A year ago our garage was broken into and our car was stolen and trashed. Ever since then the Robson rituals for entering the garage and driving the new car to exotic destinations like the corner shop to buy a loaf of bread have become more than a little complex.
The first stage involves approaching the garage clutching a key whose size and shape suggests that it is best suited for unlocking a medieval portcullis. However that suggestion is very far from the truth. The key actually operates a primitive and rather rusty mortice lock on the side door of the garage. Once this door is unlocked and opened, the burglar alarm sensors detect the motion and the alarm begins a shrill whistle of warning. I now have about 30 seconds to remember my secret code and punch it into the keypad that is just to the left of the door. If I fail to remember the code in time, hideous klaxons split the welkin and drone missiles armed with atomic warheads take off from a secret base in Antarctica and zero in on the malefactors who stand paralysed with horror beneath the fearsome forces of my automated Jedi mind control rays.
Once I have turned the alarm off without releasing Armageddon onto an unsuspecting world I usually discover that I am in possession of the magic gadget for unlocking the car (because it is attached to my key ring and is therefore hard to forget), but I don't have the magic gadget for opening the garage door (because it isn't attached to my key ring and is therefore extremely easy to forget). So I head back to the house to get it.
"Don't worry," I yell to Robin as I re-enter the house. "I just forgot my thingy again." A year ago, Robin went out to the garage and came back into the house a few seconds later to tell me that the garage had been broken into and the car was missing. Ever since then, we've made a point of reassuring each other if we have to come back to the house shortly after leaving it. Some traumatic events leave permanent scars on the psyche.
"Grmmhufflmmpphhhh," says Robin in acknowledgement as she burrows back down into the warm, dark nest she's created in the bed.
"Grmmhufflmmpphhhh," I call cheerfully to her as I retrieve the magic gadget and head back out to the garage. I now have two magic gadgets, one in each hand. When I press the appropriate buttons, the one in my right hand will open the car door and the one in my left hand will open the garage door. I begin to quiver with existential dread as dark choices fan out before me.
Making a decision, I press the button on my right hand magic gadget. The car doors unlock with a heavy thunk. The car flashes its indicators a couple of time to say hello. I open the driver side door and get in. I strap on my seat belt, adjust the mirror, turn on the engine and then press the green button on the left hand magic thingy I retrieved from the house. In my rear view mirror I watch the garage door rise majestically. When I judge that it is high enough, I reverse the car out into the road.
This is a procedure fraught with peril. To my right the road curves away from me out of sight and therefore I have absolutely no idea whether or not the local hoon is barrelling down it at his usual 100kph on the wrong side of the road. If he is, he will undoubtedly smash into my car before either of us even realises that I am in his way. The reason that he drives on the wrong side of the road is because he always takes the corner far too fast. Driving on the wrong side straightens his path a little and allows him to get round the bendy bit without losing control. I once saw him drive round the corner on the proper side of the road. Inexorable centrifugal forces pulled him off the tarmac and smashed him into the grassy knoll that lurks in wait for such foolishness. He scratched his paintwork and dented a wing. Doubtless that was very painful and he has no wish to repeat it. So he has hit upon the simple solution of using the wrong side of the road instead. From his point of view, it works extremely well. Other road users are less convinced of the brilliance of his strategy.
Assuming that I get my car safely into the road, I now have a synchronisation problem to attend to. With one hand I have to change from reverse into drive, with another hand I have to steer the car and with my gripping hand I have to press the green button on the gadget again so that the garage door will close itself. Usually I manage to get all this right, but sometimes my concentration slips and I end up in neutral which means that the engine revs a lot but no forward motion is achieved. Of course this gives me even more time to check that the garage door is closing properly, so on balance it is probably a win-win situation. If it happens, I always pretend that I meant to do it. Then I lick myself very carefully, and rub my moist paws behind my ears. I purr a lot as well.
Once I feel that the world is convinced by my pretence, I find the proper gear and set off into the wild blue yonder, heading out on the highway, looking for adventure, for whatever comes my way. I am the steppenwolf driving to the magic theatre. Actually, I'm just going to the supermarket to do the weekly shop, but I'm a romantic at heart...
Returning home reverses the ritual. I drive up the street, slowing down as I get closer to my house. Once I pass the last turn off, I signal left, much to the puzzlement of the man who is tailgating me because he knows there are no more side streets to turn into. I go slower and slower and he goes slower and slower. The slower we go, the more angry he gets. I can see gestures in my rear view mirror. They are not friendly ones.
As soon as I have a clear line of sight to the garage, I pick up the magic gadget and press the green button. The garage door begins to open. Speedy reactions are now of the essence. I put down the gadget and turn the steering wheel hard left. The car swings towards the garage. With luck the door will be high enough not to impede my dramatic entrance and hopefully I won't have misjudged the angle and started heading for the edge of the door instead of the centre. This last is very embarrassing it requires much reversal and re-alignment of the car together with a lot more washing behind my ears and possibly even a good licking of my bottom.
