The power of cheap music

Like Vladimir Nabokov, as a small child I had that greatest of luxuries, an English nanny. Whereas he had a ‘bewildering sequence’ of over half a dozen, called nurses and governesses, I had just one. We didn’t call her a nanny, we called her a housekeeper, but she did plenty of nannying, nursing and governing.

We actually called her Auntie Elsie, which was the kind of thing adults dreamed up in the nineteen-fifties to confuse children. I never knew she was an employee at all, until Nick, bridling at being asked to do the washing-up, muttered “What do we pay you for?”

Poor Nick got a lot of stick, blame, and disapproval while I, two years younger and dastardly cute, was (I deduce) spoiled rotten by Elsie. My apologies to you, Nick, I must have been a real pain in the arse.

Two jingles I learned from Elsie (she was in fact a Hobbert, from Bristol) left a deep and lasting impression on my psyche:

See saw, Marjorie Daw, Johnny shall have a new master,
He shall have but a penny a day because he can’t work any faster.

I took that on as a personal reference, with quiet resignation. I have never really considered myself capable of earning what might be called money. No point trying, was my attitude. My father was too successful for any of us to rival.

Sugar and spice and all things nice, that’s what little girls are made of.
Slugs and snails and puppy-dogs’ tails, that’s what little boys are made of.

That one at least is true.

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