dubiously true stories and cartoons

Saturday, February 1, 2014

THE TRUTH, THE WHOLE TRUTH, AND NOTHING LIKE THE TRUTH



Here’s a text I received from my wife the other day concerning our fifteen year-old son:
I asked William to wear his coat this morning. Very wet and rainy. He needed to put his blazer in a plastic bag as there was no room in his school bag. I heard him get ready, heard him with a plastic bag. I looked out of the window to find him not wearing or carrying a coat . . . he’s a little shit and should go to acting school. Apparently it’s not raining now. I just love the touch of rustling the carrier bag and carrying the plastic bag to add authenticity . . .J
I replied by saying:
That’s my boy!
To which my wife responded:
My brains - your stupidity . . . a match made in heaven. J xxx
Oh well, I suppose they do say that opposites attract. It’s strange though, that whenever William does something bad he’s my son and at all other times he’s our son. Thinking about it, however, I’ve only got myself to blame because as a teenager I was particularly adept at lying my way out of almost any situation that may have potentially resulted in feeling the back of my mother’s hand or the whack of a teacher’s cane.
I grew up in Blackpool and received my education at Highfield Secondary Modern School, where my friend Pete and I played truant on such a regular basis that we eventually came to regard it as an integral part of the school’s syllabus. I never missed the lessons that I liked – English, Art and History – but Maths, Geography and especially Religion were fair game. Religion was not what it is now – a balanced study of the world’s main theological movements and their impact on our twenty-first century multicultural society

Back in the sixties the subject of Religion was just that. We were taught nothing about Muslims or Budhists or Hindus or any of the other religions of the world because as far as the English educational system of the fifties and sixties were concerned they didn’t actually exist. Britain was in the final death throes of Empire when I started school and that meant reading the Christian Bible was compulsory.

I was already a committed atheist by the time I was fifteen and therefore saw no point in sitting through a lesson I had absolutely no interest in. Playing truant and smoking and ogling at girls on the seafront was, for me at least, a much more meaningful, educational and mind expanding experience.
I learned how to copy my mother’s handwriting and signature for the notes I would take into school the next day and how to cook up excuses and lie convincingly to teachers about why I had not attended school – one of my Aunts died three times over a period of six months, whilst the family dog was run over and killed by (in chronological order) a milk float, a motor bike, a car and finally a lorry.
Towards the end of one lunchtime break Pete and I were forced to put all our powers of deception to the test when we were seen by the headmaster on the seafront. He was in his car and was therefore able to get back to school before the afternoon lessons started, whereas we were on foot and Highfield Secondary Modern was a good hour’s walk away. There was no way we could get away with it as we had been caught (or at least seen) red-handed, and so we spent the rest of the afternoon formulating a brilliant (but simple) way of explaining why we were not in school.
The following morning we arrived at school early and went straight to the headmaster’s office and knocked on his door. It was fifteen minutes before Morning Assembly was due to start. He called us in and we stood in front of his desk feigning remorse with guilty expressions on our faces that we had practiced between us (and in front of mirrors) the night before. We knew that he had seen us on the seafront but we also knew that he couldn’t be sure if we had seen him – and that was how we played our hand.
“Excuse me, sir – but we’ve come to apologise,” I said.
“For what?”
“Well, sir, me and Pete played truant yesterday and we’re both feeling really guilty about it because we’ve never done that sort of thing before, and we thought the best thing we could do was to come and see you and admit to it and apologise to you for doing it.”
The headmaster didn’t say anything for a few moments and we thought we’d been rumbled – but then he began to smile.
“Well done lads,” he said. “Boys who play truant are weak-minded and stupid, but what you’ve just done is very brave and honest. I wish there were more boys in this school with the integrity to admit when they’ve done something wrong and I hope for your sakes that you will never consider doing something like this again.”
“No, sir,” Pete and I said in unison.
“Good. Now get yourselves off to assembly and we’ll say no more about this.”
“Yes, sir. Thank you, sir.”
“That was genius,” said Pete as we walked down the corridor on our way to the Assembly Hall.
And indeed, it was. We had never even considered that lying and telling the truth at the same time could be as effective as just simply lying. On top of that the headmaster had told us that we had integrity – we didn’t know what integrity meant but we were sure it was a good thing.
When I got home I looked up the word integrity in the dictionary.
integrity /in’tEgriti/ nn. 1 the quality of having strong moral principles. 2 the state of being whole ðthe condition of being unified or sound in construction.
ORIGIN ME: from Fr. intégrité or L. integritas, from integer (see INTEGER).
“We have strong moral principles and are unified and sound in construction,” I told Pete as we walked to school the next morning.
“What?”
“That’s us. That’s what integrity means – and we have it.”
“Wow,” said Pete, “I’ve never had integrity before. I hope it’s not catching.”
Despite having strong moral principles and the fact that we were unified and sound in construction we continued to play truant at any and every opportunity, thereby making us – at the very least – unified and we took unashamed pride in the authentic look of the forged signatures on the carefully written absence notes we handed in describing the funerals we had been forced to attend after another fictional relative had passed away.
Back in 2004 my wife and I lived in the village of Ramsey Mereside in Cambridgeshire and our two boys would have been aged seven and eight respectively.   William had – and still has – neat, legible handwriting – unlike his older brother Oliver who (until he started boarding school) wrote in a spider-like scrawl, made all the more difficult to understand because of the numerous and sometimes hilarious spelling mistakes.
It was therefore easy to distinguish who had written what, and so when we discovered the words
William Francis Owen
written neatly (in black permanent marker) across the newly painted wall of the bedroom they shared, we knew at once that it was William’s handiwork.
“Oliver did it,” he told us.
“But that’s your handwriting,” his mother said. “Oliver doesn’t write like that and he would have spelled it incorrectly.”
“I didn’t do,” William insisted.
“Did you do this, Oliver?” my wife asked, beginning her ruthless cross examination.
“No.”
My wife handed Oliver a piece of paper and asked him to write the words William Francis Owen on it.
He wrote:
WiLLemFRaNciSoweN
 
