A discursive look at Napoleonic & ECW wargaming, plus a load of old Hooptedoodle on this & that

Thursday, 16 July 2015

Hooptedoodle #182 - Coping with a Small Irregularity

In the course of every day, unexpected things happen, and the occasional emergency arises. It sounds irritatingly worthy to suggest that we should always expect the unexpected – I had years of management courses which took people’s money off them in exchange for advice like that; it differs in degree only from those other all-conquering life strategies, (1) always be right, and (2) win the Lottery every week.

Expecting the unexpected probably just comes down to application of commonsense, don’t do anything too risky, and be prepared to think on your feet. Know where the stop-cocks are for the water supply, have spare car-keys – stuff like that. Do not put the TV in the bath, do not use your food-processor on top of the Himalayas during a thunderstorm – user guides for just about anything you buy nowadays will be stuffed with sound-but-annoying advice of this sort, in 17 languages.

A real emergency, of course, puts everything else into perspective – my wife broke her shoulder recently (she has now completely recovered, I am delighted to say), and we had a couple of months when a great deal of what we regard as normal procedures and normal priorities just went out of the window, yet it all seemed quite logical and straightforward. Most of the time, you just find you know what to do if something goes wrong, but we do take a lot for granted, I think.

A couple of days ago we got a bit of a fright. My son has his “den” on the ground floor of our house – before the property was altered and extended, 10 years ago, this was one of the bedrooms of the original bungalow cottage which forms the oldest part of the house. My son is coming up 13, and he is, to be honest, a bit heavy-handed these days – he flies about the place at great speed, crashing into walls and skating across tiled areas – he opens doors with a karate chop technique which we have discussed at length in the past. Well, it would be unfair to point any fingers, but the lock on the den door finally collapsed two nights ago. Two I-told-you-so’s come to mind:

(1) I told him, many times, that he would eventually bust the lock

(2) More seriously, I told myself, also many times, that the lock didn’t feel too healthy, and I should do something about it before it broke

As with all I-told-you-so’s, repetition did not help – eventually we become deaf to them.

My son had been out all day with his mother, a day which included his swimming coaching session and a visit to a shopping centre, and his tea was being prepared when suddenly he was trapped in his room. The door handle turned, after a fashion, but the lock was unmoved, so to speak. The door-handle turns a square-section bar which fits into a square socket in a cam, which turns the thingme that pushes that wassname that pulls the how’s-your-father that unfastens the door. After we had assured him that we would have him out of there in no time, I removed the brass handle from the outside, took out the square bar and found the extent of the disaster – the alloy rotating cam into which the bar fits had disintegrated – shattered into fragments. There was nothing left to rotate or poke or fiddle with to get the door open.

So you stop, and you think for a moment – there is always a way, if you just think. I was, of course, thinking of solutions which stopped short of breaking windows, removing door frames, cutting through wood panels etc. No good. If we had planned to trap him forever in his room, we could not have done such a perfect job. Since the door was obviously not going to open, the first priority was to get my son out of there so that we could produce a permanent fix with less immediate panic. “Remove any threat to life” – very sound.

The window – he can climb out of the window! Well, the windows have security bolts, and there is no key for the bolts in that room. OK – if he unlatches the main window catch, the window will move about three-quarters of an inch, which would be enough to get a key through if I climb up a ladder and poke it through.

No good. The windows have expanded with the humidity, and are stuck fast, we would have to do a lot of damage to lever them open, even a bit.

We can slide the security bolt key under the door! – no – the floor is tiled, the door is a heavy, wooden panel door and the gap underneath it is tighter and neater than you would expect to see outside of an engineering facility. You could just about slide through a piece of paper bearing a message of hope.

OK – we can break the window if we have to – if we have to get him out, that is a possibility. Not really – this is double-glazed, toughened glass – anything short of a sledgehammer is not going to do much damage, and we really don’t want broken glass flying around the den.

Now I have a long-standing friendship with Ed, who is a joiner and (wait for it) locksmith! Ed has helped me out of a few holes in the past, and I have his phone number on the wall behind my desk. Excellent! The final, cruel, show-closing snag is that Ed had a serious fall from a fire-escape last year, broke his spine in a couple of places, and – last I heard – is recovering slowly (with titanium bolts inserted) and is unlikely to work again in the foreseeable future.

The perfect trap. We reassured my son that we would have him out as soon as possible, and he happily settled down to enjoy the remainder of his DVD.

It was worth a shot – I rang Ed’s home. His wife told me that Ed had started doing some light jobs again, but that he was out in his van – I might get him on his mobile. It was now 6pm. I rang him on his mobile and – a rarity – actually got to speak to him. Normally in the past I have merely got to develop my relationship with his answering service.    

Suddenly things started going right – very like the old children’s story about the old woman who couldn’t get her pig to jump over a style until a whole string of other prerequisites fell into place. Ed agreed to come around straight away, and duly turned up within 25 minutes. I had spent the 25 minutes steeling myself for the mess and expense of what was obviously going to be a bit of a demolition job.

