…except that it costs a lot more than tuppence a bag nowadays.
Does everybody know what tuppence is, or has it faded out of the English language like farthing and ha’penny? Tuppence (two-pence) was two old pre-decimal pence. For tuppence you could have bought eight of those little pink-and-orange farthing chews. For a ha’penny (half-penny) you could have bought two farthing chews. For a farthing, of course, you could only have bought one farthing chew, which wouldn’t have gone far towards filling the yawning, gurgling gap between breakfast and dinner. But I loved farthings, because of the little wren on the back.
Wasn’t keen on the threepence (pron: throopence for some reason) because of the irritating edges and the portcullis on the back, which put me in mind of prisons.
Another forgettable but mildly interesting fact – old pence were abbreviated not to ‘p’ as new pence are, but ‘d’. So those eight farthing chews would have been 2d. Something to do with Roman coins being called ‘denarii’. The daily wage for a common soldier or unskilled labourer was one denarius. Not much, in other words.
(I can’t stand Dick Van Dyke in Mary Poppins, by the way. For some reason I seem to be compelled to study accents, analyse them, work out whether they are genuine or fake, one accent or several accents layered, one over the other. Inside my head, I imitate them, trying to get them right. Inside my head, note. I don’t go round doing impressions. Dick Van Dyke’s was by far the worst cockney accent ever perpetrated by an American. Nowadays they are much better. Meryl Streep is pretty good at it, in spite of what a certain farthing-chew coloured gentleman tweeted about her. Will he ever stop tweeting? The only fake English accent that completely fooled me was Renée Zellweger. I sat and watched Bridget Jones’ Diary all the way through never guessing she was American. I thought she sounded a trifle odd, but only in the way that real English people sound when they are trying to sound genteel.)
Anyway, so I bought some mealworms for the birdies, and in particular for my robin. You’re honoured if you get a robin. They’re not like other birds. Robin appears first, and always alone, just as the overnight frost is beginning to steam in the newly-risen sun. Robins are partial to mealworms. My God, mealworms are expensive but it’s either that or breed them – a difficult and disgusting process. Mealworms, I have learned, are the larvae of beetles. When I first saw them on the web I thought no, I can’t cope with whatever that is – I’m a squeamish vegetarian – but I sent a message – a perfectly sensible message, I thought:
They are dead aren’t they? They don’t wriggle?
And after a few seconds a lady replied to me, from somewhere in the ether.
Your question made me smile. No, they don’t wriggle, they are freeze dried. They sometimes look as if they are wriggling when they slither down the side of the jug (eugh, slithering…). Chickens go mad for them.
And suddenly I felt I had made a friend, one of those instant, transient amigos/amigas you stumble across on the internet. I imagined her, wherever she was, scattering the disgusting freeze-dried little brown critters to her hens, and the hens all running and clucking and so forth, bursting with feathery excitement at the prospect. Was she a farmer’s wife, I wondered, somewhere up in Yorkshire. Maybe she was on the other side of the world, feeding her hens in some South African coop or Australian back yard. I would never know, but it didn’t matter. Another person had been added to my universe.