What are little girls made of?
Sugar and spice and all things nice.
That's what girls are made of.
What are little boys made of?
Slugs and snails and puppy dog's tails.
That's what boys are made of.
I was taunted through my childhood with this rhyme: mostly by my sister and her friends, but also by other girls who lived in our neighbourhood, even sometimes by women, who would cackle as they spat the words out at me.
So I decided to be a nasty boy. And I was. Bad, mischievous, uncontrollable. It's a wonder I didn't end up with a criminal record. That I didn't is down to two factors. First, whenever our village policeman, PC Addison, nabbed a miscreant, he would either give him a good hiding, or force him to make amends to whoever he had wronged. Secondly, I and a fellow scoundrel, a loner called Derek Davies, got into all kinds of pilfering, but he went one step further and was caught (on his own) burgling a house. In court, he admitted to a lot of the pilfering, but did not reveal that I had been his accomplice on many of those expeditions. He went to Borstall, I went to University.
The other consequence of that awful doggerel was that I believed the first part of it too, so spent a lot of time trying to find a sugar-and-spice girl who would really really like me. I had very mixed success. In fact, mostly failure till I learned how to dissemble, It's a wonder I didn't end up as queer as a nine-pound note, but I didn't.
We had another rhyme to provide us with guidelines on how to cope with life's tortures:
Sticks and stones may break my bones
But words will never hurt me.
That was one rhyme I did not believe. Words can hurt. Thank God they also have the power to bring us joy. Trouble is, I am just as thin-skinned now as I was in the ragged-arsed scuff-kneed days of my youth.