Granddad's Birthday Cuff Links by James McEwan

Sunday, February 8, 2015
James McEwan's character has saved up to buy her Granddad a special present, but must contend with an unscrupulous shopkeeper.

Anne counted out her money from her little tea tin. It was Granddad's birthday tomorrow and she would surprise him with those fancy cuff links. The ones with the regimental motif on, since he was always talking about his adventures from his war days.

She had sold her Bunty Christmas annual to her friend Sally, saved all of her pennies from her pocket money and even found some sixpences at the bus stop. There were also the half-crown and two florins that she had not spent during her summer holidays.

The thrupenny bits were in piles of four, the tanners in twos and the pennies in twelve. She added them all up to eleven shillings and eight. Some of the pennies were old and worn with Queen Victoria on one side but that didn't matter, she had enough for Granddad's present. It was a special day for him as he was going to be sixty years old and Gran had said it was a great milestone in one's life.

She went into Mr Roland's antique shop and saw that the cuff links were still there in the glass case.

Six months ago Granddad had shown them to her when they had been wandering around the shop. Afterwards they went to the park where they had fed breadcrumbs to the birds. They had sat on a wooden bench and Granddad in his croaky voice told her all about his time with the Cameronian Rifles and having a Lewis gun. His eyes had watered and he kept coughing and choking and he had said it was the best time of his life, which was awful really since it was all about fighting and being in the war.

In the shop the cuff links were still in the glass case and only eleven shillings and six. She would have tuppence left to buy some toffee caramels.

'Hoy you, don't be touching anything.' Mr Roland looked at her over the black frames of his thick glasses.

'Can I buy the Cameronian cuff links please?' Anne couldn't stop smiling. She had saved and saved and here she was getting Granddad his special present.

'Has a wee lass like you got any money?'

She took a sock out of her school bag and tipped out the money onto the counter.

Mr Roland took off his glasses and looked at her.

'It's clean,' she said.

He pushed the coins around, counting them up.

'There's eleven shillings and six,' she said and just grinned. She was going to wrap the cuff links up in some birthday paper that she had kept safe.

'This is old money.' Mr Roland swept them off the counter into a shoebox. 'It's illegal, you can't buy anything with these now.'

Anne took the sock off the counter and just stared at him. 'What about the cuff links?'

'Sorry, maybe when you've got some real money.'

Her legs began to wobble and a knot tightened in her stomach. 'But that is real money.'

'No they're illegal. Don't you know it's all decimalisation now.' Roland frowned.

'I want my money back please.' Her lip trembled as she spoke.

'Get out.'

'I want my money back,' she shouted.

'Get out or I'll call the police.' He shouted back at her. He came from behind the counter, grabbed her arm, dragged her to the door of the shop and pushed her out.

Anne ran up the street and kept running until she reached the park. She sat on the bench by the sycamore tree. She had wet her knickers and socks with the fright. She didn't want to go back to school because they would laugh at her. She would need to go home now and get dry things first.

An old man sat on the grass by the tree and he was watching her.

'What are you looking at you old stinker?' she screamed at him.

He took another puff of his roll up and shook his hands in the air.

Anne covered her face and just let out a long wail and sobbed. She wouldn't have a present now for Granddad on his special day.

'Here, take this.' The old man offered her a handkerchief and sat down on the bench.

Anne swiped it away. Don't speak to strangers in the park, she had been told, because of the molestation, whatever that was. Maybe it was like decimalisation. He offered her the hanky again. It was clean and smelled sweet like Granddad's tobacco so she took it, wiped her eyes and blew her nose into it. She looked up and saw how bright blue the man's eyes were, and his face was tanned and soft, he looked nice and didn't really smell. A robin landed on the grass and cocked its head towards them.

'Oh look, Mr Robin has come to see what all the fuss is about,' he said.

'It's only looking for crumbs.' Anne sniffed and wiped her nose again.

'Here.' The man handed her a marshmallow he'd taken from his jacket pocket. 'Now what's this all about?' He leaned over and lifted her foot. 'I think you should take these off and let your socks dry in the sun.'

She took off her shoes and socks and told him all about Mr Roland and the cuff links she wanted to buy. She liked talking to him because he just listened and nodded. It was only the top of her socks that were wet and they had dried up quickly enough. She put them on again ready to go back to school.

'Come on,' he said, 'you need to be a fighter like your Granddad.' He took her hand. 'Let's go and get those cuff links.'

Mr Roland had his back to the door when Anne came into the shop. He turned at the sound of the chimes.

