We were asked to write about something that was locked.
I've used two incidents that actually happened to me, though they didn't happen at the same time as each other as the story suggests. I've exaggerated the call centre incident a little bit, though not as much as you might imagine. The story of what happened when the AA man turned up is not exaggerated at all. To this day I remain amazed at what he achieved and how he achieved it...
I stared through the driver side window of my car. There were my keys, dangling from the ignition. All the doors, of course, were locked up as tight as a drum, and the keys were sneering at me and thumbing their noses.
"Ooops!" I said, feeling mildly embarrassed.
"What you need now," said Robin, "is a coat hanger. I'm a bit out of practice, but once upon a time I was a dab hand with a coat hanger. The stories I could tell..."
"Unfortunately," I said, "I emptied all the coat hangers out of my pockets this morning before we left the hotel. I think I must have accidentally put a breeding pair in my trousers. They had several litters overnight, and my trousers were starting to look terribly angular. I couldn't walk in a straight line any more. It was getting quite ridiculous."
"I thought you were clanking a bit yesterday," said Robin. "So can I take it then that you don't have any coat hangers at all now?".
"Not a single one," I said. "I hung them all back up in the wardrobe and closed the door to give them some privacy."
"That's a shame," said Robin. "Oh well, I suppose there's nothing else for it. You'll have to call the AA. I'm sure they'll be able to help. And they probably won't laugh at you at all, though they may well smirk a lot. They are bound to have access to a coat hanger. I'm sure it's a standard item of AA tool box equipment."
I got my cell phone out of my pocket and rang the AA. "Hello," said a charming lady with a thick Indian accent. I explained my predicament to her.
"Oh dear," she said sympathetically. "Where is the car now?"
"It's in the car park at the Whakarewarewa thermal area," I said. There was a long, loud silence.
"Where?" asked the Indian lady. "How do you say that word? Say it again."
"Whakarewarewa," I said obligingly.
"How do you spell that?" she asked.
I spelled it out to her slowly, letter by letter with long pauses between each one, but she still managed to lose track half way through. "Wokaweweaa?" she asked hesitantly.
"No," I said. "Whakarewarewa." I spelled it out again. It didn't help.
"Wokawoka?" she asked. "Isn't that in Australia?"
"No," I said. "It's in New Zealand. Near Rotorua. Just contact the AA office in Rotorua and say Whakarewarewa. They'll know where it is."
"My computer doesn't recognise the name," she said, "and I can't find it on my map."
"What can't you find?" I asked. "Whakarewarewa or Rotorua?"
"Neither," she said. "There's nothing even remotely resembling either of those names anywhere in Australia."
"I'm not in Australia," I said. "I'm in New Zealand."
"Where's New Zealand?" she asked. "How do you spell that?"
Lather, rinse, repeat...
We went round the loop several times and her attempts to spell Whakarewarewa became increasingly esoteric. Both she and her computer continued to insist that there was no such place. Eventually, probably in a desperate attempt to get me off the phone, she promised that an AA officer really would be with me shortly. Given her spelling and geographical problems, I was dubious about that promise, but rather to my surprise, an AA man did actually turn up an hour or so later.
"Where's your coat hanger?" Robin asked him. "I can't see any sign of it."
The AA man gave Robin a puzzled look, then he turned to me and said, "I'd have been here half an hour ago if you hadn't told the call centre lady that you were in Australia. That caused a lot of confusion. Apparently she reported your problem to our Sydney office and told them you were in Wagga Wagga. It took them ages to figure out what was really going on and where you actually were. Then they cut out the middle man and contacted us directly."
"I didn't tell her I was in Australia," I protested. "She made that up herself. I told her exactly where I was, but she couldn't find it on her map. Where on Earth is Wagga Wagga?"
He shrugged. "It's almost exactly half way between Sydney and Melbourne," he said. "Anyway, never mind, I'm here now. Can I see your AA membership card, please?"
I put my hand in my pocket to get my wallet. By the time I'd got my membership card out of the wallet, my car door was wide open. The AA man reached inside the car, retrieved my keys, and handed them to me. "Don't bother with the membership card," said the AA man. "I just wanted you to look away so you didn't see what I was doing."
"Are all car doors that easy to open?" I asked.
"Yes," he said. "I really can't understand why car thieves always smash the windows to get in. It's so much quicker and quieter to do what I just did and it has the big advantage that you don't have to sit on shards of broken glass when you drive away from the scene of the crime."
"So exactly what did you do to get the door open?" I asked.
He winked, got back in his van and drove away.
"Did you see what he did?" I asked Robin.
"No, I didn't," said Robin. "I blinked and missed the whole thing. But he didn't use a coat hanger, I'm absolutely certain of that."
"Probably he's not allowed to use a coat hanger because they are a protected species during the breeding season," I said.