My mind's elsewhere, but at least my keys are safe

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The Independent Online
It was my dogs that brought it home to me. One morning, several years ago, I went out the front door to the usual chorus of lamentation, waved from the front gate at the window to which the melancholy faces were pressed and then half-way down the road realised I had forgotten something important.

I cursed at having yet again brought upon myself the megaguilt-inducing cycle of ecstatic welcome followed by the suicidal disappointment that would erupt as I left the house for a second time. Wincing, I put the key in the lock ready to deliver the ridiculous speech that came to my lips in such circumstances: "No, no, sorry. Not staying. Just picking up my papers/diary/list/wallet/passport/ ticket."

Nothing. No happy barking. No canine bodies colliding as they hurtled off the sofa and tore into the hall to smother me with passionate assaults.

I sidled into the living room and saw them standing on the sofa, contemplating me rather than the window, but showing no emotion. None of us emitted a sound. I located the missing article and crept out again. The noses were once more pressed to the window, but the keening had not recommenced.

It was what is nowadays called a defining moment. And what it defined was that a couple of mongrels had managed to work out that three out of four of my exits from the house were swiftly followed by an ingress of irritatingly short duration. Somehow theyhad decided that they were damned if in future they were going to waste their valuable energy on unnecessary histrionics.

This was no flash in the pan. Henceforward, while the full works were on offer when I came home after a decent interval, immobility and silence pertained otherwise.

When I told this story to others they were impressed by the intelligence evinced by the dogs, but even more impressed by my inability to leave the house carrying whatever I needed. My problem, they explained, to my surprise, was that I was very absent-minded.

I was not particularly bothered by this. After all, I always recollected within 100 yards or so of home what I should have with me, and once the dogs and I had come to our arrangement, there was no angst involved in the return. And the other manifestations of the condition were no more than a minor bother either. When I'm thinking I easily forget what I'm doing, but it's no great hardship that I go to the nearby corner shop for batteries and come home with milk. The proprietor, my friend Kuku - aka Chris (Indian newsagents frequently call themselves Chris rather than require their customers to master their real names) - grins when I reappear and says consoling things about my having a lot on my mind. And the exercise does me good.

What became a nuisance were keys. While I lived with other people, the occasionally forgotten keys rarely posed a problem. If no one was in, I could usually make an easy detour via their place of work. But when I began to live alone it was a different matter. It is an expensive and tedious business to call out a locksmith.

The necessity for a proper fail-safe mechanism became clear one April afternoon. I went to the shop, bought butter, returned within a minute for whatever I had actually wanted in the first place and returned yet again two minutes later because I had forgotten my keys. Kuku lent me his phone to call those with spares, but my neighbour and friend, Nina, who is a gad-about, was, of course, out, and my assistant, Carol, was away for the day. Kuku played host to me for an hour or so while I awaited a locksmith, and, being a kind and practical man, suggested that I should leave keys with him henceforward and save myself irritation and expense.

This system appeared foolproof, since Kuku works 14 hours a day, lives over the shop and has neither the time nor energy to go out in his spare time: several times he has saved me the price of a locksmith. And his and his wife's friendship extends to insisting that I ring their doorbell at any time of the night should I be locked out.

So when on New Year's Day I found myself keyless, I had nothing to worry about. Nina was away, but Kuku would see me right. Although he had shut before 7pm - incredibly early for him - I confidently rang the bell on his residential door. No answer. Afterfive minutes I concluded that the bell was defective and went down to the Bangladeshi take-away down the road, whose proprietor I know to be a friend of Kuku's. The proprietor rang him. No answer. For just the second time in six months, the layabout hadgone out socialising.

Carol, mercifully, turned out to be at home, so it was arranged that she should send the keys in a taxi to the take-away. My host sat me down in front of his television, made me a cup of tea and in the interstices of cooking watched appreciatively with me The Last of the Summer Wine.

I thanked him profusely when the keys arrived and muttered something self-deprecating about my memory. "Don't worry," he said, "It comes to us all with age."

But that isn't the explanation. For as I walked home, I remembered vividly a keyless and penniless evening nearly 20 years ago, spent sitting in my local Indian restaurant in Croydon, being provided with curry, beer, conversation and encouragement for the four hours before my husband got home.

How did people like me survive before the arrival of Asian entrepreneurs?