The Number 151: Teatime in Cheam

A Cautionary Tale

Now this is a story of two little girls;
The older had pigtails, the younger one curls.
They lived in the wonderful village of Cheam
And both were addicted to chocolates and cream.

And ever these sisters would rival the other,
Encouraged and helped by their worshipping mother.
For each enjoyed probing her appetite’s limits
At teatime with gateaux and sugary biscuits.

They had their own system for taking their tea:
They’d sit down at table precisely at three.
And there they’d remain at their business till late,
Consuming whatever was put on the plate.

Their mother would ply them with goodies galore,
And then when they’d finished she’d ply them with more.
And all would they eat and demolish with zeal,
And that was the pattern at every day’s meal.

And so the years passed and the girls put on weight,
But still they persisted and greedily ate.
And each one expanded; her waistline increased,
As urged on each day they continued to feast.

And so it went on and the girls grew and grew,
To all form and shapeliness bidding adieu.
Their arms and legs shortened, their torsos enlarged,
As with carbohydrates their bodies they charged.

It seemed they were plugging the gaps in their shapes,
Employing each space to accommodate cakes.
No contour too even, no dimple too small
It couldn’t be filled with a coconut ball.

And on rolled the years with the sisters ballooning
With nary a thought for the tragedy looming.
Each meal they devoured as though eating their last;
Not once did they pause or consider a fast.

But then came the evening when destiny called;
And here I warn readers who might be appalled.
What happened that teatime may tender souls shock:
It took place precisely at seven o’clock!

That day more than usual they’d eaten their fill,
Disposing of biscuits with consummate skill.
But that’s when the vessel they sailed came aground,
For now these two darlings were perfectly round.

No hole was there left to accommodate cakes;
They’d plugged all the gaps in their mountainous shapes.
From every direction each girl was a sphere;
No wrinkles remaining, not even an ear.

Detectives would work out the course of events
By piecing together the marks and the dents.
The newspapers also would carry the story,
Indulging their readership’s taste for the gory.

It seems that some buns were the triggering culprit,
As darkly the vicar would warn from his pulpit.
With neither possessing a smidgen of room
It’s then that it happened: that thunderous boom!

The curls hit the ceiling, the pigtails the floor!
That perfect rotundity smashed through the door!
The girls had exploded with terrible force
And all kinds of physics stuff now took its course!

Those limits they’d probed for they’d finally reached
As each of the girls her circumference breached.
What exited plastered the walls of their home
With stomachs and livers and kidneys and bone.

But then a strange slurping sound followed that day
As bits of them now started peeling away.
They peeled from the ceiling; they peeled from the walls,
All mixed up together with coconut balls.

And so ends our tale of these two little girls,
The one with her pigtails, the other her curls,
The moral of which we need hardly repeat:
At teatime you really ought not overeat!



Paul Martin Freeman is an art dealer in London. The poem is from The Bus Poems: A Tale of the Devil, currently in preparation. His recent book, A Chocolate Box Menagerie, is published by New English Review Press on whose website the current poem first appeared.

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14 Responses

  1. Paddy Raghunathan

    A fine nonce poem, yet it comes with a caution, and even a moral. Very well done.

    • Paddy Raghunathan

      My bad, I shouldn’t have called it nonce at all.

      Let me rephrase: A fine nonce poem, yet it comes with a caution, and even a moral. Very well done.

  2. Paddy Raghunathan

    I did it again, didn’t I!

    A fine poem, yet it comes with a caution, and even a moral. Very well done.

  3. Roy Eugene Peterson

    That is a great poem and a mesmerizing story! I loved it though the conclusion was gory! The moral is if you eat too many sweets, you, too, could get swept off of the streets. This was such a smooth reading poem that seemed to gallop along at an easy pace. Thoroughly enjoyable!

    • Paul Martin Freeman

      Thank you, Roy. I’m glad you like it. I always appreciate comments like yours!

  4. Susan Jarvis Bryant

    Paul, I like this cautionary tale for many reasons. I like the seamless flow and the deft employment of meter and rhyme. I like the highly entertaining story and the moral. I like the fact it harks back to an era when things were a lot simpler to understand, and I love the fact this all occurs a few miles away from my late grandparent’s house. The unfortunate ending reminds me of the fate of the obese Mr. Creosote in Monty Python’s ‘The Meaning of Life’… that ‘a wafer-thin-mint’ scene put me off After Eights for years! Paul, thank you!

    • Paul Martin Freeman

      Much appreciated, Susan. I hadn’t thought about it before, but I think you’re right about the period feel. Probably 1950s, wouldn’t you say?

    • Paul Martin Freeman

      Hello Paul. Dieting has its perils, too, as I hope shortly to show!

  5. Norma Pain

    Such a hilarious, cleverly rhymed and metered, story with an obvious message to those who don’t know how to apply the brakes to gluttony. Thank you Paul.

    • Paul Martin Freeman

      Thank you, Norma. Cheam seemed to be begging for a story about cream. The whole thing came from that.


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