This is tough. Not because I’m some paragon of honesty or anything like that. Although I am. I think it’s probably more my lack of real relationship experience which exempts me from most of the easiest of life’s big lies. For example, I’ve never been unfaithful to anyone. I’ve never said ‘I love you’ and not meant it. I’ve never said, ‘No, your bum looks absolutely fine in that’ when in reality it looks like a pair of colliding planets, not just in that but in anything.
Of course there are the dreary, petty lies that I used to tell at school when I realised that being late was nothing to be scared of; the stuff that was taken from real life but chronologically displaced. Like I had to wait in for the builders. Like I didn’t get to sleep till dawn because my parents were up all night fighting. Like my dad ate my alarm clock. But nothing remarkable. Nothing audacious. Not even a dead grandmother.
Oh, hold on.
I have it.
I was in year ten or eleven, so 14 or 15, I don’t remember which but I think the former. I was still being bullied fairly regularly, but my school life had settled down quite a bit and I had a few friends. Most of the friends I had however, and most of the friends I didn’t, were all growing up much faster than me. They had girlfriends for a start, and they had house parties. And every weekend they went to one another’s house parties and they drank vodka and they smoked dope and they danced to 2 Unlimited and felt each other up. Meanwhile I stayed at home listening to Leonard Cohen and writing poems about not having the courage to even contemplate suicide. At least not seriously. I did a lot of weeping.
It was also around that time that I started to fantasise about having a girlfriend. I really wanted one, you see. I mean, I really, really wanted one. So much so that I used to pretend that I had one. In fact, I used to pretend that it was children’s telly presenter Philippa Forrester. I used to imagine her lying on my bed as I lifted the dumbbells I’d made out of a broken broom handle and some old motor oil canisters filled with soil. I’d talk to her as she gazed up at me in awe. I’d laugh at her jokes and when she told me to put down my dumbbells and come and make love to her, I’d come over all shy. Then I’d gently lower myself onto the sad pillow of her body and I’d kiss it until I fell asleep covered in semen.
I was a sad case for sure, but I’m sure I wasn’t alone. Was I? Of course not.
Then, one day – God only knows what possessed me – I decided to take Philippa out into the real world. She’d have to change her name however. My school friends might not have been the brightest bulbs in the firmament, but even they might have had their suspicions if I’d claimed to have been going out with Philippa Forrester. So Philippa became Emma. My real life girlfriend. Only I didn’t want to have to tell people about Emma; I wanted them to discover her for themselves.
So what I did – and you’re only the second person I’ve ever told this to – what I did was to take hold of something like a square inch of my neck flesh with my thumb and forefinger of my right hand, and squeeze and twist it for all I was worth. It hurt. But no pain, no gain. That’s what they say. So I did it again. And again. And I carried on doing it until there was a mark on my neck, which in the right light, and to a gullible eye, could very easily appear as a passable, genuine love bite.
The next day at school I wore my Spurs scarf (I used to be into that sort of thing I’m afraid) and I affected a slightly self-conscious air, occasionally craning my neck to follow an imaginary crane fly in the hope that someone would notice my mark and jump to the desired conclusion.
‘Oi, Elbows!’ It was Neville Waterworth, low-key tormentor. ‘What the fuck are you wearing a scarf for? It’s the middle of summer.’ I shrugged, blushed, ignored. ‘Fucking ponce,’ he said, more or less good-naturedly. And that was that.
It wasn’t until the beginning of Physics just before lunch, when my neck crept out of my scarf sufficiently for Judith Taylor to notice and remark, ‘Elbows? Have you got a dirty neck?’
The story I concocted was that I’d met Emma one day on the bus to Sidcup. And why not? Well, I’ll tell you why not – because apparently it was utterly ridiculous. I had one particularly vocal unbeliever: Gus Hindmarsh. He gave me the third degree at lunchtime, cornered me in the corridor and wouldn’t let me go, him and a bunch of others from our registration class. Gus led the interrogation:
Gus: So what was the first thing she said to you?
Me: She just said hello. And she asked me if she could sit down next to me…
Gus: What’s her second name?
Me: Pissington-Bladderfuck. [I can’t really remember what I said, but whatever it was, it was repeated back to me by half a dozen incredulous voices as if it were every bit as unlikely as Pissington-Bladderfuck. I was really wishing I had left the girlfriend fantasy in the bedroom.]
Gus: What colour hair has she got?
Me: Just, brown.
Gus: Have you fingered her yet?
Kevin Body: How big are her tits?
‘Oh, leave him alone,’ said Judith Taylor, just as I was saying, ‘Look, I don’t have to tell you anything. I’m not answering questions like that.’
‘Have you watered the plants?’ asked Body, as per some asinine euphemism that was doing the rounds at the time.
‘Have you stained her rug?’ someone else chipped in.
‘Let me have a look at that neck,’ said Gus Hindmarsh, pulling my scarf away. ‘That looks like you’ve been at it with the Hoover.’
‘Oh, don’t be a cock,’ I said, which got a laugh and alleviated the tension for a second.
At which point Judith Taylor declared, ‘Good for you, Stan! Ignore these idiots. They’re probably just jealous.’ Whoops of derision from Gus et al. ‘I think it’s really sweet,’ she said. ‘It just goes to show, there’s someone for everyone,’ she added.
Then off she went to lunch, followed by Gus Hindmarsh, who now that I think about it was quite clearly in love with her. I loved her a bit myself after that day.
And that was that.
The love bite faded, and Emma faded along with it. I wasn’t important enough to face much more mockery about my imaginary girlfriend, so the lie died within a few days. In fact all that remained of Emma was a flash of shame every time I saw a bus to Sidcup. I still saw Philippa for a while afterwards however, and I took some solace form the fact that she really did care for me.
Oh, and whenever the subject of virginity came up for the next ten years, I lied about that too.
And you? What’s the biggest lie you’ve ever told? Leave your whoppers in the comments…