Saturday, 28 February 2009

A rude awakening

I'm writing this in the spare room of my best friend's house, we had a long-overdue get-together last night. We'd both envisaged lots of conversation - catching up, offloading, opining, putting the world to rights, and no doubt talking complete and utter shit too - but as it turned out we were both so exhausted we just sat practically mute on the settee in his shed, watching Big Train and drinking gin.

I woke earlier and wondered where the hell I was and thought about work and my mind started racing and, thank goodness, it's Saturday. The luxury of turning over and going back to sleep, able to submit to the crushing tiredness and have a good, proper lie-in.

A number of things - that sense of sheer discombobulation and disorientation when I first woke, and also reading this post - have served in their own ways to remind me of one Saturday morning back in the mid-90s, when I was living in a bedsit, adjacent to my friend Jean-Paul.

He used to give French language tuition to someone on Saturday mornings. This person used to turn up in his car at the downright ridiculous time of 7am: I would have otherwise struggled to accept that 7am actually existed on Saturday mornings, except that this caller had the unwelcome and downright annoying habit of ringing the bell for room 4 - mine - rather than room 5, which was Jean-Paul's.

So, I swished and bristled downstairs in a mire of annoyance, bleariness and a dressing gown, barely registering the sound of my door closing behind me.

Is Jean-Paul in?

His voice was raised over the sound of the car engine, still running since the tuition would take place over at his.

Yes I'm sure he is - but if you actually rang his room not mine! I'll go and get him.

Jean-Paul was just emerging from his room, keys in hand. I was asking him to tell this guy that I was getting sick of being disturbed at the non-existent hour of 7am, as I was subconsciously reaching for my own keys in my dressing gown pocket.

Not there. No keys.

I pushed my door.

Closed: locked.


Jean-Paul appraised the situation, and we both remembered that the landlord was currently out of the country.

Here, he said, proffering me his room, putting the stove-top coffee maker onto the Belling hob, simultaneously giving me the television remote. When I get back....

I nodded at the offer of help implicit in the unfinished sentence, and he parted with a typical phrase of his: no problems, only solutions!

So I relaxed until his return - as far as one is able to relax watching Saturday-morning television and drinking industrial-strength Gallic coffee whilst musing over the fact that I was locked out, with no obvious means of rectifying the situation without breaking in: something I definitely did not wish to countenance.

Jean-Paul's return, late morning (that'll be after 4 hours of Saturday-morning TV and industrial-strength Gallic coffee - I may have still been sat on the settee but as far as I was concerned I was on the ceiling), saw us try and work out a plan of action: with a definite no from me regarding the possibility of breaking into my room.

Here I was, sans keys, in dressing gown only, the landlord across the sea somewhere, and Jean-Paul repeating like a mantra: no problems, only solutions, the emphasis on the last syllable.

Fortunately, he had keys to the back door on the ground floor, which enabled us to access the back of the property and a view up to my window: enticingly, hauntingly open, though too narrow for any human being to fit through.

We had both spotted the ladder, and soon enough I was up there, peering into my room. The bed was by the window and beyond that, in the middle of the room, my jeans were on the floor: my keys would be in the left-hand pocket.

Jean-Paul had another appointment soon, so his mind was racing. I think his mind always raced, regardless. Whilst I was musing on the futility of the possibilities available, he had dashed back through the property and into his own room, returning minutes later, triumphantly holding plastic curtain rails, a wire coathanger and a roll of masking tape.

I descended the ladder and we fashioned a makeshift fishing rod, needing the whole roll of masking tape to ensure even the illusion of solidity.

He had to go. No problems, only solutions!

Indeed. Only that the solution involved me balancing precariously on a ladder 15 feet above the ground, clothed only in a dressing gown, and feeding an implement made of curtain rail and a coathanger through the narrow opening in my window.

The jeans were also a good few feet away. I made some exploratory attempts at hooking them: non-committal at first, more like a feasibility study.

What occurred to me, worryingly, was that if I was able to hook the jeans but then manage to drop them before lifting them up onto the bed, I would lose sight of them because the bed would block the view. This would cause real problems. I had also established that, as sturdy as we had managed to make the fishing rod, it bended and strained alarmingly (the sound of cracking plastic and ripping masking tape) when taking the surprising weight of the jeans into account, not to mention the sheer physics of the leverage involved.

I also had to make adjustments to the hook: if I could alter the shape so it could tag onto one of the belt hooks, life would be looking a little more hopeful.

