One of the side effects of going back to the stuck-at-home life is that I’m usually in when people come to the door. This is great when it’s the postman bringing me stuff, but bad when it’s the window cleaner, who likes to announce his arrival by slamming a ladder against the bathroom window and ascending with a speedy rumpus, invariably when I’m on the loo.
The other day it was the turn of the Meter Man. I let him in, and after a few minutes idle chat about the size and shape of the Red Kite poo he’d just stepped in, I requested that he took off his shoes and directed him towards the cupboard under the stairs. He emerged a few minutes later with a stony expression.
“You seem to have a small Nigel Farage stuck to your fuse box.” He said, holding out a neatly trimmed news clipping – a little faded but unmistakably Nigel.
For a moment I considered feigning indignation—might he in fact have planted the Nigel Farage in my under-stair storage facility for the purpose of blackmailing me into swapping tariffs? But I bottled it.
“That’s Tiny Nigel, he lives in there.”
“And this?” Now the Meter Man was showing me a plastic model of a German Shepherd. “It was on the top of the fuse box.”
“Miniature Guard Dog.” I explained, “He’s there to stop Tiny Nigel being naughty.” The Meter Man raised an eyebrow. “You know,” I continued. “Waving placards, being rude to breastfeeding mothers….Europe…all that stuff” The eyebrow went a little higher - this was turning out to be harder than I’d expected. “It’s just a family joke. Tiny Nigel lives in the cupboard under the stairs with the cat’s pet guard dog. The dog’s supposed to keep Nigel in the cupboard while the cat’s on holiday at Cat Land. I just put those in there to make it more…..”
More what, though? More believable? For some unknown reason I carried on talking. “Cat Land is a kind of Butlins for cats – ours goes every weekend with her friends. They like to lie by the pool and eat hotdogs… but it means we need the Miniature Guard Dog to patrol the cupboard while she’s away.”
It probably wasn’t the best moment for the cat to suddenly appear at our feet meowing for her supper.
“She wants to know if I’ve washed her trunks.” I said, but the Meter Man was not amused and a few minutes later he left, carrying his shoes at arms length and grumbling. I guess in his line of work he must get to see a lot of family crap in under the stairs cupboards.
When I was a kid, my younger siblings and I spent an entire summer holiday living in the cupboard under the stairs—making camps, playing with torches, building up supplies. The term before we’d been shown one of those “when the warning sounds” films about what to do in the event of a nuclear attack, so being in that womb-like hollow, deep in the belly of the house seemed like a sensible place to be on a hot sunny day in the early 1980s. That is until one of Dad’s work colleagues called round for some Important Files and heard the four of us shouting from inside the cupboard to be let out. Mum never forgave us for that.
The legend of Tiny Nigel and the cat’s Miniature Guard Dog has become embellished and mythical with the passing of time and the drinking of wine by me and Dexter’s dad. I can’t actually remember how it started now—but I think it had something do with Dexter asking why I was ranting at the radio and me feeling he was too young to know the truth about some of today’s real-life bogeymen. Tiny Nigel became a naughty imp that it was the cat’s job to keep out of mischief, and when I saw that photo of his namesake in the paper—the beer mug raised aloft, the wild look in the eyes—I cut it out and stuck it on the fuse box to make Dexter’s dad laugh. And the three-inch-high German Shepherd arrived soon after—come to think of it, that was my idea too.
“Do you think Dexter really believes in Tiny Nigel?’ I asked that night as we were getting the supper ready and I had just finished telling my Meter Man story.
“Nah,” Dexter’s Dad replied, chopping carrots intensely.
“What about the Jelly bean bird?”
He shook his head.
“Maybe. He’s seen him in the garden centre.”
“It wasn’t the real Father Christmas, though Daddy.” Dexter said, materializing at my elbow. “And I do believe in the Jelly Bean Bird because if I didn’t I wouldn’t get any jellybeans when we go to visit Granny, would I?
He’s got a point.
Tiny Nigel and The Miniature Guard Dog come out of the cupboard under the stairs in order to make this blog more believable.
Next time on The Vauxhall Corsa in the Driveway: Maggie goes head to head with Dexter and his dad when she proposes ‘putting the trampoline away for a while’ and building a writers’ studio in its place.