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A Question of Love
Behaving Badly bookcover - U S version
link to publishersBehaving Badly published by:
Mira Books July 2006
ISBN: 0-7783-2318-8

Chapter One

'Will you be all right now, Miranda? Miranda?'

I slowly surfaced from my reverie.


'I said will you be all right now?' repeated Clive, my builder. Would I be all right now? I considered the question. I wasn't at all sure that I would. 'It's just that I've got to be in Barnes by five,' he explained as he began to gather up his emulsion-spattered sheets. 'So if it's all the same with you' I banished thoughts of Alexander and forced myself to concentrate.

'Oh. Yes. Of course. You want to go.' I glanced round my new workplace - my new workplace and my new home too. In three weeks Clive had transformed six St. Michael's Mews from a semi-derelict shell into a smart office with a small living space on the floor above. The estate agent had negotiated a reasonable rent - reasonable by Primrose Hill standards at least - on condition that I refurbish it myself.

'Thanks Clive,' I said. 'It looks wonderful.' He pursed his lips judiciously, then pressed a crumpled hanky to his neck.

'Yeah well, I'm pretty pleased myself. I've checked the electrics,' he added as I reached for my bag, 'and I've been over the roof again and it's sound. Is there anything else needing doing?' I scribbled out the cheque, sinkingly aware that it represented the last of my savings.

'No. I don't think so. It all looks great.' I surveyed the newly egg-shelled walls and gleaming skirting boards, and flicked the downlighters on and off. I raised then lowered the green micro blind and tried the drawers in my new desk. I examined the joins in the new wooden flooring and made sure that the security locks on the windows all worked.

'Have you got enough bookshelves?' he asked as he packed away his paint brushes. I nodded. 'Well then, if you're happy with it all, I'll be off.' I glanced again at my final check list.

'Actually there is one last thing - the sign.' I picked up the ceramic plaque I'd had specially made and handed it to him. 'Would you put it up for me?'

'Sure.' We stepped outside, shielding our eyes against the glare of the midsummer sun. 'You can't start your new business without this, can you?' said Clive affably. He pulled a pencil from behind his right ear and made rapid marks on the walls, then he began to drill, a slender avalanche of pink brick-dust drifting to the cobbled ground.

'Got enough punters?' he enquired as he screwed in the plate. My stomach did a flick-flack.

'Not quite.'

'Don't worry,' he reassured me. 'You will. There. That's it, then. All done.' He took a step back as we appraised it. 'Perfect Pets', it announced above a stylised drawing of a dog on a psychiatrist's couch. Beneath, in smaller letters, 'Miranda Sweet B.V.Sc, Animal Behaviourist'. Clive beeped open the doors of his van.

'I know a few people who could do with your services,' he said as he slung his equipment inside. 'My neighbours for a start. They've got this Labrador. It's lovely, but it's barking mad,' he shook his head. 'Literally. Barking. That's all it does, all day.'

'Poor thing. It's probably being left on its own for too long so what it's doing is calling its humans back.'

'I dunno what it's doing,' he shrugged as he opened the driver's door. 'All I know is it sends me and the wife up the wall. Anyway, give me a bell if you run into any problems Miranda, otherwise' he got behind the wheel, 'good luck. Take care of yourself,' he added solicitously as he ignited the engine. 'You take care now.'

'Thanks, Clive.' I smiled. 'I'll try.'

Clive swung right out of the mews onto Regent's Park Road, then tooted twice in cheery valediction and was gone. I glanced at my watch - it was ten to four. Daisy would be arriving soon with Herman. She's been looking after him for nearly a month. She's been wonderful since 'it' - as I've now come to think of it - happened. Without her I don't know what I'd have done

As I wiped the paint splashes off the windows I wondered how Herman would react to being with me again. Apart from the odd visit I'd hardly seen him, so he'd probably be cool and remote. He'd make it quite clear that he felt I'd neglected him, which of course I had. But I hadn't been able to cope. It was the shock. The Never-Saw-It-Coming-in-a-Month-of-Sundays unexpectedness of it all. Not just the end of my relationship but the way it happened - the knowledge that I'd got Alexander so wrong. As an animal behaviourist you have to be able to read people as well, but with him I'd clearly missed something big.

As I scratched at the glass with my thumbnail I glanced at the other businesses in the mews. There was the cranial-sacral therapy centre at the far end, and that aromatherapist at number 12. There was an osteopath two doors down, and a hypnotherapist at number 10. There was a chiropractor directly opposite, and a Chinese herbalist at number nine. St. Michael's Mews was an oasis of alternative therapeutics and was therefore the perfect location for a business like mine.

I'd discovered it in late April. Alexander and I had been invited to have dinner with Mark, a TV director friend of his, to celebrate the end of Land Ahoy! a lavish period drama, a bit like Hornblower in which Alexander had had his first starring role. And now I thought, with a dragging sensation, of how it would be soon be screened. Would I be able to bear watching it? Would I be able to bear watching him? No. The thought of it makes me feel sick Anyway, Mark had booked a table at Odettes, in Primrose Hill, and Alexander and I had arrived too early and so we'd gone for a walk. And as we strolled up the hill, hand in hand, we talked about how Land Ahoy! might transform his career, then as we walked back down we discussed my work. And we were speculating about where I might have my new animal behaviour practice, and what I might call it when we suddenly turned into St. Michael's Mews. I was struck by the tranquil atmosphere, and by the fact that it didn't look polished and affluent, like so many London mews do; it looked Bohemian, and slightly unkempt. Then, above the door of number six, I saw a 'To Let' sign. It was as though I'd been hit over the head.

'This would be perfect,' I'd said as we peered through the cracked windowpane into the dusty interior. 'Don't you think so?'

