I have a few glinting hairs on the tops of my feet and a little tuft on each toe. When I was nine I read that hobbits had hairy feet and went around barefoot, and that was enough to persuade me that hairy feet were good. Much later a girlfriend firmly opposed to almost all kinds of body hair persuaded me to try shaving my feet, but stubble on my toes seemed so ludicrous that I gave it up forthwith. Besides, I still felt that my hairy toes were cute.

At five I wanted to learn to dance on my toes. I supposed that ballerinas had incredibly strong toes, because no matter how I strained my toes couldn't hold my weight without buckling. What I could do, balancing myself against a chair while I arranged myself en pointes, was fold my toes under and hobble along on the knuckles.

There's a snapshot of me doing it. I was prepared to practice until I mastered it. But was this really what dancers did? I could scarcely imagine spinning or leaping on my turned-over toes. How was it possible? If other bodies could do things, magical things, that I couldn't even approximate, then a body was like a cabinet of wonders inherited from a great-aunt: you didn't know what was in it, but one day you opened a drawer and pulled out something wonderful. I might be able to do things nobody else had even imagined. All I had to do was try everything. Sooner or later I would find out what my own big trick might be.

My kid brother owned a miniature grand piano with color-coded keys. I thought I might be able to play it with my toes, as it was the right height off the ground. At first my baby toe seemed welded to its neighbor and I could only sound a note with it by rolling my whole foot to one side. But with assiduous practise I learned to move it on its own, and in a matter of months I had mastered Frere Jacques. Sadly, my parents were too poor to provide me with a suitably scaled piano of better quality, and my talent stifled in its infancy.