Tag Archives: Britishness

The prize

Gladys couldn’t recall ever having won anything before, and now a nice young man from the local radio station was on the telephone, informing her that she’d won first prize in that month’s phone-in astronomy competition.

Gladys first discovered astronomy at the age of eight. Her brother was given a telescope for his tenth birthday, but soon lost interest. One frosty night during the blackout, a bored Gladys casually pointed the telescope at the moon and ignited a lifelong passion.

She hadn’t had a telescope for quite some time. Apart from any other considerations, she now lived in a one-bedroomed flat and she would have spent all her time tripping over it.

As soon as the young man hung up she realised she’d forgotten to ask what the prize was. No matter; it was being delivered tomorrow and she’d find out soon enough.

As usual, Bella started barking just before the doorbell rang.

“Where do you want the telescope?” asked the courier.

Gladys stood impassively for a moment, and then put her hands to her face to wipe away the tears that were beginning to stream down it. The courier placed his arm around her shoulder and helped her onto the hall chair.

“Why are you crying, love? Don’t you like it?”

“No, I love it,” sniffed Gladys. “I couldn’t have asked for a better prize.”

“What’s the matter, then?” the courier asked.

So Gladys told him, while Bella the guide dog gently nuzzled her tear-salted hands.


(c) Helen Lewis  2004

A sea change at the fish ‘n’ chip shop

 After ‘The only son at the fish ‘n’ chip shop’ by Geoff Hattersley


Before I break the news to mother

I down a couple of pints.

“Well, Gerald,” she says,

“It’s about bloody time.”


Maureen knows how to talk to the customers.

She wears high heels and red nails.

She cuts the size labels

from her regulation tabards.


Maureen’s been to Spain and Old Trafford.

While I’m carving the kebab meat,

she talks about her holiday in Turkey.

I say I don’t think I should like the heat.


Maureen scribbles poems on chip paper;

they’re not very good – they don’t even rhyme.

I tell her about my novel and she asks to read it.

I say I’ll show her when it’s finished.


She asks me to marry her

one Saturday after closing time.

We’re alone in the back room,

counting the takings.


The strip light flickers.

The fly killer buzzes

blue lightning.

I say yes.


I’m sick of the smell of chip fat

under my shirt collar,

and the oil-slick air

above the fryers.


Maureen says chip fat’s liquid gold.

“There are going to be

some changes around here

when I’m in charge,” she says.


(C) Helen Lewis 2006

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 Ballad of Lachie McLachlan the Third

Come on everybody, and sit round the fire

While I tell you the tale of a brave DIY-er.

Well-read though you are, folks, I’ll bet you’ve not heard

The ballad of Lachie McLachlan the third.


From his nine-to-five job Lachie longed to break free

(He worked as a chartered accountant you see.)

At weekends he stripped, sanded, papered and painted,

At night he escaped to his shed and invented.


A heatseeking pencil, a cloak for a gnat,

A football with engines, a solar-powered hat;

Our Lachie’s inventions were truly unique,

And he kept on producing them week after week.


Now Lachie himself would be first to confess

That sometimes his hobbies would make quite a mess.

The burns on the carpet and holes in the wall

Were none too impressive when friends came to call.


One day, with the house falling down round her ears

His wife Emma cracked (she’d been crumbling for years).

To be married to Lachie was trying enough,

But life in the midlands was proving too tough.


She pined for the bagpipes, the mountains, the heather,

The real butter shortbread and terrible weather.

“Now Lachie,” she said, “Wave your DIY wand,

To remind me of Scotland of which I’m so fond.


Make over the lounge for your daughter and me

And make us believe we’re back home in Dundee.

So spare no expense, love, I don’t want it spartan,

And no holding back – I want everything tartan.”


So Lachie went shopping for tartan wallpaper

And carpet and curtains – oh my, what a caper!

He called at each furnishing store in the mall

But none of them had any tartan at all.


When Lachie told Emma he hadn’t been able

To find any tartan, she banged on the table.

“I won’t accept no for an answer,” she said.

“I want the walls chequered in blue, green and red.


If the lounge isn’t tartan by this time next week

I’m leaving you, Lachie. Shut up, let me speak.

I’ll take a memento or two when I go

Like your platinum card and your vintage Bordeaux.”


While the sudden departure of daughter and wife

Would not leave a huge gaping hole in his life,

The permanent loss of his platinum card

Would curtail his inventing. This hit Lachie hard.


Gone midnight, while Lachie was lying in bed

A dirty great light bulb went off in his head.

He knew what he needed to solve his dilemma.

A big tartan paint bomb would satisfy Emma.


So Lachie got up and slunk off to his shed,

Feeling certain that hours of work lay ahead.

By daybreak he’d finished – the job was complete

And a bleary-eyed Lachie was dead on his feet.


As Emma got up, Lachie crawled into bed.

She asked where he’d been. “Just inventing,” he said.

“I’ve invented a paint bomb.” This got her attention.

She asked him at once to describe his invention.


Said Lachie, “It’s really the simplest thing.

The paint bomb’s attached to the ceiling with string.

You light the fuse quickly, and then leave the room

Before the device has a chance to go ‘boom’.


Once everything’s dry I’m convinced you’ll adore

The bold tartan checks on walls, ceiling and floor.

