If I were asked to recount a particular triumph from the dim recesses of my mind, there is only one occasion that speaks to me.
I’ve done okay in life in general. I have three degrees, I’ve had some amazing exam results, I’ve won LOADS of competitions (oddly – I don’t know why, but I’ve won almost every competition I’ve entered). But one particular triumph sticks in my mind above all these.
It was a day of triumph over adversity, of persevering over insurmountable odds. A day of trying, failing, rethinking, retrying, then retrying again.
It was Coat Hanger Day.
When university finished, our student house was locked up, room by room, as each resident left. @superlative and I were the last men standing, and planned to stay for the summer - a relatively inexpensive way of living in a large house for a whole summer in sunny Brighton with little responsibility.
And we invited some guests to stay. But we wanted to provide them with a room of their own in this large house – it seemed only reasonable. Our first gambit to leave the rooms open had failed. Whilst our departing housemates had told the university that it was all locked up when they left, in fact it wasn’t. Sadly they came and checked each room for reasons of deposit and soundly locked each room before leaving. We were left with a challenge...
A door that didn’t quite fit its frame, with a large crack at the top and a large gap at the bottom. On the other side, a simple latch lock. It would prove impossible to pick, but we set about breaking in by other means.
It took about 5 hours, but it remains the most satisfying episode of my life and the greatest triumph I have ever achieved or am ever likely to achieve.
Our first attempts at lock picking proved fruitless, but we were not deterred.
We then unwound a coat hanger and tried to create an L-shaped arm extension to grab the latch from the large crack at the bottom, but it was too stiff and the metal loop at the end simple slipped off again and again. After a couple of hours of unsuccessful picking and arm construction, we were getting frustrated, but we could tell we were in the right area, you could feel it hooking onto the latch, and hear it making the beginnings of a noise that sounded like the latch turning, but then the flimsy wire arm slipped off, and the latch would flick back to its original position without being drawn down sufficiently.
The arm was too long, and could not be controlled with any precision once downward force was required.
After more deliberation, we redesigned our robot arm. It had a long string attached to the end loop, and we lowered the whole device over the door this time, not underneath, and held onto the string at the crack at the top. When the metal arm hit the floor we grabbed it, slid it out under the door, and resumed out attack, but this time, with the robot arm held taught by a string that looped back over the top of the door. We had encircled the door, and the loop could now we manipulated with far greater accuracy.
Just getting it over the door and in position took far too long, but you have to understand; having committed so much time to the endeavour already, we could never just quit.
So in hour 4, we began realigning the metal arm, with its wire loop over the latch as before, but this time we had a firm grip on its position, it no longer wavered due to its length. It took about another 40 minutes, but we could already tell we were close; the loop would connect with the latch, hook around it, and instead of sliding off and wobbling randomly, it would hold its position, and we could drag it down directly, without a lurch to the left or right.
We must have tried another 50 or 60 times, sliding it on, pulling down and wanging the string in the opposite direction to force the latch down. Another slide, another slip, another clatter. Then, without warning, on attempt 61 of test session 12, nearing the end of the fourth hour...
We knew right away, though we couldn’t believe it. It swung open, revealing the room within in all its glory.
I have never been so happy.
I have never been so proud.
This was indubitably the moment of my greatest triumph.