Every now and then one of those glossy magazines you find in dentists’ waiting rooms will publish an entirely inconsequential article about the pros and cons of living alone. The pros are always fairly obvious: you get to watch what YOU want on television, you can go to bed when you feel like it and can eat baked beans on toast without having to worrying about the social and physical repercussions. The ‘cons’ are usually equally unoriginal: no-one to share expenses with, no moral support with big decisions and no-one to soothe your fevered brow when you’re feeling a bit peaky. What I have never seen listed, however, is ‘No-one to help you when you’re trapped in the downstairs loo by a jammed lock.”
I wouldn’t have shut – still less locked – the door at all if it hadn’t been for the summer weather. For once, it was warm and sunny with a light breeze, and I’d thrown open all the doors and windows in order to give the house a bit of an airing. The downstairs loo (or ‘cloakroom’ as the estate agents so coyly put it) is just off the entrance hall: ‘To your left, past the aspidistra,’ as I say to visitors. Normally, with the front door bolted, I wouldn’t have bothered to close the door of the loo while I popped in for a quick wee, but I knew the postman was due and, as several of them are in the habit of dumping the post on the welsh dresser in the hallway if they see the front door is open, I thought it was prudent to close and lock the loo door for a moment or two.
The door opens inwards and is one of those substantial Victorian jobs made from inch-thick wood with D-shaped wrought iron handles on either side and a ball catch to keep it closed. At some point, much later in its life, someone had added one of those tricksy locks that doesn’t have a key but is operated by a little brass knob that you have to twist in unlikely directions to get it to engage. Getting in (with both dogs – who never allow me to go anywhere alone) and locking it wasn’t a problem, but when I tried to get out again, the little brass knob wouldn’t shift. I tweaked it. I wiggled it. I caressed it. I thumped it. I shook the door violently. Nothing. The knob didn’t budge. The dogs looked at me expectantly, sensing adventure in the air.
Forcing myself to stay calm, I sat down on the loo to consider my options.
I looked at the door. It was a very solid door that opened inwards so there was no point at all in throwing myself at it like a demented rhino because I would only succeed in dislocating my shoulder and providing a free floor show for the dogs.
I looked at the window. It was a very small window which allowed light and fresh air in, but was never designed as an exit, especially not for a 21st Century adult female of the well-upholstered variety.
I looked around for a heavy object to attack the lock with, but – being the downstairs loo as opposed to the tool shed – there was nothing more offensive available than a toilet brush, a bottle of pine disinfectant and some eco-friendly bleach.
And that, as far as my options went, was that.
I tried the door again, in the forlorn hope that all the jiggling, thumping and caressing might have had a delayed effect on the internal economy of the lock. It hadn’t of course, but human beings live in hope, so I resumed tweaking and shaking until Boy Dog started to growl menacingly.
‘Oh no,’ I thought. ‘That’s all I need. Claustrophobia has driven him berserk and he’s going to attack me.’ But then I heard the unmistakable chink of the gate catch, followed a few moments later by a voice calling,
‘Helloooo!! Po-o-o-s-t! I need a signature! Helloooo!!! Anyone ho-ome?!’.
Boy Dog, of course, went completely ballistic at the sound of the intruder – snarling and slavering as he scrabbled wildly at the quarry tiles. The Old Girl joined in enthusiastically from the comfort of the mat in front of the sink, and I was obliged to shout above the cacophony to make myself heard.
‘I’m stuck in the loo!’
‘What?’ The voice – that I identified as belonging to the postman everyone called Pat, but whose name was actually Terence – approached the door. ‘You’re in the loo? Do you want me to come back later?’
‘No! I want you to get me out!’
“What? You’re going out?’
Desperately, I grabbed the Boy Dog, whisked him off his feet and clamped my hand around his mouth. It didn’t stop him from barking, but it did reduce the noise to furious, wheezy grunts.
‘I said I want you to get me out. I’m stuck in the loo. The lock’s jammed.’
‘Oh.’ The silence of the completely non-plussed descended.
‘You’ll have to break the door down.’ The silence deepened. ‘There’s a sledgehammer in the shed around the back.’ I suggested helpfully.
‘Right,’ he replied, in the tone of a man who’d much rather be somewhere else. ‘I’ll go and fetch it then, should I? Back in a minute. Er – don’t go away.’
He was gone what seemed like a very long time, and I thought perhaps he’d decided to fetch help from the farm, rather than tackle the problem himself, but eventually he DID return and announced through the door,
‘Right. I found it. What do you want me to do?’
‘Aim at the area just below the handle. That’s where the lock is.’
‘Okay. Stand back, then.’
Almost immediately, there was a heavy THUMP, which didn’t sound as if it hit the door.
‘I missed. Sorry.’
‘What did you hit?’
‘The door jamb. It’s a bit dented.’
‘Never mind.’ I took a deep breath, mentally started to draft the insurance claim and adjusted my grip on the Boy Dog. ‘Try again.’
His second swing connected, as did his third. At his fourth attempt there was a splintering sound and I saw the wood beginning to split. ‘One more should do it.’
It did. With a final effort, and plainly getting his eye in, he made good contact and the door shot open, slamming back against the wall in a shower of wood fragments, to reveal a red-faced Postman Pat clutching the sledgehammer like one possessed and looking thoroughly startled about it.
In my arms, the Boy Dog became completely apoplectic, while the Old Girl shot off the mat and straight out of the cloakroom to sink her single remaining tooth into one of our rescuer’s socks. He didn’t even seem to notice. He just put the sledgehammer down and looked at me a bit blankly.
‘Thank you very much,’ I said. ‘You’re an angel, Terence.’
‘You’re welcome.’ He blinked a couple of times as if to reset the day to Normal. ‘Could you just sign for this package then, please?’