White lies and a word with God

20th May 2011 at 01:00

I have just been out riding on my horse. Well, perhaps "horse" is a bit of a misnomer, she is really a shaggy pony with thick hocks and a neck like John Prescott's. She is a skewbald gypsy cob, which means she spent her formative years avoiding council tax, tethered to a roundabout just off the A1. While she munched on the municipal grass, she was no doubt dreaming of the day she could squash her big fat hairy arse into a wedding dress the size of St Paul's.

According to Ronnie, her rakish former owner, the four-year stint on a traffic island made her "bomb proof". Not so. She is happy enough playing chicken with cars and lorries, but God help us if a paper bag flutters by. To you or me, a Greggs bag might unlock a Proustian memory of a warm cheese and onion pasty, but to her it is a Taliban insurgent waving an AK- 47, some party balloons and an exploding tube of Polos. In her paranoid pony world, even a hedge clipper is a potential weapon of mass destruction.

Unfortunately, life can throw up worse problems than strimmers and paper bags and that is when we really need to bluff. We once had a terrifying experience riding down a quiet lane when a swarm of bank-holiday motorbikers revved up behind. My horse stiffened with fear and was clearly ready to bolt. Adrenaline surged through my system but I forced myself to stay calm. It worked and she dropped back to Defcon 5. Sometimes, we just have to pretend everything is fine, even when it isn't.

It is hardest when you have to fake it with children. Last year, my youngest was knocked unconscious playing rugby. It was an end-of-season tournament so there was a professional first aider on call. He took one look at my boy and told me to get him to Aamp;E. Another mum drove my car while I stayed with him in the back. As he drifted in and out of consciousness, I swaddled him with lies and distractions: he would be OK, hospital was a formality, and would he like meatballs or burgers for tea? His double vision and loss of short-term memory sharpened my anxieties.

He kept repeating the same questions like his brain was on shuffle. When he asked me in a tiny voice why he couldn't feel his legs, my friend ran a red light and I began to lie for England. If this was all he had left on earth, then I had to make it happy. I muttered some jokey remark about his legs being too spindly and pleaded with a God I usually ignore to keep my son alive. It worked, he recovered and I'm still in His debt.

As teachers, we regularly have to fake it in the classroom. My favourite fib is the one we tell our Year 9s during target setting: to get a level 7 you need to use a thesaurus. Whereas in reality, to hit a level 7, you need parents who went to university, a fridge full of olives, mascarpone and feta and a family gite in the Dordogne.

But sometimes the lies are more difficult to tell. Last month, our kids heard on the radio that a young boy had died from meningitis. They were visibly shaken. They came into school subdued, their world a more fragile place. After a two-minute silence, the girls asked me if they would be safe. Of course, I assured them, it's an incredibly rare disease. Relieved, they settled down and started to chat while I upped my credit rating with God.

Anne Thrope (Ms) is a secondary teacher in the North of England.

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