Front Door
I was excited to be having a rehearsal with a band called Sweet Tooth. I had heard the band’s music over a year ago, met Gavin, the evil genius behind the multi-arts music project that we all hoped the band would become, and we’d all met up once at the apartment of Fleur, the singer. Her flat was on about the 19th floor of a Victorian townhouse in a terrace in Kensington; Fleur had made and served us lemon drizzle cake and tea – this was the sort of band I wanted to be in: one that rehearses in upmarket London suburbs and has fresh homemade cakes as a rider. Also, Fleur’s crystal-clear, dessert-wine voice made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. Anyway, after sinking a few beers with Gavin last spring, and this successful living room audition with a snare drum eight months later, we were getting together in a bigger space to make louder noises, and we were doing it with a bassist. I had helped recruit Hugh to the band, and was quite proud of myself because Hugh is very good indeed. He’s solid, grooving, highly capable, and interested in just about all music that sounds and feels good. Hugh and I were the power behind (or underneath) the panto we had just finished in Chelmsford.

Sweet Tooth always sounded fantastic on record, and getting together in a room to make loud sounds worked out pretty well too. There was no cake, but there was a free space in a kind of bunker underneath the Wigmore Hall. To access the rehearsal space, one had to head down the steps to the WH restaurant. At the foot of the stairs one carried on past the restaurant, along an exposed passage, through a locked doorway, and then through another locked doorway on the left. Once inside another short passageway, a further door greeted us, leading to the small, rectangular room that was a fully-equipped rehearsal space for a band. It had no toilets, refreshments, or plumbing of any sort. It did, though, have a dehumidifier, and a climate that rendered this equipment essential. There was a crude hole in the wall, letting in the fragrant Bloomsbury air. Something (quite a lot, actually) about this space made me feel as though we shouldn’t be using it. For instance, all the gear in there (amps, PA, drum kit, mic stands etc.) belonged to another band, and we were rocking out beneath the hallowed Wigmore Hall, a venue famous for chamber recitals and quiet, tasteful classical music. Me beating the crap out of a drum kit to pop songs with bass and guitar pumping out over me in such close proximity to one of the holiest sites of Western Art Music made me nervous. I’d felt sure we’d be found out and told to leave, even though we’d got keys from an architect mate of the band who worked for the City of Westminster whose other friends used the place several times a week. It would be like all those times at music college that I’d been moved on from one practice room or rehearsal space to another, and asked to play my drums somewhere else or a lot more quietly.

We set up, got the band sounding at least a bit like the recordings we hoped to emulate, and worked on a handful of songs. It was nearly midnight when we finished, which felt nice – we must have been working hard, as we’d been in there since 8 pm. Gavin had kindly driven me to the rehearsal, and he equally kindly drove me back to his house where I’d left my car. I loaded it, and drove home. As I approached the house in the car, I had the strong and unwelcome feeling that I had left a key in the lock of the house, on the inside. With most locking systems, this would mean that the door could not be locked from the outside – a handy caution against absent-minded types leaving, for instance, a key inserted on the inside of the door. We were not so fortunate, though, and had a locking system that allowed a person to 1) leave a key in the lock, 2) close and lock the door (done by lifting the handle ‘til it clicked), and 3) no longer be able to open the door from the side on which there was no key inserted in the lock. I unloaded the car, piled up my cases by the door, and, with the merest whiff of optimism, tried the lock. Nothing. O goody.

It was 1.30 in the morning, and it seemed unlikely that Liz would respond well to being woken by a phone call from a stupid, tired man withering on our shared doorstep. But I called her anyway. The phone rang and rang. Hoping against hope that this was because she was ‘simply’ asleep and had not left the phone downstairs, I tried again. Same result. Becoming more confident that I not only could, but possibly actually should, wake my wife (even understanding that this almost certainly meant also waking the baby since we all shared a bed at present), I tried the landline. Again nothing. I tried the cell phone once more, mentally rehearsing humble apologies (and hoping these wouldn’t sound too pathetic or indignant). The temperature outside the car when I’d left it just down the road had been -2 degrees Celsius, which is very cold for an Englishman, especially one without a coat. It was 1.30 am and I needed to be up again at 5.30 for work (I could push it to 6.00). Discretion being the better part of valour (and cowardice being the easier part of persistence), I retired with my cases and thin hoody to the car, turned the engine on for a couple of minutes to warm up a little, and laid down on the back seat to sleep.

