Truth-TrimAmongst the occasions on which I think no chap ought to be considered to be strictly “on oath” (being asked for his opinion when accompanying a lady who is clothes-shopping or who has just redressed herself for the umpteenth time preparatory to a social engagement, for example) I would have to include “when in the barber’s chair”.

Today, I eventually dragged myself to a fairly traditional-looking barber’s shop (picked on the arbitrary grounds that it bore my surname in large letters on its frontage) for a long-overdue shearing.  Now, I don’t know quite why this should be so, but I cannot get myself to relax sufficiently whilst having my locks lopped to forego the occasional fib.  I put it no more strongly that that, but I often find myself incapable of telling the complete truth when accosted (howsoever courteously and gently) with the perfectly reasonable and non-privacy-violating questions put to me in the chair.

Today, I was able to approach the seat of shearing immediately, without first having to feign interest in the assorted laddish reading material in the waiting area (or instead having to face the self-consciousness of being observed extracting the supremely unladdish LRB from the bag I carried with me).  That’s the way (uh-huh, uh-huh) I like it (uh-huh, uh-huh).  The locks-smith who received me was a pleasant, comely young woman who, as she confided to me in the course of the cut, was studying for a degree in social work.  She said little enough, and directed towards me only a moderate number of questions during the ten or so minutes it took for her to complete her task.  And yet.

“Doing anything nice in town today?” she asked.  Now, rather than tell her the boring, spoddish but nonetheless innocuous truth (er, reading my mag in a caff, blogging a bit, patronising the odd second-hand bookshop and catching some nosh and a movie at the local arty-farty cinema) I said: “Oh, probably just watching the football down the pub, and meeting some guys for a drink later on.”  I astonished myself.  The poor girl wasn’t to know this, but I’d just perpetrated an utterly unnecessary fraud against her.  There was not the remotest chance of my doing either of those things because: a) I really don’t watch football at all, let alone on my tod in bars; and b) I hadn’t made, and had no intention of making, any plans to meet anybody at any stage of the day.  But that is somehow what I must have found it most easy to say, perhaps because it must have sounded to me the sort of thing that she would be most comfortable hearing. 

But why?  It’s not as if the truth were in any way shameful: “Oh, I’m off to dismember some kittens and spray-paint obscenities on the National War Memorial.” Nor did I wish to deceive, nor would I get any pleasure or advantage from doing so, and it clearly was not in any way a matter of any consequence one way or another to my barbeuse.  And yet I (rightly, surely) felt a twinge of shame at my casual mendacity.

I was driven to a fresh sortie against strict veracity by her next question: “So what team do you support?”  Nng.  I peddled her some unconvincing twaddle about not supporting either of my home teams but instead supporting the home team of my alma mater–not that I mentioned to my snipstress that the team was that of my old university town, having developed an on-the-spot hesitancy about mentioning I’d even been to university.

I’m confident that, in this case, my fibbing was not a defence against the kind of impertinent and intrusive interrogation one sometimes finds oneself in receipt of from the hands (or rather mouths) of random service-mongers.  There was no such excuse here.  But I suspect myself guilty here of a benign kind of condescension mixed with a mild self-consciousness.  I told her what I though she was ready to hear and comfortable responding to, and thereby saved us both (as I supposed) a bit of potential awkwardness.  Not a Stalinist crime against the commonweal, perhaps.  But an unnecessary fib nonetheless.

Aaaanyway, 700-odd (odd) words about my mild moral discomfort on a short trip to the barbers is more than a severe enough strain on the patience of any potential reader.

While I’m in full confessional mode, though, I might as well cough to the same antipathy to unconditional truth in taxis…