number:

“Is there a trick to opening your front door?” I asked rattling the knob. 

“No, it’s very stiff, sometimes the door expands in the heat, but the lock is a bit dodgy, try pulling and lifting as you turn the key”

“I have tried that, anything else?”

” Yes, try to Beeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeep.” We got cut off.

I called my brother and had almost exactly the same conversation with him although we got cut off sooner.  After about 10 or 15 minutes of pulling, pushing, lifting, jiggling and rattling the door, I gave up.  Both my hands were trembling, I had pulled a muscle in my neck and I was beginning to worry that the police would arrive soon.  J&H live on a quiet cul-de-sac and let’s just say the curtains they were a-twitching.  I comforted myself with the thought that if the police were called, I could prove my innocence by pointing out that I arrived in a clean and newish car, parked outside, had keys, was wearing a brightly cloured top and  no balaclava and was leaving with four pairs of boys’ chinos.  I don’t think I would have done any hard time.  Anyway, had they arrived, they could have helped me unlock the bloody door.

 I went to the car and called J again.  The reason we kept getting cut off was because there is no signal by their front door, so coaching me while I was trying to unlock it wasn’t a possibility.

“Listen I can’t get the door unlocked,” I said, “my hands are aching and shaking and I think I’ll just leave it and come back on Monday when there will be someone home to let me in.”

“I’m so sorry you came all this way.  Why don’t you try going to the house opposite and asking the guy there – his name is Mike –  to help you.  He might be able to open it.  He’s an architect.”

I found this fact both funny and irrelevant. 

“Well if he can’t unlock the door he will know how to create an opening for me to get in by removing certain non-weightbearing bricks…”I said, and J laughed. 

“No, really he’s a nice guy, just ring the bell.  Is their car outside? “

I said that it was.

“They’re home, go on, just ask, it will save you a trip on Monday.”

I went back to the front door and attempted to open it for another 5 minutes.  Defeated, I went across the road.  I am not very good at rocking up at strangers’ houses uninvited and unannounced which is presumably why I am not a travelling salesperson, but I thought it can’t be that bad.  They’ve probably all already noticed me trying to break in, I might as well introduce myself.  I rang the bell.

A lady opened the door.

“Hello,” I said, trying to appear friendly and non-threatening, “My brother lives opposite, you know J & H? “

“Oh yes, now I realise you look familiar, I have seen you before. How can I help?”

“I can’t get in to his house you see, his key or lock is very stiff, and he told me to knock on your door and ask if your husband was around, perhaps he could help?”  I was beetroot by this time, I mean really, I can’t work the keys?  All my hard-fought for self-sufficiency was flowing out of me a lot quicker than it ever flowed into me, let me assure you.

“Oh, sorry but my husband isn’t here, he’s at work.” Of course he’s at work, it’s 1pm on a Friday, I thought to myself.  “Shall I come and have a look?”

“Oh, yes please, by all means, that would be great, thanks.  I just really cannot get it to turn, and I live in North London so coming here isn’t exactly on my way to anything.”

We walked across the road.  I handed her the keys.

“I probably won’t be able to do anything to help,” she said.” My husband is much better at this sort of thing than I am.”

And with that statement still floating in the air, she put the key in the lock, turned it slightly – and more to the point – effortlessly, and the door swung open.

I laughed out loud.  She looked at me as if to say ‘are you sure you were trying to open the right door?’  You know like when you call a computer helpline and they ask you if it is switched on. I wanted to say something like – ‘well I did warm it  up for you’ but felt it might be a tad ungrateful.

“I – wow – this is embarrassing,” I stammered. “I have literally been here for 20 minutes trying to do what you did in less than a second…  Look at my hands.” I held up my hands to show her they were still visibly shaking.  She was quick to murmur something comforting, about how sometimes it happens etc.etc.  I felt at once comforted and even more stupid and uncoordinated.

“Thank you so much,” I said, “you totally saved the day!”

She went back to her house (presumably to laugh with her daughter about my incompetence) and I went into my brother’s and sat for a while waiting for the colour in my cheeks to go down.  I went and got the stuff they needed and on the way out I closed the door and then decided to try and unlock it again.  After all, the lady had made it look so easy, I must have been doing something wrong.  I put the key in the lock, and turned.  And jiggled.  And pushed and pulled.  Nothing.

I hope they haven’t forgotten anything else, because I am not going back there unless I have a locksmith with me.  At the very least, I will take a box of chocolates so that when I knock on opposite’s door, I can offer her something in return for unlocking the door for me. 

As a last resort I can always dress up as a burglar this time, and ask the police to help me.

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