As I laid there awake, thinking about how the privacy glass would hopefully protect me from prowling lunatics looking for sleeping husbands to stab on back seats in quiet closes in silent suburbs, I remembered that Liz had a thing about me sleeping in the car – she hated it. I think she feared I would be attacked, which was possibly why I was thinking about it now. I don’t think I was genuinely worried, but thinking about how worried I maybe should be was having much the same effect as being for-real worried. Liz had even let me sleep in her bed in her apartment once, before we moved in together, after a big argument the outcome of which had been that I should go home without delay. When I said that I could not immediately go home as I was a little drunk so would need to sleep in the car, she immediately U-turned and let me stay. But waking the baby at 2 in the morning? I should stay in the car. Fleetingly it seemed ironic that my wife who was so opposed to me doing what I was, against my will, doing less than 100 yards form her, was unwilling or unable to pick up her phone. But there wasn’t really any irony. I was a victim of my own stupidity. I was so tired. And felt very sorry for myself.

I felt certain I’d fall asleep soon, but each time I nearly nodded off I noticed that my feet were increasingly cold. The car was also not quite wide enough to lie down in (I had, owing to Liz’s paranoia or mine – I couldn’t tell) opted not to sleep, reclined, on the front seat, and so was squashed in the back, semi-stretched, between the two back doors. I had taken the headrest from one of the passenger backseats and was using it as a pillow (very clever, I thought, feeling exactly like I was surviving in the wild, despite the fact I was just a middle class fool asleep on the street of a north London suburb). But it was too big, too small, had all the wrong angles, and was a massive hindrance to my attempts at peaceful slumber. Then my arms were cold, then my legs, back and whole upper body. I thought that if I could just nod off, then I would at least lose consciousness before freezing to death. The melodrama unfolding in my imagination was alarming and kept me awake, but I was, I reassured myself, very tired. After two hours of not dropping off at all and just getting more and more cold, I walked in trepidation back to the house, to try again to wake Liz in the hope that she would not be righteously pissed off at me for getting her up and (I feared) waking the baby, and goodness knows what else. I rang Liz from the front door step, she came downstairs quickly and was very sympathetic. She could see I was miserable, shivering and pathetic, and she was even fine about it the next morning. I have an amazingly tolerant wife.

A few days later, on a Sunday morning, I woke up on the sofa in the living room. This always surprises and disappoints me in equal measure, since I intend every night to sleep upstairs with Liz in our bed. Groggy and a bit annoyed, but not wanting to get into bed and wake up my wife at 7-whatever-it-was, I went to the kitchen and made some coffee. While it was brewing I decided to make myself useful by taking the recycling out to the big blue-lidded bin in the front garden. But I couldn’t unlock the front door. I was briefly stumped – had someone changed the locks while Liz and I slept? Or – more likely – had I left my keys in the door on the outside? Realizing the almost-certainty of the latter being the case (I rummaged in trousers and jackets and bags, and couldn’t see my keys anywhere inside the house…), I weighed my options for getting to the other side of the door. Going via the back garden would be muddy and would – sans keys – mean jumping the back gate and walking past four neighbours’ houses. In a dressing gown and muddy slippers (I was determined not to have to get changed). The only other viable choice was to attempt to climb through a window. Bracing myself for a pile of broken glass, a visit from the neighbours or Liz, or a Winnie-the-Pooh-style getting-stuck incident with onlookers and rations of honey as I attempted to squeeze my frame out of an aperture really only intend to admit light and air, I managed with relative ease to exit the building without being molested by any of the local dogs or (that I could see) falling prey to the gaze of judgmental curtain-twitching elder residents of the close. My keys were indeed in the lock, so I just let myself right back into the house, grateful (to whom, I could not say) that no one else had taken this opportunity to avail themselves of the free access to my family and all our worldly possessions. Liz remained asleep and none-the-wiser. She didn’t need to know about this one. I took out the recycling.