As I leave the road, my tailgater hoots his horn and accelerates wildly round the bend. I hope he'll meet the hoon coming the other way but that has never happened. Perhaps he is the hoon.
I get out of the car, close the garage door and watch the burglar alarm flash angry red lights at me. It dearly wants to tear me limb from limb, but it isn't turned on yet, so it can't. I lock the car and stand patiently by the small side door, portcullis key in hand. Eventually the red lights stop flashing and a green tick mark illuminates on the control panel. Moving slowly so as not to invoke the sensors again, I punch in the secret code. Sinister beeps start to sound as the atomic weapons arm themselves and the Jedi mind control rays begin creeping from their cabinets. I have thirty seconds to leave the garage and lock the door behind me. Usually I make it in plenty of time.
I go back into the house.
"Good news!" I call to Robin.
"Grmmhufflmmpphhhh?" she asks. Fortunately I speak Robin fluently. This time she is saying, "What's the good news?"
And so things stood until the curious events which took place on one particular Sunday not so very long ago...Eerie music and wavy lines...Wavy music and eerie lines...
We were just sitting down to dinner. In our house sitting down to dinner means sitting in the lounge with our plates on our knees so that we can watch the television while we eat. That means we don't have to talk to each other that's very important. Eating and talking at the same time is not polite. But we don't want embarrassing silences either, so we watch the television to fill in the gaps. Some conversation does occasionally take place of course. Groans of pleasure as the food is chewed and swallowed are always allowed as is yelling at any cat who takes a sudden sly interest in the knee that balances the plate.
Suddenly there was a banging on the front door. Rather resentfully, I put down my dinner plate and went to answer it. There was my next door neighbour Paul dressed in plate armour and brandishing a huge sword.
"Let me at the bastards!" he yelled.
In the background I could hear the burglar alarm in the garage howling away and in the distance was the faint sound of ballistic missiles on their way from the south pole.
"Oh," I said. "the burglar alarm in the garage is going off. I hadn't realised. I think the TV must be on too loud."
"I'm surprised you didn't notice," said Paul. "I heard it loud and clear and so I came dashing round immediately to see if you were OK. Your garage door is wide open. That's what must have set it off."
"Oh no!" I was horrified. "Is the car still there?"
"Yes," said Paul. "Whoever broke in must have got scared and probably ran away as soon as the alarm went off."
We went down to the garage and I turned the alarm off. Sure enough, the door was wide open but the car was still sitting safely inside. I closed the garage door and Paul and I examined it carefully. There was no sign of damage to the door or to the car. Whoever had broken in appeared to have done it without effort.
"I wonder if someone has a door opener that works on the same frequency as mine?" I said.
Paul was dubious. "I suppose it's possible," be said, "but the odds against it are astronomical. That's why these things are considered to be so safe."
I rechecked the door one last time, set the burglar alarm and went back to my dinner. I was just swallowing the last mouthful when Paul banged on the door again.
"Something's going on," he said. "The rat bastards have come back."
Sure enough, the garage door was wide open and the alarm was howling. I closed the door and reset the alarm. As before, there was no sign of damage.
"This is all very puzzling," I said. "Did you notice anyone running away as you came over?"
"Not a soul," he said.
We went back to our respective houses and I went into the bedroom to put the garage door opener back into my sock drawer, which is where it normally lives. As I put it away, I noticed that the spare garage door opener was sitting in plain view on the top of my dressing table. Oh...
Light bulbs went on in my head. It was time for an experiment. Without moving the door opener from its position on the dressing table, I reached over and pressed its green button. Sure enough the garage door opened and the burglar alarm started to howl.
I raced out to the garage just as Paul arrived.
"Where are they?" he yelled. "Let me at them. I need to kill somebody!"
I turned the alarm off and closed the door.
"I've got it sussed," I said. "The spare opener is lying on top of the dressing table. I just pushed the button on it and despite the fact that the gadget was deep inside the house and also pointing directly away from the garage, the garage door still managed to pick up the signal and open wide."
"Wow!" said Paul, impressed. "That's one heck of a strong signal. I didn't know those things worked backwards and through walls."
"Well it seems that they do," I said. "It took me by surprise as well."
"But how did the button get pressed in the first place. Weren't you and Robin both in the lounge?"
"Yes we were," I told him. "But there's a very innocent looking cat fast asleep on the bed at the moment. I suspect that he must have walked over the garage door opener on his way to his nap."
"Ah yes," said Paul. "That sounds exactly like the sort of thing that a cat would do."
"From now on I'm going to keep the spare opener out of sight in my sock drawer along with the usual one." I told him.
"Sounds like a good idea," said Paul.
So that's what I did, and the garage door has behaved perfectly ever since.