The devil we know and don't always love

21st June 1996 at 01:00
About twice a week the cry goes up: What shall we do about Frankie? Frankie pushed Millie over in the playground - and then said it was Alan.

Frankie's mother had sharp words with Alan's mother, who responded with admirable restraint, merely pointing out that as Millie had said it was Frankie who pushed her it probably was Frankie, and not Alan, who had pushed her. Of course, it turns out that Alan, who has drawn a heart in his book with the word "Millie" printed neatly below it, then punched Frankie, but Alan's mother did not know this when she was talking to Frankie's mother. Having been so grown-up about it, Alan's mother then got annoyed by Frankie's mother talking about the affair, so she then complained to everyone else. There is an air of tension at hometimes between these families.

Frankie likes to pretend he is Dracula and go round biting people's necks and hissing. No one likes this and many people have complained, including the mothers of all the smaller boys in the class. Frankie is rather stocky but you couldn't call him fat or tall. But he packs a certain weight when he punches. He likes to punch when he is being the Tasmanian Devil, at which time he also whirls around uttering strange cries appropriate to the cartoon character.

He does look a bit like Ta-Ta-Tasmania as purveyed to viewers of children's TV but he is less cunning. He is to be heard in the playground boasting that he is the cleverest, strongest, fastest and fiercest of all - but everyone knows he isn't. Alan is the fastest and most popular, Jake is the strongest and fiercest, Marios is the cleverest. And none of them wants to play with Frankie. Not to put too fine a point on it, they think he is a waste of space.

Nor is Frankie's behaviour any better in class. He always wants everyone's complete attention. He's one of those children who, whenever the teacher asks what they did at the weekend, says "I went to Disneyland". He always has his hand up, even (or particularly) when he has nothing to offer as an answer. He will not stay at his table but wanders around putting people off what they are doing and asking the same questions again and again. Yet I would not want you to think that he is a wholly detestable child.

He is capable of great sweetness and desperately wants to be liked. As well as trying to bribe affection with sweets, he will sidle up and put his hand in yours or fling his arms passionately round you. Firmly utter "Now Frankie" as much as you may, disengaging him and placing him back in the circle, still he will sit trustfully near, sucking his thumb. He loves stories and listens avidly. He can come out with those show-stopping remarks children specialise in: "Is God a vegetarian?" was one of his. And he has got a lovely smile.

But what is to be done about him? Only today he emptied a pot of muddy paint water on Hank's head as Hank crawled past pretending to be a brontosaurus. (They were playing dinosaurs and Frankie was not part of the game. He would have spoiled it by wanting to be another tyrannosaurus rex, they said.) Then he said it wasn't him who tipped the pot: Jake and Marios, who were close behind, had done it. Hank, through howls, refuted this and even - he is a bookish lad - went to the lengths of writing a letter setting out his case. Hank went to the welfare lady and Frankie went to the headteacher.

Frankie's name got written in the book, again. There are three books, in ascending order of seriousness. And Mrs Peach made an appointment to see Frankie's mother, again. All the children grumbled about Frankie, again. And I suppose Frankie went home to watch Tasmania, again.

At home there are three adults who dote on him. The parents never say him nay, because they feel guilty about going to work and leaving him with his grandma. She never denies him because he cries if she does. Anyhow, he's her little grandson and cute.

When everyone is there, and more members of the family too, he is the focus of attention and the cynosure of eyes. The result is that the child of pleasant, respectable, hardworking, stable people is turning into a monster. Dracula, to be precise. And there doesn't seem to be anything anyone can do about it.

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