I have a small orange book with ‘Single Cash’ printed on the outside, presumably sold by the Post Office or similar for the purposes of keeping one’s accounts. My parents bought this book in the 1970s and used it to record guests to their house, who liked what, who drank what, what they ate and how successful it was. They devised a star-based system, *** denoting ‘excellent’, ** for ‘good’, * for ‘boring’ and a terse horizontal line to indicate ‘don’t do it again’. Most of the handwriting belongs to my mother, but occasionally my father has added a note in his characteristically tiny hand, so that one can get a sense of them as a couple as well as the occasion they describe. For example, on May 5th, 1978 the guests were Denis and Jan and my parents served a menu so redolent of the time that the date is superfluous: vichyssoise, onion and paté quiche, three-cheese quiche and salad, followed by banana and ginger mousse. My mother comments underneath as follows:
Jan ate very little [and] didn’t drink much. Jan does not like banana or ginger (or us!). Denis does. Not a successful evening.
My father has added at a later date, “nor, indeed, was the return match, 15.7.78”). I wonder if it is telling that the banana and ginger mousse is the only item on the menu to receive three stars? This evening was two years before I was born, so I have no idea who Denis and Jan were or how my parents knew them (although I note that they are not invited again, except when the group is very much larger). They sound rather like the sort of couple described by Basil Boothroyd in the opening pages of Lets Stay Married, who appear stable and sane with no more than the usual trivial irritations and discontents, and who then suddenly divorce in a blaze of acrimony and are never seen again, except from a distance with their new and horrible partners.
If you are married, or divorced, or contemplating either state, allow me to suggest that you purchase a copy of this excellent book without delay. We got our copy from a charity shop for a pound, and it bears the tender inscription ‘To Alan, lots of love from Wendy, Christmas 1967’. The book was first published in 1967, so I think the devoted and wise Wendy may have even purchased it new, and it opens with a chapter pondering firstly how it is that the couple in the book (Mr. and Mrs. A) have managed to stay joined together when all around them are being put asunder, and secondly the etiquette of managing the severed halves of such couples when they form new partnerships. I would provide a short summary of the rest of the book, which Mr A. begins on page 18, but he never reaches the end of the paragraph (‘I seem to have lost the thread of this bit, having been sent out in the middle of it to put a bucket over the rhubarb’). The rest of the book continues in a similar vein: the content is somewhat fractured with the two spouses talking at cross-purposes more often than not, my favourite example of which is as follows:
‘I see Fred’s divorcing that what’s-her-name,’ I shall be saying to my own wife of surprisingly long standing – ‘you know, we had them here that evening we never showed the movies. What was her name?’
‘He called her Pooh-Pooh.’
‘No, he didn’t. He called her Chunkyboots. She called him Pooh-Pooh.’
‘Have you been eating all the big nuts again?’
‘Apparently she had this habit of cracking her knuckles in the pictures. Shake the tin. They come to the top.’
‘Oh, yes. There’s a recipe here for something called Rabbit Basket. You scoop out the inside of a small brown loaf.’
‘She didn’t defend it. But she claimed that Fred used to whistle while she was telling him her dreams, so they gave her the custody of the furniture. Why brown?’
‘It says here you can clean suede shoes with tallow and breadcrumbs.’
‘You could use the scoopings out of the loaf.’
Lets Stay Married was another of our bath-time reads (see To wield a lordly loofah), and one of our most successful choices, along with Things My Girlfriend and I Have Argued About. Highlights include a not-quite-argument in chapter one over a closely- and ineptly-fought game of scrabble in which Mr. A is so disconcerted by his wife’s casual revelation that she bumped into Freda Whackstraw at the hairdresser earlier that day that he puts down the word SCONGE and muses that ‘[i]f the house caught fire it would be nice’; a chapter entitled ‘How Much Are The Tranquilisers?’; and Mr. A’s quite brilliant defence of a spectacularly unsuccessful shopping trip on which he has failed to buy the correct window mop and picked up a beef pie when Mrs. A had ordered chicken:
Some men, I know, would regard my attitude as weak, contemptible and a betrayal of our great sex. I’d like to make the point, just for the record, that I’m as capable as the next man of breaking a window mop over my wife’s head. A pie too, if pushed. All I say is, what have you got at the end of it all? No mop, no pie, no wife.
The pièce de resistance, however, is the index. I am training to become an indexer at the moment and the greatest pitfall to overcome must surely be the temptation to try to be funny at the wrong moment. A short extract only must suffice for the whole, and so I give you edited highlights of the entries beginning with the letter ‘c’:
Carriage lamps, wife’s earrings likened to, p. 39
Coconut, recommended demeanour when sawing, p.31
Colour-blindness, cross-allegations of, p. 44
Commercials, new saucepans in, p. 129
Convict, squirrel mistaken for, p. 30
Cooking, hazards of electric, p. 69
Cucumber, return of faulty, p. 63
I venture to suggest that there are few marriages (or indeed indexes) that could survive either partner being packed off to a recalcitrant greengrocer with a cucumber that has failed to live up to expectations.
 21st Dec 1978: Mother comments that Father “enjoyed himself”; Father responds by writing “Hic!” underneath in shaky pencil.
 This happens for a variety of reasons. Take Julie and Haunch Benison, who (in Mrs. A’s view) break up because ‘he used to dry his rugger shorts stretched on the legs of the ironing board, and when she tried to collapse it they somehow messed up the mechanism and it sat down at one end like a cow and laddered her stockings’; or Viv and Vic Cripps further down the same page, whose divorce revolves around Viv swatting a wasp with Vic’s cummerbund.
 My only quibble is Mrs. A’s tolerance for domestic violence on page 105: ‘my advice to a girl who wants to save her marriage is wear long sleeves for a week, or dark glasses if an eye is affected.’ Literacystrumpet does not condone this view; see Punch Drunk for my thoughts on this thorny subject).
 Like Bleak House, this tested our funny voices to the limit, containing as it does a German, a Welshman, an Irishman and a Scotsman, a man of indeterminate Asian origin who talks like an advert (‘Hi, guy! 24/7, yeah? Nazim here!’) and a couple of mysterious Chinese characters who (mercifully) don’t have much direct speech.
 ‘Sconge’ isn’t a word, you say? I think you will find it in free usage in the Literacystrumpet/Garden Naturalist household, along with the eternally useful phrase ‘were you raised in a bag?’, also from Lets Stay Married.