45 minutes had already passed of this desperate, precarious activity, and I had made little progress except in terms of advancing the theory of the situation. My arms and shoulders were aching, and my feet weren't doing much better, jammed as they were onto the rung of a ladder.

I continued in my tentative efforts. A further half an hour had seen dark clouds on my particular horizon: I had managed to hook the jeans and drag them a little nearer, but each time they had just as quickly unhooked and dropped forlornly onto the floor, and reminded me of the danger that I might well drag them out of my line of sight.

I steeled myself, made further technical adjustments to the line and the hook, and tried once more. I got a bite (do jeans bite?), and knew that this was a crucial moment. There was much danger involved - I realised that I would have to use both arms to support the line if I were to lift the jeans onto the bed at least, which meant I would be standing on the ladder without any other means of support.

I did it anyway, heart in my mouth, sweat pouring from my brow. The weight of the jeans as I fished them up onto the bed was terrifying and I was sure the rod wasn't going to take it. A surge of adrenaline and a reminder - no problems, only solutions! - and in a blur of sheer effort, I had managed to secure the jeans onto the bed. I still had to fish them up from there and through the narrow gap in the window which separated me from them, but now it seemed so much more within my reach, almost literally.

I took a break for a few minutes - my arms were grazed from rubbing against the window frames as I'd strained through with the fishing rod/curtain rail, and my feet weren't faring much better. But I could now alter the rod itself: where previously it had required two segments of curtain rail taped together, I knew that now the distance from the top of the window to the jeans was short enough that I could take one of the segments away.

I also had the huge psychological benefit that, now that the jeans were on the bed, it didn't matter if I hooked them and they fell - they would only fall back to the bed and I could simply try again.

I ascended the ladder once more. By this time, almost 2 hours had passed since I had first climbed up and peered through to my then-distant legwear.

Thankfully it now took a mere couple of minutes to hook the jeans, lift them from the bed, and through the gap in the window. The only remaining heart-stopping moment was hurriedly checking the left-hand pocket - if my keys weren't actually in there, I was fucked.

Such was the joy on discovering that they were in fact in the pocket - and now in my left hand - that I almost forgot that I was perched up a ladder 15 feet above ground level dressed only in a dressing gown, and had to restrain myself from jumping and punching the air in sheer delight and relief.

On rushing through the property and blissfully unlocking my door, I realised just how much I appreciated being able to sit in my own chair, make a cup of tea if I wanted to, turn the radio on or listen to a cd - not to mention being able to get properly dressed.


Mei Del said...

wow i held my breath through that situation! what things prompt you to remember such events!

on another track, if no one else has asked can i bogart (spelling?) your copy of black boxes?

Merkin said...

Be careful!

nmj said...

Trews, This is bloody hilarious. The difference between being locked out and not locked out is immeasurable, it is the worst feeling in the world to hear the door close behind you and know you have no keys.

trousers said...

It's funny, mei, this was something I must have thought about posting around the time that I got my blog up and running, it's one of those stories I'd wanted to tell at some point. Somehow though I obviously forgot completely about it until the aforementioned triggers brought it to mind.

I'm sure we can come to some arrangement as regards Black Boxes :)

I know, merk, I know...

That's it, nmj, there's such a gulf, and the prospect of, say, sitting down in my chair with a cup of tea suddenly seemed impossibly distant and luxurious - not to mention something I told
myself I'd never take for granted again...glad you found it funny too, I must have looked ridiculous!

DJ Kirkby said...

Two things came to mind while reading this post (well 2 main things anyway).
1) your friend has his TV in a shed?
2) I am trying not to look UP the ladder! xo

nmj said...

No problems, only solutions!

Maybe they should put Jean-Paul in charge of the banks?

trousers said...

Hi deej, I thought perhaps it'd be more surprising that he had a settee in his tv in there anyway, we were watching on a laptop.

As for the second point, luckily - for a whole number of reasons - I was well out of general view :)

nmj - or indeed the country?

ejenne said...

what an enjoyable read!
I think the story was better for being held to brew.
I'm sure you had fun writing this one.

zola a social thing said...

Oh you are La Peste you know.

trousers said...

Thanks ejenne, I'm glad you enjoyed ut. Following the sense of a couple of things triggering off this particular memory, it felt like it wrote itself as much as anything: I like it when that happens.

zola, you are awful - but I like you :)

JoeinVegas said...

My arms are aching after reading that, and picturing your work up on the ladder.