There’s a dog on my road called The Phantom Menace.
Well, okay, so his owners don’t call him that (at least, I presume they don’t). No, the name was bestowed by me and my husband on this particularly fluffy-eared, noisy bichon frise, thanks to his tendency to suddenly pop up like a jack in the box at various windows of his house whenever anyone walks past. He then yaps like a maniac until they’ve passed out of the view of his beady little eyes. You never know what window the Menace will appear at – it could be an upstairs bedroom, it could be downstairs – which adds to the drama. And he is VERY loud. I feel very sorry for his owners.
But the Menace isn’t the only local animal to get a nickname from my household. His much better behaved next door neighbour is a small, slightly shaggy terrier who sits very neatly outside her front door and sometimes walks out to the gate be patted when I walk past. She’s a friendly and intelligent little beast – I’ve seen her look left and right before it crossed the road. She’s known as The Guardian. Then there’s Pug Ugly, a strutting little pug who lives around the corner, and Old Jeff, a charismatic but very old west highland terrier.
In fact, my entire neighbourhood is full of amusing small animals who I see all the time and who have gradually been given these names, unbeknownst to their actual owners. I have no idea what most of their actual names are and in a way, I don’t want to know. I was genuinely shocked when I found out Old Jeff’s name was really Basil. Basil! He didn’t look like a Basil! And I can’t imagine finding out that the Phantom Menace is actually called Fluffy or Snowy or something ordinary like that.
I did have a chance to find out, however, on one memorable occasion. I was walking down the road and the Menace and his owner were in the front garden. The Menace reacted to the presence of a passer by in typically obnoxious style, by leaping up and down behind the wall, his little fluffy head popping up and glaring at me as he jumped. Just as his owner was apologising, the Menace bounced unusually high and jumped right over the wall, whereupon he proceeded to race down the road at top speed while his flummoxed owner struggled to put down her shopping. I set off in hot pursuit, but the Menace turned around and dashed off the other direction, before leaping through a hedge into another garden.
“Oh God, I know where he’s gone,” said his owner, rushing after him. “That’s a house with lots of cats.”
I suppose I could have asked what his name was then, but somehow it didn’t feel like the right moment.
So what about you? Have you given nicknames to the animals or even people in your area? Or my husband and I alone in giving personalities to other people’s pets? Please say it’s not just us…