Once upon a not-too-long ago, there lived a little man in an old, old street. For a long time, the street was mainly populated by old, old people and the little man was able to win their friendship and trust by routinely asking them about their health, their daily movements and their daily intentions. He would even ask if they had any little odd jobs he could do for them in their homes, so that he could get to know their houses, and chat away to them until nightfall. He would also volunteer to look after their properties, look after the street, and guard all and sundry in the locality against the slightest breeze from the terrifying Ill Winds of Progress.
The old, old people tolerated the little man; for, although he was a distinctly inquisitive individual, he was a handy person to have around. Surely no robber or burglar would come near the place, when, at the first sign of a strange face, his window blinds would twitch inquisitively, or he’d tramp out into his forecourt to demand to know said stranger’s particulars or intentions. He was, the old people decided, a sort of guardian; the kind of person who could be relied upon to keep the street safe, familiar and stuck in AD 1956.
But the years passed too quickly, and soon the old people began to expire, one by one. This saddened the little man, but not as much as the arrival of the 21st century and a new generation of tenant. Soon, younger people began to inhabit the former homes of the old, old people. Every day, the little man emerged from his home, stamped his little feet on his forecourt and shifted from side to side with grievous concern. What could he do? Ah yes, he decided: he would give the younger people the benefit of his wisdom.
But, to his utter horror, he discovered these younger people, these runners-in from goodness knows where, had ideas and minds of their own. Especially the women folk. How dare they? Didn’t they know this was his roost? The new, younger people ignored him, they turned away or ran away when he approached, and, worst of all, they sniggered behind his back.
Now, he understood that these strange, new, younger people loved their new homes but he couldn’t grasp the reasons why they wanted to modernise them, and personalise them – the little man was horrified. A stranger in his own street. After years of acting as guardian to the old people and preserving their quaint way of life, progress was trespassing in his domain. His authority was slipping from his hairy little fist. He had to reassert his jurisdiction somehow.
One afternoon, the little man was returning from a thirst-quenching visit to a local watering hole. He was lost in thought, particularly pleased with himself that he had avoided the local Bully who had once clobbered him for being quite particularly inquisitive. Anyway, the little man thought, the next time Bully comes anywhere near me, I’ll give him a piece of my mind.
But just as that thought passed gradually through his head, he beheld a sight that made his little feet hop from side to side. There were some large, strong-looking men working in the forecourt of the house right next door to his own. The people next door had employed some labourers to modernise their house and forecourt!
His brain whizzed and rattled around his head, trying to come up with some solution: could he stop them from working? Could he halt this attempt at progress so close to his own doorstep? He slowed his walking pace but didn’t quite realise he was still hopping from side to side in anxiety.
Just then, the little man hit upon an idea: if he couldn’t directly tell them to halt their labours, perhaps he could intimidate them into stopping. He knew exactly how he’d do it.
He shoved his little arms into his deep pockets and eventually retrieved his mobile phone – yes, he’d put it to his ear, and pretend he was having a discussion with someone. He decided that, just as he would walk past his neighbour’s forecourt wall, he would bellow something forceful and direct, something that would show these young labourers that he was a man who shouldn’t be meddled with.
He approached the wall, hearing the hard-working young men discussing the job they were doing. The little man clamped the phone to his ear.
“Yes, yes,” he said loudly, as he picked up speed with his little feet. He was pretty sure they could hear him now, so he waited a few paces until they could also see him properly, until he was almost at his own gate. Now he’d show them who was boss, now he’d prove what an assertive, commanding and formidable man he was. He took a deep breath and bellowed in his most domineering and superior voice: “Nail his ass!”
With that, he stamped his little feet up his path to his front door, and entered his house – just in time to hear the hard-working young men dissolve into a fit of uncontrollable, disrespectful laughter. The plan had failed. Sadly, he closed his front door, just as one of them called out the word “arsehole!”
The little man was rarely seen again. But that’s not quite the end of the story.
These days, on the street where he once (thought he) held such influence and respect amongst people now long gone, he is still remembered in the lives of the children. At every childhood party, the little man’s catchphrase is recalled in a well-loved parlour game – a game in which a blindfolded individual has to place the tail of a donkey on to the correct part of its bottom. The game, in that old, old street, is disrespectfully known amongst its house-proud young inhabitants as ‘Nail His Ass’.