'Well it's a good location.'

'And there's that pet shop over the road, and loads of people round here have animals, and the hill's just a few yards away. This would be the perfect place for my new practice,' I reiterated happily.

'Then you should call it Perfect Pets.'

'Okay - I will.'

I hadn't imagined for a minute, as I'd stood there exclaiming over its suitability and writing down the estate agent's number, that it would soon also be my home. I'd only recently moved in with Alexander and we were very happy - in fact, so happy that we'd just got engaged. We'd planned to stay in his flat in Archway for the time being then buy somewhere together, later on. But, just over a month ago, 'it' happened, and, overnight, everything changed

I went back inside, inhaling the citrussy aroma of fresh paint, and continued unpacking - I don't have much stuff. I've no furniture because I've never owned my own place; all I have is my clothes, some kitchen things and my books.

From one box I pulled out The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals by Charles Darwin and Lorenz's On Aggression - a classic text; Readings in Animal Psychology by Justin Lyle and Why Does My Rabbit? by Anne McBride. I unpacked all my thirty or so books on animal behaviour, and all my old veterinary textbooks as well; and as I arranged them on the shelves I thought, yet again, how glad I am that I'm no longer a vet. I'd always wanted to be one - from about the age of eight onwards - I never considered anything else. I studied veterinary medicine at Bristol, then practised for five years, but disillusionment soon began to set in. I don't quite know when it started, but it crept into my soul like damp, and I realised that living out my childhood dream wasn't going to be quite as fulfilling as I'd thought. It wasn't so much the long hours - I was young enough to cope - it was the constant emotional stress.

Of course it was wonderful to make a sick animal well. To see a cat arrive in a bad way, its family in floods, and to be able to put that cat right. But too often it wasn't like that at all. The way people expected me to produce miracles, the hysterical phone calls - I couldn't sleep. The way some people - especially the rich ones - would complain about the costs. But worst of all, I couldn't stand it when I had to put an animal to sleep. Not so much the very old ones, or the terminal cases - my training had prepared me for that. No, it was when people asked me to put down young, healthy animals - that's what I couldn't take. That's how I got Herman.

I was working in East Ham as a locum, and one morning a Permatanned looking woman of about forty came in with this miniature Dachshund - a smooth-haired black and tan male, about a year old. It looked worried, but then Dachshunds always do look worried - it's their natural expression - as though there's just been a stock market crash. But this particular Dachshund looked as though the world was about to end, which, in fact, it was. Because when I lifted it on to the table and asked what the problem seemed to be, she said that it had just 'savaged' her child and that she wanted it to be put down. I remember looking at her, shocked, and asking what exactly had taken place, and she explained that her five year old daughter had been playing with it 'very nicely' when it had suddenly given her a 'nasty nip' on the hand. When I asked her whether the child had needed stitches, she admitted that it hadn't, but said that the 'vicious little bugger' had 'drawn blood'.

'Has he ever done such a thing before?' I enquired as it stood on the table, radiating - appropriately, as it happened - an air of tragedy.

'No,' she conceded. 'It's the first time.'

'And you want me to destroy it?'

'I do. Otherwise it could happen again, couldn't it, and it could be worse next time. I mean, you can't keep a mad dog, can you?' she sniffed. 'Not with kids about. And if it isn't my kid, it could be someone else's, and then I'll end up in court.'

'I do understand your anxiety, but did you see what happened?'

'Well, no. I mean, not as such. I heard Leah scream, then she comes running into the kitchen, crying her little eyes out, saying the dog had bitten her hand. It just turned on her,' she added vehemently, 'like that!' - she clicked her taloned fingers by way of demonstration - 'it's probably got some bad strain. I never wanted a dog in the first place, but my husband got it off a friend of a friend. He paid four hundred quid for it,' she muttered bitterly. 'And they swore that Dachshunds are good with kids.'

'Well they usually are good with children. They're very sweet-natured.'

'Look, I'm not taking no chances and that's that. It's not biting any child of mine and getting away with it,' she added indignantly.

'But there are rescue homes, I feel it's unfair-'

'But who'd want a dodgy Dachshund? My mind's made up,' she said, as she snapped opened her handbag. 'You just tell me how much.' And I was just about to go and consult the Principal Vet because I really didn't want to do it, when I noticed that the dog was whining quietly and shaking its head. I lifted up its ear flaps and looked inside. Embedded in its left ear was the broken off end of a child's knitting needle.

'Jesus', I breathed. Holding the dog firmly, I gingerly removed it, then held it up. 'This is why he bit your daughter.' The woman stared at it, mutely.

'Oh. Well as I say, she was playing with the dog wasn't she? She was just playing. She's only five.'

'But can you imagine how much that must have hurt?'

'He still shouldn't have bitten her though, should he?' I felt my jaw slacken.

'What else was he supposed to do? Write her a solicitor's letter? Ring the RSPCA? He's a dog. He did what any dog would do.'

'Yes, but-'

'There isn't a but! That's dog behaviour. If we annoy them enough, they'll probably bite. What would you do if someone stabbed you in the ear? I imagine you might react!'

'I want it put down,' she insisted, jabbing a bejewelled finger at me. 'It's my Dachshund and I want it put down.'

'No,' I said firmly. 'I won't. I refuse to murder your dog,' I added politely. She looked extremely offended at that; and she said that in that case she'd take it to another vet's. But I was one step ahead. I calmly pointed out that there was absolutely no need to 'try her luck elsewhere', because I'd be more than happy to keep it myself. She hesitated, then, giving me a look which combined hostility with shame - an unusual mixture - she left. She'd never even told me the dog's name. So I called him Herman. Herman the German. That was four years ago.

