Written by Ashley Davies


True Lies

Everyone fibs/fabricates/bluffs/tells porkies. You don’t? Really? We call BULLSHIT. But not all lies are created equal, as Ashley Davies explains.

PinocchioWhen I was about eight I told the girl I sat next to at school that I was adopted and my real parents were the blonde couple from Abba – at that time the most impossibly glamorous pairing I could imagine. I explained that they hadn’t wanted me to be affected by the glare of constant publicity so they sent me to live with a boring family in order that I might grow up like a normal kid.

Believing myself to be skilfully covering all bases here, like a sort of prepubescent chess grandmaster, I informed her that my “parents” were awfully sensitive about this delicate situation, so she should on no account tell anyone, particularly her mother. The next day she informed me that her mum said I was talking crap. I learnt a valuable lesson that day – you just can’t trust people. Oh yeah, and you will always be caught out if you tell porkies.

I’d like to claim that I stopped telling fibs then, but it wasn’t until I was a teenager that I realised how mortifying it would be to get rumbled. Last year a friend said, “God, remember that time when a snake bit your leg?” Nope – I just have two small holes in my leg from accidentally piercing the skin with my fingernails while squeezing a squash ball into life.

I also remember, aged about 17, telling a woman on a plane that I was an international lawyer – ‘international’ being a word deployed to turbo-charge delusions of professional grandeur. When my parents picked me up in the arrivals hall it became clear that they were friends. Luckily, she had significantly more class than me and kept schtum.

telling porkies

“I thought I mentioned my place was a bit of a pigsty…” Someone’s been caught telling porkies.

Pamela Meyer, author of Liespotting: Proven Techniques to Detect Deception has done a fantastic TED Talk about the subject, in which she explores how fibbing is an attempt to bridge the gap between our wishes and fantasies about who we wish we were and what we’re really like. Studies show you may be lied to between 10 and 200 times a day, and that strangers lie three times within the first 10 minutes of meeting each other.

Extroverts lie more than introverts, men lie eight times more about themselves than they do about other people, and women lie more to protect other people. Meyer says lying has evolutionary value, and that one-year-olds learn concealment, two-year-olds learn how to bluff, five-year-olds learn outright lies and nine-year-olds are “masters of the cover up”.

Meyer recounts the excellent story of how Koko the gorilla (you know: the one that can do sign language and asked for a kitten to be put on her head) once blamed a baby cat for ripping a sink out of the wall. Ruddy liar.

“My friend B convinced his workmate at Superdrug that he had been selected by Nasa to become an astronaut while he was actually at university.”

In a bid to make myself feel better about my own youthful dishonesty, I asked my pals if they had any fibs to fess up to and the response was overwhelming, amazing and incredibly reassuring. (I should add that all of these erstwhile liars have subsequently channelled their storytelling instincts into more honest creative pursuits.)

Here’s a selection:

The “I had a funky childhood” lie

P told his new university pals that he’d been to a famous gig, when in reality there’s no way his conservative parents would have allowed this. When that gig was being discussed at a party, one of his new friends, in front of one of his old friends who knew his family, said: “You were at this gig, weren’t you?” For a brief, awful moment, it crossed his mind that the only way to deal with the discomfort would be to murder everyone present.

The deflector lie that got out of control

B forgot to ask for a day off work for a birthday party so concocted a story about how he’d been cast in a Kylie video. A couple of weeks later she released Can’t Get You Out of My Head and it was massive.

Instead of owning up, he learned the dance and continued the pretence because all the male dancers wore visors in the vid so nobody’s faces were identifiable. “It wasn’t until about five years ago when someone told someone else at a party that I was in the video that I realised people had actually believed it,” he said. (Incidentally, the same bloke claimed, in a job interview for a restaurant, that he could speak some Italian. A few weeks into the job and the chef tested him – only to discover that all he knew was swear words and phrases picked up from Madonna’s Ciao Italia video.)

The “I need to move to a new city” lie cluster

S ran out of hairdressers she could use in her home town because she had told so many extravagant lies about her life and lost track of who she’d told what. She finally got caught out while discussing her life as a trainee plastic surgeon and the stylist said: “I thought you were something to do with space.” My pal mumbled something about how it was a tough market so she’d had to change careers.

The surprisingly common astronaut lie

B convinced his workmate at Superdrug that he had been selected by Nasa to become an astronaut while he was actually at university. “She didn’t believe me to begin with but after constant encouragement coupled with ‘proof’ like my dual nationality American passport (because the US wanted to extend the space programme to the UK but still wanted to retain control of the people it was training) and a series of postcards sent to the store from Cape Canaveral (from a friend who bought a load out there which were then sent by a variety of people who I knew that visited the States for the correct postmarks) she eventually fell for it.”

He kept the lie alive for three years before meeting her in the street when he was back home one day. He told her the truth and she stormed off, never to speak to him again.

The swerving an unpaid bill with a flamboyant accent lie

M set up an email account in his flatmate’s name in order to claim that he didn’t live at that address. “Things got out of hand when I had to attend the council office. My flatmate was German so I had to sit and put on a German accent, which was deteriorating the more I spoke. It worked, though, and I kept it up by ordering a Starbucks in a German accent, complete with my flatmate’s name on the cup.”

The health lie that, unchecked, could have marked the start of Munchausen’s

T, aged 16, pretended to need glasses just to get a bit of attention. He stole a pair he found in the changing room at school and spent a few days bumping into things. Everyone, apart from his sister, was too polite to challenge him on his obvious dishonesty.

The “it’s best for everyone concerned” lie

L’s husband doesn’t know they have a cleaner.

This is all true.


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Written by Ashley Davies

Ashley Davies is an Edinburgh-based writer and editor and the human behind animal satire website thelabreport.co.uk.