Beastly Behaviour

‘Right, Josh. That’s it,’ said Mum. ‘That really is it.’ She reached for my tartan coat and began to shove me into it. ‘I’ve warned you,’ she said through gritted teeth. ‘I’ve been warning you for a very long time. But you’ve had your chances, my little lad,’ she went on menacingly. ‘Oh yes, you’ve had your chances - and that’s that.’ She grabbed her bag, dragged me out of the house - I nearly slipped on the frost-spangled path - then we got into the Merc and sped off.
      ‘It’s just unacceptable,’ she hissed as I sat next to her, staring dolefully through the windscreen. ‘This delinquent behaviour will not do. It will. Not. Do,‘ she repeated, with melodramatic vehemence. ‘Miss Sweet will sort you out.’ Miss Sweet, I thought to myself dismally. Mum’s been threatening me with Miss Sweet for weeks. As for ‘Sweet’ - I bet she’s anything but. She’ll be one of those bossy, Birkenstocked, bluestocking types. With her faux-sympathetic, saccharine smile, no doubt masking a sadistic streak a mile wide. And nosey! God, yes. She’s bound to be. Why else do people become shrinks?
      As we drove towards Primrose Hill, I tried to imagine what Sweet ‘n Sour would say. She’d get me on that couch of hers, and try to pump me dry. ‘Now do tell me about your childhood, Josh… really? I see. And have you always had this desire to ‘get back’ at ‘Mummy’? Don’t worry, Josh. In your own time...’
      I stared obliquely at Mum as she swerved round a corner, her diamond rings flashing on her taloned fingers, her mouth a gash of bright red. ‘You’re a silly old tart!’ I wanted to yell at her. ‘You shouldn’t dress like that – you superannuated belle!’
      ‘Don’t you look at me like that young man!’ she snapped, clearly still in Madsville. ‘You’re going to learn some respect.’ We hurtled up Regent’s Park Road, then she did a sharp right – I swear I could smell rubber - then turned into St. Michael’s Mews. She yanked me out of the car – totally unnecessary, not to say undignified – then jabbed on the bell.
      ‘Oh.’ This young woman had appeared – surprisingly tasty-looking actually, petite and blonde. Just my type. ‘Do you have an appointment?’ she enquired pleasantly as I stared at her legs. Nice ankles I couldn’t help thinking. I wanted to sniff them but restrained myself.
      ‘No,’ Mum replied. ‘We don’t. But I’m at my wits’ end with this young man here,’ – she stared down at me – ‘and I’d read about you in last month’s Vogue. We don’t mind waiting,’ Mum added desperately. ‘But I really need your help.’
      ‘It’s okay,’ said Miss Sweet, rather sweetly. ‘As it happens, my next client’s just cancelled. Come in.’ I followed them inside, feeling ill. I could have chundered in the corner. But the interior was pleasant, and light – there was a nice drawing of a wolf - and yes, of course - a psychiatrist’s couch. I ask you! Cliché or what?’
      ‘Why don’t you sit here?’ Sweetie said to me, patting it and smiling at me as if I were a half-wit. ‘Yes. That’s it, Josh. Relax.’ As if. ‘I’ll just take a few background notes first.’
      She nodded sympathetically and scribbled as Mum ranted. ‘He’s been like this for months… very difficult …delinquent… I should have got help before… well I am very busy… an actress … that’s right… The Bill…Well, thank you – it’s a very nice part… mmm, he is at an awkward age.’
      ‘Now have there been any specific traumas?’ Sweetie asked seriously. ‘Has he been in a fight, for example?’ Mum shook her head.
‘It’s just the way he treats me,’ she wailed. ‘He’s so resentful and he shows me no affection. Do you, you little beast? Hmm?’ I stared at the floor. ‘It was so different when he was a… baby,’ she sniffed. ‘I felt that he… loved me then. But these days he either completely ignores me – or is wilfully destructive, like he was today.’
      ‘So what exactly did he do?’ Sweetie-Pie asked, still scribbling.
      ‘He…’ Mum’s chin was wobbling. Oh God. ‘He took my favourite Jil Sander skirt out of the drawer and ripped it to shreds. And he wouldn’t tell me why he’d done it. He just stood there, looking up at me with an air of malign satisfaction.’
      ‘Now Josh, I wonder why you did that?’ Miss Sweet said to me with an air of professional neutrality.
      ‘It was an act of deliberate spite!’ Mum cut in before I could explain that it was, in fact, an act of deliberate altruism. Mum really shouldn’t dress like that. She’s nearly fifty for God’s sake and has legs like toothpicks. She should be grateful for what I did. ‘He ripped up my Azaine Alaia dress too,’ she sniffed. You bet I did. Much too young for her. ‘Maybe it’s just a phase,’ Mum added hopefully as she reached for a hanky. ‘The hormonal soup of adolescence. Or I suppose it could be something Oedipal,’ she added darkly.
      ‘I’m not sure,’ Sweetie said.
      ‘He’s the devil incarnate,’ Mum added, as she blew her nose.
      ‘No name-calling, please,’ said La Sweet. ‘We just want to find out why Josh is behaving in the way that he is.’ Why? Because I’m embarassed to have a mutton-dressed-as-lamb mum that’s why! It’s excruciating when my friends come round.
      ‘Are you out a lot?’ Sweetie asked her. ’With your filming?’
      ‘Well yes,’ she replied. ‘I suppose I am.’
      ‘And do you ever take Josh?’
      ‘Well no… it would be awkward. But he’s at an age now when he can be left.’
      ‘So he’s on his own for several hours at a time?’ Mum nodded guiltily. ‘Ah.’
      ‘But I pay someone to take him out.’
      ‘I’ve got it,’ Sweetness announced. ‘Josh is exhibiting chronic insecurity. He’s not actually destroying your clothes deliberately – ‘ Oh yes I am! ‘It’s a classic case of separation distress. The best remedy I can suggest is either to have him …’ Mum looked stricken.
      ‘Not rehomed?’ she whispered, tremblingly. Sweetie nodded.
      ‘Or, better still, get another Dachsund to keep him company. I think you’ll find that the problem will soon stop.’

Published in The Sunday Express 2003.