She then handed the paper to William and told him to do the same.
He wrote:
William Francis Owen
“That’s the same handwriting that’s on the wall,” my wife correctly pointed out.
“Oliver made me write my name on a piece of paper and then he copied it onto the wall.”
He said it with such gravitas that he was utterly believable. It was an amazing example of lying from the lips of a seven year-old, and he had done it without any formal training. I was impressed – I had not been able to attain such a convincing level of truthful untruthfulness until I was at least thirteen.
It took four hours of questioning from my wife until she eventually prised the truth out of him.
I would never have lasted that long under my wife’s relentless interrogation. She is an expert at getting the truth out of people. Political prisoners who had been remained silent after being beaten, water-boarded, deprived of sleep and had all their finger nails pulled out with pliers wouldn’t stand a chance under her simple (but effective) method of interrogation. She only has to say one word when she suspects me of lying to her and I blurt out the truth.
That word is “Really?”
It’s just a word isn’t it – and a short one at that – but by saying it in a sinister and unforgiving fashion, whilst looking at me in a questionable and mistrustful way, I’m shamed into immediately telling her the truth.
“Did you phone the bank today, Stephen?”
“Yes.”
Really?
“Errrmmm, well  . . errmm – no, but I’ll do it tomorrow.”
Really?
“Errrmmm, OK – I’ll do it now.”
William is now fifteen and he has far surpassed me in the art of truth bending when I was a similar age. When Pete and I were fifteen we could make the reasonably plausible believable – but William is a master of making the unbelievable totally believable.
And if you don’t believe me prepare yourself for what follows. It was a mystery that would have baffled even the great detective Sherlock Holmes, had he actually existed. I think I’ll call it The Strange Case of the Disappearing Cherry.
My daughter Jessica had baked some cakes, one of which she had saved on a plate for Oliver. They were very nice cakes – each with a glacé cherry on the top. When Oliver returned home Jessica handed him his cake which he placed carefully on the table so as not to disturb the cherry. Oliver loves glacé cherries – he would eat a whole jar of them in one sitting if we were foolish enough to let him and so he turned to thank his sister. It was a terrible mistake - he took his eyes off his cake for less than a second and when he turned back the cherry – that had been, only a moment before, gracing the perfectly risen top – had vanished.
The only other living organism in the room was William, who was sat innocently on the other side of the room watching the television.
 “I didn’t do it,” he said.
“Yes you did,” said his brother.
“You’re the only other person in the room,” remarked his sister.
“No, Oliver, don’t you remember telling me that the cherry accidentally fell into your mouth and you had to eat it?”

I don’t know how he did it, but I’ve thought of four options:

1) He moved like lightning across the room, picked up the cherry, ate it and then moved like lightning back across the room to the exact same spot he had been sat before the cherry was introduced,

2) He is secretly a genius and had found a way of overcoming Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle,

3) He had taught himself how to be an illusionist and had played a cruel trick on his brother using mirrors that made it look like the cherry had vanished when actually it was still there – thus giving him the opportunity to eat the glacéd red fruit in his own sweet time,
or
4, and I think this is the most likely) he’s a little shit and should go to acting school.
“Did you eat that cherry?” my wife asked William.
“No, mum,” he replied.
Really?
William looked her straight in the eye and with a calm voice that showed no trace of deception or fear, replied, “No mum. I didn’t.”
That’s my boy!
 

1 comment:

  1. Your William passed those same skills to my William.

    ReplyDelete