Saga, September 2015

By and large, when I am invited to things, I don’t go. There was a time when I would agonise over the decision for a week or two, but now I don’t waste the emotional energy. I go ahead and lie. “Damn, I can’t come,” I say in my RSVP. “I would have loved to be there, but unfortunately I have friends visiting from Uzbekistan, and on top of that I have an expensive ticket to something, and in any case the dog won’t travel by train. Plus, of course, I’m obliged to keep the whole month clear for some far-fetched reason. So, to sum up, what a shame, and thanks so much for thinking of me!” The person who has invited me is usually surprised by the speed of my response, as well as by its length and mystifying level of detail. “Thank you for replying so quickly,” they always say. “Blimey, you really can’t come, can you?” And I feel genuinely proud that at least I didn’t mess them about.

I sometimes wish that abject fear wasn’t my reaction to all invitations. I’m sure other people receive them with straightforward pleasure, and respond accordingly. But I was raised to be fearful, and my whole life is a tiresome tussle. I am the very “cat in the adage” to whom the sainted Jeeves alludes so often (quoting Macbeth) who lets “I dare not” wait upon “I would”. Of course, sometimes I just don’t want to go to the damned party. But mainly I don’t even ask myself whether I would enjoy it. Instead, I ask, neurotically, whether the party would be better off without me, as I would only be socially hopeless, and wearing terrible old clothes, and I can never remember people’s names. Thus am I driven to deceit, and while I hate to be deceitful, I also feel that telling people the real reason – I am very scared of parties – would provoke a discussion that none of us wants to have. Besides, it’s quite true that the dog refuses to travel by train. It just might not be relevant in these particular circumstances.

I mention all this unfortunate emotional tangle because I recently asked someone else to present an excuse for me, and we were discussing both the ethics and the mechanics of this, and she gave me an interesting tip. She said that whenever she was obliged to give a false alibi for a proposed event (on, say Monday the 11th), she would write in her diary for that day, “Dinner with Uncle Peter”. I was impressed. She said that seeing in her diary that she was having dinner-with-Uncle-Peter alerted her that she had told a lie. I told her she was a genius. “Does Uncle Peter actually exist?” I asked. She said no. “Wow,” I marvelled. Other thoughts occurred to me. “Whereabouts do you go with Uncle Peter?” I asked. “No one has ever asked,” she said. “Really?” I said, unconvinced. And she said yes, really.

The more I thought about it, the more obvious it became that (sadly) the Uncle Peter option would never work for me. It would simply create more anxiety, and more lying. For one thing, who was Uncle Peter, exactly? Wouldn’t I need to flesh him out? I don’t know why, but I immediately pictured him wearing long socks and shorts, as if visiting from Bermuda. Blimey, once you start inventing people, where do you stop? But also (and much more worrying), what if I banged my head one day while shutting the garage and suffered amnesia? I would consult my diary and find that I was having dinner with Uncle Peter – yet the whole existence of this uncle would be a mystery to me. “Oh my God, who is Uncle Peter?” I would moan. “I don’t remember a thing about him! Where are we meeting? And what on earth shall I wear?”

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