Children are essentially engineers, aren’t they? They just love taking things apart and – just occasionally – putting them back together. Dropping shapes into shape-sorters, posting letters through boxes, under the fridge or down the back of the radiator; nothing gives them greater pleasure than slotting pieces into holes. My toddler is obsessed with keys, happily playing for hours inserting the door key into make-believe locks.
By the side of my bed I have an 18th Century cupboard that serves as a bedside table. A beautiful mahogany unit, with a matching mate in slightly less perfect condition, but both with their original keys and locks. I bid for them in a haphazard but enthusiastic fashion at a dusty Cotswold auction when we first moved in together, and it’s survived several moves wrapped in acres of partially-popped bubble wrap, and a fair few spilt glasses of Merlot. Such a cupboard undoubtedly once housed china chamber pots filled to various degrees of unpleasantness, and my now bedside cabinet continues the tradition by providing a haven for a motley collection of books, biscuit crumbs and used tissues. At least, that’s what I keep in mine; I suspect Husband’s is a rather more organised endeavour, but I wouldn’t know; we have an unspoken rule that our cabinets are sacred territory, home to the occasional love note left on the tumble dryer when our paths haven’t crossed for a few days.
Each morning the toddler toddles in around 6.30am, resigned to the fact that prising Mummy from her bed before 7am will be harder than raising the dead. He sits quietly on the floor next to me; sometimes with a book of his own he’s brought in with him, sometimes leafing through whatever crime thriller I’ve left my bookmark in, making what he considers to be appropriate noises of interest as he turns the page. Bored with reading, he’ll fiddle with the lock in my bedside cabinet, pushing the old battered key in and out and in and out again. Eventually I’ll give in to the inevitability of the day, and roll out of bed into my slippers to take him downstairs.
I realise one evening, whilst rooting around the bedroom for a lip salve that hasn’t been used as lubricant for an uncooperative Transformer, that the key to my bedside cabinet no longer opens ye olde antique lock. The beautiful pewter key turns fruitlessly with no satisfying ‘click’. The door remains resolutely closed. It wouldn’t bother me usually, but I’m half-way through a Kay Scarpetta with a really quite intriguing twist, and I’m just not sure the butler really did it. The following day I root out the Yellow Pages and begin searching for an appropriate craftsman. A few J R Hartley phone calls later and I’ve hit on the quintessential locksmith who assures me he can have the cabinet open in a jiffy. On our way back from toddler group I drop it off to his workshop and return home to feed and water the children. The master cabinet-maker has slotted my apparently simple job into his first few cases of the day, and I look forward to settling back into my murder mystery once the children are in bed.
Cup of tea in hand, the children playing happily at my feet as I flick through the paper, I suddenly freeze, near-artic blood running through my veins. Like a cine film playing across my mind I can see in glorious technicolour the pile of books in my bedside cabinet, the tissues, the biscuits… and the nine inch Rampant Rabbit with its accompanying bottle of lube. I feel sick to my stomach; to my socks even. I recall how the locksmith – a friend of my father’s – sent his regards to my parents, and I blush at the thought of his knowledge of my carnal shame.
In one fluid movement I am out of the armchair and into the car, children flung into their car seats in confusion, as I desperately dial the locksmith’s number to tell him I’ve changed my mind about the work. I almost succumb to the waves of nausea as I hear the recorded message; “Thank you for calling Cotswold Locks, I am in my workshop at the moment, but I’ll get back to you as soon as I can…”
“Nooooooooo!” I howl, crunching the Galaxy into gear and swerving my way through the parked cars. “Don’t be in your workshop! Don’t be opening my beautiful cabinet and concluding I’m a sexually depraved housewife who seeks fulfilment from rigid latex”. I screech through an amber light as I envisage the locksmith gazing at the Rabbit with a wry smile on his face, beckoning over the fifteen year old apprentice for an introduction in sexual politics. I imagine them all cavorting round the warehouse, spanking each other with my dusty dildo and squirting menthol lubricant from a water pistol. I can see the knowing looks on their faces as I turn up to collect my cabinet, struggling to contain their smirks and eyeing me up to establish the true extent of my sexual depravity. Oh the shame of it! We’ll have to move. I couldn’t possibly walk through town, knowing that everyone knows I resort to frolicking with a pink plastic vibrator. With ears. Oh my God – is it even clean…?
Seconds later I pull up outside the warehouse, coming to a diagonal halt across two disabled spaces. I race into reception and gabble the excuses necessary to get back my property; “I don’t need it open after all – I’ve never liked that book anyway – I urgently need a table to put my water on…” It works. Someone is smiling upon me and feels there is insufficient sport to be had in totally humiliating me. For now.
I refuse all assistance – as though I’m terrified the cabinet will suddenly spring open of its own accord, spilling out my dirty secrets for the world to know. From now on only I will handle it, with its lock untouched and its key useless to me. The cabinet has already survived generations, and there’s every reason to suppose it will continue to be passed on to my own children and grandchildren, each baffled by the non-presence of a key. Fear strikes my heart again as I consider the next few generations, alighting on my great, great, great grandchildren, who will manage to spring the lock and sit gazing in confusion at the old-fashioned silicone, the dated colours and the sheer fact that their great great great grandmother lived in a time when orgasms were still manually induced. Perhaps they will think I’m a bit of a goer. If only…