Ian McMillan: Ripping yarns on trying to hide the truth

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I’ve mentioned before that I like to keep these columns; when I’ve read each one and once I’ve finished laughing my head off at my hilarious jokes or nodding my head at the deep philosophical wisdom in my paragraphs, I tear them out of the magazine and save them. I don’t do anything sophisticated like stick them in a scrapbook. I just keep them, in a tottering and ever-growing pile.

The other day my mother-in-law picked up our copy of the magazine to see what was on TV and I pointed out that I’d torn my column out, and my sister-in-law said, “Why, was there something in there you didn’t want us to see?” Of course there wasn’t and I explained my curatorial tendencies but then I thought, what if there was something I didn’t want people to read? What if, once the column had been published, I suddenly realised I’d described somebody in an unflattering way, or I’d got a fact wrong, or remembered a football score incorrectly, what could I do? I couldn’t go round every newsagent and tear the pages out. I couldn’t rugby tackle paperboys to the ground and start removing bits from the magazine like a proponent of extreme origami. I couldn’t go to the house of a Yorkshire Post reader on the pretext of wanting a drink of water for my dog and then rush to their paper rack and mutilate their magazine. I haven’t got a dog, for a start.

As I thought about that, I contemplated that over the years I’ve been a pretty useless hider of things. When I was a lad I had to take some terrible cough medicine for what my mother called ‘a slack and chesty peff’ and the doctor thought it would be a great idea if they diluted the linctus with water; all this did was make the nastiness last longer. I thought I was being very clever when I worked out I could pour it into a plant pot in the front room; I realised I wasn’t so clever when it all leaked out of the bottom of the plant pot onto the coffee table. My mam took revenge by getting a repeat prescription.

When I ripped my school blazer almost in half climbing a tree I tried to hide this by sidling into the house sideways. When my mam asked what was wrong with me I said I’d pulled a muscle in my side. She asked me to point out where and when I did the blazer fell off my back like a pair of opening curtains. When I spilled gold paint from my modelling kit onto the back room wall I tried to cover it up with a postcard from Ingoldmells. When I drew some rude words on my arm in indelible ink I tried to hide the evidence by wearing a jumper even though it was the hottest summer we’d had for years. My mam insisted I took the jumper off because I was dripping sweat onto my Yorkshire puddings; luckily my dad, being an innocent soul, didn’t understand what most of the words meant and couldn’t read the rest because of my appalling handwriting. Now, if I could just tear this page out, because one of the stories above is a bit of a fib. Just pass the magazine over here.

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