I can’t go out this weekend. Again. It’s the black eye, you see. And the rather deep scratches along both cheeks, plus a few other bits of damage in places not normally open to public view.

It’s my own fault of course. It always is. I suffer from a disease which I like to call inadvertent logorrhoea, but which really means nothing more than every time I open my mouth I put my foot in it.

Women, of course. It always is. The problem is that I like women. Well, nothing wrong with that. Women usually like me as well, and that’s also pretty normal. At least from my viewpoint. And that, I think, is where the trouble rises. My viewpoint. I’ve never been very good at considering anyone else’s viewpoint. And I like straight talking. It’s thought to be a virtue where I come from, but doesn’t always go down too well here. Believe me. I know.

You see, if I think a woman is luscious, I tell her. Straight talking. They like it. They may not want to go any further, but I’ve never found a woman yet who objected to being told things like that. The trouble is, if I think she is ugly, I tell her that as well. That is, not at the same time as I tell her she’s luscious. Should be obvious if you know what I mean. Not that she has to be ugly as such. Any little defect will do, and I can’t help commenting on the fact that she fails to measure up to an ideal of perfect beauty. Hence the scratches. Not these. Others. Some of them are ancient, almost like the black crunchy bits at the bottom of the frying pan that you swear down you’ll clean out sometime tomorrow, a swear you’ve been using for months.

Anyway, it’s getting a bit expensive on pain killers and antiseptic, not to mention the price of raw steak. It’s disgusting what the butcher charges for that nowadays. Something, I thought, had to be done. Or even better Had To Be Done. When a situation demands capital letters, it had better be something radical as well.

The answer came to me during one of my earlier periods of cutting myself off from mankind. I was reading a book. Well, you have to do something while waiting for Time, the great healer. The story was all about this bird called Helen of Troy. Great read. Lots of action. Plenty of fights and massive amounts of blood. Plus treachery and cunning. Liked it. Liked it a lot. Especially the bit about Helen. Mind, I did wonder about the length of time it took to rescue her. She must have been pretty well middle aged by then, and probably past it in the beauty stakes, but no matter. The interesting part, the part that really got me thinking was about how she had a face that could put the shipwrights on voluntary overtime, and I thought, “That’s it.” That was exactly what I was looking for.

Maybe you know the story. The point is, that if she was reckoned to be the last word in beauty, then all other women could be rated accordingly. What I’m trying to explain is that if Helen of Troy had a face that could launch a thousand ships, then her beauty rating was obviously one thousand millihelens. Precisely that. Nothing more, and certainly nothing less. That means, if you follow the argument, that a woman only half as lovely as the Maid of Troy, though it’s hard to see how she could get away with that claim after a ten year siege, would have a rating of five hundred millihelens. Able to launch five hundred ships, see?

Twenty five millihelens? Worth a small fishing fleet perhaps. One millihelen? Well, I’ve seen Thor Heyerdahl’s balsa wood raft, and with all due respect, pretty it is not.

I tried the system out last week, and it worked a treat. Until I saw this female in the bookshop coffee bar. Well, I was looking to see if I could pick up any more ideas. She was dressed in something that hurt the eyes, had long frizzy hair that definitely wasn’t styled, and wore Sensible Shoes. With thick stockings. Might have had half way decent legs, except it wasn’t possible to see under all that fabric. Horrible. A man shouldn’t have to face things like that straight after bacon and eggs and a couple of slices of fried bread.

I muttered something about having to extend the millihelen scale in a downward direction, and she threw a blooey. Well, it seems that apart from having superb hearing, she was studying classical literature at university and was more at home in Ancient Troy than I was, which admittedly isn’t such a hard thing to be, and understood perfectly the direction my mind was taking. It’s all the fault of allowing women to get an education, I say. It wasn’t meant to happen like this.

Anyway, as I said at the beginning, I can’t go out this weekend.

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We love Christmas, Sandra and me. We love all its traditions, like mince pies, and getting presents, and stuff like that. The best bit as far as I’m concerned is the swilling down the booze so I can’t remember what happened the morning after, but Sandra says that’s not very healthy and I have to ease up a bit this year.

What she likes best is the eating. She’s a good cook, is Sandra, and she always makes plenty of grub at Christmas so I can hardly stand afterwards, and have to go for a lie down, and miss the Queen’s speech, but that’s all right since Sandra always has a lie down with me, just for company like. It’s a great way of getting rid of the excess calories.

This year, she thought we might have a bit of a change. Everybody has turkey, she said, except in some places where they have ham, but that hardly counts. A bit odd, I thought, thinking of the ham we sometimes get from the supermarket. A couple of slices of that hardly seems like a Christmas dinner, know what I mean? It’s probably a different sort of ham, said Sandra, and anyway, those places are probably a bit backward, up north somewhere, Santa Claus land, that sort of place. She didn’t suppose they knew how to grow turkeys there.

