The opposite sex
In the animal kingdom there are certain species that don't get on with each other. Cats and dogs. Foxes and chickens. Sharks and almost anything. Birds and worms.
They are natural enemies, and whenever they meet, there's trouble.
Most people would add girls and boys to that iist.
For many years, the opposite sex is a pest. As you get older, the situation gets better, but what do you do in the meantime?
There are two especially difficult problems. The first is when your mother tries to make you become friends with the person of the opposite sex who lives next door to you.
The only answer is a heart-to-heart talk with your mother. Tell her you'll scrub floors, wash dishes, clean shoes – anything as long as you don't have to go next door for the afternoon. Tell her that you'd rather make friends with a tiger snake than with that little horror. With a bit of luck, your mother will take the hint.
The other problem is when one of Them keeps foliowing you around. You can always try simple scare tactics:
"I have athlete's foot, and it's catching"; or: "I think I'm going to be sick."
If those don't work, you'll have to try more serious stuff. Here are some ideas:
To get rid of a boy:
Ask him to be the nurse when you're playing doctors and nurses.
Give him your doll to carry.
Threaten to kiss him.
To get rid of a girl:
Always have something horrible in your pocket.
Ask her to hold your pet cockroach or toad while you play football.
Introduce her to your smelliest friend.
How to ask
It's worth practising your asking until you're an expert at it. People who know how to ask get what they want more often than people who don't.
This is true whether you're talking to grown-ups or other children, and whether you're asking for more ice cream or an elephant for Christmas.
Asking isn't easy. Not only do you have to ask in the right way, but you have to ask at the right time. For instance, it's no good asking your father for anything on a wet weekday morning when he's already late for work. As a rule, you should try to avoid asking your parents for anything during the week. They're always busy. This makes them forget what it was they said yes to, and then you have to start all over again. Pick your moment during the weekend. Fathers are normally at their most good-tempered on Sunday mornings. Mothers are better on Saturday nights. Don't ask us why. It varies from person to person, but you'll soon work out when your particular grown-ups are usually in a good mood, and that's the time to pounce.
Now we come to the business of exactly how to ask. This depends on what it is you're asking for -- a second helping at lunch-time doesn't need the same amount of cunning as a trip to the zoo. But whatever it is you want, there are four words you should never use.
They are "I want" and "Give me". The reason you shouldn't use them is that they're very easy to say no to. And the secret of successful asking is to get a yes for an answer.
Here are a few examples which might come in handy.
"I'm feeling faint. Do you think I could have a chocolate ice cream?" (This works for any flavour, and for drinks as well.)
"You don't mind if I stay up a little later, do you? I must finish this film script."
"I think you could do with a treat. Why don't I take you to the circus?"
"My friend seems to have lost his trousers. Is it all right if he stays the night?"
"I used to think an alligator would be a good pet, but I think you'd be happier with mice, wouldn't you? "
As you see, these are not just plain old boring demands. They're almost little stories. And there's a reason in each one why the answer should be yes.
Grown-ups love reasons. And, although it doesn't always seem that way, they like to say yes.
All you have to do is make it as easy for them as you can.
When asking for money, however, you'll have to be more than cunning. Like your parents, you will have to work for it. Have a look around the house and you'll find dozens of jobs that grown-ups hate, and would pay you to do. For example, cleaning shoes, walking the dog, getting rid of the ring in the bath-tub, washing up after Sunday lunch, changing the tray in the budgie's cage.
There are certain times during the year (birthdays, Christmas, the week before your school report arrives) when you might like to be on especially good terms with your grown-ups.
This is not as easy as you think. It isn't enough just to be your normal charming and well-behaved self – that's taken for granted. No, you need to do something so unusual and wonderful that it gets noticed.
How can you tell that it has been noticed? By the reaction of your grownups. They will first of all be pleased. Very quickly after that they will want to know what you're up to. Sometimes they will even ask you what you want.
Don't tell them, or you'll spoil the effect of what you've done. Smile, say nothing and let them work it out for themselves.
Exactly what you have to do to make this happen will vary from one grown-up to another. If you think about it hard, you'll invent a few secret weapons of your own. Meanwhile, here are three little winners that always used to work for us.
Breakfast in bed:
This may seem to you like a messy way to start the day, but grown-ups love it. Keep it simple. Fried eggs have a nasty habit of sliding off the plate and into the bed. Tea or coffee and toast is perfect. It's not actually what they eat that matters to grown-ups as much as not having to get up to eat it. Strange but true.
Peace and quiet:
You can wash behind your ears every night for six months, but it won't work as well as 30 minutes of peace and quiet. Sunday morning is without doubt the best time of the week for this, and if you want to go for total victory, you can combine peace and quiet and breakfast in bed. If that doesn't work, nothing will. But be careful you don't overdo it, or they'll expect it every weekend.
If you have done something truly bad, don't wait until it's found out; that only makes it worse. Take a deep breath, pick the grown-up who seems to be in the best mood, and tell all. It's more comfortable than running away to sea.
White mice and your mother
You will find that grown-ups in general and your mother in particular do not share your love of pets. (Especially pets that slither, eat furniture or have babies under the bed.)
Mothers see pets only as things that cause more mess.
So when you're deciding on a pet, remember that the less trouble it is to look after, the more likely you are to get it. Here are a few suggestions.
Tortoise: It eats very little, and doesn't often smile. Bad on walks, unless you like walks that last for two or three days. The worst thing you can do to a tortoise is turn it on its back. It hates you seeing its wrinkled underpants.
Fish: They're interesting to watch but difficult to cuddle. Feeding them on old cheese sandwiches gives them wind.
Frogs: They're good pets to have if you want to keep grown-ups out of your bedroom. All it takes is a notice on the door that says "Beware of the frog".
White mice: They need to be watched carefully, they're likely to have babies when you're not looking.
Cats: They will put up with you if you do what they want. If you upset them, they will bring something nasty in from the garden and leave it on your bed.
Budgerigars: They can be trained to dive-bomb your grandmother.
Dogs: Dogs are really people with an extra pair of feet.
The great bedtime battle
Grown-ups are tricky to deal with when it comes to bedtime. They always want you to go to bed when you want to stay up; and then to stay in bed when you would rather get up.
They themselves stay up so late you'd think they never want to go to bed; and once in bed, they want to stay there for as long as possible in the morning. (This can work to your benefit: See the section about "Secret Weapons".)
When it comes to your bedtime arrangements, the rules change. You are packed off to bed several hours before anyone else, and long before you feel sleepy. The idea is that you should get "a good night's sleep because you're still growing".
There's no doubt that you need sleep. But do you need as much sleep as they think you need? Or is there some other reason why you hardly have time to finish your tea before they want to tuck you in?
Yes, there is. It's called "a little peace and quiet". All this means is that they iwant to spend some time reading the paper, watching TV, talking about the neighbours or generally not having to keep an eye on you.
The secret here is to give them a little peace and quiet. The quieter you are, the better your chances of staying up.
Being almost invisible helps too, so if you can find an out of the way spot like under the table or behind the couch, your chances are even better.
There is a snag: sitting very still and keeping very quiet is so boring that you might make the terrible mistake of falling asleep. Then they've got you.
An extract from "Grown-ups and Other Problems", by Peter Mayle and Arthur Robins. (1982)