giving presents

 The facts

“William!” said Mrs Brown, noticing her younger son’s appearance for the first time. “Did you wash your face before you came to the table?”
“D’you mean, did I put it right into water?” temporised William.
“Yes, of course I do.”
“Well, listen,” said William earnestly. “Cats are s’posed to be clean animals an’ they don’t put their faces right into water when they wash ’em.” He gave his short sarcastic laugh. “Well, it’s news to me if cats put their faces right into water when they wash ’em. I mus’ say I’ve never seen a cat puttin’ its face right into water when…”
William!” said Mr Brown.


In a moment of frustration with William, Mrs Brown declares that what she’d like for her birthday is just one thoughtful act from him.

She’s feeling slightly ruminative in general:

Then Mrs Brown entered. She looked coy and bashful and radiantly pretty. Her cheeks were delicately tinted, her eyelashes darkened, ‘eyeshadow’ enhanced the blue of her eyes and lipstick gave to her lips an allure with which/ nature had never endowed them.
“I’ve been made-up,” she said simply. “The woman used me as a model.”
“Heavens above!” said Robert helplessly.
“You’re a menace,” said Ethel. “I shall never dare invite a boy friend to the house again. What do you think of it, William?”
“I like you better old,” said Wtlliam politely.
Then Mr Brown came in and stood in the doorway, open-mouthed with amazement.
“I’ve been made-up,” said Mrs Brown again. “She used me as a model.”
“It’s positively staggering, my dear,” said Mr Brown, partly gratified, partly outraged by the sight of his glamorised wife. “I’ve never seen you look like this in all my life before.”
“What do you feel like?” said Robert.
Mrs Brown glanced again at her reflection in the mirror. “It makes me think I’ve wasted my life,” she said. “It makes me think of all the things I haven’t done or been to. I’ve never been to the South of France or Ascot or a Buckingham Palace Garden Party…”

Suddenly the recumbent man sat up, blinking distractedly. “Crikey!” it said. “Where am I?”
“In the garden of Mr Selwyn’s house,” Police-constable Higgs reassured him.
“I hit you on the head with a hammer,” said William as if in further reassurance.

This gives William an idea for his One Thoughtful Act. He’s going to lessen his mother’s fears about having wasted her life by organising a local Olympic Games for her to spectate.

The facts

“Haven’t you thought of thomething yet?” Violet Elizabeth would ask him sternly.
“Gosh, no! Why should I?” William would retort indignantly.
“Well, why thouldn’t you?” retorted Violet Elizabeth with equal indignation.
So persistent was she that William, to his own annoyance, began to feel a certain responsibility for Mrs Bott’s birthday present.

  • Number: 25.2
  • Published: 1945 (1942 in magazine form)
  • Book: William and the Brains Trust
  • Synopsis: William and Violet Elizabeth decide to give Mrs Bott a living birthday present.


Overhearing Mrs Bott in one of her characteristic whinges about the difficulties of life in blitzed Britain, William learns that she can no longer obtain horses to pull her carriage, and that, in fact, she “wouldn’t even mind a nanny goat”.

So he knows, now, what to get her as a birthday present.

She doesn’t entirely appreciate it, but the whole operation manages to kill two other birds with the goat-stone.

 The facts

“Get the money now, dear,” said Mrs Brown, “and go as quietly as you can.”
William tiptoed across to the dressing-table, but his tiptoeing was always of a somewhat elephantine nature. He banged into a chair, and knocked over a bottle of hair lotion on the dressing-table, before he finally found the purse. He took a ten-shilling note and a sixpence, put them carefully into his pocket, and made his way, still tiptoeing, to the door.
“Don’t bang it, dear,” pleaded Mrs. Brown faintly.
William gave his whole attention to not banging the door. He closed it by infinitesimal inches, and took so long that his mother’s nerves were strained to breaking-point before it finally reached its objective. The effect was somewhat marred by his immediately slipping on the top step and falling all the way downstairs.

  • Number: 20.7
  • Published: 1938 (same year in magazine form) – originally titled William’s Christmas Shopping
  • Book: William the Dictator
  • Synopsis: William thinks Aunt Louie deserves a better present than Mrs Brown does.


Louie is a friend of Mrs Brown who lives in South Africa. She is also a friend of William’s, so he graces her with the title ‘Aunt’. And it is her birthday, so Mrs Brown sends William into town to collect a present for her – a tea-towel – so it can be posted to the south.

The Outlaws collectively decide, though, that Aunt Louie is so nice that she deserves something better than a tea-towel.

“Pity not to send her somethin’ reely useful…”
murmured Ginger.
They had reached Hadley now, and stood looking into the window of a toy-shop that always attracted them.
“Now, that pistol’d be jolly useful to her,” said
Douglas. “I bet you want no end of pistols in a country like South Africa, with all those lions an’ savidges.”
“It’s not a real one,” Henry reminded him.
“I know, but it’d sort of give ’em a scare.”

They spend all of the money earmarked by Mrs Brown on various items which they consider would be of service to Aunt Louie in her foreign home: a pistol with which to pretend to shoot lions; a compass for finding her way through the veldt; a drum “to call people to help when the savidges are attacking”. And a tortoise.

A quite ridiculous twist of fate saves William’s neck. And he is left, at the end, with a tortoise.