Names can be misleading, like Honesty for the little girl who tells lies and Titus for the scared little bookworm who lives on shelf 37, marked Steam Trains of England, in the library. Sometimes, names are so short that your tongue sort of trips over them and they crash into your teeth, like Ty and Bea and Max. Other times, they are long and weighed down with gravitas (… which – in case you are curious – has nothing to do with gravy). Horace Horatio Heggarty the 23rd is weighed down with ‘aitches and quite tipped-over by the 23rd, which he acquired because there were 22 Felonious Kleptosquaters living in my house before him. I have quite an old house. You could say ancient but you’d have to block its ears because, what with all the creaks and broken plaster and loose floorboards, it doesn’t like to be reminded that it’s stacking up the years into an increasingly rickety heap and could really do with a bit of a home makeover. Horace would probably dislike, intensely, any attempts at renovation. It would disrupt his system of tunnels and hiding places.
Horace has lots of hiding places and is exceptionally good at hiding. Which explains why I can’t describe his face, or hair, or general Horace-defining features. If you look carefully, you might spot his shadow sliding behind a piece of furniture, or the tip of a pointed red shoe poking out from beneath a cushion, or if he is fleeing the scene of one of his crimes, perhaps catch a glimpse of the frayed tail of his fluttering, striped, purple and yellow scarf.
Horace is shy. He’s also cunning and extremely naughty. I guess the shyness could be guilt – the sort that makes you slink into corners and hang your head and hope no-one notices or asks you any awkward questions.
In short – he is very short – Horace is a thief; a mischievous felon. Who lives in my house.
Before I tell you about the day I nearly caught him, let me make one thing quite clear – I did not invite him to live in my home. Nor did my mother whose house this was before it became mine. Nor did my grandfather. Horace chose to live here – like his 22 ancestors before him and like them, he barged in without asking – in his case, dew-early, on one sunny morning in May, a few years ago. In other words, Horace squats. Somewhere in my house. And, being a squatter, he doesn’t pay rent.
These combined attributes of thievery and home invasion and being called Horace are what make him the 23rd Felonious Kleptosquater to live beneath my sagging roof.