Updating the lounge will be done in a flash.

With no carpet to buy we can save loads of cash.”


So that afternoon Lachie switched on the heating

And covered the windows with blue plastic sheeting

So that anyone sat on the suedette settee

Would still get a view of the A43.


He filled his invention with red, green and blue

And took down the curtains and photographs too.

He hung up the paint bomb with Blu-tac and string

And then lit a match; ah, but here is the thing:


The fuse Lachie fitted was too short, my friend,

And as soon as he put a lit match to the end

The paint bomb went off with an ear-splitting roar.

Poor Lachie keeled over and fell to the floor.


To spare you, dear reader, additional strife,

I’ll tell you our hero escaped with his life.

While the payment he made for his error was high

He didn’t end up in the shed in the sky.


Instead Lachie found himself lying in bed

Looking up at a white-collared face overhead.

Said the doctor, “You must think me terribly rude.

I’ve not introduced myself – I’m Doctor Pseud.


You’ve been in a coma but now you’re awake

And you’re going to get better for everyone’s sake.

There’s just one small problem. We scrubbed at your skin

But we couldn’t get rid of the paint on your chin


Or your cheeks or your forehead, your neck or your nose.

How on earth you tattooed your own face, heaven knows.

But there’s one thing I do know, because I’m so clever:

It’s not coming off. You’ll be tartan forever.”


Though a lesser man might have been crushed by this fate

Lachie wasn’t too bothered – in fact, he felt great.

He was over the moon to escape with his life

And gladly returned to his job and his wife.


At work Lachie’s boss called him in for a chat:

“You can’t meet our customers looking like that.

I want you to leave by the end of the week.

This firm is no place for a tartan-faced freak.”


When Emma found out he’d been given the sack

She said, “Right, I’m leaving. I’m not coming back.

I can’t stand the taunts on the street any more

And losing your job is the very last straw.”


The bank sent our Lachie a note to explain

The house that he lived in was in his wife’s name.

She stood to make quite a big profit, no doubt,

And he had till the end of the month to get out.


This news left poor Lachie too gobsmacked to speak;

He’d lost job, wife and house in the space of a week.

But despite his misfortune he didn’t start whining;

He knew every cloud has a platinum lining.


These days Lachie’s life’s not the same as before.

He’s no longer bored with his job, that’s for sure.

His paint bomb’s sold millions, won glowing reviews,

And it now comes equipped with a very long fuse.


At weekends our hero dons sporran and sword,

And full highland dress for the Scots Tourist Board,

And whenever they’re touring he earns what he can

As the Bay City Rollers’ publicity man.


At long last we come to our thought for the day,

The message of this, our morality play:

Though the cards that life deals you may look pretty lame

If you play them with skill you can still win the game.


And so, dearest readers, my story is done.

There’s no more to say, no more tales to be spun.

But I bet you’ll remember it now that you’ve heard

The ballad of Lachie McLachlan the third.


© Helen Lewis 2009

Dear Derek

Dear Derek,

I should imagine I’m the last person you’d expect a letter from after the way we parted company, but I feel I owe you an explanation for my behaviour last night. As you don’t own a computer and you’re too deaf to use the phone, I was left with no option but to dust off the Basildon Bond and put pen to paper.

You see, Derek, I had something of an epiphany today. I won’t go into details, but suffice to say, that where before there was Darkness, now there is Light. Consequently, I feel the need to clear up some misapprehensions that you may have been under regarding our, for want of a better term, relationship.

I remember the night we met. I was performing my Gershwin By Candlelight set when one of the tea lights fell off the piano and set light to your toupée. Straightaway I knew you were different from the other punters. Cashmere jumper. Gold Rolex. Perfect dentures. You said you didn’t know why a young glamour puss like me would pay attention to an old duffer like you. I hope this letter will help to make that clear.

Remember the money you gave me to have a boob job? Well, I wasn’t entirely upfront, if you’ll pardon the pun, about how I spent it. A tiny fraction went on a pair of slip-in bra inserts, and I blew the rest on a fortnight in Barbados. With Todd. Or was it Brad? I forget. Anyway, that brings me to another teeny tiny confession-ette.

You know how I said that I was still a virgin and wanted to wait until our wedding night before consummating our love? Well, I haven’t been a virgin since John Major was prime minister. I could make a joke here about getting fucked when Labour got in, but I’ll resist the temptation, because I know how highly you regard ‘Our Tony’.

Last night things came to a head. I could tell by the uncharacteristic leer on your face that something was amiss, and when you whispered that you’d got hold of some Viagra, the bulge in your trousers, which I’d previously assumed was your colostomy bag slipping down again, suddenly made perfect and alarming sense to me. As fond as I am of you, Derek, you’ll have to admit you’re hardly love’s young dream, and there are some things that any self-respecting girl, even one as game as I am, just can’t bring herself to do. Which is why I left in such a hurry.

My God, I can’t believe how much better I feel for telling the truth at long last. I feel cleansed. I hope you will find it in your heart to forgive me for what I did. The best thing you can do now is forget all about me, and carry on with your life (what’s left of it.)




P.S. One other thing. Desirée’s my stage name. My real name’s Dave.

© Helen Lewis, 2010

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