What lies have you been telling the kids?
Latest research suggests teenagers tell the most porkies. Does “Everyone else is allowed to go” and “No, I don’t have any homework” sound familiar?
But it should come as no surprise, because most of the youngsters have been taught by the masters. Some of the funniest fibs have been spun by mums and dads to their offspring.
I must confess to two tall tales of my own I told the Creatures of the Night when they were growing up.
The first was about the haggis, which I explained was not a delicacy north of the border but a legendary bird which had one leg shorter than the other to enable it to run round Scottish mountains more quickly.
This terrible untruth spectacularly unraveled one day at primary school when the teacher asked her class what a haggis was. Our eldest boy proudly put up his hand and delighted the rest of the pupils with his version – to their amusement and his abject embarrassment which he still blames me for to this day. (Actually, we weren’t wrong Wild Haggis)
The second was born out of necessity. There is no parent on earth who has not at some time had to work out which of the children were lying.
“He did it,” insists one.
“No, he did it,” replies the other.
But who to believe?
Some reverse psychology is needed here.
I sat them both down and explained the science of protuberance enlargement which they had witnessed in that classic Disney cartoon Pinocchio. You will recall that whenever the little wooden puppet-boy told a lie, its nose grew to enormous proportions.
It was obvious to me, therefore, that this effect could be applied to other parts of the body (wait!). Not being cartoon creatures, I knew there would be no discernible difference to the boys’ own noses.
So I announced that if they lied, their tongues would grow. Whenever we came to an impasse I would demand that the boys showed me their tongues. The one who was guilty would try to make his tongue the smallest. They weren’t stupid. But by default, the one with the tiniest tongue was always to blame.
I am ashamed to say, I created other fibs, including the legendary porridge tree up the road where I would send the boys to pick porridge in buckets.
But there are some things which are sacred. As far as the boys are concerned, Father Christmas still exists. Both are in their 30s.
Over the years there have been “apprentice lies” which have been handed down the generations. Fresh-faced recruits have been sent to collect all manner of fictional objects on their first day of work.
The list includes:
A tin of striped paint (decorators);
A bag of commas (printers).
Other regular work lies include:
“Yes, I finished it last night but the computer crashed so I am doing it all again.”
“Of course I rang him but he wasn’t in.”
“Sorry, I’m really ill so I won’t be coming in today.”
I think my biggest work lie was when I called the office with a ‘sickie’ so I could spend the day auditioning as a presenter for the new Channel 4 music show The Tube. But it was the ruin of me.
I drove to London in my company car and watched open-mouthed as a motley collection of outrageously dressed punks performed their party-pieces in an old church hall. I had thought this was going to be a typical interview for journalists. Alas, my rendition of I Wish I Was A Willy Worm did not win me a place next to Jools Holland or Paula Yates so I dejectedly went back to my badly parked car, only to find it had been taken to the pound, half-way across the capital.
It cost me £113 to retrieve it – a week’s pay in those days. I have never lied since, honest.
Politicians, of course, never lie. They are just economical with the truth.
But parents are still probably the biggest fib-factory.
The list includes these howlers:
1. Frozen out. “My mum told me that when the ice-cream van played music, it meant it had run out of ice-cream.”
2. Big Mother. “Mum hung a portrait of herself looking directly into the camera on the kitchen wall and told us she could see what they were doing, even when she wasn’t in the room. The crime rate of biscuit theft was reduced to zero.”
3. Drafted dog. “When my pet terrier dog Max had to be put down after biting a school friend I was told he had been drafted to Vietnam to help sniff out the Viet Cong. It was years before I learned the awful truth.”
4. Fish fib. “When I was in college we were discussing childhood pets and I told my friends about the goldfish I had won at the fair. It had lived for seven years and could magically change colour like a chameleon. Cue snickering. My parents had been doing the replace-the-goldfish trick for years – and I had completely bought it.”
5. Santa sherry. “My dad said Santa didn’t like milk and would bring extra toys if we left a glass of sherry instead. I was always astounded to see the empty glass the following morning.”
6. Classroom camera: “Our dad told all three of us that the school had installed mini CCTV cameras in all classrooms and provided a live stream to parents. When he saw us looking guilty he would ask: “Well, why did you do THAT in school today?” He never specified what ‘that’ was but we would think ‘He knows’ and had no option but to confess and apologise.”
7. Beefing about: “When I was seven we were at a garage and I asked for a packet of beef jerky. Mum told me you had to be 18 before you could eat it. I never questioned her and when I turned 18 I told my school friends the first thing I was going to do was buy my first packet of beef jerky. I never lived that down.”
8. Suckers. “When I was little I used to suck my thumb like lots of other children. One day in the car my dad asked: ‘Are you still sucking your thumb?’ Me: ‘Yes’. Dad: ‘Aren’t you worried about ending up like those flamingos in the zoo?’ Me: ‘What?’ Dad: ‘Haven’t you noticed they all stand on one leg? They sucked their toes for so long they dissolved. Eventually they sucked their whole leg off.’ I never sucked my thumb again!”
The study of age-related lying From Junior to Senior Pinocchio published in the journal Acta Psychologica (Lying Report) confirmed: “Our research shows that young adults are, overall, the best liars. Lying frequency increased during childhood, peaked into adolescence and then decreased into old age. We also found lying proficiency improved during childhood, excelled in young adulthood and worsened throughout adulthood.”
The study of 1,005 people was conducted by researchers from the universities of Ghent, Vanderbilt, Amsterdam and Maastricht to discover how often we play fast and loose with the truth.
The results showed that, overall, we tell 2.19 lies a day with teenagers in the lead at nearly three lies a day – and some topping five a day. So-called seniors had the lowest daily rate – 1.5 – and 55 per cent said they told no lies at all. But that, of course, might have been a lie itself.
Besides, by the time we get into our dotage we realise we have to be clever enough to remember a lie so we don’t get caught out. Old age often brings memory loss which can seriously hamper the art of fibbing. It can be quite confusing trying to remember what you have told and to whom, or more importantly, who you haven’t told.
Researchers admit that lying is more mentally demanding than simply telling the truth. One theory is that the brain’s frontal lobe, needed for short-term memory, is the often the first to deteriorate as we get older.
My next challenge is to explain to Mrs Nurden why I haven’t finished building the patio. Do you think she will be happy with the explanation that I have been writing this? No, I don’t think so, either.
So, what would you tell her?
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