“What on earth is that noise?” I asked The Boss through a fog of sleep. Checking the bedside clock showed it to be three in the morning. “There it is again”, as a series of muffled thuds filtered into our bedroom. The Boss replied that it sounded like a basketball being bounced on the road outside our house.
It is astonishing how quickly one can shift from sweet dreams to wide-awake. Fair leaping out of bed I bounded across the room to pull back the curtains of our bay windows. Seeing what was going on I spluttered out a curse and exclaimed that “there’s a man kicking my car”! The bay windows all have safety locks on and cannot quickly be opened wide. (That’s because The Girl, our daughter, who happens to have Down Syndrome, was into exploring and we could foresee her opening the window, reaching out for the ladybirds that would land on the outside of the window frame, and falling out.) So I banged on the pane and shouted a few curses. In detective fiction the fellow kicking my car would be called an “IC1 (white European) male perpetrator”; on ‘The Bill’ he would have been known as a “scrote, in his twenties, wearing a sweat shirt and crepe-soled desert boots”. He certainly appeared not to like white Volvos.
At the risk of painting too graphic a picture, it was a warm, late summer night and I had gone to bed in shorts. Grabbing my dressing-gown from the cupboard I pulled it on and ran down the stairs. Struggling to unlock the front door whilst simultaneously trying to pull on my walking boots, I heard The Boss at the top of the stairs: “Do you think you should go out there? He may have a knife. I’m calling the police”. I’m neither physically nor emotionally built for violence and am self-aware enough to recognise this. But my car was still getting a kicking. Do you remember when Basil Fawlty beat-up his Mini? Well it was like that only without the twigs.
How could I look fierce enough to stop the Kicker kicking, whilst avoiding a fight? ‘I know!’, I thought, ‘I’ll take the dogs with me.’ So I quickly reached for the leads of our two Hungarian Vizsla bitches. They were already beside themselves with excitement, refusing to sit quietly, barking and whirling around like Dervishes. Losing precious seconds, I eventually got them on their leads. Then thought about the knife Kicker may have had. Grabbing the first thing that came to hand I opened the front door and strode manfully down the path. Picture if you will a slightly overweight, middle-aged man in Calvin Klein pyjama shorts and an M&S dressing-gown (that just wouldn’t stay closed); hair skew-whiff, walking boots unlaced, clutching two excited and noisy (but not fierce) dogs in one hand, and in the other… a fire-extinguisher.
Glancing back up over my shoulder I could see The Boss in the window clutching a phone to her ear. (With her was The Girl who, I later learned, had been woken by the to-do and was repeatedly pestering her mam: “Why is daddy out in his pyjamas? Where’s he going with the dogs. Who is kicking daddy’s car?” “Ssh darling I’m talking to the police.” “The POLICE??! Is daddy going to jail?”)
“Oi, you!”, I shouted as authoritatively as I could in the circumstances. “What do you think you’re doing?” “I’m kicking the car.” “I can see that” I spluttered, lost for words. By this time Kicker and I were just two yards apart, both of us holding our ground, him meting out a few residual and desultory kicks at the door panel, me clutching my dogs and fire-extinguisher with grim resolution, the dogs as happy as Larry at the unusual midnight adventure. Tails wagging excitedly they were in no sense frightening.
I remembered the knife. What if Kicker ‘pulled a blade’ (as I think the street vernacular has it)? I had no idea whether I would react to that event by flinging the dogs and/or the extinguisher at him whilst hot-footing it back up the path, squeezing the nozzle and soaking Kicker, or hitting him over the head with it. But I was glad that I had it. A stand-off ensued, no blade was pulled but the car-kicking stopped. Soon enough two police cars, blue lights flashing, pulled up either side of the Volvo, blocking traffic in both directions. Not that there was any traffic.
“Aye aye”, said uniformed officer Number 1, “what’s goin’ on ‘ere then?”. At least, that’s what my mind tells me it remembers him saying. In fact, the first words I clearly remember him saying came later. I imagine that he first asked me and Kicker for our version of events. Eventually, however he grinned at me and said “luckily there’s not a lot of damage to the panels sir…”, turning to Kicker he added “… if you’re going to kick cars you really should wear decent shoes!”.
It turned out that uniformed officer Number 2 had come across Kicker before. They had quiet words before Number 2 helped Kicker into the back of his patrol car and drove him I know not where. It was intimated to me that Kicker had a drugs problem. It was unclear whether he was looking for valuables in the car, or was just high on something. By now I had taken the dogs inside, done up my dressing-gown and invited Number 1 in to take the details he needed for his report.
The Girl took a great deal of persuading to go back to bed and we allowed her to come down and meet uniformed officer Number 1 before tucking her back in. She likes policemen and women. Ever since she was a tot, when I would carry her around in a kind of baby-back-pack (except it was at the front, on my chest!) we would stop whenever we’d see a perambulating police-person and I would tell her that if she was ever lost or in trouble then she should find a policeman or woman. Then the police-person would take his helmet off and pretend to put it on The Girl’s head. Cue all round jollity!
Of course, the attentive reader will have one big question. Namely, how was it that we had a fire extinguisher to hand? Well, surely it is a truth universally acknowledged, that a married man in possession of a small obsessive-compulsive complex, must be in want of a fire extinguisher? Or, in my case, seven such extinguishers (two each on the first and second floors and three downstairs), plus two fire-blankets. In fairness to me, there is a good reason for this compulsion. My late mother set fire to three of our kitchens. Or rather, she only set fire to two kitchens – but lit-up one of those twice.
No, she wasn’t a fan of The Prodigy, just a bit scatty! But our family loved the chipped potato and mam made wonderful chips. Those were the days of the old-style chip pan which, if not overseen diligently, would catch fire ‘just like that’. My sisters and I were younger than The Girl is now when we were routinely taught how to put out chip-pan fires (you use a damp tea-towel). If the child is father of the man, for this man that means an obsession with fire extinguishers. It’s pure serendipity that when one of these is brandished by a semi-naked man in a dressing-gown and very little else, in the middle of the night, it stops vandals in their tracks!