Monthly Archives: January 2014


(or Love in a Library)


On Monday

I got lost between Religion

and Metaphysics.

You hacked through Botany

to rescue me.


On Tuesday

I teetered on the kick step

in Literature and rhetoric

while you offered up a serenade

of Italian poetry.


On Wednesday

I said maybe Library relationships

weren’t such a good idea.

You said you appreciated

Satire and humour.


On Thursday I expounded

Platonic philosophy.

You said you were pinning your hopes on

Organic chemistry.


You spent the whole of Friday in

Argument and persuasion.

By the end of the day I’d

succumbed to your Magnetism.


On Saturday we forgot all about Ethics.

We spent the morning in Social interaction,

indulging in Public relations.


(C) Helen Lewis 2009

Lover boy

After Shakespeare’s Sonnet 130

My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun


My lover boy is nothing like a ten,

More like a two (I’m being generous).

He’s got a face like Jerry crossed with Ben,

His feet are rank, his farts are perilous.

His eyes are bad; he cannot see a thing,

And often goes out with his fly undone.

His knobbly knees look just like knots in string,

And where there once was hair, there now is none.

The only six-packs near his abdomen

Are those he drinks to make his belly fat.

I’m also pretty sure most normal men

Don’t bite and chew their toenails quite like that.

And yet I find him sexier by far

Than any footballer or movie star.


(c) Helen Lewis 2008

Family heirloom

[Click here to listen to an audio recording of this story. (Read by me, and not a professional voice artist, unfortunately!)]


My grandmother’s house was just as I remembered it. The crunch of gravel on the front path, the lion’s head knocker, the smell of beeswax, and the umbrella stand in the corner of the hall.

When I was a child the umbrella stand fascinated me. It had an off-white circular base; ivory, Oma explained – like the piano keys. The umbrella bin was shaped like an umbrella itself; inverted and partially opened. Its spines were ivory too, and stretched between, forming the fabric of the umbrella, was a beige-coloured translucent material that reminded me of the hide on my bongo drums.

Whenever Heike and I stayed with Oma the umbrella stand was our touchstone. One of us would stand next to it, close our eyes and count to a hundred while the other hid. It was our hiding place for the sweets we smuggled in for midnight feasts. As teenagers it was where we stashed our make-up.

It didn’t take long to clear the house. I got the umbrella stand and the contents of Oma’s bureau. Sorting through her papers the next day, one handwritten letter caught my eye.

June 14th 1943

Sehr geehrte Fräulein Schwartz,

Please accept my deepest sympathies. Your late father’s patronage of our work has helped to make this country great. Your own generous donation from your father’s estate will allow us to continue our research for many years to come. Please accept this small token of my appreciation: an umbrella stand, fashioned entirely from waste materials.


Joseph Mengele


(C) Helen Lewis 2010

To a Dinner Lady

(After Shakespeare’s Sonnet XVIII)


Shall I compare thee to a proper cook?

Thou art more surly and more obdurate.

By such rough winds our children’s guts are shook

That summer hols have all too short a date.

Sometime too hot thy curried mince doth taste,

And globs of gristle often blight thy stew.

Thy grease-slick gravy looks like toxic waste,

And rumour says thy custard’s made from glue.

But thy eternal lunchtime shall not fade,

Nor lose possession of that scowl thou wearest,

Nor shall inspectors claim thou mak’st the grade,

When none will eat the food that thou preparest.

So long as school’s a place where lunch is bought,

So long liv’st thou, and that gives food for thought.


(c) Helen Lewis 2008

The Book Reviewer’s Nightmare – a game

A book reviewer is sitting in her office on a Friday afternoon. She has just one more book to review before she can go home. So she just looks at the title and makes up any old thing without actually READING the book.

But what if the manuscript has a typo in the book’s title? And what if that last book of the day eventually goes on to become an all-time classic?

Welcome to the realm of ‘The Book Reviewer’s Nightmare’.

Below are my efforts so far. Fancy playing along? Just post your book title as a comment.


WAUGH AND PEAS by Leo Tolstoy

‘The caterer on ‘Brideshead Revisited’ dishes the dirt on the behind-the-scenes action.’


ON THE ORIGIN OF SPECS by Charles Darwin

‘A fascinating insight into the history of optometry’



‘Lord Voldemort devises an evil plan to put Truprint out of business by sabotaging their photo machines so that every print is slightly out of focus.’


A FAREWELL TO ARMS by Ernest Hemingway

‘The victim of a horrific motorcycling accident comes to term with the loss of his upper limbs.’


LORD OF THE FILES by William Golding

‘Power struggles spiral out of control at an office assistants’ conference.’


THE ROUND AND THE FURRY by William Faulkner

‘An exploration of the reasons why baby animals are just so darn cute’



‘An insight into why the bossy and self-righteous Zebedee is the most irritating character in The Magic Roundabout’



‘This charming novel, set on a remote Greek island during World War II, chronicles one man’s passion for citrus fruit.’


I look forward to reading your book reviews!

Getting the job done

4:30 pm

Tony sits behind the executive desk in his office, perched on the edge of the high-backed leather chair. He is silhouetted against the drawn blinds, head bowed, his only movement a gentle motion of the hands, as if counting the rosary.

