How To Break Into Your Own Flat

lodging ediburgh scotland

Locked Door, No Keys, No Phone

A tumble of feelings compress into a fraction of a second: disbelief and horror, among them.   I had been inside writing all day and finally decided to dash to the lobby to get a bottle of water from Sainsbury’s.   Because of the close nature of my errand I had not bothered to bring my phone, purse or jacket.  I stood at my door incredulously, holding my wallet and nothing else. I had locked myself out of my flat.

After the obligatory check through all my pockets, as if perhaps I had it all wrong and had not locked myself out after all, I faced reality and pressed my neighbor’s doorbell.

I could hear the television going and someone moving about in the kitchen.  The door opened, revealing a short Indian woman in her late twenties, who looked up at me blankly and offered no greeting.  This must be how Jehovah’s Witnesses feel.  Only they at least have a buddy, a co-Witness with them when they make their uninvited appearances.

The Proposition

“I’m your neighbor, Fabulous,” (subtext: I come in peace, I am unarmed).  “I locked my keys in my apartment and I was hoping I might climb through your window to get back in.  I left my window open, and it’s right next to yours.”

Never mind that we were in a high rise glass and steel building.  Crazy, yes.  But it was the most immediate solution, assuming there was a ledge and something to grip that would allow me to tightrope the 10 feet from her window to mine.

I managed to say all of  this in a very calm and certain voice.  As if scaling the side of a high rise building was a perfectly reasonable thing to do.  As if I did it all the time.

During this brief introduction and daredevil proposal, my neighbor persisted in the frozen attitude that long-time urbanites don as they assess unplanned encounters with strangers making requests.  She had not uttered one word, but I was fairly certain she was not from Edinburgh.  I paused and met her gaze with as much normalcy and calm as I could manage.

“Oh, of course,” she said, emerging from her complex risk calculation, and opened the door wide, “Please come in.” By her accent I was right. A Londoner.

Plan A: Hunt For The Spare Key

Her apartment was a smaller version of my own, and luckily she was renting it from the same letting agent and had the emergency phone numbers on hand.  I tried the numbers several times, but they dumped me immediately into voice mail.

My neighbor, who had not yet offered her name, suggested we go down to Sainsbury’s to get some wine while we waited. “At least we can make something of the evening.”

“I’m happy to chat with you while you drink, but I don’t drink alcohol,” I said. She looked at me suspiciously and I realized I was probably seeming more like a Jehovah’s Witness after all.  “What may I call  you?”

“My name is Anala, but you can call me Annie.  Everyone calls me Annie.”

An hour went by with no call back from the agency, so we walked over to the concierge building to see if they might have a key. It was a gorgeous, fresh night and I was glad to be out of Annie’s flat.

A young Polish man in his mid 20s sat at the desk in a suit he wore uncomfortably.  His heavy gold rapper jewelry looked incongruous with his black suit jacket and crisp white button down. I was not certain what services the concierge performed in this complex, but after questioning and cajoling him for 15 minutes it was clear that letting people back into their locked flats was not one of his duties. He did, however, inquire as to whether or not I was married.  I found this rather odd, but Annie understood it as a pass.  I wondered how often that works for him.

On our way back to Annie’s I suggested she stop in and get some wine for herself, but she decided against it.  “If the agency calls and I need to drive you somewhere to pick up the keys, I’d rather be sober.  I just learned to drive last month, you see. I’m still quite nervous about it.”

Annie, The Actuary

We sat in her flat and waited for a call.  Every 15 minutes or so I dialed all the numbers again, just in case.  I learned over the course of the evening that Annie was an actuary and had just moved to Edinburgh from London.  I had never met a real live actuary before, but I had always imagined they would be old dusty men with hair growing out their ears and nostrils. Poorly groomed and risk averse. And here I was, spending the evening with an actuary, though she had no untoward hair overgrowths.

Annie longed to start her own consulting business, but she felt it was too risky.  She perched on her sofa with a soda and happily chatted the night away about her life in London, what brought her up to Scotland and the life she hoped to create here.  It was getting very late and she generously offered me her fold-out sofa in the event the agency never called back. At least in the morning someone at the office would get my messages and come with a key to let me in.

