My House: Fort Knox

If you didn’t already know, crime is a serious problem within South Africa and many houses within the country have burglar bars fitted on opening windows to keep skellums out and your valuable stuff safely inside. If you’ve ever tried to fit a flat-screen TV through a set of these, you’ll understand why they’re there.

Eskom's take on romance

Here’s my problem with burglar bars though. The country, thanks largely to the help of Eskom, suffers from impromptu power cuts. Timetabled load-shedding, especially around dinnertime when you want to relax and watch TV, is becoming less widespread due largely to the fact that Zuma’s army of wives is no longer allowed to cook for him all at once. Ad hoc power failures still have a nasty habit of turning up at the most inopportune moments. Take for example my friend’s birthday party just last weekend; the power went off soon after we’d arrived. With no music and no lights, everyone beat a quick retreat after wolfing down the free food and drinks by candlelight.

The most recent power outage in our home however wasn’t caused by ‘Ek-is-Dom’, but rather by an electrician, who had visited the house during the week to try and fix my pool light and had ended up working his electrical magic inside the distribution box after discovering numerous other faults with the house’s wiring system. More on this shortly.

Avoiding the daily grind

We have two sets of front door keys to the house – one lives with our home-help and the other spends its day on a ‘hang-ups’ hook-thingy in the house. The reason it misses out on the daily grind is that we have remotely operated gate (with back-up battery) and garage door (no back-up), the latter serving as the main house access. Push the red button and ‘poof!’ you’re inside. No messing around with the Trellidor and front door keys; unlocking Fort Knox would be quicker. Until our latest power outage ‘experience’, there had been no real need to carry around another set of keys to add to the already growing bulge in my pants pocket (for all of you who are quietly smirking right now, please remove your mind from out of the gutter).

I digress. Back to the burglar-bar story. Upon returning home after an evening on the town, my wife pushed the blue button on the remote control and our electric gate slid open. No matter how hard she pressed the red button however, the garage door would not budge. I also had several attempts, aiming the remote every which way before the penny dropped; “Houston we have a problem!”

Electrician, with the screwdriver, in the distribution box

The power to the house was off, which we eventually noted from the absence of a welcoming house-light glow. At first I thought it was an Eskom power outage (the caped avenger strikes again!) but then realised that my neighbour’s lights were working perfectly. I surmised that it was the handiwork of our electrician, with his screwdriver, in the distribution box (yes, I was a Cluedo King in my youth). Not only had the electrician charged me upwards of R4000 for half and hour’s work, but now his meddlings had locked me out of my own house. Grrrr. My mind raced to find a solution to our immediate problem, remembering that if all else failed we could spend the night in the Navara. Everyone I know has a tried-and-tested break-in method for these situations, but we had simply not lived in our current house long enough, or requirement to develop ours.

I couldn’t believe our luck (or lack thereof). The evening was abnormally cold and there was a stiff breeze, which put our break-in success rating on par with attempts to correctly perform basic mental tests halfway up Mount Everest. Coupled with the cold, our eldest border collie was frantically squeezing his favourite squeaky toy, further clouding my grey matter thinking abilities – Mr Cat (the toy) was on squeaker overdrive.

My wife suggested that we (meaning her obviously) try to climb through the bathroom window, which would involve me boosting her up on to a window sill. Bad idea! A fall could result in the loss of an eye. I then remembered the bedroom window. It was lower and slightly larger than the rest of the windows which had burglar bars and might just be the solution to our problem. I opened this window as far as the hinges would allow and managed to get my head and a shoulder through the bars before the wedged feeling became too much to stomach. I didn’t want to get myself stuck to top off an already swimmingly-good evening. My wife tried the same window and had slightly more luck; her head, both shoulders and svelte torso fitted through easily. Her bum presented more of a challenge.

There was just no way!

What followed could have safely found its way into some comedy sketch, or onto a Whackhead bloopers show.  I was tasked with holding her legs off the floor, whilst she attempted to manoeuvre her derrière through the bars, all the while grasping a yard broom, with which she was convince that she’d be able to use to ‘hook’ a set of household keys (don’t question the logic!). I had a front row seat and could see that there was no way that THAT bum was going to fit through THOSE burglar bars. Still, I awarded her top marks for effort (minus a few for getting slightly stuck on the reversing operation and yelling at me to “hold her legs straight”).

I racked my brains for a solution as the wind continued to howl. By now I was sporting my full contingent of gooseflesh and my t-shirt did little to assist. It was freezing! I tried the doggy-door door handle, hoping that I might have mistakenly left it unlocked. Not a chance! The wife’s next idea involved depositing our youngest border collie through an open window into the house and coaxing him into fetching a set of door keys. I smiled through jittering teeth – he is seriously smart, however fetching keys is currently not part of his extensive repertoire of tricks – he can ‘fake pee’ on your leg though!

101 different uses for...

I just needed something much, much longer in order to ‘fish’ for keys or….to hook the garage release! I remembered that all electric garage doors come with a quick release string. How to get to this was another matter and eventually through sheer engineering genius, I managed to fashion a device out of several poles lashed together with my shoe laces and topped with the rake attachment. It took a lot of perseverance and under-my-breath swearing to succeed in my plan (I would have never have won the grand prize in a ‘Minute to Win It’ game show if this had been one of the tasks), but at last we could retire into a warm house, suffering from a slight bout of mental exhaustion and mild hypothermia. Mount Everest – here we come!


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