"Dog! Dog! Bite pig!"
Ed arrived, took out a single sheet of flexible silicone, wiggled it round the angle between the door and the frame, and bingo – the door opened. No fuss, no damage, no drama. I would not have believed it was possible. My son had to interrupt his DVD and get his meal after all, and I paid Ed for his time and the call-out, and subjected him to an embarrassing amount of thanks.

Next morning I went off to a wholesale hardware store in Edinburgh and bought nine (that’s NINE) lock inserts, same size and spec as the broken one – the locks are almost all the same type in our house, and they were all installed ten years ago. I am now going to work my way around the place systematically and replace any unit that is showing signs of wear or not turning properly. I have done two so far – I’ll work away at them. It’s fiddly and sometimes surprisingly mucky, but I’ll keep at it. I’ve also ordered some silicone sheet (in passing, I find it slightly alarming that you can purchase burglar’s kit on Amazon, but I have no complaints) and two types of lock lubricant.

Panic over – on a world scale, this was an insignificant event, and it was solved quickly and simply in the end, but just for a little while I couldn’t see what we were going to do. We watch disaster movies about earthquakes, we hear on the news about tidal waves and the chances of an asteroid hitting Philadelphia, but it comes to something when you suddenly can’t open one of your doors, and a member of your family is trapped. I, for one, have to learn to cope with the small stuff rather better.

My grandma would have told us, "Don't wait until it's raining before you fix the roof". She was a smart woman, my grandma - infuriating, but smart.


  1. It is impossible to plan for everything that can go awry, and impossibler yet to plan for every way a thirteen year old lad can get himself into strife. The only dead-set reliable plan is to know a bloke, preferably a diverse range of blokes one can call in a pinch. Some of these should be blokes with tools, weapons, vehicles, camping equipment, etc. Others should be blokes in various trades (practicing or retired). One should be a bloke who always has whiskey in the house. So you were in fact fully prepared for the disaster when it came. Well done that man.

    1. Thank you - I guess I was a bit lucky, but maybe I deserved it.

  2. Well said Steve! and thank goodness the house wasn't on fire. etc. Good thing I haven't read this just before bedtime.

  3. Earlier this year I unstuck the front door, which had been sticking, lately. Very good, but some days later, happened to go outside for something or other. I was only a moment, and then suddenly I realised.... The door had for some reason (probably the same reason it had been sticking) taken to swinging to. I was just too late to prevent the ominous click.

    No key outside, no windows open. Had to be a break in. Most of my windows are double glazed, but the glass panels on the front door aren't. So I grabs a half-brick and I'm about to smash the panel beside the lock, when at last, I got a very belated flash of integellence, eh.

    The front door is flanked by a king of 'half-width door beside it, with glass panels in the same way. Why not break through that way?
    1.Lock just as easy to come at.
    2.Smaller piece of glass to break.and therefore less mess, and (I hope) less expensive to repair;
    3.have something the right size temporarily to patch the thing.

    It would have been kinda nice for brain to have begun functioning before leaving the door to slam shut, but... it could have been worse.

    'Expect the unexpected' is of course an oxymoron, but like all such things, makes its point very well.

    1. The sinking feeling when the front door clicks shut is not good - I often have to double-check that the keys are, in fact, in the pocket i just put them in - they almost always are, but the time taken for the check is a bit tense.

      In theory we have a spare key hidden outside the house - sometimes it has been resorted to, but there is some strange law of Nature which prevents it being put back promptly. A few years ago I managed to lock myself out the same day my wife and son had gone to stay with relatives in the South of England for a few days - nothing else for it - I bought some socks and spare undies and a razor and toothbrush, and went to stay with my mother until they came home. I was awfully pleased that my wife had her key, I can tell you.

      Which reminds me, must check the extra fall-back key is in its proper place...

  4. We used to own and run an agency letting holiday properties at the seaside. On one occasions I was called out by an hesterical bloke who was locked in one of the cottages because the Yale lock had broken from the inside. I was there within about 10 minutes and opened the door ok from the outside. He ranted at me about fire safety and how he and his wife could all have been burned to death if there was a fire (I think he even said that he was/had been a fireman). I apologised of course and then showed him the back door (which being a fisherman's cottage was only about 10 foot from the front door) which opened easily with no fuss. I think he had got so worked up with the panic of the situation that he had failed to look behind him!

    1. Panic is a dangerous thing, no doubt - even when things are not life-threatening, panic still causes a lot of confusion. Your tenant at the cottage would have been extremely unfortunate to have a fire simultaneous with the lock breaking, though I realise that's not the point - and we know (or at least I suspect) that Sod's Law is always looking for opportunities like that.

      We were lucky this incident at our house didn't happen two years ago, or my son would have had screaming hysterics, which certainly would not have helped the concentration. He seems to have grown out of this - maybe he will grow out of opening doors with a single, mighty blow.

    2. Except for the fridge (door) if mine are anything to go by... by the by, i'm astonished*, but you were right!


      * not astonished you were right, but that you could get them... :o)