The end of New Year’s Day 2019 and I’m at home watching a documentary about Tommy Cooper. Not exactly the most outrageous thing I’ve done all year, but I don’t care. Despite being a miserable cow much of the time, I’m a big fan of old-school comedy; my dad brought me up watching things like Monty Python, Blackadder, Morecambe & Wise and the like. Tommy Cooper was a brilliant comedian – if you’ve somehow managed to get through your life so far without encountering him, do yourself a favour and seek him out.1 If Tommy Cooper’s on TV and I’m not laughing, there’s something very wrong.
Exactly one week earlier, the end of Christmas Day 2018 and I’m also at home watching a different (but very similar) documentary about Tommy Cooper. I’m not laughing. There’s something very wrong.
I loved Christmas as a kid. The whole vibe of it – not just the day itself and the inevitable pile of presents, but the whole build-up, putting the tree up, decorating the house, the excitement of hearing the first Christmas record on the radio, the double issue Radio Times appearing in the shops… But these days it’s become increasingly underwhelming, to the extent that Christmas 2018 barely registered. But I’m a grown-up now, I could have handled that if Christmas Day itself hadn’t been such a disaster.
Let’s back up a bit and have a quick review of my 2018. At the start of the year I was living in Newcastle and working for a digital media agency. With the current climate being what it is2, the agency “ran into difficulties” early in the year and several colleagues and I were made redundant. This wasn’t a total disaster, because at the time I was giving serious consideration to quitting and moving back to Scotland where I lived as a child, so this gave me the impetus to make the move and go freelance. All well and good, but with the current climate still being what it is3, after nine months I’m struggling to survive doing what I normally do on a freelance basis and find myself having to do all sorts of disparate jobs to try and make ends meet, which is how I found myself doing pet sitting. The “gig economy”, they call it. “Desperately trying to monetize any possible skill you can dredge up,” I call it. (Hi, I’m Hannah, please buy me a coffee.)
To be fair, I love pet sitting and I wish I could make a living doing it full time, but on Christmas Day when I had five different houses to visit, twice, spread over a 20 mile radius, even charging double time I was beginning to wish I hadn’t taken on quite so much. With all the present opening done (such as it is at my age) I was out of the flat by 9am and not back until 11.30. With my flatmate off to her folks’ I had a perfunctory Christmas dinner on my own, watching Top Of The Pops and grumbling about the state of modern music, then out again about 5pm to see visit more cats, trying to suppress the feelings of jealousy over all these pet owners swanning off all over the place for Christmas, but enjoying their pets’ attention in their absence. Come 8.30pm and I’m back home, ready to relax with a glass of wine. I take all my clients’ keys out of my bag and put them back in the safe I keep them in.
There’s a key missing.
The geniuses with the million pound house with its own remote control gates have given me their keys on a flimsy Timpson keyring which is nothing more than a single ring of soft metal that falls open at the slightest provocation. It’s fallen open. One of the keys has fallen off. And of course it’s the key for the lock that locks itself behind you when you close the door, not the key that you need to lock the door again from the outside, so I didn’t notice it was missing until I got home. It’s not here. I don’t have it anymore.
I should have warned you before now, but this blog may contain strong language, adult themes and sexual swearwords. Here comes one now. Fuck. There were several more after that, but I’m sure you can work out what they were without me spelling it out for you.
There follows a desperate search through my bag for the missing key. Nothing. My coat pockets? Nothing. The floor? Nothing. The car? Nothing. Absolutely furious with myself, I set out to retrace my steps. Back to the last house I visited. Nothing. Back to the house whose key I’ve lost. Nothing. The door locked behind me, so either the key is in there somewhere or it’s out on the driveway, but there’s absolutely no sign of it. To add insult to injury, the little cardboard tag from Timpsons is lying on the ground in front of the door, but the key itself? Nowhere to be found. Christmas Day and I’m scrabbling on the ground outside a stranger’s house, looking for their key that I’ve lost. I am, literally, a loser.
I could spend all night digging through gravel but eventually I have to admit defeat and drive home in tears. Of all the days for this to happen… As much as I’m trying to justify what’s happened by saying that the owners should care more about their keys than to entrust them to a stranger on a flimsy bit of metal that’s not even a proper keyring, the fact remains: I was responsible for their keys and I’ve lost one. Worst of all, I can’t get back into the house to feed the cats tomorrow morning. I’m going to have to call their emergency contact.
It’s just getting worse. I’d rather cut off a finger than make a phone call to someone I don’t know, yet here I am, on Christmas Day, calling some random stranger to see if I can meet up with them tomorrow morning to get a spare key to feed these cats that I’ve just locked in their house. I expected an absolute bollocking but in fact she was fine about it – “Don’t worry, they’re always losing their keys,” she told me, adding a little weight to my “they should put them on better keyrings” theory, although this wasn’t really much comfort. I knew the cats were okay, that’s the main thing, but still. By now it’s about 10pm on Christmas Night and I’m sitting staring emptily at the Tommy Cooper documentary, hating myself. I should be chilling with a glass of wine, but in my self-loathing I told myself I didn’t deserve one. I’d ruined Christmas. Luckily I have a coping mechanism that kicks in at times of extreme crisis such as this one: I went to bed.
I guess I’m quite lucky in that no matter how much harm my brain is trying to do to me, it rarely keeps me awake. Maybe the effort of keeping me miserable wears it out. So when things get overwhelming like they did on this occasion, my coping mechanism is to go to sleep in the hope that things will be better when I wake up. A bit inconvenient if I’m overwhelmed by mid-afternoon, but on occasions like this it seems to work.
Things didn’t seem a lot better in the morning, but I managed to hold it together to go and meet up with the emergency contact, get inside and retrieve the key which, with extreme good fortune, had fallen off inside the house. This didn’t make me feel any better, just stupider. Still, at least I could stop worrying about what happened to the key, and hopefully the emergency contact didn’t tell the owners so I might get invited back to look after their kitties again. I’ve decided I’m not working next Christmas though. Life’s too short.
- Careful though, I just searched for Tommy Cooper on YouTube and the top result was footage of him dying on stage – not metaphorically, as in going down badly with an audience that refused to laugh, but actually dropping dead on a live TV show. Fuck the internet.
- “…a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs.” – Hunter S. Thompson
- See note 2.