Not for the first time, I see that keys have been a previous obsession on this blog. There was a time (and I still have the bunch) when, for reasons impervious to logic, and probably lost in time, the press officer of the college where I worked was a key-holder to many of the main buildings. This came in useful when, in my other capacities, I wanted to nip in and work at weekends, or (more likely) to rescue something vital – like another bunch of keys, for instance – from my office. So I took advantage of my perk one Saturday in about 1994 to nip in and pick up whatever it was that I had left behind.
However, when I got into the building – this was of course before the rash of CCTV cameras which would now be there, were it not that the building has been levelled to the ground, which of course begs The Big Question as to why the hell I still have all the keys – it became clear that I was not alone. Someone else was stealthily patrolling the building. Was there another ex officio keyholder? I wondered. A bit unsure as to whether my argument that history would be sufficient reason for my being in charge of such a giant warder-style jumble-jangl of the things, I tiptoed towards the source of the noise. At which point, the noise turned into a hammering of some sort or other, and it became obvious that the other person in the building was a burglar. And what the burglar was after as it happened, was a stash of unused, unopened examination papers.
A moral dilemma, then. Did I leave by the way I came in, with what seemed increasingly to be a dubious bunch of keys in my hands, or did I press on. The issue was forced because treading lightly has never been my forte. The sound of two miscreants running up some stairs (to a dead end) followed quickly. I nipped up after them (what the hell was I going to do?) There was a lump hammer on the stairs, which I picked up, like a character in a bad murder mystery thereby of course putting myself in the frame as the likely suspect in any subsequent investigation. In the background, I could hear – maybe even glimpse – two youths making their way through a narrow window on to a flat roof. They probably shinned down a drain-pipe.
It is always a hard position to be in, to find yourself the hero of the hour in a place where perhaps you shouldn’t have been at all. There are some GCSE students somewhere, even now, who do not realise how close they came to having to have some substitute (say) Geography papers specially re-written for them – maybe for the whole country.
In a bit of a jam, I back-tracked, and went to my car. I wanted to be, not giving evidence, but in Birmingham with the woman who’s now my wife. So, after some soul-searching, I found a phone-box, and rang the head of security, and told him that, from the car park, I thought I’d seen a potential breaking-and-entrant, but was alas, on my way to the Midlands. He duly paid the place a visit, saw that the lock had not been forced, and the exam papers not compromised. He thanked me on my return from the Midlands the following Monday.
I still have, not only the keys, but the lump hammer. Very useful it has been, too.