Locked out: a cautionary tale

“Locked Out” by cogdogblog is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Yesterday I did a stupid thing.

Let me rephrase. Yesterday I did a really stupid thing. I had gathered up some big bags of clothes to go to one of the few charity shops able to take donations, grabbed gloves and a warm scarf and a furry hat and waltzed off out of the house, slamming the door. Halfway down the passageway, I remembered my beaker of coffee, sitting on the hall table. I debated whether to go back and get it, since that would involve putting all the carefully weight-distributed bags down and starting again and, as I turned for the door, I suddenly became acutely, painfully, sickeningly aware of a certain something I had also left behind – my bag.

I stared at my new front door with its expensive high security lock. For a few moments I felt I might be able to do a Groundhog Day, and just replay the scene – only this time with my bag slung across my body like a satchel, and the sense of security of the banged-shut-door, rather than the stomach-turning slam of exclusion.

Oh s***. Locked out. Newly-renovated house like Fort Knox. How could I have been so stupid as to confuse volume and weight of bags with function of bags. Senior moment, or what? The disbelief at my predicament lasted a good two minutes.

“No worries!” I thought. “I’ll get in the car and go up on the moor and have a lovely walk in this bracing cold and kill time until my partner gets back at lunchtime.”

The car, without a key, was not going to play along. It seemed to look at me askance. “I know you, but I cannot let you in without the magic pass. Sorry.”


No car key. No phone. No money. Just moved into aforementioned new house. Neighbours all out and don’t know them well enough to have given them a key, or to beg to use the phone. And them not actually being in kills that strategy off in any event. Oh, the irony! Only the previous day we had been discussing where to hide a spare key and I had been forbidden, on pain of death, to ‘invest’ in a fake stone as the key safe.

What to do? It’s 10am, flipping freezing and said partner not due back until at least 1pm, maybe later depending on the returns queue at Ikea, which gives shoppers a taste of passport queues for Brits post 31 December and Brexsh*t.

I decide to visit the only person I really know at all. The estate agent with whom I have remained on friendly greeting terms, despite the fact that I viewed several houses with her and then bought this one through someone else.

“You can phone your partner from my phone” she says, instantly generous and understanding.

But do I know his number? Of course I don’t. I mean, I know all the numbers but not necessarily the correct order. It’s on speed dial.

I’m beginning to really twig that my ability to function is dependent on a phone, a key and a card.

“I do know his email.” I say, with a mixture of pride and embarrassment (if such a combo is possible).
In my head, the little negative imp is saying “There’s zero signal at Ikea and will he even check anyway? Will he open an email from an estate agent?”

“Better put ‘EMERGENCY’ in the subject line”, not wanting to allude openly to the undesirability of random emails from estate agents.

She gets it immediately and smiles ruefully. “Good idea.”

She sends the email.

She phones a 24/7 emergency locksmith. In case. He doesn’t respond. She leaves a message.

Reaching for her bag, enviably heavy with house keys and mobile, she extracts and hands me a fiver. “I don’t usually carry cash” she says. “you’re in luck.”

The little town has a number of fab coffee places. In the queue, I find myself announcing that I’m locked out. People give me a strange look.

I window shop, tell the guy selling christmas wreaths that I genuinely, really and truly have no money or, at least, not enough to buy one of his ever so slightly minimalist wreaths. He smiles wanly. He’s heard that excuse before.

I clock up a great deal more than 10,000 steps on my perambulations. I keep checking in at the agent’s office. Nothing. Nada. I find myself wondering if he’s had an accident or whether he’s thinking that I am not bothering to answer his calls.

I find a phone booth that actually takes coins. But not £1 coins. Unlike the car park machine, which will gaily swallow surplus without even a teeny burp of appreciation, the phone booth’s demands are proscriptive and prescriptive. 3 x 20p, or a 50p and a 10p or a combo of 10ps and 20ps. Nothing else. Must amount to 60p. End of.

Who am I going to call, anyway? I don’t actually know anyone’s number except, bizarrely, my own from squillions of years back and … and the landline of a mate in Lyme Regis. But she doesn’t know my partner’s number, so even if I could call her, there’s no point.

I’ve been on the street for four hours and I am beginning to get cold. I have to accept that my partner has elected to skip dropping in for lunch and has gone straight to work where he may well stay until suppertime. Oh joy.

Thank goodness for free public loos. Especially in the midst of the pandemic. Mind you, I nearly washed the skin off my hands afterwards, but hey, I was relieved.

I fritter away another hour. I had thought of going to the library in the back of the Post Office and trying to get online, but the library computers are not being used and, besides, there’s another Brexitworthy queue of people laden with cards and parcels etc so I bail on that idea.

The estate agent finds me on the street. “You look really cold” she says, compassion in her eyes. I think how lucky I am that I have a couple of layers of warm clothing and gloves. I have not seen any rough sleepers in the town, but I do not know how they survive once the pallid sun slips over the horizon. I’m ‘suffering’ a first world problem.

Masked-up and socially-distanced, the agent takes me to her flat, gives me a blanket and the TV remote and, unbelievably trustingly, the password to her computer.

It occurs to me that if I can get into my password vault, I can message my partner via Facebook, Twitter, Slack and his work and personal email.

I try to log on.

“Oh! Sneaky!” says my password holder. “You’re attempting to log on from an unknown device! We must prove you are who you say you are by sending you a text or an email!”

Oh for goodness’ sake!

It’s now nearly 6pm. I’ve left notes on the door of the house explaining where I am. Nothing. The agent comes back from work and very kindly says I can stay as long as I like. She tells her boyfriend not to be surprised to find that they have a guest when he returns.

We send a message via Facebook. Of course, my partner won’t recognise the sender’s name and will probably assume it’s a scam. We write ’emergency’ again and repeat my name so he can’t miss it when it pops up on his phone. “When he gets a signal”, I think, despondently.

At 7.30pm he calls. I am grinning like a Cheshire cat and I think my rescuer is understandably a bit relieved not to have to rustle something up for an unscheduled vegetarian visitor.

She offers to be a key keeper. She’s a saint.

Why have I regaled you with this slight tale? Would you do anything so stupid? My rescuer says “we’ve all done it.” I hadn’t before yesterday, and I hope I never will again. I’ve learned some useful things, though, just in case, and thought I’d pass them on.

  • Obviously, don’t lock yourself out. Put the door on the latch until you are sure you’ve got everything.
  • Hide a key somewhere but hide it really well. I reluctantly concede that the fake stones are well-known.
  • If you have not hidden a key or have forgotten to put it back after emergency usage and have not got a kind person to hold one for you, at least ensure you don’t get caught out with nothing. Pre-load your coat pockets with: 60p, your partner or a friend’s phone number, the number for a locksmith, some hand sanitiser, a few squares of loo roll and a face mask.
  • Sort out how you would access your emails, etc, if you had to do so from a new device. I am going to do some digging. I thought that my master password would get me somewhere from anywhere. Seemingly, this is not the case. I consider that a fail.

Hopefully you will never need these ‘top tips’, but if you do slam that door with everything left inside, your groan of despair will be succeeded by a little squeal of delight as your fingers locate the goodies stashed away in your pockets!