The saddest thing of all was Herman's distress at her departure - he whimpered inconsolably after she'd left. He might not have felt quite so upset if I'd been able to apprise him of the awful truth.

'Don't waste your tears,' I told him. 'She didn't deserve you. You're going to be a lot better off with me.' Within a week Herman seemed to think so too, for he seemed grateful for my care and we'd started to bond, and we've been pretty inseparable ever since. But it was saving him from a premature end which got me thinking seriously about changing career. I'd already noticed how in most cases it isn't the animal which has the 'problem', it's the humans - and I realised how interesting it could be working with that; and a week later I went to a lecture given by a vet who'd retrained as a behaviourist and I decided that that was what I would do too. I'd still be working with animals, just as I'd always wanted, but without the relentless pressure and stress.

I had no serious financial commitments then so I used my savings to go back to school. I went to Edinburgh for a year - with Herman - to do an MSc in Animal Behaviour, and I had a fascinating time. We didn't study only companion animals, although that's a large part of it, we studied many other species as well. We learned about primate behaviour, about farm animals, and birds and deer and there was a module on marine animals too. There were lectures on the behaviour of reptiles and zoo animals - I'll never forget the things we learnt. That polar bears are always left-handed for example and that chickens prefer pop music to rock. That if you chat pleasantly to a cow, it will yield more milk, and that when a cat hisses it's imitating a snake; that ants practice a form of agriculture and that ravens are as clever as chimpanzees.

When I left I came back to London and began running a behaviour clinic three times a week from a vet's practice in Highgate where I'd once worked. I was amazed at how quickly word got round, and I soon had a steady stream of dysfunctional Dobermans and stressed-out Siamese and I began to get good results. I did home visits too, and I set up a website where people could ask for my advice, free of charge. Then, just over a year ago, I got this big break.

I was contacted by a TV researcher who asked me whether I'd be interested in being an expert on a new series called Animal Crackers; so I was screen tested, and got the job. They'd been looking for someone young, knowledgeable, female, and telegenic, which people kindly say I am. Not that I'm glamorous; I'm much too short for a start, and I rarely wear make up, and I keep my fair hair in a boyish crop. But I think I came across well because I felt confident - I knew what I was talking about. I'd do two sections in each programme in which I'd analyse the problem then return ten days later to see whether or not my advice had worked. There were some very interesting cases - a police dog that was terrified of thunder, and a cat that went berserk when the TV was on. There was an irritable iguana - it was having romantic problems - and a pony which refused to be caught.

To my surprise, there was quite a buzz about the series. Someone wrote an article about me in the Mail, describing me as 'Miss Dolittle', which was just plain silly. I do not talk 'to' animals - I merely think like them - and there was a similar piece in the Times. But the exposure brought in new clients, so I decided I ought to have my own premises - which is how I found St. Michael's Mews.

From outside I heard the crunch of tyres on the cobbles, then a car pulled up. There was the soprano beep of central locking, then rapid tapping.

'Mir-an-da! It's only me-ee.' I slid back the chain and opened the door. 'Wow!' Daisy's large brown eyes were shining with enthusiasm. 'What a great place!' I've known Daisy for fifteen years - we shared a flat at Bristol - and what I love about her is that she's always upbeat.

'This looks so great!' she repeated as she came inside, cradling Herman over her left shoulder, like a baby. 'It's spacious isn't it? And so light! Your builder's done a fantastic job.'

'He has.'

'And the mews is gorgeous,'

'It is.'

'It looks rather friendly.'

'It seems to be. The aromatherapist and the osteopath have already introduced themselves, and the others all smile.'

'I've always wanted to live in a mews - lucky you. You'll feel safe here,' she added, tucking a hank of glossy dark hair behind one ear. I nodded. 'And is that Herman on the plaque?'

'Of course.'

'He's been dying to see you again - haven't you Herman? Say hello to your Mummy, poppet.' Herman gave me a baleful stare.

'Hello Herman,' I said, as she put him in my arms. 'Have you missed me?' The two tan points above his eyes twitched, pleated into a deep frown, then he emitted a grumbly sigh. 'He's cross with me,' I said as I cuddled him. 'It's all the disruption. He'll come round in a bit. I'm sorry I neglected you, Herman,' I added quietly. 'But, you see the thing is,' I felt my voice catch, 'things have been a bit tough.'

'Are you okay?' asked Daisy softly. I nodded, but Herman's foxy little face had blurred. 'Now don't worry, Miranda,' I heard Daisy murmur as I sank onto a chair. She unzipped her bag. 'You mustn't worry because even though it's all been horrible and you've had this awful, awful shock I just know you're going to be fine. You're going to be absolutely fine - isn't she Herman?' she added brightly as she pushed a tissue into my hand. I pressed it to my eyes, breathed deeply a few times, then felt my panic subside. On Herman's face was his habitual expression of exaggerated anxiety. It made me suddenly smile.

'Thanks, Daisy.' I blew my nose. 'And thanks for taking care of him,' I added as I put him down and he began to sniff the new floor.

'Oh, he was no trouble at all. He came to work with me most days.' Daisy works for 'The Aid of the Party', an event and wedding planners based in Bloomsbury. 'The clients loved him - and when I couldn't look after him I took him round to my Mum. She adored having him, and she was really sorry about Well, she was really sorry.'

'You didn't tell her did you?'

'No. Of course not.'

'Good. What did you say?'

'I just told her that you'd broken up with Alexander, that you were camping here while the work was being done and that it was a difficult time.'

'That's fine. You're the only person who knows,' I added quietly as she put down her bags.