A police siren passes on the street outside and the trance is broken. Tony’s hands stop moving; he sits upright, conceals something beneath his jacket, then leans back and pulls the cord that opens the blinds. He blinks, his eyes suddenly caught in a horizontal shaft of sunlight.

The light reveals brown eyes with thick brows; a long, high-bridged nose and dark hair cut fashionably short.

It also reveals a sprinkling of grey hairs at the temples, heavily pitted skin, and a deep, y-shaped scar on his left cheek.

Tony carefully folds up the monogrammed handkerchief he is holding and returns it to his breast pocket. He stands up and walks over to the mirror, where he adjusts his tie. He looks at his Rolex. It’s time.


4:45 pm

Tony’s in the back of the Jag. He’s sitting with his legs together and his hands on his knees. Occasionally his right hand reaches across and pats his suit just beneath his left breast pocket. A black trench coat lies neatly folded on the seat next to him.

His upper lip is moist with sweat. He runs an index finger around the inside of his collar and loosens his tie a fraction.

Tony takes his wallet from his coat and pulls out a photograph. It’s a picture of a young woman in her late twenties, maybe early thirties. Only her head and shoulders are visible. Behind her is a shelf full of hefty, leather-bound books. She’s wearing a black gown and a white neckpiece. Her red hair, which peeks out from underneath a short, curled wig, is cut in a chin-length bob. She’s smiling. Tony studies the photograph for a long time.


5:00 p.m.

It’s getting dark on Chestnut Avenue. The broad, tree-lined street is deserted and its well-kept houses are shadowed and lifeless. About now, its residents will be collecting their BMWs from their reserved spaces on the company car park and preparing to do battle with the rush hour traffic.

Tony’s standing in the shadows behind a sprawling rhododendron that forms the border between park and pavement. He stands perfectly still, breathing slowly and deeply. He’s watching a house across the street. It’s an expensive-looking detached house set back from the road behind a sweeping gravel drive, bordered by mature trees. The drive is empty but a light is on upstairs. Tony reaches into his jacket and pulls out a mobile phone. He dials a number then holds the phone to his ear. Across the street a phone rings. After twenty seconds Tony hangs up and the ringing stops.


5:15 p.m.

It’s almost completely dark now.

Tony’s breath hangs in the air. He pulls up the collar of his coat. A black Mercedes slides into a drive four doors down. He can’t put it off any longer. He eases out of the shadows and crosses the road.


5:20 p.m.

Inside the living room the curtains are open and the yellow light from a street lamp casts leafy shadows onto the opposite wall. There is a single door in the room. It’s open. Tony waits in the darkness behind it.


5:30 p.m.

A key is turning in the front door.

Tony holds his breath.

A light comes on in the hall followed by the sound of the front door closing. Tony hears keys being dropped on the hall table. Then, so faint as to make him wonder whether he’s just imagining it, he hears footsteps on carpet, getting closer.

Tony catches a waft of her perfume, fresh and zesty like crushed lemons. Through the crack in the door he catches a glimpse of black fabric and a flash of red hair.

Still he waits. Timing is everything.


5:35 p.m.

Now he can hear her in the kitchen. The tap is running. Tony makes his move. He slips out into the hall, onto the deep pile carpet, which muffles his footfall. He inches along the hallway, pressing his back against the wall. He looks through the chink in the kitchen door. The black gown is lying on a stool. There’s a bunch of flowers on the counter. She’s at the sink, her back to him. She’s wearing a grey suit with a short, tight skirt. Tony edges closer.

She’s right in front of him now. If he were to reach out he could tap her on the shoulder. Instead, he reaches underneath his jacket.

She turns around.

She gasps, letting the vase drop to the floor. It smashes, splashing water over her legs and across the slate tiles. Then Tony does what he came to do.

“Laura, will you marry me?” he says, holding out the ring in its box.


5:45 p.m.

In the living room the curtains are closed now and the lamps are on. Tony and Laura are snuggled up on the sofa, drinking wine and listening to Chopin. Her head is resting on his shoulder. He’s stroking her hair.

“How did you know?” she asks.

“Francesca,” Tony replies.

Laura sits up. “So that’s why she was quizzing me about my sexual fantasies last week. I thought it was a bit odd.”

Tony raises an eyebrow in mock surprise. “And a barrister fantasising about an erotic encounter with an intruder isn’t odd at all, is it?” he says.

Laura elbows him playfully in the ribs.

“Anyway,” Tony continues, “I thought women told their best friends everything.”

“Don’t you believe it,” says Laura, reaching across to the coffee table and putting her glass down. She moves closer to Tony and places a hand on his thigh. “Now then, Mr. Intruder,” she says, “I think it’s about time we got on to the erotic encounter bit.”


© Helen Lewis 2011

Running out

My car ran out of petrol at the lights.

It coughed and died. I didn’t see the red

light flashing on the dash. I had to shove

it off the road and call the R.A.C.                         


The cartridge in my printer’s drying up.

The pages that it prints are bleached-bone white

with just a ghost of ink. I have to hold

them to the light and squint my eyes to see.


And when I went to check the fridge last night

I found it empty as a Pharaoh’s tomb

ransacked by thieves. The automatic light

lit up the void below, around, above.


I woke today to find I cannot write.

It feels a lot like falling out of love.


© Helen Lewis 2006

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