The key to my enlightenment

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The Independent Online
Not very long ago I was standing in a Catholic church in the middle of Italy when I had a sudden flash of enlightenment. All at once it came to me, as if from nowhere, that it was about time I took some of the things off my key-ring.

Let me explain the background to this vision. During my recent absence from these pages, I was in Italy working for an independent TV company on a Channel 4 programme about saints' relics. (I am not an expert on saints relics. I think that was one of the reasons they hired me: I lent an air of holy innocence to the proceedings)

In the course of our travels, we came to the hill town of Cascia, where the body of St Rita, patron saint of lost causes, is displayed to the public, even though she died hundreds of years ago and is now a little shrunken. And after we had finished talking to the very patient nun who agreed to face the camera and tell me the somewhat horrific story of St Rita, with the body of the saint hovering in mid-air behind us, she took me into a back room and said with a beatific smile: "This is a present for you."

"This" was a key-ring. It had a little locket dangling from it, with some roses on one side and a picture of St Rita on the other. The picture of the saint is subtitled, in Italian, "S. Rita, Proteggimi", or "St Rita, protect me".

I thanked her in profuse, but minimal Italian and to show that I meant business I got my keys out to introduce St Rita on to my key-ring. And it was under the gaze of this nun that I suddenly realised how grossly over-populated and over-privileged my key-ring was.

Normally, we do not realise this until our keys start creating holes in pockets or become too heavy to lift, but when you are exposing your keys to the holy gaze of a nun who, you are convinced, owns nothing and needs nothing, and has perhaps even sold all and given unto the poor, you can't help feeling a bit of a fat cat.

There and then I promised St Rita that I would rationalise my keys when I got home.

That moment has now come. Today, I have got out my bunch of keys and have started the audit. For a start, I have weighed it, and it comes in at just under 200 grammes, or just over 7 ounces. It also led to the following question from my wife.

"Why are you weighing your keys ?"

"They're about half a pound," I said, deliberately ignoring the question.

"Has it ever occurred to you that you walk around every day with a packet of butter in your pocket?" she said.

"St Rita, give me strength," I muttered.

"What did you say?"


"I thought I heard a woman's name."

"Someone called Rita. Nobody you know."

Now that honours were even, I got down to the job of cataloguing my keys. There are about 16 of them. I say about 16 because it is almost impossible to avoid counting keys twice on a key-ring. There are two for bicycle locks and two keys for a rowing boat lock. There are several for cars, and several for doors in the house. (Outside doors, that is. Most of the interior doors in our house have locks as well, but we removed the keys from them because my son and his contemporaries went through a happy phase of accidentally locking themselves in rooms. They have passed that phase now. They are now into a phase of deliberately locking people into rooms. So the keys are back in hiding. In the cellar, in a box, I think.) There are also several luggage keys, and there are two keys I do not recognise.

"Why are you counting your keys ?" said my wife. This, you will remember, is the same person who had earlier asked me why I was weighing them. "There are two keys here I do not recognise," I said, again ignoring her question. I am good at ignoring questions. I would make a fine politician.

"Well," she said, "that one is the bike-shed key but I don't recognise the other one."

Have you noticed that there is always at least one key on your ring that is a stranger, in the same way that hotel rooms always have one electric switch that operates nothing? Never get rid of it. In my experience, it always turns out to operate the petrol cap on a car. I once borrowed my wife's car and had to fill it up with petrol, and couldn't open the locked petrol cap, but then found that I had the key to it on my ring, although I swear I never put it there.

"Why are you looking worried," said the woman who asks all these questions.

"I can't think of a way of lightening my key-ring."

"Why not take off that completely unnecessary St Rita attachment?"

Of course. Why hadn't I thought of that?