Saturday, 27 June 2020

The Saturday list #268 - ten reasons why you shouldn't tell children 'white lies'

If you are a parent, you must have been there. Your small child asks you something and the answer is a bit embarrassing, so you make up a little story. At some point in the future, sometimes many years after, the white lie comes back to bite you on the backside.

Last night, we had some friends around, and I recounted how one such white lie caused a friend of mine much embarrassment at Primary School. It got me thinking, was there enough material for a full list? I think there is.

Biog pics
My First Communion
 1. Inclusive Sex Education.
 Lets start with the memory that kicked the list off. Picture a class of nine year old children in 1972, in St Vincents RC school in Mill Hill. In those days, sex education for such children at RC establishments was non existent and sex was never spoken of at home. The first lesson about sex came in a most embarrassing way for a friend.

Sister Gabriel, the headmistress came into the class and announced that the Bishop was coming to the school. There was to be a special mass. Such events usually meant no lessons and possibly even a cup of warm orange squash. She announced that she was forming a small choir for the event and stated that she needed boys and girls who could sing in tune and at high pitch. One of my classmates, who's name I will not mention put his hand up. Sister Gabriel said "Yes, what is it". He proudly announced "I'm a homosexual!". Sister Gabriel immediately took him to her office. We were a naive bunch, no one knew what a homosexual was. We were all a bit bemused. He emerged later, without having been slippered. At playtime, a couple of us asked what it was all about. The previous night, his family had been watching Top of The Pops. David Bowie appeared singing Starman. My friends Dad, who was virulently homophobic had shouted "Why is there a homosexual on television". My friend asked his father what a homosexual was. His Dad, not wanting to explain said "It's a man who sings in a high pitched voice. I hate men who sing in high pitched voices". He'd explained this to Sister Gabriel, who as a veteran teacher, realised that Peter had not been given an accurate description. She sought to correct this and explained that Homosexuals were men who didn't like girls. As most of the boys at the school, were of an age where they were not interested in girls, many concluded they too were homosexuals. I told my elder sister of what happened. She took great delight in setting the record straight, as it were.  So don't tell your kids that words have incorrect meanings, if you want to spare their blushes.

2. Safety.
When my Daughter was about three years old, she started to take an interest in the pond at the bottom of the garden. As you know, ponds and small children don't mix. So I told her that my Father was buried under it and if she went near his ghost would get her.  This did the trick, and none of the children ever went near it again. When she was in her mid teens, her friends were visiting. One noticed the pond and went to have a look. My daughter said "Don't go near that, my Grandad is buried under it". I realised that she hadn't twigged that it was a white lie. Don't tell lies that could result in a visit from PC Plod (not that this happened), for the record my Dad is buried in Hendon Cemetary). 

3. The cupboard.
My elder brother asked me to baby sit for him once. His younger son was about three years old. I wanted to watch the telly, but he kept coming down and annoying me. Eventually, I took him to his room and said "Now go to bed, because its after 8.30 and the monster that lives in the cupboard wakes up at 8.30 and if you get up he'll eat you". That was the end of the interruption. A couple of days later, my sister in law rang my mum in a state of rage. The poor lad was scared out of his wits at the monster in the cupboard and was refusing to go in his bedroom. I was not flavour of the month. Don't try and quell childrens fears with stories of monsters.

4. Young ladies.
My friends Dad who was a homophobe was also a rabid anti semite. When we were about 14 we were looking at a copy of the NME and there was an attractive female singer on the cover. As you can imagine, this caused some comment, which was overheard by his father. His father grabbed the magazine, ripped it up and then told us that he wouldn't have pictures of Jewish women in the house. I was quite puzzled. He explained that all Jewish women had loose morals and would prey on innocent young Catholic lads, doing unspeakably rude things to them to make them lose their faith.  As I am sure you can imagine, the very worst way to stop teenage boys to taking an interest in a female is to say that they will do unspeakably rude things to them. Of all the lies we were told, this was the most counter productive. I was actually quite disappointed when I learned that it was not always entirely true. Never think that telling young boys that girls have loose morals will discourage interest.

5. Fleas.
Another one of my friends fathers lies concerned the late, great Marc Bolan. At St Vincents he was something of a hero. We would run around the bus stop singing Telegram Sam. My friend informed us that we shouldn't like Marc Bolan because he had fleas, his Dad had said this after a TOTP appearance. I found this to be a rather odd thing to say. So I asked my elder sister. She was very puzzled. She said "Marc Bolan is a pop star, when he goes on Top of the Pops, he has a special hairdresser who makes him up, he probably washes his hair more than any man alive". I think that this was the first time I realised that adults could talk complete nonsense. Don't make up outrageous porkies if you want to retain the trust of people.

