James Mitchell

JAMES MITCHELL’s being telling fibs. But he’s going to tell the truth this time, honest.

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You may have noticed that I didn’t submit my column last week. 

Since it was due around the middle of exam week, I wasn’t too disheartened by the lack of “Bring Back Mitchell” comments or indeed any organised demonstration outside The Tab HQ. I’m sure that should my column fail to appear for a second week, during normal term time, the protests would be less muted. But you obviously noticed my absence – and that’s the main thing.

As it happened, I couldn’t be bothered. In fact my essay was overdue and I was lacking inspiration. Now, I am sure that The Tab‘s editors are far too busy moderating the comments section and/or fending off The Daily Mail to read the rubbish I produce, so I feel quite safe in admitting this to you: I told a bit of a fib.

I cited “family troubles” as the principle reason why I couldn’t manage 500 words last week. There had indeed been some recent trauma in my home life (more on this next week) but it wasn’t that which prevented me from delivering my script. Nevertheless, it worked well enough as an excuse. As a rule, people tend not to pry into personal, family, problems.

As an aside, one of the advantages of the Tripos system here at Cambridge is the ability it affords to recycle old excuses. Reading History and having had a new supervisor each term, I’ve hardly had to stretch my imagination. The risk, I suppose, is that if my various supervisors ever happen to meet up (and inexplicably find themselves discussing me), I might face an intervention.

Lying, then, is a tricky business and probably best avoided. Yet for some reason I can’t help resorting to it in moments of awkwardness. Rather than speak the truth, and potentially disappoint someone (or embarrass myself), I will reach for a quick and easy fib.

Since my remit here entails writing from an older perspective and, presumably, passing down wisdom to my younger colleagues, I feel obliged to instruct you as follows: only lie if you’re not going to get found out. Telling a lie and then writing about it on The Tab, for example, is the sort of thing that you should probably avoid. The other golden rules are “keep it simple” and “stop digging if you find yourself in a hole”. Before you dismiss what is quite clearly exceptionally useful advice, you should take note of the following exemplum:

When I was in my final year at school, there was this girl I really fancied but I was far too shy and awkward to tell her how I felt. One night, at a party, I watched her getting off with another bloke. I was determined to show manly, stoic defiance, but instead burst into tears.

A kindly friend approached me as I sat at the bottom of the stairs with tears pouring down my face and asked me why I was so upset. At this point, I panicked. Unwillingly to make myself look any more pathetic, I replied that I had just been informed that my grandma (who had been living with us) had unexpectedly died. I thought that would be the end of it, and I enjoyed my friend’s sympathy and words of comfort.

Of course, I hadn’t thought the whole thing through. In particular, it hadn’t occurred to me that someone might later try to call me at home and be answered by my supposedly deceased grandma. When I returned to school, totally unaware that I had been caught out, my friends were lining up to question me outside my room.

Now, at this point in a lie, you can go one of two ways: either put your hands up and admit to the fib or tough it out. In this case, regretfully, I opted for the latter. Indeed, only a few hours later, I had ended up inviting them all along to the funeral. I rang up my father immediately to explain what had happened and, mercifully, he was quite sympathetic. Nonetheless, I was unable to persuade him to help stage a fake wake and the game was up.

So, I eventually had to come clean and thereby enjoyed social pariah status for the rest of the year. My friendships were never completely repaired I didn’t get anywhere near the girl. Still, it made for an important lesson and, above all, has given me the material to fill my column this week.

Now, if you don’t mind, I have an overdue essay to write. Honestly.