'Don't worry - my lips are sealed. But didn't you even tell your Mother?' she asked as she sat down. I shook my head. There are so many things - huge things - I've never told her. I'm too ashamed, so I've bottled them up. 'But why not?' Daisy asked, looking puzzled.

'Well, because she's rather jaundiced about marriage, so I knew what she'd say. I just told her the engagement was off. She mostly seemed relieved that she wouldn't have to see my Dad again.'

'But didn't she want to know why it had ended?'

'She didn't, actually. But then she's always so busy - you know how it is. What with three teenage girls to look after, not to mention the boys.' Daisy nodded diplomatically.

'Of course the boys'

'Anyway, the fewer people who know, the better I like it.'

'But it's not as though you did anything wrong.'

'No, but'

'But what?' I stared at a rhombus of sunlight on the wall.

'The whole thing makes me feel somehow ashamed. The thought that I could have made such a mistake.'

'But you couldn't have known. You couldn't have known that Alexander was like that,' she said delicately. 'He seemed so, well' she gave a helpless shrug. ' Perfect.'

'Yes,' I said quietly. 'He did.'

'So not a whisper from him then?' she asked as she took off her cardigan.

'No,' I said bitterly. 'But as we both know it's over, what's the point?'

'I don't blame you,' she agreed. 'Some things one can get over,' she said carefully. 'But I really don't see how you could have got over that. Anyway - today's the summer solstice,' she went on purposefully, 'which is a turning point - and this is a turning point for you too. You're about to start a new, busy, happy phase of your life, Miranda, and I know it's going to be good. Now, will you give me the guided tour?' I stood up.

'It won't take long - it's a good job Herman and I are both small.' As I say, I'm short - five foot one and a half (at that height, the half matters) - and my frame is slight. People often say I'm 'petite' or 'gamine'. Daisy on the other hand is five foot eight and rather curvy. At Bristol we were called Little and Large.

Daisy admired the consulting room with its pale beech flooring, and yes, psychiatrist's couch - in a practical beige - then we went into the tiny galley kitchen at the back.

'Sweet garden,' she remarked as we looked out of the window into the minuscule courtyard. 'It'll look great when you fill it with pots.' Then we went up the narrow stairs. I carried Herman because dachshunds get back problems. 'I like the skylight over the bed,' she remarked. 'Very romantic. You can lie there and look at the stars.'

'I'm not feeling romantic,' I pointed out matter-of-factly.

'Not now. But you will be. One day.' She squeezed my arm. 'You will get over this Miranda. You're only 32.'

'I feel 52. It's the stress.' And not simply the stress of Alexander, though I didn't tell Daisy that. As I say, I've always bottled things up.

'Thank God the wedding plans weren't very far advanced,' she breathed as she peered into the wardrobe. 'That would have been hell.' That was true. Our engagement was so recent that we hadn't got round to putting in the announcement. All we'd done was chosen the ring. Daisy looked in the tiny en-suite bathroom.

'I must say your builder's done a great job. It's enough to destroy all one's prejudices about them.'

'I know. He did it to budget, and on time. He also did loads of extra things, just to help. He assembled my bed, and the desk; he even installed my computer. He obviously felt sorry for me.'

'Did he know what you'd been...?' Daisy's voice trailed away.

'Well... he was too tactful to comment, but I think he could tell.'

'And how are you feeling?' she added as she sat on the bed. I heaved a painful sigh.

'Much better than I was.' She picked up my bottle of sleeping pills

'Are you still taking these?' I nodded. 'Well, try not to. And you must eat more, you're much too thin.'

'Mmm.' I'm about seven stone at the moment, though I ought to be eight. Interestingly, my size was one of the things that first attracted Alexander to me because he's six foot one, and well built. He loved the fact that I was so small, and boyish - he said it made him feel 'manly'. He loved the fact that I came up to his chin. He liked to pull me into him then tuck me right under. I felt as though I were sheltering beneath a huge rock.

'It was... incredible,' I heard Daisy murmur as we went downstairs. 'And what a dreadful let-down.' I shrugged. Men have let me down all my life. 'Anyway, I've brought you some eggs and bread and some tomatoes and I'm going to make you eat.' As she opened one of the packing crates and found a bowl and a fork I wondered, as I often do wonder - I simply can't help it - what Alexander was doing now. Just because it's over doesn't mean I don't miss him; and I knew that he'd be missing me. We'd become great friends apart from anything else; we'd had such an easy, almost effortless, rapport.

I'd met him just over a year ago, not far from here, at the open-air theatre in Regent's Park. I went with Daisy and her boyfriend, Nigel, to see The Tempest, a play I love. And it was one of those magical summer evenings we sometimes get, with a clear sky, and a sliver of moon: and as dusk descended the lamps at the edge of the stage began to glimmer and shine. And when Alexander first appeared, as Ferdinand, a slight frisson went through the crowd. He looked just so, well, beautiful, I suppose - he has a beautiful face. He has full, curving lips that you want to trace with your fingertip, fine cheekbones, dark hair, and blue eyes. I remember the actress playing Miranda declaring him to be a 'thing divine'. And he called her 'Admired Miranda! Indeed the top of admiration!' as though she were some rare work of art. And although I hadn't seen the play for years so many lines from it still stay in my mind. Ariel singing 'Full Fathom Five' so hauntingly, Miranda's ecstatic, 'O brave new world!'; then, finally, the wonderful moment when Prospero is redeemed. For instead of taking revenge on his evil brother, as he'd vowed, he forgave him, because that was the courageous thing to do.

The rarer action is in virtue than in vengeance, he said simply. That made the hairs on my neck stand up. Then he broke his magic staff, stepped forward, spread wide his hands and asked for forgiveness himself.

As you from crimes would pardoned be:

Let your indulgence set me free.