Anyway, we weren’t going to have turkey, she said. This year, we are going to have a bit of goose. Well, when I heard that, I pinched her bum, which is always a nice thing to do, and something she looks forward to a lot. In fact, it quite put her mind off Christmas dinner for at least a couple of hours, by which time I was starving, and ready for the main course, if you see what I mean. Fish fingers it turned out to be, which isn’t exactly one of my favourites, but quick and easy anyway. Just like Sandra, really.

After our experiences with the hens, I thought she might have gone a bit cool on poultry, but she said no, a goose is quite different. We’ll not be looking for eggs, for one thing, and there’ll only be one bird, which we can fatten up between now and Christmas. Easy. All we need to do is feed it, and that’s no work at all, then kill it, I don’t know how, but Sandra will think of something, stuff it and eat it. Lovely.

Except, what a surprise, it didn’t quite work out like that. Oh, the feeding went all right. Believe me, a goose knows how to eat. The greedy little pig, excuse my French, never stops filling its face, and comes running to us every time we leave the house just in case we have a little something for it. The trouble started on the day we came into the garden holding an axe. I said Sandra would think of something, didn’t I? Now I don’t think birds are very bright, but this goose seemed to have a dim understanding that an axe isn’t exactly nourishing. To put it plainly, it refused to stand there and do an impression of Marie Antoinette. Not that I’ve ever heard of Marie Antoinette, but Sandra said she was famous for losing her head when all about her were keeping theirs. Something to do with Kipling, she said, but I’ve never kippled, so I didn’t really understand.

Anyway, this ungrateful bird, that’s the goose, not Sandra, after all we had done for it, not only refused to do the decent thing, it actually attacked us, and I can tell you, when you’ve been attacked by a goose, you stay attacked. That beak isn’t just for eating. Talk about sharp, it should be against the Geneva Convention. I used to know a Geneva, and she was a bit sharp too, but I have my doubts as to whether she deserved that goose. Sandra just gave me one of her looks and I kind of guessed we were talking about two different things, so it was probably some other Geneva since I can’t remember the last name of the one I knew.

Not only the beak. Those wings can do a fair bit of damage as well. In fact, it proved to be a bit awkward eating my Christmas dinner left handed, but Sandra cut up my slices of ham for me, and even put a sprig of holly on the top. She’s very thoughtful like that, is Sandra. She said it was like a Swedish Christmas dinner, but I thought no wonder they’re a bit serious if that’s all they get. Somehow, it just wasn’t the same staying awake during the Queen’s speech. I really missed my little lie down.

Global warming. Climate changes. Kyoto agreement. Environmental disasters. They’re words on everybody’s lips nowadays, aren’t they? I even use them myself, though I don’t really understand what it all means. Sandra does. Sandra knows everything. At least, she tells me she does, and I suppose she should know.

It’s all a bit worrying. Global warming, that is, not the fact that Sandra knows a lot. It’s a bit hard for a man to know what to do. Luckily I’ve got Sandra. She knows. Well, her idea was to keep a few hens, so that we would always have fresh eggs, and when the hens get old enough, we can have chicken soup. Very nourishing, says Sandra. Good for you. And if we keep enough hens, we can sell off the surplus eggs for other foodstuffs. How it all affects our place during global warming I can’t say, but Sandra seems to think it would help.

I must admit I wasn’t so sure. I mean, it sounded like a lot of hard work to me, but she persuaded me to see things her way. She has a gift in that direction, has Sandra. Mind, I wouldn’t have said no to sharing a cigarette afterwards, but she said not on your nelly. Ciggies are bad for your health, to say nothing about the burnt holes in the sheets. Still, it’s always nice to have a before not to be able to have a quiet smoke afterwards.

So we set to work. Ten hens and a cockerel to start with. Or rather to finish with, as even I could see we would need to start with a cage of some sort. So, chicken wire, lots of it. Wooden posts, about twenty of those. A hammer, a crowbar, a saw, nails, and a fair bit of bandage until we saw the sense in wearing work gloves. Then there were the nesting boxes. Very important were nesting boxes, said Sandra. She’d been reading all about it in a book she got from the library. It’s another gift she has, and hardly moves her lips at all when she’s doing it. More wood, a screwdriver or two, plenty of screws.

It all looked a bit lopsided to me when we finished the job, but Sandra said she was happy with it, and that hens are not too particular. I thought that maybe it was meant to look that way. Still, it did seem solid enough, and so we introduced the hens. And the cockerel. I did wonder about that, but Sandra said one cockerel could look after ten hens all on his own, and I could wipe that look off my face, since there’s only one Sandra thank you very much and that’s going to be her. She seemed quite definite about it.

Then we waited. And waited. And waited. Not a lot happened. I mean, there wasn’t a great deal in the egg production line. In fact, there wasn’t anything. Oh, the hens settled down very well, and the cockerel appeared to be happy. Well, he would, wouldn’t he. A bit tired, but happy. It was a real treat to watch the birds scratching about in the soil, looking for worms. It started out as grass, but it didn’t take a week before there was only dusty soil wherever the hens had been. And hen muck. Lots of that. Rather more than they ate, I thought. Apart from worms and insects, we fed them on food scraps from the kitchen, which Sandra said was quite all right. They always seemed to be hungry though, so we bought some ready made food from the local corn merchants, specially designed to keep hens healthy and happy.