With renewed determination not to leave any keys in any of our locks at any time, so as to avoid (not) sleeping in the car and making all our stuff available to Enfield’s gangs of opportunist thieves (assuming there were any such things), with Liz I took a welcome break from the madness of London and flew to the US to spend a week with her family on Long Island. I came home a week earlier than my girls to begin work on the Chelmsford pantomime. My flight came in on time, I made the first rehearsal, and was good to go with time to spare. I even managed a second breakfast before we had to play any music.

All was going swimmingly with the pantomime. The band was gelling well; the sound man was efficient and nice and assured us that we sounded incredible; the producer was very happy with the band, and repeatedly told us so in person and through the MD; the musical director was on top form, and very easy to work with, musically and personally; I was managing to supervise dissertation students in London, assess and feed back on work from students in Boston, teach in Kilburn, and arrange cover for the lessons I couldn’t make because the teaching timetable had been concocted long after I’d accepted the job drumming for Cinderella. Even parking for shows was easier this year – Chelmsford City Council had installed pay-by-phone facilities in their car parks, which meant I had only to spend about twenty seconds poking at an app on my smartphone, instead of ensuring – as I had had to the previous year – that there was sufficient small change in my pockets to feed the meter (this involved having to find time to buy something small and unnecessary from a newsagents every day before heading from teaching to panto, handing over a tenner to buy a pack of gum). I much preferred the new way.

A week into the run I left the house as normal, and even before the door had closed (but too late to stop it), I realised I had, like a total idiot moron, gone and left the key in the front door AGAIN. The traffic on the way to Kilburn was bad, which afforded me the opportunity to do some research on the subject of locks, keys, breaking into one’s own home, etc. It seemed possible (not entirely probable, but I convinced myself) that I would be able to get into the house using some galvanized wire, a torch, and about five minutes. Proudly purchasing my burglary kit from the convenient hardware store a few doors down the road from the college, I spent the rest of the day feeling excited and smug. I played the panto, drove home, shaped some of the galvanized wire, and spent half an hour in sub-zero temperatures poking and prodding at my letter box, hurting myself and never once managing to pull the handle. Gutted, but also somewhat comforted by my inevitable ineptitude, I called a locksmith. He sent a guy ‘round, and the chap checked my ID to see that I lived here, whipped out a massive pair of pliers, snapped the lock off and out of the door, replaced it, charged hundreds of pounds, and left me with two new keys to my home (along with the detritus of now-useless keys that Liz and I had distributed among friends and family for use in the case of emergency). I needed a glass of wine. I drank three. The following morning I drove to London Heathrow to meet my wife and infant daughter from Terminal 3. Even before I had a chance to tell Liz I’d had the locks changed, Esme gave me a massive, unfettered joyful smile. Made my day.

Then I nearly had a heart attack when it turned out that the show’s production schedule was exactly as printed, rather than as I had imagined when I’d skim-read it and accepted the job months earlier. Every weekday there was a performance at 10.30 AM and another at 2.30 PM; I had scheduled my teaching around my misreading of the schedule – I’d believed that there were 2.30 and 6.30 shows. To say that this caused havoc at college would be an overstatement, but only slightly. I had to rearrange classes, find teachers, cancel lessons, and make humble apologies to all and sundry; and when I turned up, after a 12-hour work-day and a two-hour drive, to the tail end of the staff Christmas party because I basically had to, I was greeted by my boss with sarcastic remarks about not having time to teach, but finding ample time to get drunk. I had one glass of wine, and drove home to a restless, jetlagged baby, a breastfeeding wife, and very little sleep, to do most of this all over again the next morning.



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