We were all so spellbound that there was a silence of about ten seconds before the applause began; then, as it finally died away after at least three curtain calls, Daisy said that she wanted to go and congratulate the director, John, who she knew. So we went down to the stage door, and Daisy and Nigel were chatting to John and I was standing nearby, clutching my programme slightly self-consciously when, to my surprise, I found myself talking to 'Ferdinand'. Or, to be more precise, he began talking to me. And I couldn't understand why he was bothering, because, being so short, I never assume that anyone's even noticed me let alone that they're interested; so I just said how much I'd enjoyed his performance, which of course I had.

'Thank you,' he said, smiling at me in a way which made my face heat up. 'You'd have been a lovely Ariel,' he added suddenly. 'You're so elfin.'

'Oh.' I felt myself blush again. 'It's' a ...wonderful play...isn't it?' I murmured, trying to cover my discomfiture.

'And what do you think it's about?' He took a pack of Gitanes out of his pocket, and offered me one. I shook my head. What was the play about? And why did my opinion matter? Again, I felt taken aback.

'Well,' I began carefully as he tapped the cigarette on the side of the box. 'It's about penance and reconciliation, isn't it? It's about the search for forgiveness. It's about the hope we all have that we'll be redeemed.' He nodded slowly at that. Then the next thing I knew we were all going for a drink - I remember the delicious scent of his cigarette as we strolled through the park; and although there were quite a lot of us I somehow found myself sitting next to Alexander in the pub. We talked about the play some more, and he told me that Shakespeare actually invented the name 'Miranda' specifically for 'The Tempest', something I'd never known. I'd always known what it means - 'admirable' from the Latin, 'mirare' - to wonder at - but that piece of information was new. And as Alexander and I sipped our beer, oblivious by now to the rest of the party, he asked me lots of other things about my work and my family and he told me a bit about his; that his parents were both doctors, semi-retired, and that his grandfather had been a vet. By the time we left an hour and a half later I felt as though I'd been talking to Alexander for days. And as he walked me to the tube - I lived in Stockwell then - he asked me for my card.

'He'll never ring,' I told myself sternly as I rattled southwards. 'Forget it. He was just being friendly.' But he did. Two days later he rang to ask me if I'd like to have dinner with him that Sunday, at Joe Allen's and, to my amazement, things went on from there.

And yes, of course I was physically attracted to Alexander, and yes, flattered by his attention, but the truth is I really liked him as well. He was so easy to be with, and so intelligent, and, more importantly, he made me laugh. He was 35, he'd read history at Oxford, then he'd done a post-graduate year at drama school. He'd started out spear carrying at Stratford, then he'd done ten years in rep, as well as a number of small roles on TV.

'But I've never hit the big time,' he said modestly. 'Unlike some of my contemporaries, like James Purefoy - he's done brilliantly. So has Paul Rhys. They never stop working, while I'm still paddling in the shallows of fame.'

'I'm sure you'll do very well too.' He shrugged.

'Maybe. Who knows...?'

'All you need is one really good break.'

'That's true. Have you ever been married Miranda?' he asked suddenly. A small jolt ran the length of my spine.

'Er.... No. Not yet. I mean, not ever. I mean, never.' He smiled. 'Have you?' He shook his head. He explained that his last relationship had ended three months before but that he was still 'on good terms' with his ex. And when, heart racing, I asked him why it had ended, he just shrugged and said 'it hadn't worked out.'

By the end of that first date I was stratospheric; I was on Cloud Nine - no, Cloud Ninety Nine - as we strolled down the Strand to the tube. I felt so absurdly happy, I was smiling at strangers; and Alexander said he'd call me again - and he did. As time went on I realised that I simply loved being with him. I loved his warmth, and his sense of fun. And I liked the fact that he was a good talker - there were no strained silences - he always had plenty to say. Having said which he wasn't egotistical or 'actorish', though he did have a whimsical side. He could be slightly impetuous - a creature of instinct - he'd suddenly say, or do, surprising things. For example, the first time he told me he loved me was when we were at the dairy counter in Sainsbury's. I'd just reached for a tub of Greek yoghurt when I suddenly heard him say, 'I love you, Miranda. Did you know that?'

'Really?' I looked at him in amazement. He smiled.

'Yes. Really.' I was thrilled, of course - but what a strange place to tell me. 'You're wonderful - you live up to your name.' And when we got engaged, not long afterwards, he had the ring engraved with, Admired Miranda! But I don't have it any more

'And what about the clients?' I heard Daisy ask as she broke two brown eggs into the Pyrex bowl. 'You're opening tomorrow, so have you got any bookings?'

'Only two.'

'Why so few?'

'Because I haven't had time to spread the word that I'm in new premises - the practice will take time to build.'

'I see.'

'But I've got a depressed Irish Setter coming in the morning - and then this woman called Lily Jago got in touch-'

'Oh yes,' Daisy interjected, her eyes widening. 'The editor of Moi! Magazine. Looks like Naomi Campbell, and often behaves like her too. A friend of mine worked for her once - it took her six months to recover.'

'That's the one. Anyway she sent me a hysterical e-mail about her Shih Tzu - she says it's having a 'nervous breakdown' - so I'm going round there on Tuesday afternoon, but that's all I've got in the diary so far.'

'It's a pity animal psychiatry isn't like human psychiatry,' Daisy added as she began whisking the eggs. I nodded. If only it were. Humans go to their shrinks for months, if not years, but with animals it's not the same. They don't come to me week in week out and lie there staring at the ceiling while I evaluate the state of their id and their ego and then quiz them about their mum. I simply observe them, identify the problem and advise remedial action, which means I usually only see them the once.

