As a child I didn’t understand the words insomnia or paranoia. I thought it was normal to lie awake for a few hours every night before falling asleep – and to spend the time thinking about all the things in the world that might want to kill me.
During these hours of silent contemplation, I explored rudimentary philosophy (Is the universe infinite? Or does it have an edge? If it does have an edge what comes after it? What would it be like to be god? Wouldn’t it be really boring? What would you do for fun?), and took my first forays into story-telling, in order to keep myself entertained.
But what I also did a lot of was listening for creaking steps, and watching the shadows to make sure they didn’t move. I always wondered what I would do the time that I did hear the step upon the stair; when the shadows did move and form themselves into a long-taloned figure. Where would I go? I began to plan escape routes.
For most children, the answer would probably be that they bolt for their parents bedroom. Due to architectural strangeness, this wasn’t the most obvious option.
Although only a mid-terrace, 18th century mill-workers cottage, my childhood home is an extremely odd shape. It has two separate upstairs, which aren’t joined together. My sisters and I slept up one staircase; our parents and the bathroom were up the other staircase. This was ideal for covert midnight feasts; less good for escaping from psychopaths.
To get from my bedroom to my parents I had to: exit my room, go downstairs, cross the room, go up another flight of stairs, and cross another room. There was far too much scope in that journey for some other thing to get me. So I came up with alternate plans, most of which were some variety of getting out the window.
My bedroom had a sash window, which only opened about six inches – at the top of the window. Even if I could have squeezed out of that space, it wasn’t ideal that I would be on top of three feet of glass. So I thought I would smash the window to escape. But being an old house, the windows are leaded, the panes only about 4x6inches.
I was unsure as a child (and still am) how hard it is to smash lead (a quick google search has revealed nothing remotely relevant. No, I do not want lead-effect double glazing…) I was always unhappy about this area of uncertainty in my escape plan.
When I went to secondary school I became interested in pottery. I was pleased to install several large, hefty home-made pots on my window sill. I felt pretty confident that I could smash my way out of the window with one of those.
Whenever I stayed overnight at other places I looked for escape routes before I could relax sufficiently to sleep. It’s a habit that has never really gone away. I scrutinize the access from and to windows of any bedrooms I stay in. I try to visualise the route I would take in an emergency (not necessarily from axe-wielding maniacs, but perhaps from fire).
I was a little put out therefore to discover recently that one of my current escape routes is not as accessible as I thought.
Last week my partner and I had a key malfunction, and found ourselves locked out of the house. No problem, I though. We’ll borrow next door’s ladder, and I can climb through the little bathroom window. I have often thought that when a psychopath chases me through the house, the best bet would be to run for the bathroom, because it has a lock. That then allows me a few minutes grace to climb out the window before he smashes through the door.
I had never before tested how wide the window actually opens. It turns out, it doesn’t open very far.
I stood up the top of that ladder for a good five minutes, scrutinizing the lay of the land on the other side. I got as far as lifting my foot up through the window. I tried to envisage exactly how it was going to work, and where my weight would be at each moment. I reluctantly came to the conclusion that it was a doomed venture, likely to end in embarrassment, hospital and inability to get to work.
I called the locksmith (and a whole other adventure ensued there. Well, if you call it an adventure to sit on the driveway without any lunch, drink, or toilet for hours, and then some more hours…)
The sensible part of my brain is actually quite relieved to discover how hard it is to break in to our house. But I miss the (entirely unrealistic) comfort of having an escape route in mind. I think I’ll have to install something hefty beside the bedroom door, so that I can block it to buy myself sufficient time to climb out of that window…
I’m curious: is it just me? Or do others have similar preoccupations?