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Baked Beans for Guy (1991)

HELEN, a 56 year old lady, struggles in carrying a weekly Sainsbury's shop. She is wearing a cashier's uniform with a badge saying "Customer Complaints." Sighing, she sits on a chair centre stage.

Sometimes you can quite believe that we are all descended from apes. I think I'd rather be an ape than work for Customer Complaints any longer. You'd never guess what some people find to complain about. I had one chap come to me today…looked like an ape he did…got long 'air - and an earring. Reminded me of our Jenny's fella - bit of a thug. Anyway, he come in, and plonked the carrier down, scowling all over 'is face.
I said, "Yes sir, what can I do for you?" - you 'af to be polite. An' he said: "There was mould in my baked beans", if you please!
I said: "I'm sorry, sir, there must be some mistake."
"Nope", he said, "there were green bits floating around in it."

"I think I know what the problem is", I said, improvising sweetly. "It wasn’t mould - it was peppercorns - it's a new line we're stocking. Extra succulent beans in a delicious peppery sauce," I said in me best TV voice.
"Don’t give me that crap," he said. "Where on these ingredients" - he was waving the can in front of my nose - "Does it say peppercorns? Don’t tell me it's a surprise ingredient!"
He thought he 'ad me now. He was beginning to smirk.
"I'm sorry, the labels must've been mixed up at the warehouse. I'm afraid there's nothing I can do."
"Bull. I want to speak to the Manager." He didn’t like that!
"There's no need for that," I replied firmly. "If you'd like to write to the manufacturers, they will register your complaint. In the meantime, here's your sixty-four pence. Good day!"
He gave me a right awful look, grabbed 'is change and stormed out. Somehow, I don’t think the manufacturers are gonna get that letter…probably didn’t even know how to write!

(HELEN gets up from her chair and walks down SL to an imaginary window)

Oh. The new people have arrived across the road. Hmmmm. He must be the man of the house. Wouldn’t like to meet him on a dark night…looks a bit like Uncle Charlie. He didn’t 'alf used to scare me when I was small.
I wonder if they're neighbourly-like. Shouldn’t wonder if they're not. People are so inconsiderate these days.

(PAUSE)

Uh-oh. You'd never guess who I've just seen. Old baked-beans Jimmy's moved across the road. Must be that scary man's son. Oh yes - I can see the family resemblance - both ugly. Ha!

(PAUSE)

Oh, I hadn't noticed how dark it had got. It'll be Bonfire Night soon. I remember last year, the Guy competition…nobody entered!
My little grandson, Jason, was a mite peeved. We wandered into the wrong marquee and the Bonfire man thought he was a guy! It took all of two candy flosses, a toffee apple and a piggy back from my Alf before he'd stop sulking.
Ah, that takes me back to when the children were small.

(HELEN mimes drawing the curtains and returns to the chair.)

Day trips to Brighton…but of course you can't go anywhere now because of the pollution. Our Lucy - oh, she was only five bless her - fell off the pier one year…1962, I think that was. Course, she's got children of her own now. Kylie's a little love, she is. And then there's Colin. Haven't even seen him. Lucy lives in Northumberland now. It's not that far really - but I think she's a bit embarrassed by her old mum now that she's married to that record producer.
Michael, he calls himself Mick. Never did like that nickname for people over thirty. Never did like him - sniffing round our girl when she was scarcely seventeen. Well, now he's got her - it's just a shame that Tom, that's Lucy's first husband, died in a motorbike accident. Didn’t like him either - but he was better than this Mick.

(PAUSE)

My Alf will be home quite late tonight. He works as a Customs Officer down at the airport. Not a very well-paid job - but still, it's enough to make ends meet. He'll be in a right paddy 'cos I haven't bought steak for his dinner. We always have steak on Thursdays, and he doesn’t like it when his schedule's messed up. Makes him feel insecure. He was in the Army once y'see.
Well, I haven't bought steak for him today because, to be frank, it's just too expensive. I can remember paying three and six for steak. They're charging eight pounds for a good slab these days! Honestly! The cheek of it!
I hope he isn't too annoyed. He's a big man, my Alf, and he can still pack a mean punch even with that hand injury. He got shot, y'see. It was the start of 'Nam and they wanted a good British commander to help lead the Yanks. It wasn’t compulsory or anything, but my Alf's a fine man, and he went, and then he got a bullet in his hand. He couldn’t move it about much after that - had to have an operation - and was invalided out of the Army. That got to him totally, and I'll never forget the look on his face when the sergeant said: "Sorry, Alf, but with your hand like that you'll ne'er be able to fight again". It's a big change, that, from dodging bullets in a jungle to sifting through people's luggage at Heathrow.
He wouldn’t really hit me - dead gentle, he is. It's just his temper that you've got to watch out for. Like a volcano, me sister calls it.