'What are you going to charge?' Daisy asked as she lit the hob.

'A hundred pounds per one and a half hour consultation here, and, if I go to them, it'll be a hundred and thirty, to compensate for the travelling time. I'll continue giving free advice by e-mail as that creates goodwill and doesn't take long. And I'm going to have puppy parties,' I added, 'so that should help, but I need lots of new cases to make it all pay. Especially as I'm opening nearly a month late.'

Well you needed time to...recover,' Daisy said. That was true. 'And it'll pick up when the next series of Animal Crackers goes out, won't it?'

'With any luck - but that's not for three weeks.'

'Actually, I might have a new client for you,' Daisy said as she opened a carton of milk. 'Someone I met the other day at a charity do. Caroline...what was her name? Oh yes, Mulholland. She was complaining about her Weimaramer. Said it was behaving like an 'absolute moron'. As I didn't know your new number I told her to contact you through your website.'

'Thanks. I hope she does. And how are things with you on the work front?' I asked as I unpacked my plates.

'Oh frantic,' she said gaily as she got out a small saucepan. 'I've got an Abba Tribute hen night in Hammersmith on Wednesday, a Siberian Soiree birthday bash with Cossack dancers on Saturday, and I'm desperately trying to find a couple of contortionists for a Trail to Timbuktu Extravaganza in Thames Ditton next month. Plus all the weddings!' she wailed. 'We've got six, and three of them have fallen to me. I've just had to find some biodegradable confetti for this wedding in Holland Park in late July,' she went on as she beat the eggs. 'I managed to track some down on the net. Dried delphinimum petals in five colours, absolutely gorgeous. I've got to enclose a sachet with each invitation - two hundred. Sounds lovely doesn't it?' she murmured ruefully. 'Two hundred guests... Holland Park... dried delphinium petals...'

'Yes,' I said quietly. 'It does.'

'Sorry Miranda,' she said, collecting herself. 'That was tactless of me.'

'That's okay.'

'I was actually thinking of myself.'

'I know. Hasn't he said anything?' She shook her head. 'Not even a hint?'

'No,' she said bitterly. 'Not so much as a cough.'

'Well why don't you propose to him then?' She stopped beating, her brown eyes widening in amazement.

'Because it's so unromantic.'

'So is not being asked.'

'Yes,' she said, crossly. 'I know.' She picked up the pepper grinder and gave it several vicious twists.

'Don't you ever discuss it with him?' I asked as I sat at the table. She shook her head.

'I don't want to destabilise things.'

'I see.'

'And I suppose I'm worried I might not get the answer I'm hoping for, so I'd rather keep things nice and smooth. But he does definitely love me,' she added optimistically. 'I say to him, 'you do love me Nigel, don't you?' and he always replies, 'Yes, Daisy, of course I do.'

'He should bloody well prove it then. It's been long enough.'

'Mmm. That's just what my mum says. I mean, Alexander didn't hang around did he?' I sighed.

'No. It was quite quick.'

It was also, as proposals go, rather unusual; but, as I say, Alexander is an impulsive man. We'd been together nine months and we were very happy; I'd just moved in with him, and it was going well. And we were both in the bathroom one Saturday morning, cleaning our teeth together at the basin, smiling at each other in the mirror, when he suddenly paused in mid-brush, and, still looking at me in the glass, said, 'anda, ill oo arry 'e?'

'What?' He took the toothbrush out of his mouth, sipped some water from the glass, then spat neatly into the sink.

'I said, 'Miranda, will you do me the inestimable honour of becoming my wife?' I've just decided, this minute, that I want to marry you.' I looked at him in amazement.


'Well, because, just standing here with you now, brushing our teeth together like this suddenly made me realise how happy I am with you, and so, well, I suppose that's why. I'd rather not get down on bended knee if you don't mind, because of my cartilage problem,' he added matter-of-factly. 'But, will you say yes, Miranda? Mm?' A wave of emotion broke over me as I realised he meant it. 'Will you?' he repeated. His swimming-pool blue eyes were staring into me.

'Well are you sure?' I stuttered. 'I mean...'

'Never been surer of anything,' he said quietly.

'Then... yes,' I said wonderingly. 'I will.' And then, because I was so overwhelmed, I just said, 'Thank you', and burst into tears.

He wrapped his arms round me. 'No. Thank you. Don't cry Miranda. There's no need to cry. I love you. I always will.' I dried my eyes, we exchanged a minty kiss, and that was that.

I'm not being disingenuous when I say I was completely taken aback because I truly didn't expect to get engaged. Maybe because my parents divorced so long ago - and haven't been that civilised since - I've never had any illusions like that. For me, it was enough just to feel that I was in a happy relationship, to know that I'd been lucky enough to find love. But Daisy's different - she's much more conventional - she wants the church, the meringue, the whole works.

'It's a bit galling having to do all these weddings when Nige won't pop the question,' she said ruefully, fork poised in mid-air. 'I think he will marry me,' she continued, judiciously. She often says that. 'But I don't think it's worth pushing it just now.'

The fact is, Daisy's terrified of pushing it. I know this because she's been with Nigel for five and a half years and we've been having the same conversation for three. 'I mustn't put him under pressure,' she said seriously. ' That's what the books all say.'

'The books also say that you should be a bit more detached. Don't be there for him so much. Make him miss you. Be mysterious. Move town if need be. Or even country, God knows.'

'Oooh - that's a very dangerous game.'


'Because,' she said with an air of spurious authority, 'if I suddenly withdraw, and act all aloof, then he might think I don't really love him. And that would be disastrous, wouldn't it?' I looked at her.

'I'm not sure. I think it might do him some good to feel a bit less secure.'