At midnight we finally received a call from the agency, but it was not the relief I was seeking.  The woman told me they didn’t have a spare key. I was stunned.  How could they not have extra keys?   There was some story about the owner, who was in Florida, and past problems with the concierge, and that there was a spare key somewhere but no one had access to it until the owner could intercede.  She said the only option was for me to call a locksmith.  There was no morning rescue.

Annie and I  were both in disbelief.  This company rents hundreds of flats throughout Edinburgh.  How could they possibly not have spare keys on hand?  But rather than think on this frustrating point too long, I had to find an answer to my problem. I was determined to get back into my flat somehow, and immediately.

Plan B, Breaking In

I went to the window again. I was clearly getting desperate for a solution, but even in that state there was no way I could justify creeping out in the dark onto a 3 inch ledge.  I started to examine Annie’s door lock.  Since all the doors were exactly the same, if I could figure out how to pick or bypass her lock, it would work on mine as well.

“You’re crazy!” she said.  She regarded me with suspicion.  “Have you broken into houses before?” she asked, as if my current willingness to try anything was an indication of a generally criminal nature.  When she realized I was quite serious about the endeavor, Miss Do Everything By The Book Actuary swung into accomplice mode.  She looked up lock picking methods on Google, but nothing seemed appropriate to our situation, as we had no tools whatsoever, aside from whatever we might find in her very poorly stocked kitchen.  A butter knife?  A veg peeler?  There wasn’t a bobby pin between us.

After inspecting her lock more closely, I could see how I might bypass it rather than pick it.  If I could slide something between the door and the frame and push past the lock, it would simply slide out and the door would open. But we’d need materials and we had none.  Annie quickly set to searching everything in her purse and  briefcase.  She handed me what looked like a health insurance card to try, but I told her it was not a good idea.  “After I’m done with it, it will be ruined, Annie.”

“Oh, that’s okay,” she said, “It’s just my Tesco card. It’s worth a lot, really, considering how much I spend there. But go ahead and use it.”

After several attempts, it was obvious that it was too rigid to clear the door frame.  I was able to figure out exactly the kind of materials that would work and with those parameters Annie started handing me everything she had that might do the trick.  “I’ve not had this much fun in years!” she squealed with obvious excitement.

I needed something flimsy enough to slip through the hard left angle that could then be pushed straight through. I needed something extremely thin and pliable, but rigid enough not to crumple when pushed. I was finally able to get the flimsy plastic ruler she tore out of a new ringed notebook all the way through the door frame, but what was pliable enough to maneuver the door frame was not rigid enough to push back the lock.  I doubled it and still it was not rigid enough.

Annie handed me an unusually thick business card and I slipped it between the doubled plastic film, which was already inserted all the way to the lock.  The doubled film ruler now acted as a smooth sheath for the more rigid material. If I had tried using the more rigid material alone, it never would have slid past the hard left angle in order to get to the lock.

I pushed them as far as they would go with a very smooth and even pressure (otherwise the whole contraption might simply crumple), looked back at Annie and then pushed the door open.

Fabulous, Cat Burglar

Both of our jaws dropped open.  We could not believe we had actually done it, we had broken into my flat with no tools and no prior knowledge.  It was oddly empowering.  Annie was ecstatic.  She immediately photographed the ‘tools’ and the door and posted it to her facebook, along with some comment that painted me as a very exotic and potentially dubious character that appeared out of nowhere and induced her to commit a crime.

I tried to make her understand that breaking into your own flat is not the same as breaking and entering, and that I am not otherwise inclined to bypass locks.  She vacillated from being euphoric at our triumph to being suspicious of me for even being able to conceive of breaking into the flat.

“It’s just like having adventures as a little girl,” I explained.  “You know, when you’d get into crazy situations and then have to find a solution to get out of them.”

“No,” Annie said solemnly, “I don’t know.  I never got into any ‘situations’ as a kid.  I didn’t have adventures.”  I could see her thinking, Just what kind of kid were you?

The kid that had no adventures turned into an actuary.  And the kid who had too many adventures turned into a Fabulous Nomad. And the letting agency had a deadbolt installed a week after this incident, even though I never told them how I got in.