When I was about seven, Fate threw me a hint that might have been life-changing. Like a fool I forgot it, and it went away.
It happened at a party in a big house, full of unfamiliar furniture and unfamiliar children. I think it was near Thame. In fact, I think it belonged to some people named Viney, connected with the book printers Hazell, Watson and Viney.
I was wearing my kilt, which my mother must have judged appropriate wear for Christmas in Buckinghamshire. We played sardines and postman's knock, and got wildly over-excited. After, there was a meal with jellies and little sausages skewered on sharp sticks.
I am not sure how the business with the cocktail sticks started. I think some of the boys began prodding each other with them. Perhaps being prodded in a kilt gave me the idea, but I started chasing the girls in their party frocks, threatening to prick their legs. As a shy, socially retarded child, this was uncharacteristic; I think I must have been pretty high on jelly.
Anyway, something puzzling began to happen. The girls shrieked and fled, as one might expect, but their eyes shone and I saw little breathless clusters of them laughing and pointing me out to each other. All of a sudden, I was a success. It was a new feeling.
When my mother came to collect me, the hostess made some remark about me having been the life and soul of the party - a comment which may have reflected tight-lipped irritation, but which I took at face value.
Sadly, I didn't absorb the secret that had been revealed - that most girls prefer a brash bastard to a prim goody goody any day. If I had only taken that in, I might have been poking sticks at girls' legs throughout those arid teenage years.