6. The neighbours cat.
My Dad was an Aussie and virtually never lied, he'd always tell me things straight if I asked him. He took the view that world was a tough place. But three doors up the road was a family with two young, very sweet girls. Their Dad was a Headmaster, but a lovely chap. They got a cat. One day, the Head came down, very upset. The cat had been run over. He didn't want to upset his daughters. He asked my mum if he could put the cat in our dustbin, explaining that he'd tell the girls that cat had gone to live with a kindly old lady who was lonely. My mum being a kindly soul agreed. Sadly she did not tell my Dad. After dinner, he went to put the rubbish out. On opening the lid, he was greeted with the sight of a dead moggy. My Dad was raised on a farm and not sentimental about animals. He immediately picked it up, marched up the road and banged on the door. The two girls answered. My Dad exclaimed "Tell your Dad that someone run his cat over and put it in our dustbin". My mother went nuts at him when he came back, he couldn't understand what the fuss was about. The moral of this story is that even the best intentioned porkie can go horribly wrong.

7. The talentless child.
One of the saddest things I come across in my day job at the studio is the pushy parent with the talentless child. The trouble is that the parent often convinces the talentless child that they are specially gifted. This is usually fine, until it goes spectacularly wrong. There was one such poor soul, who at a young age, his parents decided was going to be the next superstar. They spent a fortune on singing lessons, drama classes, rehearsals, putting bands together that invariably lasted three rehearsals, until they realised that the poor child was completely useless. The charade continued until the first series of X Factor. The parents were desperate for their poor offspring to appear and pulled a few strings, called in a few favours and got their dream. Sadly, what they didn't realise is that the show would take great delight in humiliating the over confident and under talented mugs. There was much hilarity as the Emperors new clothes disappeared on National TV. There was however a happy ending. About a year later, the poor soul turned up at the studio. It turned out, he was actually a nice chap and was really embarrassed about the whole thing. He had however decided that he did want to make it in music, in his own way. He started drumming and was actually very good. He was also a very good songwriter and makes his living as a touring drummer and songwriter. He tells me that he realised he loved being on stage, but as he couldn't sing, the drums were just fine and he was far happier. The moral of this is that you should never let your love of your children mask the truth of their talents, unless you want nationwide ridicule./

8. The sixpence jar.
There is a sub genre of lies that really cause damage. This is the malicious elder sibling. My eldest Brother Laurie was the master of the evil lie when we were kids. He would take great pleasure in winding me up and getting me into trouble. Nothing made him more happy when this resulted in my getting a smack bottom from my Dad, who was very old school. What used to annoy me most, was that I'd always fall for his ruses. There are too many to list, but the lie that really hurt was the sixpence jar. My Brother told me that if we both put a sixpence a week in the jar, by Xmas we'd have enough for a Scalextrix set. After six months, I got a ladder, climbed up and went to count the sixpences, so I could work out how much we had. It was empty the thieving swine had spent it all on cigarettes. I was furious, everyone else thought it was funny. I waited until he had a hangover, and took my revenge by putting a cold flannel on his feet. Much as I love him, I've never forgiven him and never had a scalextrix set. I think the one lesson my brother learned was that if you continually wind up your younger siblings, sooner or later it comes back on you.

9. The Party.
Perhaps the worst of all humiliations is being the kid at school who doesn't get invited to parties. Parents will go to extraordinary lengths to try and ensure that when their kids put out the invites, those that are left out do not find out. Sadly there is another type of parent who takes great delight in stirring and if they find out that little Johnny isn't invited, then little Johnny will find out in the most embarrassing circumstances. There was one such parent that I came across. Their child was very popular but the parent was a real stirrer. As a result, childrens parties became very expensive, as the whole class had to come. One parent, who wanted to save a few pennies, decided to take a different tack and just tell the truth. "We are having a party and you child did not make the cut" would not go down too well in some quarters. So they said "there was only space for ten so we just pulled the names out of a hat, because it was fairer". Whilst this spared the feelings and those who didn't go probably guessed but didn't feel to left out, the parent who was a bit of a stirrer was not impressed. They grilled their child (who was going) and asked them to find out if it was true. The child having the party simply said "Yes I made sure mum invited all of my friends, we just didn't want to hurt anyones feelings". This was gleefully conveyed back to all and sundry. The moral of this story is that your kids won't tell porkies to spare your blushes. 

10. The Priest.
We will finish where we started. Back at St Vincents school. Back in 1972, the Parish Priest at Mill Hill was Fr Dennis Corkery. He used to visit the school every week and hold court with the children. He'd tell us stories of the good work done by Vincentian missionaries in Africa.  He told us how before the Vincentians arrived, Africa was full of savages who went around eating each other, but by the good work of the Church they were now all civilised and good Catholics. In fact they were now better Catholics than we were, as more priests were coming from Africa than Ireland. We all accepted this version of history without question. Africa had names such as the dark continent and I genuinely believed that the Church had saved the continent. Then when I got to around 14, I became aware of South Africa and Rhodesia and the injustice of Apartheid. The more I read about the British Empire, more I came to doubt that Africa had been saved. In 1974, my cousin had been ordained a Catholic Priest and spent his life working in Africa. I always held him in high esteem, but I realised that my education regarding Africa was one of pure lies. It totally undermined my faith in the Catholic Church for a very long time. I realised that like all organisations, the Church had some very good people in and some very bad people. What really stuck in my throat though was that I'd actually believed white people had saved Africa. Sadly the journey of finding out how big a lie that really is, is still a work in progress. Sadly Fr Corkery is responsible for me having very mixed feelings about the clergy. Ultimately, if you are a priest, be honest. 

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