When we signed on the dotted line to become new home owners in Spain, we were warned of two things:
- the house was now uninsured and,
- since various keys had been distributed to various agents, we should “just change the door lock”.
Once we had our Spanish bank account and funds were in place, we fixed #1 by buying an insurance policy.
In order to fix #2, I wandered into a local hardware store, happily one that spoke very good English, to see what could be done.
All the lock cylinders in Spain look the same. However, appearances can be deceptive. Blurred picture from crappy phone camera aside, this is what they look like. My helpful hardware store man disappeared into the back of his well stocked shop and eventually reappeared with three small cardboard boxes each containing a slightly different lock. “Take these and see which one fits, then bring the others back”, I was told. No money changed hands. Up to Casa Libélule I went.
The lock barrel is secured by a single screw which, once the door is open, becomes relatively obvious. I’d borrowed a couple of cross-headed screwdrivers from our hosts and removed the original cylinder – the one pictured above. Opening the new cylinders, one of the variations became perfectly obvious. Note the black tab roughly in the centre of the lock – this is the bit that turns, engages in a slot and (un)locks the door. The length of the metal to either side of this can vary; some locks were 30mm/30mm whilst others were 30mm/40mm. My original, as you can see, was 30mm/40mm. I rejected the two 30mm/30mm locks and fitted the 30mm/40mm lock. I inserted the key and turned it. Well, I turned it as far as it would go, which wasn’t very far. No good.
Back at the hardware store there was much head-scratching. Soon we noticed that not only do the cylinder dimensions vary but the length of that little black tag, the business end, varies also; some were long and some were short. My original contained a short tag but I’d been given one with a long tag, hence the key not turning. More boxes were furiously searched but to no avail. Undaunted, Mr hardware fired up a grindstone at the back of his shop and began grinding a long-tailed lock to a short-tailed lock. Back to Casa Libélule to try again.
Once again I removed the original lock and fitted my modified new lock. Once again, the key refused to turn very far. No good. Back to the hardware store.
More furious head scratching ensued together with more minute examination of the locks. Ah ha! Not only do the little black business end tags vary in length but they vary in thickness as well. Darwin, how can we make things so blasted complicated? The grindstone whirred again and Mr hardware soon returned with a second modification having ground some thickness away. Back to Casa Libélule for a third attempt.
As Francine watched, I removed the original lock once more and fitted my ground down new one. In went the key. With the door open, I turned the key. Amazing, it turned all the way and locking bars appeared. Yikes! I turned the key back again and the locking bars retracted. We were inside Casa. I shut the door and tried the lock in situ. It locked. I attempted to unlock the door. The key wouldn’t budge – not a single millimetre. I applied more force to the key. Nothing, nada, nichts! We were securely locked inside our new house with the right key but with a modified lock that steadfastly refused to unlock. Panic!
Now, Casa is half way up the side of a mountain. The back of the house, where the entrance door is located, is, of course, on ground level. There are two windows at the back, one either side of the door, which are at ground level. However, the Spanish, for security reasons, are fond of fitting ornate metal bars called rejas [mostly pronounced wreckers by Brits] to deter burglars. Unfortunately, these rejas also cut off any line of escape from inside the house by idiotic trapped owners. There are further windows and balconies moving towards the front of the property but, being on the side of a mountain, as you move forward the ground moves down alarmingly quickly and the drop rapidly becomes too great.
There was, however, one glimmer of hope. Since we had the foresight to purchase an end unit, we had a side kitchen window, sin rejas, relatively close to the back. Here, the drop was still distressing but there was just a chance that from it I might get my foot onto a parapet wall around some garden planting. I opened the window and, avoiding bending the stainless steel sink, got myself sitting on the window sill. I couldn’t quite reach the wall with my foot. I turned, grabbed the window frame with my hands and lowered myself so that I was leaning on the window sill with my forearms, legs dangling in midair. Oh to be an agile 16-year-old again. With a sigh of relief I got my foot onto the parapet wall and was out. Francine, however, was still inside and was probably too small/scared to try the same manoeuver. And who could blame her?
I wandered along and rang the caretaker’s doorbell. The caretaker was out but his wife, with no English, was in. My smart phone Google translate app now paid dividends. I muttered something unintelligible featuring the words: puerta [door], bloqueado [locked], mujer [wife] and escalera [ladder]. Miracles! Bless the lady, she seemed to understand. She grabbed a set of keys, unlocked another unit whose door actually worked and where a ladder lay across the floor. We returned to our fortress where Francine now sat, Puck-like, on our kitchen window sill too far above the ground for comfort. I positioned the escalera. Francine gingerly struggled onto the ladder and clambered down to the ground.
We were out. We were now the proud owners of a new house with a door that couldn’t be opened even with the correct key. Time to consult our friendly and helpful local estate agent.
After a smirk or two accompanied by a shocked look, our friendly estate agent consulted his next door neighbour who happened to be an aluminium carpinteria and who had just returned from another job. It was now 3:30 PM. Mr Carpinteria had not eaten lunch. I was instructed to return at 4:30 PM whereupon Mr Carpinteria would follow me up and try to break in.
He duly followed me. He tried to unlock the door in the time honoured fashion – from the outside with the key – and failed. He broke in through our favourite escape window and I began to hear a lot of loud banging noises from inside. The door jumped and rattled but remained fast. another 15 minutes or more of banging followed and, miracle of miracles, the door finally opened. My hero removed the offending lock and pulled faces at the modification, looking at me suspiciously. I shook my head and blamed the hardware merchant. My hero went on to fit a temporary lock and muttered something about jueves [Thursday] to do a proper fix.
“Just change the door lock”, they said. 😯