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Form and Eccentricity: A dialectical romance

The man who lived at Nine, The Leas,

Was full of eccentricities:

He shone his shoes with antifreeze

On second Tuesdays; whilst, to please

His neighbours, he ensured the trees

Which bordered all their properties

Were kept two feet above his knees.

The splendour of these topiaries

Earned him renown, though some would tease,

And dubbed him, “Old Diogenes”.

But as he held post-doc degrees

In Ancient Greeks (Euripides

To Plato, via Xenophanes)

He thought this soubriquet a wheeze

And thus adopted it. 


                                             All these

Were well observed by Mrs Fortescue

Who lived across the road at Number Two;

A widow, from the age of forty-two,

She acted only, as one ought to do:

(Because her husband, once had (briefly) been

The third Lord Chamberlain to the late Queen,

Her bible was Debrett’s, her prayers, Who’s Who). 

And now that twenty years had passed, she grew

The more obsequious to her milieu,

Which (she imagined) held her e’re in view

Thus, all eccentric acts she did eschew.



When Covid raged across the land,

In lockdown, neighbours came to stand

At 8pm, outside their doors

To join in with heartfelt applause:

A token of their gratitude

For NHS staff.  Thus, the mood

One autumn evening, in The Leas

Was one of all camaraderies.

And, to conform to this social virtue,

Out of her house stepped Mrs Fortescue.


Now, as for old Diogenes,

He came out, shouting, “Socrates!”

(His mog, who, hearing all the street

Clap hands, and cheer, and stomp their feet,

Dashed through the cat flap with a cheery “mew,” 

And ran into the door of Number Two).


“Professor!” exclaimed Mrs Fortescue

(Such was his title, but his name – who knew?)

“Your…feline has…inside…!”

                                               “Oh, please –

Allow me.” Calling, “Socrates!”

He dived into her house (disease

Could not be further from his mind, although

The look upon the widow’s face did show

A certain horror: everyone would know

She’d broken quarantine.  “You’ll have to go!”

She shouted, but then, to her great surprise

She saw a sparkle in the old man’s eyes.


The damage being done, all niceties

Were soon exchanged and, after a review

Of present legislation, Socrates

Returned to Number Nine. And then, in lieu

Of “bubble partners” (in the legalese 

Of current Covid protocols), the two

Decided to perambulate The Leas.

And thus began their friendship, which soon grew:  

He read to her from Aristophanes,

Shared his best Port collected from Cadiz

And taught her how to trim, precisely, trees.

And in return, she cooked him pies and stew,

Taught him to ask how other people do,

And modernised his wear from hat to shoe.




And so, their friendship grew, by slow degrees,

To courtship, till one night, each other knew

Something had changed, and down upon his knees

Fell the old bachelor:  “My dear, will you 

Consent to be Mrs ‘Diogenes’?”

In truth, though, some peculiarities

Of his which had, most recently, shone through

(Example: using gin to drown cat fleas,

And other uncouth eccentricities)

Had made her doubt that she could say, ‘I do.’

(Ironically, he had told Socrates 

Of his own doubts: “For Mrs Fortescue

Thinks all too much of how she ought to please

And to conform to social norms!”) 

    “I do!”

She said the words and knew them inexact.

“You mean, ‘you will’?” 

She loved him more for that.

For while they say that opposites attract,

The truth is that True Love lets you be you,

And does not seek to alter; for, when two

Become as one, Love is as Heracles – 

Whose strength is in idiosyncrasies.  

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