'No, I think it'll all happen in the goodness of time,' she added with a slightly twitchy serenity.

'Hmmm. Well, it's your life.'

But I find it odd that Daisy's so scared of asking Nigel whether or not he intends to marry her, because in other ways she's incredibly brave. For example, she spends her days off bungee-jumping, hang-gliding, abseiling and rock-climbing - and she did her first solo sky-dive a few weeks ago.

'It would be catastrophic if I forced him to name the day and then he booted me,' she said sagely. 'Then what on earth would I do? I've invested over five years of my life in Nigel and to be quite crude about it I'd like a return. So I don't want to blow it all at this final - and very delicate - stage by not being quite patient enough.' I nodded, though, as I say, I've heard this line of argument many times before. 'I want to have kids,' she went on calmly, 'and I'm now 33, so if Nigel and I split up,' - she gave a little shudder - 'it would take me at least two, maybe even three years to get to the same stage with someone else, by which time...' - she poured the egg mixture into a saucepan - '...it may well be curtains on the ovary front. And I'd never trap him into marriage,' she added. 'Men resent that. I want him to want to marry me.'

'Why shouldn't he want to marry you?' I said hotly.

'Oh he's just the cautious type.' Too right. Nigel's very cautious - he won't be hurried; he proceeds as slowly as a three-toed sloth. They move so slowly - it would take them a day to cross a football pitch - that they actually grow mould on their fur. Anyway, when it comes to romance, I'm afraid Nigel's like that. And this dilatoriness is reflected in his hobby - growing Bonsai trees. He once won a medal at Chelsea for one of his Japanese maples - he'd been tweaking it for twenty years. To be honest, I've never really been able to see what he and Daisy have in common, but she seems to dote on him. But she has a tiny flat in Tooting and he has a nice house in Fulham; and she did once admit after a few too many that, yes, it was the 'security' which partly appealed. Though why a woman who spends her weekends throwing herself out of aeroplanes should be interested in 'security' is way beyond me. But, on the other hand, her father died tragically when she was nine so she's always been looking for someone 'steady' and 'safe'.

And Nigel's certainly that. He's a City solicitor - a partner in Bloomfields; though I will say this for him, he's not at all flash. Solidly competent, rather than effortlessly brilliant, he works incredibly hard; and 'though I'm sure he's very fond of Daisy, I guess he can't see any reason to rush. He's 39 and has never been married, so what on earth would make him jump now? He hasn't even asked her to live with him yet. Daisy has jokingly suggested it a few times, but she says he never seems keen - I think he doesn't want her messing up his stuff. She's quite untidy and can be rather noisy, 'though I mean that in the nicest way. I don't mean that she shouts, or is grossly opinionated, simply that she laughs a lot - she's got this lovely, chortling giggle - and she always has plenty to say. Whereas Nigel just likes his evenings in with his Bonsai trees plus a quiet dinner and the odd game of bridge. Don't get me wrong. I like Nigel - he's pleasant and he's generous, but he's also selfish, because he has Daisy entirely on his terms. But if he's what she wants, then that's good enough for me, so I really hope it works out.

'I think it'll be fine with Nige,' she said again, not very convincingly, as I ate the omelette.

'I hope so. But I do think you'll have to pin him down at some point, Daisy.' If necessary, by stapling his head to the carpet.

'Hmm,' she said anxiously. 'Maybe you're right.'

After she'd gone Herman went to sleep on his beanbag, curled up like a burnt cashew nut, while I turned my thoughts back to work. With all the stress and disruption I'd been unable to think about it, but now I forced myself back into professional mode. I turned on the computer, and read my e-mails. There was one from my Dad. He lives in Palm Springs, where he manages a golf resort. He just wanted to know how I was. Then I logged on to my website, 'PerfectPets.com', where there were a number of outstanding requests for advice. My poodle terrorises the postman, said the first one. After his latest efforts to 'defend us' (there was actually blood on the letters) we've been told that in future we'll have to collect our mail from the sorting office - can you help?: I think my cat's schizophrenic, said the next. One minute she's curled up on my lap for a cuddle, purring her head off, then the next second she's biting me - why?: Can you tell me why my female spaniel insists on cocking her leg? enquired a third. There were the usual complaints about dogs jumping up, or chasing their tails, there was a house rabbit which kept attacking its owners' feet. There was a gay guinea pig, a sleep-walking Saluki and a hamster which had eaten its mate. I sent replies to each one, with suggested reading, and as I was doing this, another e-mail popped in. It was from the woman Daisy had mentioned, Caroline Mulholland.

'Dear Miranda, I met your friend Daisy at a fund-raiser the other day and I happened to mention that I have a young Weimaramer which is being an absolute pain. It bullies our two other, much smaller dogs, and we don't know how to get it to stop. I wondered whether you'd be kind enough to call me, as I'd like to arrange for you to come out.' There was an out of London phone number which I rang, she picked up, and told me that she lived near St. Albans, so we arranged that I'd go the next day.

In the meantime I had the depressed Irish Setter to deal with. So the next morning I tidied the consulting room, then went round the corner - stopping to answer Russell the chiropractor's polite enquiries about how I was settling in - and bought some biscuits and flowers. Then I put Herman in the kitchen - he doesn't mix with the clients - and at ten thirty Fiona and Miles Green turned up. They were about my age, good-looking, well dressed and clearly successful judging from their smart address in Notting Hill Gate. I made them some coffee, then sat behind my desk, observing the dog, which did look rather dismal, while they sat side by side on the couch.

'We're both very busy people,' Fiona explained, as she nibbled on a chocolate oliver, 'but you see Sinead's our pride and joy...' Sinead was lying on the rug with her head in her paws, '...and we felt it was important to get her some psychological support.'

