John C. Kirk (johnckirk) wrote,
John C. Kirk

An expensive bottle of milk

Today hasn't quite gone according to plan. I booked my ticket for the OSS December Dip a while ago, and that took place at 11am this morning. However, I didn't get to sleep until after 6am, so I was still pretty tired when my alarm went off at 8am. I could have dragged myself out to it, but I decided to treat the booking fee as a sunk cost. Basically, I've already spent that money, so it shouldn't affect my decision: either I go to a "free" event (not counting travel costs) or I stay in bed and go swimming at the local lido some other time. I opted for the latter.

This evening I put my dinner in the oven, then decided to nip across the road to buy some milk. I left my flat, and it was only when I opened the street-level door that I realised I'd left my keys inside. Normally I double-lock my flat door so I need the second key in my hand, but in this case I didn't bother with the second lock. Unfortunately, this now meant that I was stranded. I have left a spare set of keys with friends, but they weren't around. (That's no reflection on them: I don't expect them to be "on call" for my needs.) I also have a spare set of keys at work, but that's a 3 hour round trip.

I know someone who works for the Fire Brigade, and apparently it's quite common for people to call them out in a situation like this. The standard cover story would be "I think I've left the gas on", so the fire crew will force entry to prevent a fire. In this case, I could sort of justify that (since my food in the oven might eventually catch fire), but since it was my fault I decided to call a locksmith instead. I called 118 118 to get a number, and they always offer to put you through; you should decline! They'll text you the number anyway, and you get charged an exorbitant rate if you continue their call. In fairness, the recorded message does warn you. It was more than £1/minute from a landline to call a freephone number; they didn't specify the cost for mobiles.

I called the number I got, but the locksmiths said that all their computers are down so they can't dispatch anyone. I called 118 118 again, and I spoke to a different person who gave me the same number again. That's interesting: obviously there are several eligible businesses in the area, but this suggests that they don't just pick one at random. Maybe companies pay more to be at the top of the list? (In fairness, this is a small sample size, so it's possible that they did randomly choose the same company both times.) Anyway, I explained that I couldn't use that company and she gave me a number for someone else.

When the locksmith arrived, he pulled out a plastic sheet and swiped open my door. Once he had the tool in his hand, it literally took him about 10 seconds. This cost me £80, so it was quite an expensive bottle of milk... I realise that I'm not just paying for his time "on the job"; I also have to allow for his travel time, training, etc., and I wouldn't really want him to spend an hour fiddling with it to justify the money. (As it was, I got inside just as the oven beeped for my food being ready.)

Anyway, this experience has taught me a few things:
1) Make sure I have my keys with me when I leave the flat!
2) Always double-lock the door when I leave, since it's trivially easy to bypass the Yale lock with the right tool.
3) I could do with one of those tools, in case a similar situation crops up again. I don't think there's any special training required, so I'm sure I could figure out how to use it if I practice on my own door (when I have the keys with me).

Admittedly the tool wouldn't be much use to me if I was outside and it was inside. Similarly, I don't intend to carry it around with me: it makes more sense to carry my keys. However, it could be useful if friends nearby have the same problem. I've done some digging online, and the tool in question is a Mica sheet, as sold here. I wondered whether the sale was restricted to licenced locksmiths, but apparently there's no such licence in the UK, so anyone can call themselves a locksmith. (The Master Locksmiths Association is a voluntary register.) Looking at the terms and conditions on that site, they just say:

2.It is your responsibility alone to ensure that you are obeying all the applicable laws regarding the possession and use of any item purchased from this website. You must make yourself aware of all such laws: by placing an order, you are asserting that you are purchasing the item(s) lawfully, that they will be used only in a lawful way, and that Walker Locksmiths and their employees are acting lawfully in supplying you with the item(s).

In a previous incident, nobody looked twice when a locksmith literally drilled through the lock on the street door, and the locksmith tonight turned up in an unmarked white van. So, if you see a couple of people picking the lock to a property, it's quite difficult to know whether they're legitimate or burglars! Personally, I have no intention of breaking into someone else's flat (without permission), I just have a general interest in security, and it seems prudent to spend a small amount now to avoid expensive call-out fees in the future.
Tags: locks, phone, swimming

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