We've all got a few irrational fears. Quite often they involve sinister stuff like spiders, cockroaches, vermin, old boyfriends, burning houses . . . That kind of thing.
Mine include rats, and getting locked in a lavatory. I had an uncomfortable encounter with the latter fear last weekend when a lavatory door was unexpectedly stuck fast on me, and I couldn't get out.
I'm not entirely sure where such irrational fears stem from. I've never been in therapy to find out.
The rat thing may be something to do with a friend who once found herself dealing with a snarling rat - brought in by her cat - when she was sick in bed with flu. She told a frighteningly graphic story involving a tennis racket, the defiant rat, and, after a lot of effort, a rat-corpse. I shuddered at the story back then. Still do.
Nowadays there are rats in the bush near our house, and rats in the shrubbery outside my window at work. The work rats have been dealt to by a pest exterminator. The population has taken a hit, but a big bold one is still making guest appearances. Too close for comfort.
The locked-in-the-loo thing may date from the day my father got jammed in the smallest room of our previous house. It took time, effort and strategic planning to extricate him. It was in the middle of a family party, so fortunately there were plenty of people around to hear Dad banging on the door, demanding release. He emerged to huge mirth.
Not so funny was an incident some years ago in Paris, when I went to the loos in a remote wing of the Louvre Museum. As I opened the outer door, a distressed American woman called out something like, "Help, do you speak English? I'm trapped in here."
I made soothing noises and jiggled her cubicle door. It didn't budge. So I tracked down a couple of security staff, and after much hand-waving and fractured Franglais, conveyed the problem. I waited till they got the woman out. She was very shaken, said she'd felt so helpless in the confined space. She'd been there about half-an-hour, and she'd hollered for most of that time.
I've had a couple of near misses with dodgy locks since then. But my turn finally came at a rural cafe on a sunny Saturday this month. I was meeting my two old school friends for our annual Christmas lunch, I arrived slightly ahead of time, and nipped to the loo for a visit.
The door-catch looked as if you should turn it to lock it. It wouldn't turn, no matter how hard I tried. So I gave up and quickly used the facilities. When I tried to exit, the door that I thought was unlocked was actually stuck fast.
I shoved it, and tried again to turn the lock. Nothing happened, the horror dawning on me that I was stuck. I banged on the door, yelled out, remembered the unhappy American woman at the Louvre.
The lavatories in this cafe have a little lobby area with an outer door, so are kind of sealed off from where people are seated. Clearly no-one heard me calling out, and I realised my friends wouldn't know I was in the loo because I'd got there ahead of them. After a few minutes I was getting a bit panicky, and there was no sound of anyone coming in.
I'd accidentally left my glasses at home, so couldn't read the fine print on Google to find the cafe phone number on my mobile, and call for help. Then it all clicked into place. I calmed down, used a perfect combination of old and new technology to get out of jail. I fished my phone out of my handbag, rang old-fashioned 018 Directory, and was connected to the cafe.
A polite young man answered, introduced himself as Campbell. That was kind of reassuring in itself because I have a son named Campbell. It seemed a good omen. "Hello Campbell," I said, attempting a dignified tone. "It's Denise Irvine speaking. I'm actually trapped in one of the lavatories in your cafe and I'd like someone to come and rescue me please."
He was outside the door in an instant, and advised me that this was a lock you slid rather than turned. I slid; the door slipped open. I tried not to feel incredibly foolish. Campbell and another staff member noted that the lock had tricked others before me - even one that very morning.
A young lad was similarly locked in after me, swiftly retrieved by his parents. The cafe apparently used to have a sign explaining how the lock worked, but it had disappeared. They clearly need to put up another one or replace the lock.
My friends, of course, could be relied upon to find it very funny. One of them even remembered a nursery rhyme parody her stepfather used to sing, along the lines of "Oh dear what can the matter be, three old maids got locked in the lavatory. . .". She sang me a verse.
So I think I've dealt with that particular irrational fear. Must remember to take my phone with me every time I visit a random loo. The rat thing may be more difficult to beat.
- © Fairfax NZ News