(PAUSE)

Mind you, I won't say I'm above having a go at people. The other day, a lady came to me complaining that her lipstick didn’t match the shade of her dress, apparently it was a different colour to the sample. A right madam she was, twenty at the most.
"I'm sorry, Miss", I said to her, "but you can't really blame me for that".
"'Oo am I supposed ter blame 'en? British Rail?", she snapped, all sarcastic like.
Well, I hate it when people talk to you like your some kind of idiot, and I was about ready to give her a piece of my mind.
"Now look here", I told her, "don’t you go speaking to me like that. If you can't pick out the right coloured lipstick, should I get the blame? What it boils down to is that you're not clever enough to be able to read the different names on the bottom of the bottles!"
I was really yelling at her now. And then who should walk in but the Manager, and it turns out that she was his girlfriend! He said I was lucky not to get fired. I don’t hold with all that "Customer is always Right" stuff, but I've never regretted it, not even then.

Baked beans seem to be very popular at the moment, why, I've had loads of complaints recently…hardly surprising, the manufacturers went bust last year, and we get stuck with a load of mouldy bean tins to flog as "peppercorns". I don’t know how that idea came to me…inspiration, I call it. I don’t know what it will be like living opposite HIM…I hope he doesn’t remember me.

(PAUSE)

I'll bet he's got one of those new-fangled motorbike things…and a bloomin' noisy one at that…they may call them fun, but to me they're just plain dangerous. A kid probably not even old enough to vote near ran me down on one last week. As it was, I had to dodge it, lost me balance, and landed up in a muddy ditch! Oh, they may have laughed, but it's sure enough painful, I can tell you. (Rubs her back). Oh, that brings me back to the time I fell off me 'orse when I had 'orse riding lessons as a nipper. I went right down 'ard on me backside. And it was on the hard ground! Oh, I couldn’t sit down for a week, it was that painful. It was about that time that I met Alf. He was two years older than me. Childhood sweethearts we were. It was so romantic…buying me penny sweets with his pocket money.

(PAUSE)
Well, one thing led to another, and then, when I was nineteen and he was twenty-one, we were married. A few years later we had our first child - Peter. Oh, was it really that long ago? Seems like only last week that we were at his christening - there was a big thunderstorm that day. The Vicar was just holding our little Pete - when suddenly, a massive crash of thunder came from above. God must have been eating some of our beans, that's all that I can say. Anyways, our Petey started cryin' and wouldn’t stop, so we couldn’t hear what the Vicar was saying for all that noise. The poor man got so excited that he went and dropped Peter in the font, and he's been a little angel ever since.
And after our Peter, we had Lucy. Is she really thirty-four now? Oh, we were worried about her, she was such a tiny baby. She wouldn’t eat anything, y'see.
Our family doctor, though, was very nice and comforting, we all loved him, and fortunately, so did Lucy. He could get her to take her feed like noone else could. Doctor Morris, that was his name. He died last year, I believe. He was a lovely man. Very nice.

(PAUSE)

And then there's our youngest, Jenny. My Alf had just had the operation when we discovered that I was pregnant. That came as a shock, I can tell you. She's a lovely girl, though, bit rebellious at times, but I'm sure I was too, in my time. She's always complaining that me and Alf are old-fashioned. What she really means is past it. But I know different. If she could have my job for just one day - I'm sure she'd see. You should see the cushy lives these picture girls lead - especially our one.
I am happy, though…

(There is a sudden BLACKOUT)

Or at least when I can see.

(CURTAIN)

Baked Beans for Guy


Robin Tamblyn (author)