'She does seem rather dejected,' I said as I took notes. 'Irish Setters are normally incredibly lively, so when did this subdued behaviour first start?'

'About three months ago,' Mrs Green replied.

'No, it's not as long as that,' her husband corrected her gently. 'I'd say it was about six weeks actually.'

'No, it wasn't!' she snapped. 'It was three months. Do you think I wouldn't notice something like that - my own dog?' I discreetly wrote down 'child substitute' and 'marital tension'.

'Our dog,' he said. Sinead lifted her head and looked at them anxiously.

'It's all right, baby,' said Fiona, leaning forward to stroke her. 'It's all right. Mummy and Daddy aren't cross.'

'What was Sinead's behaviour like before?' I asked.

'She was a typical bouncy red setter,' Miles explained. 'She was full of energy - always playing and running - but now all she wants to do is stay in bed.'

'Hmm, that's strange. And how old is she? Two?'

'Just under. We've had her for about a year and a half.'

'And has she had any specific traumas? Did she get in a fight with another dog for example? Or has she had a near miss with a car?'

'No. Nothing like that,' said Fiona. 'I work at home, so I'm with her all day. All I know is she seems constantly depressed and she just lies in her basket. It's heartbreaking,' she added, her voice suddenly catching. 'We don't know what to do.'

'I don't wish to be personal Mr and Mrs Green, but are there any specific stresses in the, well, family dynamics, to which she might be reacting?' This was a rhetorical question. There clearly were.

'Well, no, not... really,' Fiona replied, crossing her arms defensively. I saw her husband roll his eyes.

'C'mon Fi,' he said wearily. 'You know there are. And I think it's relevant. I've said so all along.' He looked at me. 'You see-'

'I don't want to discuss it!' she hissed.

'But it might be important,' Miles protested.

'But it's private!'

'It's all right Mrs Green,' I interjected. 'I'm not asking you to tell me anything you don't want to. But if there are any factors which might be affecting Sinead's behaviour then I can only say that I'm bound by a code of confidentiality which means that anything you do choose to tell me will go to my grave.' She looked at me: there were tears standing in her eyes.

'Okay then,' she sighed. She opened her bag and got out a tissue; her husband gave her arm an encouraging squeeze. 'We've been trying for a baby for four years,' she explained quietly. 'That's why we got Sinead, actually, to distract us from the stress. But it still hasn't happened, and this year we've had IVF, but our first two attempts have failed.'

'Well that would put a strain on any relationship, however happy,' I said. They both nodded. 'And dogs are incredibly sensitive to changes in atmosphere and I think Sinead is simply picking up on that. This is making her as subdued as any child whose parents are constantly quarrelling. So I think that you should try and protect her from emotional stress by having any sensitive discussions when she's out of the room.'

'But it's not just that she's depressed,' said Fiona. 'I feel it's more than that. She's been behaving in a peculiar way. She's started stealing things for example.'


'Yes. Very odd things.'

'Like what?'

'Well, Miles' shirts out of the laundry basket for example.'

'She might find it comforting if he's out.'

'But she steals old egg-boxes too. And the other day she took five empty plastic flowerpots out of the garden, one by one, and put them in her bed. And she was arranging them so carefully, almost tenderly, as if she loved them. It was weird. We didn't know what to think.' Ah.

I got up and went over to Sinead, pushed her gently onto her side, and lifted up the feathers on her underside. Her tummy was slightly bloated and pink.

'Has she been anywhere near a dog?'


'Are you sure?'

'Yes - positive. And when she was last on heat we kept her in.'

'Then she's having a phantom pregnancy.'

'A what?'

'A false pregnancy. That's why she's so subdued. Females that have never been mated can get very broody. They become listless, and they stay in their beds, which they carefully arrange, because basically they're making a nest. Then they look for objects which they can put in their 'nursery' and 'mother' - hence the egg-boxes and flowerpots. They even show some of the symptoms of pregnancy, just as she's doing. Look at her nipples.'

Fiona's jaw slackened.

'Good God.'

'If she'd been smooth-haired you would have noticed it, but her long fur covers it up. That's what it is. A phantom pregnancy. I used to see this when I was a vet.'

'I see.'

'So you don't have to worry that she has psychological problems, or any kind of depression - she doesn't. She just wants to be a Mum.' Mrs Green dabbed at her eyes again.

'Maybe she's doing it in sympathy with me.'

'We were going to have her spayed actually,' said Miles. 'But we hadn't got round to it.'

'Can I make a suggestion?' They both nodded. 'Don't. Or, at least not yet. Why don't you let her have puppies? You could get her mated with another red setter when she next comes on heat.'

'Actually... that's a very good idea,' said Miles slowly. He suddenly smiled. 'We hadn't thought of that.'

'No,' Fiona agreed. She stroked the dog's head. 'We've been so caught up in ourselves.'

'And it's nice for girl dogs to be allowed to have at least one litter,' I pointed out, 'otherwise, well,' I shrugged, 'they're like humans - they can feel a bit sad.'

'Oh,' said Fiona. 'I see. We could have puppies,' she said. Her eyes had filled again. She turned to her husband. 'That would be fun, wouldn't it darling?' Miles nodded. 'Maybe we won't have a baby, but we'll have some sweet little puppies.'

'Hhmm,' he said. 'Why not? And we know lots of nice families who'd take them.'

'Well, that's what I would do if I were you.'

'Well, that's very good advice,' Fiona said as they stood up. 'I feel quite overcome.' She gave me a watery smile. 'Thanks.'

'Not at all.' I felt slightly emotional myself.


click to read PART TWO of the opening of 'Behaving Badly'


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