He came in through the bathroom window

Last Sunday morning, I set off to go the official re-opening of the football ground in Faraday Road in Newbury. After a brief delay caused by needing to ask a neighbour to jump start our car, the lights having been left on (hats off to Liam Robson), I turned the key in the door. There was an unusual click as I did so. On trying to re-open it I discovered I couldn’t. I was late and Penny was out for much of the day so off I went.

I’m often struck by how many problems, ranging from bad backs to parking tickets to IT failures, vanish if you pretend they haven’t happened and if you leave sufficient time before confronting them again. Perhaps the universe can only support a fixed amount of uncertainty and will re-boot itself to just before the point when the problem happened: a kind of cosmic version of the command+Z control to undo errors on a Mac. Hopefully, this would prove to be one of these.

On my return from Newbury, I learned that it wasn’t. The key stuck as fast as before. I briefly tried a two-handed approach but realised that the results weren’t likely to be good and that all I was really doing was expressing my anger. So, I was locked out. I now realised that Penny had no key either so there was no point in calling her. The only other key was indoors. At this moment, as it always does, it started to rain.

If this had happened about five weeks ago it wouldn’t have mattered. Until then our ground floor bedroom window was easier to open from the outside than it should have been. One of our sons, returning from a party about 2am to discover we’d locked the front door by mistake, had come in this way. It took me until about 4am for my heart rate to come down into double figures. This was one of the reasons why we’d decided to get new windows: that and the fact that on cold mornings we had to scrape ice from the inside of them and seal up the gaps in the frames with duck tape.

Ripton Windows having done their thing, the place was now pretty secure. I walked round the house, testing the familiar possible ingress points. There were none. Then, as the rain started to become heavier, I went round the house again.

This time I was luckier. The downstairs bathroom window, I now saw, had been closed but the catch not properly engaged and I was able to open it. The reason for this is the cats have learned how to open the window from the inside and we often don’t close it properly afterwards. Fortunately we hadn’t this time. Well, I though, easy-peasy.

It was at this point that my problems really started.

I found a chair in the shed, hung my coat on the back door and started to climb in. There was a rose bush in the bed between the path and the window which made things harder and sharper than they need have been. I was slightly less than half way through the window when I realised I was stuck. There seemed to be three reasons for this.

The first was the rose which was snagging my trousers. The second was that the window, which had seemed easily wide enough to accommodate me when I started this adventure, was in fact not. The third was more perplexing and it took me a few moments to work out what was going on.

It turned out that my mobile, which I had taken out of my coat and put in my front trouser pocket in case I needed it, had got stuck in the hinge on the lower part of the window. This was preventing me moving forwards or – because of how tightly it was wedged in the pocket – backwards. For a moment, that seemed to be that. It was perverse that the one thing I needed to summon help, which increasingly seemed to be needed, was also the cause of my needing to do so. In this situation it was completely useless anyway because I couldn’t reach it.

Time didn’t stand still but it slowed down. I found my mind flooded with a number of thoughts. I reflected on how I’d never seen the bathroom from this exact angle before and how different, and yet familiar, it all seemed. I thought about The Beatles’ song She Came in Through the Bathroom Window and allowed one of the verses to run through my mind. Then I remembered Winnie-the Pooh stuck in Rabbit’s front door after eating too much honey and condensed milk. One of the cats came into the bathroom, took one look at me, and fled. I didn’t blame her. If only I could have done the same.

None of this was accomplishing very much. After a couple of minutes of Pooh-like pushing and pulling, I got the phone free of the hinge. This was one step forward but, on the debit side, the chair had been knocked out of reach and the phone case slightly mangled. I remained suspended.

At that point I heard a family walk past the road on the other side of the house. What I really needed, I now realised, was a child of the right age and size. Could I force myself back out of the window, rush out onto Front Street and ask the parent if I could use their offspring to break into a house, go inside to get a key ring from the back door and pass it through the bathroom window to a strange man with his hair standing on end?

No, I couldn’t.

Using my one free hand, I put it on the edge of the basin.

I should explain that the basin is underneath the window. It was on this and the tiled frame that surrounds it that I was now resting most of my weight through my right arm. The whole thing was supported on two wooden posts that had been there since about 1982. As I pressed down in another attempt to lever myself forward – there was nothing else to press down against – I felt a slight creak and movement.

This opened up a whole new set of possibilities. If the basin collapsed then so too would the plumbing. The hot tap was just below my face and it was hard to see how how I could protect myself from the geyser that would result. True, there would also be the cold tap: but that, at much higher pressure, would cause its own problems. Perhaps this catastrophe would focus my mind and I would then manage to fire myself through the opening. Then I wondered how I’d stem the flow of water. Where was the stopcock? Under the sink in the kitchen. At present, that seemed like a hundred miles away.

I shifted my position and tried pushing forward again. There was another creak from beneath me. The tiled surface moved again, slightly more so this time.

A change of approach was needed. This idea of going head first into the bathroom wasn’t working. I needed to get my legs in as well.

I pulled my left leg round and tried to pull it in through the window, The sole of the shoe got stuck on the window frame. Two more tries and the same result. Could I take the shoe off? I pulled my right hand down to get to the laces and felt something go ker-ching in my right shoulder. At that point I lost the grip on the window frame with my left hand and had to brace my fall with my right arm. Another ker-ching, another creak from the tiled surface beneath me. It was like playing a nightmare game of Twister.

The situation couldn’t continue. Pain, fear and physical constraint existed in perfect equilibrium. I had to break it.

With one massive push, and a creak in my back, my left leg was inside. My right leg then followed. With a leap and a bound, our hero was free. I stood for a moment in the middle of the bathroom, slightly dazed.

A closer examination of the key showed that one of the teeth had broken off. Monday morning saw us in M&P Hardware in Hungerford and asking Pauline to cut a new one from the spare that we had.

“You never know,” I found myself saying with my usual pessimism, “whether new keys are going to work…”

“I have all my keys cut here,” a voice said behind me, “and none of them have been wrong.”

I turned round: it was Nina Clark who runs the main lettings agency in these parts.

“That’s good enough for me,” I said and handed over my card.

On our return, the new key worked fine.

Even so, a lock with a bit of a broken key rattling around inside it isn’t ideal so we’ve arranged for Dave Cooper from Hungerford Glass and Glazing (who also deals with locks) to drop when he’s next in the valley.

So, that seems to be that. On the negative side, a slightly twisted shoulder, scratched trousers and the cost of a new key and probably a new lock. On the positive side, here I still am, not still stuck like Pooh Bear nor seriously injured. Most of all, however, I’m glad that no one saw me half in and half out of the window, flailing like a drowning man, groaning like a trapped animal and cursing like a soldier. I’ve had better fifteen minutes and I’m glad these were spent in private.

However, I can at least now say that I have come in through the bathroom window. Many of you will just have to listen to the song and imagine what it might involve. I, however, have lived it – and, let me tell you, McCartney didn’t tell you the half of it…

Brian Quinn

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