Whatever we fed them with, the result was the same. No eggs. The days rolled by, turning into weeks, then months. Still no eggs. They were supposed to give well over two hundred eggs in the year, according to the book, but maybe these hens were illiterate. Or maybe it was a misprint. For all I knew, that number should have been two eggs in the year. Who would know? In the meantime, we bought our morning eggs from the supermarket.
They need time to settle down, said Sandra. They’re too young yet, she said. It’s the wrong sort of food, she claimed. She said quite a lot, really, but the day came when even she ran out of excuses for them, and we simply stared at our purchases and wondered how to bring a bit of cooperation into their little lives. Sandra started looking reflectively at axes in the hardware store, and I could see she was getting a bit broody.

But all things come to an end, and at last the famine broke. After thirteen months and one and a half weeks – we didn’t count the hours – we woke up one morning to a really horrible noise, almost as though World War Three had broken out. The hens were squawking, the cockerel was crowing and there were feathers flying everywhere. Sandra burst out of bed and ran across the garden without bothering to put anything over her nightie, really short with a fair bit of lace around the hem. Very nice too, except that I was a bit slow and never got more than a quick flash of her legs, which didn’t matter as she was normally very generous in that area.

I caught up with her by the henhouse, and saw by the look on her face that she was happier than usual. You’ve guessed it, we had an egg. Only the one, mind, but an egg just the same. Our first, and as precious to us as though it had been our own baby.

Sandra put it in the fridge and said she would make us an omelette each when we got a few more. Well, there were no more that day, and there were no more the day after. In fact, there were no more at all. We only ever got the one egg, and considering what it cost us in the way of materials, tools, the birds themselves and the food we gave them, the one egg we got certainly reached a price of well over two hundred pounds. We couldn’t bring ourselves to eat it at first, and when we did, it turned out to be rotten and stunk the house out for days.

Oh yes, a fox got in amongst the hens shortly afterwards and took the lot. Still, as I said to Sandra, there’s one consolation. We’ll not die of cholesterol poisoning. Considering how careful she is about our health, I thought she might have taken the comment with a bit better grace.

A promise is a sacred thing,

Which does not mean a marital fling,

Nor include a casual other

Before we met. It’s such a bother

To sort the ghosts from many another.

Forsaking makes us both quite free

When no-one comes ‘twixt thee and me.

And should you die, temptation parried,

No second spouse, I am still married.

Grieve not for me when I am gone,

Nor fret for that we can no longer have.

Recall with pleasure all the times we had

For good or ill, through tears and blessed joy.

Two kindred souls, one flesh, one mind, one life,

One love, one faith in all eternity.

The only earthly love we ever had,

Or ever felt the pressing need to gain.

Ne need to search beyond Death’s darkest door,

For there I wait, in patience infinite.

An increasing number of people are living on their own nowadays. The reasons are many. Divorce, separation, death of a spouse, never finding just that one to make life more complete, other responsibilities – the list is long. Never doubt that loneliness is real. Never doubt that loneliness can be a killer when there is a feeling that nobody actually cares. Sometimes this is probably true, which is hardly to the credit of a modern society where selfishness obtains all too often. But not always true. There are those who care, and are willing, even eager, to help out and keep company to those in need. Taking an elderly person to the shops once a week can be a life saver, even a sanity saver, for some. Calling in to a neighbour from time to time, just to check that all is well can be just as welcomed. Nor is this a problem for the elderly only. Loneliness affects younger people too, younger people who feel that they have no real social contact at all. Night school, a fitness gym, discussion groups and many others are all very well in their own way, but a lonely person can be just as lonely in a crowd.

Then there is another type of person, on their own for much of the week, perhaps seeing and talking only to shop assistants, and for whom loneliness is not an absolute, for whom other people are not necessary to feel that they are fulfilled in life, which is not to say that others are abhorrent or a nuisance, simply not essential. Full marks then, for those who would help, but hopefully, the need for privacy and solitude for the truly solitary (who are quite happy to be so) will be respected. Wanting to be on one’s own is not an illness, though the pressure to ‘join in and be sociable’ often makes it seem so.

I was reading recently about someone who got into trouble for correcting the punctuation on public signs, and it started me thinking.  Conventions of punctuation use has changed over the years as a simple comparison with Dickens over modern usage will indicate. Even more is this true if looking at Chaucer’s offerings, or Shakespeare, or e e cummings. Some things, however, must surely be sacrosanct. Or are they? For example, George Bernard Shaw would do away with the apostrophe altogether, and certainly, when reading his apostropheless texts, they are not difficult to read, however strange they may appear at first. Context clears up what otherwise may be confusion, and if language is not contextually bound, it may be argued that it is not actually language. Feel free to comment on this point, as I would appreciate other opinions on the matter. 

Certainly, when seeing what the linguistically laid-back can do, I appreciate Shaw’s (or Shaws) viewpoint more and more. Consider a market place sign I saw the other day. It read Bes’t Cabbage’s 75p per poun’d. The final full stop is mine. The apostrophes belong to another world.