TOM UTLEY: Aren't we ALL guilty of telling occasional whoppers?

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Did you chance to read yesterday’s story about the motorist who came up with a credulity-stretching excuse for speeding off after police had pulled him over for driving without insurance?

No sooner had Rhys Boylan given the officers his details, apparently, than he stamped on the accelerator and raced away, starting a high-speed chase.

Videos showed him driving at twice the speed limit, haring across a zebra crossing and mounting a pavement on the wrong side of the road.

His extraordinary explanation of his behaviour? He needed to get away quickly, he said, because his ‘dog was becoming upset’ in the back of the car.

Well, we’ve all heard of dogs eating children’s homework — particularly when the children in question happen to be the laziest and most mendacious in the class. But this was a new one on me.

Suffice it to say that Judge Michael Roques was unconvinced that an upset dog in the back of the car was a legitimate reason for driving like a lunatic.

Handing down an eight-month suspended sentence to 26-year-old Boylan of Roade, Northamptonshire, the judge told him at Amersham Law Courts: ‘That was the worst excuse for putting the lives of others at risk I have ever heard.’

Blush

But though we may laugh at Boylan’s explanation — while disapproving, naturally, of his potentially lethal conduct — how many of us can put our hands on our hearts and swear that we’ve never been guilty of offering imaginative excuses for the inexcusable?

I certainly can’t. As someone who’s always found it hard to get up in the mornings, I blush to admit that I spent much of my childhood dreaming up implausible excuses for being late for school.

Why was it always me, my teachers began to wonder, whose alarm-clock batteries had gone flat, whose bus pass had been stolen or who’d tripped and fallen into a pool of mud and had to go home to change?

As for the vagaries of public transport, scarcely a week went by when my bus to the railway station didn’t suffer a puncture, or my train wasn’t cancelled or held in a tunnel for hours. Or so I asked the authorities to believe.

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Where transport-related excuses were concerned, indeed, I was a veritable Reginald Perrin.

As devotees of the eponymous 1970s sitcom will recall, this was the character, played by Leonard Rossiter, who came up with a different excuse every morning for being late for work: ‘Eleven minutes late, derailment of a container truck, Raynes Park’; ‘Seventeen minutes late, water seeping through the cables at Effingham Junction’; ‘Twenty-two minutes late, badger ate a junction box at New Malden . . .’

Of course, just occasionally an implausible excuse may turn out to be true. Witness the teacher who contacted a phone-in on Radio 5 this week to say that a pupil had claimed: ‘I’m sorry I’m late, but I was chased by an elephant.’

To teach the boy a lesson, the teacher entered this excuse in the register and left it for the Head to deal with the culprit. But sure enough, inquiries revealed that the boy had indeed been chased by a circus elephant on his way to school.

I fear that I can claim no such justification for some of the excuses I’ve offered. Indeed, I’m sorry to say that even at the age of 67, I’ve been known to blurt out a whopper in order to get out of an unwelcome invitation.

‘Oh, dear, we would love to see your performance as King Lear in the parish hall,’ I might say, ‘but the infuriating thing is that we’ll be staying with my sister-in-law in Gloucestershire that weekend.’

The key thing to remember there, of course, is to settle on the same story with our other halves. After all, it’s no good for me to say we’ll be in Gloucestershire if Mrs U tells the same budding thespian that we’ll be away on a city-break in Paris.

Cynic

It’s also important not to forget the excuse we’ve put forward. Otherwise, we could be in for a highly embarrassing conversation the next time we meet the author of that unwelcome invitation.

‘So how was your sister-in-law, Tom?’

‘Oh, we haven’t seen her for ages.’

‘But I thought you said . . .’

Before you condemn me for my questionable excuses, however, let me at least plead that I’m in exalted company. Remember how President Bill Clinton sought to dodge censure for smoking cannabis by promising, ‘but I didn’t inhale’?

More recently, meanwhile, didn’t I read somewhere about a certain aide to Boris Johnson, who drove his wife and child to Barnard Castle at the height of the pandemic — in apparent defiance of the rules — simply in order to test whether the state of his eyesight made it safe for him to drive?

But then a cynic might say that Boris Johnson himself may occasionally have put forward an implausible excuse for dodging his responsibilities.

Remember when he swore to his Uxbridge and South Ruislip constituents that he would move heaven and earth to prevent the expansion of Heathrow Airport?

To quote his exact words: ‘I will lie down with you in front of those bulldozers and stop the building, stop the construction of that third runway.’

So how unfortunate it was for poor Boris that on the very day that MPs were due to vote on the matter, he happened to be called away for a flying visit to Afghanistan, which made it impossible for him to put his vote where his mouth was.

Heartfelt

Trusting souls may believe that if it hadn’t been for that unexpected commitment in Afghanistan, he would happily have defied the Government Whip and voted against the runway — even though this would have meant losing the job he then held as Foreign Secretary. The rest of us may not be so sure.

Mind you, Boris is far from the first ambitious politician who has found himself unavoidably detained elsewhere at a crucial moment. 

I’m thinking of Sir John Major, who famously nominated Margaret Thatcher to retain the Tory leadership in the 1990 contest — but no sooner had he emerged as her likely successor than he found he had a dental appointment and was unable to vote for her!

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And what about Sir Alex Ferguson, the former manager of Manchester United? His famous excuse for Southampton’s 3-1 victory in 1996, which ended Man U’s unbeaten run of 12 games, was that his team couldn’t see each other properly in the grey away strip they were made to wear in the first half.

True or untrue? I leave that decision to you.

But let me end with a heartfelt plea to politicians of every hue.

Yes, I know there have been teething problems with Brexit, as was always inevitable (though there have not been a fraction as many as die-hard Remainers predicted, with their prophesies of catastrophic unemployment and economic meltdown).

I know, too, that the pandemic has caused massive unforeseen difficulties for Whitehall. But is it too much to ask that Remainers stop blaming Brexit, and ministers the pandemic, for absolutely everything that has gone wrong in Britain since Boris came to power?

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