'You again, what do you want?' he snapped.

Anne held onto the old man's hand, she gave it a gentle tug.

'Look, why aren't you at school?' Mr Roland pointed to the door.

'I've been in the park,' she said. Why didn't the old man say something about the cuff links?

'What?' Mr Roland went to his shop window.

'I was in the park.'

'Get off to school and leave me alone.'

'I want the cuff links or my money back.'

Mr Roland looked through the window up and down the street. 'I will not tell you again.'

Anne gazed up to the old man who mouthed at her to scream loud. She took a deep breath and screamed as hard as she could.

'Stop it.' Mr Roland came towards her. 'Stop it.'

She held onto the old man's hand and kicked out at Roland's shins; he stepped back.

'Ok, Ok,' He went to the glass cabinet and fetched the box with the cuff links, which he threw at her.

Anne caught the box and ran out of the shop holding tight onto the old man's hand.

'There you are now. Well done,' the man said. 'Tell your Granddad, happy birthday from Charlie McCabe.' He walked away towards the park.

The school bell sounded. She shouted after him. 'Thank you.' Then she ran up the street towards the school.

That evening Granddad puffed hard to blow out the single candle on his cake. Gran had said that one flame was more than enough for him at his time in life.

He put the cuff links into his shirt buttonholes. 'Aye Anne,' he said and hugged her tight. 'Thank you ma wee darling.'

'And happy birthday from Charlie McCabe.' She grinned.

He looked at her and started to cough, his eyes reddened. 'Charlie McCabe, how do know about him?' He rubbed at his chin. 'What tales has your Grandmother been telling you?'

'Who is he Granddad?'

'Oh just a dear old friend. Aye he saved me from being shot once.' He took out his handkerchief that smelled of tobacco and blew his nose. 'Aye he just stood there to save me.' He rubbed his face and Anne took hold of his hand.

'Aye, poor Charlie he had one of those big hearts,' he said and wiped at his eyes. 'We buried him in the church yard, poor Charlie.'

'But Grandpa, I met him in the park by the bench.' Anne smiled, 'He can't be dead.'

'Aye. Well tomorrow after school, we'll go and thank him, bless him.' He gave a loud cough, snorted and wiped his nose. 'Right then Gran get cutting, Anne deserves a big slice of cake.'

Next day at school Anne learned all about decimalisation and the new money as it was called, which didn't become legal tender until after Christmas. She warned Sally about Mr Roland and what happened when she bought Granddad's present. Sally however didn't believe the story about the old man in the park and in any case, why hadn't he spoken in the shop?


  1. my this takes me back! Florins etc.

    first class story, James, lovely use of words:molestation decimilisation!

    great interplay of characters

    well done

    Mike Mc

    1. Hi Mike, thanks for the comment, and the realization that I am not the only one in the world who remembers florins and half crowns.


  2. A fascinating story managing to incorporate moments of lightness into a serious tale. Holds one's interest from beginning to end, with totally believable charactes. Well done, James, and thanks for an intersting read!


    1. Hi Beryl, I am pleased you found this an interesting read as these historic snapshots are not always to everyone's taste. Many thanks,

  3. A beautiful tale, demonstrating the victory of Anne's love for her grandfather over Mr Roland's self-serving and abusive greed. The invocation of Charlie lent a timeless mysticism to the narrative and a sense that we do not always know what is at work in our lives. Thank you very much,

    1. Hi Ceinwen, I believe a short story has a longer resonance with the reader if there is an element that provokes further thought and as you say a sense of mysticism. (My opinion only I might be wrong).
      Thank you for commenting,


  4. Fun read (especially as an American taking in the English world - the coins, "decimilisation," et cetera) and loved seeing Roland get his comeuppance. Nicely done

  5. Hi Jim, yes I did wonder how the British "decimilisation" would be understood by readers from American or else where. But then again although we British have adopted decimal coinage we still drive for miles and switch between lbs and kilograms. Many thanks,

  6. Sweet story (and I come from the "realist" side of the street). Hooray for the memory/mystery of Charlie McCabe.

    1. Hi Tony, thanks for the comment. I found it difficult to keep to the child's voice of the character, but it seems to have worked. As for Charlie, don't we all need a guardian Angel now and again.


  7. I got misty eyed. We all need a little mystery and a little kindness. An eye for and eye and the whole world is blind.

  8. Hi Doug, thank you for reading this. Do you need a tissue? It was meant to be a story about Anne mustering up courage and determination with a little encouragement from an old soldier.