It could have happened to anyone.
A couple of days ago, I left the office mid-morning to head to the station and then on into London for the rest of the day. I had only one thing left to do on my way to the car, which was to shove some product packaging into the skip that sits on the northern end of our little car park. A simple enough process, you would think, as it involved only lifting the plastic cover of the skip with my left hand, and then throwing the rubbish in with my left fast enough to beat the lid coming back down again. I’ve done this countless times; indeed, it is one of the few things at which I would call myself relatively expert.
The problem came a second or two later, when I got to the car and discovered that I hadn’t got the keys. Nor had my pockets. Nor had my desk. Nor had anyone else. And then I remembered that I had been holding them in my right hand with the boxes, so as to release my left hand, which already had my glasses in it, to lift the lid.
Which meant that my keys could only be in the skip.
At this point, a man would wish for only two things, of which the first is privacy and the second is a lucky break with the fulness of the skip, and the finishing position of the keys. Due to a busy Monday morning on the one hand, and a skip half full of building rubble, I had neither. A man would also wish to be wearing jeans, or casual clothes at least, rather than a suit for a day in London.
The human decision making process is a funny old thing. There were any number of people knocking around in old work clothes who could have, and probably would have, helped, but I found early on in the process that I didn’t want to share the results of my incompetence with anyone. Middle age is boring like that. The option of quietly abandoning them to some distant landfill site and getting my spare set was nullified by the fact that the bunch contained car, office and home keys. It was simply too much of security risk.
The 58 year old human body is a funny old thing, too. It is neither old nor young, neither flexible nor stiff; rather it is a sinewy mass of contradictions and surprises. It hates the idea of being thought too decrepit to climb into a skip to retrieve some keys, just as much as it hates the idea of actually doing it. And, if you are in a suit, and in a 58 year old body, the modern medium sized skip is not designed for an easy entry, still less a discreet one. There are angles, bolts and overhangs that complicate an already fraught procedure, and require activities like swinging and vaulting, when the participating body is suited for meetings, and dressed for sitting in a railway carriage doing a sudoku.
But the human spirit is a funny old thing, as well. Pride trumps practicality, which trumps reason, and soon the 58 year old body that hosted that spirit was clambering over the lip of the skip, and swinging its left leg inside. From the user’s perspective, it felt athletic and heroic; for the spectator it would probably have looked like Winnie the Pooh stuck in Rabbit’s hole. Half way through the process, someone walked past, and I froze, as I might have frozen on some military exercise on Salisbury Plain 35 years ago. Nothing gives away something more than movement, and they continued on their way.
Bizarrely, once I was in the skip, I felt completely safe. No one could see me, and I was at leisure to lift bits and pieces up until I had got the bunch of keys back in my hand. Whatever happened now, my day had not been a complete failure. Whatever happened now, I had access to my car, office and home. Someone walked out of the office, though, and had a 3 minute conversation about 3 metres from my open skip with their other half about whether £30 was too much to spend on Granny for Christmas. I agonised as to whether to give a cheery ‘hello’ whilst confidently climbing out, or to freeze, and chose the latter.
Eventually, it was decided that £30 was, indeed, too much to spend on Granny, the conversation came to an end, and I was able to start the process of climbing back out. Whilst technically easier than climbing in, as I was working with a slope rather than an overhang, it was much, much worse in PR terms, as a team from the neighbouring agricultural supplies business were reversing a large low loader towards the skip, prior to putting a tractor on to it. The exact starting location of the tractor was about 4 foot from the exact finishing location of my right leg. Cigarettes were lit, pleasantries were exchanged and it was explained that the process was likely to be longer than usual as Graham was finishing an important phone call. I cursed Graham roundly and, by extension, the person who had called him. Haslemere Station was 20 minutes away with limited parking, and there were now 29 minutes till my train. I was on a tight schedule, and messing around in the skip was not an option.
The human decision making process may be a funny old thing, but necessity is also the mother of invention. And of activity, for that matter. Once I knew about Graham’s lengthy call, I had no option but to start climbing out of the skip openly and deliberately, and in the full view of his colleagues. I did so, and jumped gingerly down from the lip of the skip back onto the welcoming tarmac of the carpark.
‘You all right, mate?’ asked the tractor driver.
‘Fine,’ I said. ‘Just getting some stuff done. But thanks.’