Last year, I was working as Poetry Waitress ("So, ladies, what can I get you? Tea? Coffee? And would you like a sonnet with that?") when an elderly lady told me the most tragic story I have ever heard.
I have just re-read The Aeneid and even Chapter 4, where Dido (a name ripe for graffiti) throws herself onto the funeral pyre is nowhere near as sad as The Tale of Brownie.
Brownie was the only hen hatched from seven eggs in an airing cupboard in a small terraced house in Prescot in 1948. Her brothers were destined for pies, stews and rissoles, but Brownie was spoiled. She was cuddled, petted, never fed egg sandwiches - What? Encourage cannibalism? - and nested in a tea-chest by the kitchen range at night.
When the children came home from school, the first thing they asked for was Brownie. They kissed her before they went to bed. At weekends, they followed her up and down the alley as she pecked in the gutter for scraps.
Over time, Brownie developed a nervous complaint that caused her feathers to moult. The children were distraught. Brownie shivered with cold.
The children's mother knitted Brownie a pullover out of green wool. (She was a woman unbound by stereotype or cliché). Brownie regained her joie de vivre.
For a day.
The next morning, the children ran into the kitchen to greet their pet and found her hanging by the neck, swinging from the mantlepiece, strangled by her new pullover.
Now, can you think of a single story that is sadder than that?