Rule 4 Guest Posts!

I’m honoured to have five guest posts following my Rule 4 post, Evaluate, Evaluate, Evaluate (aka, don’t believe everything you read.)

First up is –


As we know, the ‘pandemic’, its resultant lockdowns, compulsory mask wearing and soon to be mandatory vaccination program is a conspiracy by governments to subjugate their peoples in line with the world domination plan of the originators of the so-called virus, the Chinese, who deliberately created it in a lab and tested it first on an insignificant percentage of their own population before unleashing it on the world and America in particular, to destabilise the West and take control of the world by deconstructing democracy and depriving us of our hard-won freedoms, in the meantime censuring the voices of reason that see the conspiracy for what it is and seek to expose it, especially this site, which from the start has

Franklin D. Ruser-Graham:

The pandemic crisis is a timely reminder that we all need to return to the Lord to seek his forgiveness for the great moral failings of this country. In particular, I speak of the genocide of the unborn, the LGBTQ agenda – which God’s Word tells us clearly is a perversion and abomination that brings down his justified wrath upon us – and the erosion of the religious liberties upon which this great country was founded, though clearly this doesn’t include Muslims or any other of those made-up religions. Covid-19 is a wake up call, reminding us we should all go down, on our knees, in front of the most perfect man who ever lived, God’s Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, to beg his forgiveness for our sinful ways. Also, you shouldn’t need reminding, Jesus wants you to give and give again to causes close to God’s heart, specifically, this great ministry of mine.

Fux News:

So where is the evidence that masks work? There isn’t any. And lockdowns? Government overreach. All designed to perpetuate the hoax that is Covid-19 which has been perpetrated on us by a cabal led by Bill Gates . Our sources – the guy in the backroom who got it from his mother’s cousin’s second wife who knows someone who works in a hospital – tell us his vaccine contains a microchip designed to reset our DNA so that we all subscribe to the liberal leftie agenda and its absurd demand for evidence for all this garbage we make up as we go along…

The Worldwide Church of Jesus Christ’s Superspreaders:

We thank you Lord that we are able to gather here together in this season to worship you in truth and spirit. It is our calling, we know, a command you make clear in your Holy Word, specifically in II Covidians 19:21 (Variant reading). Satan, the Father of Lies, who has unleashed this plague on the Earth with the express purpose of denying God-fearing men and women their right to worship in vast numbers, shall not have his way. We vanquish him and his virus through the power of the Holy Spirit, who gives us authority over every sickness and protects us through faith from the works of the devil. In your name Lord. Amen, Amen.

Politicians and their mouthpiece media:

It is possible the new Covid variant discovered yesterday, might be a potential threat. It may be that lockdown might need to be extended because of this. We imagine everything is going to get so much worse before it gets better. We don’t know this for sure but we are happy to contribute to all the speculation to help maintain the sense of hysteria we’ve done so much to create. We conjecture that… blah, blah, more speculation, maybes, possibilities and mights…

Meanwhile in the real world:

The various vaccines are demonstrably effective, even against the Brazil P1 variant and can be adapted for others. They reduce infection rates. They reduce hospitalisations. They reduce transmission. That’s it.

Rule 4: Evaluate, evaluate, evaluate


Evaluate everything you read, see and are told. Don’t accept anything at face value. Fake news and conspiracy theories have always been with us and in recent years have proliferated. Respectable media outlets also need scrutinising with a generous dollops of scepticism. Most of our information about the world comes from such sources and while they might claim to be conveyors and purveyors of the truth, their facts must always be checked.

I wanted to use the remark here that everything you read in the news is true until it’s about something you know about but it appears, ironically, to have disappeared from the internet. I can’t attribute it, nor quote it accurately. Nonetheless, it remains essentially true. The trick is to ensure you do know what is being talked about. Don’t take someone else’s word for it. They don’t always check their sources, have their own agenda and are invariably in a hurry; accuracy is the casualty of one or all of these.

What is the solution? Some advocate not listening to/watching/reading the news at all, while avoiding all online chatter. Certainly this is tempting, but in these Covid lockdown days perhaps not altogether practical. More realistic is to ask the questions: how does this outlet know this? What is its source? How reliable is this source? Why is it reporting it in the way it is? What is significant or suspicious about the language it uses? Answers to these questions should help navigate the torrent of misinformation that’s out there.

Starting at the bottom of the cesspool, we can safely disregard anything that is proffered as coming directly from the Lord (or any other supernatural agent). Any number of self-appointed ‘prophets‘ have told us recently that God himself informed them that Donald Trump would easily win a second term. They announced he’d also vanquished Covid-19 at their bidding. Don’t even bother asking the questions I suggest above of this sort of batshittery. Dismiss it out of hand.

One step up from this is the stuff that informs us that ‘the Bible says’. This is merely a second-hand version of the claim that God has delivered a message personally. Quoting first century fantasists who believed God had spoken to them is not an advance in the sourcing of accurate information.

Don’t believe anything that cites an unspecified source. The tabloid press in the UK is fond of referring to ‘sources close to the government’ or ‘boffins’ (journalese for unspecified scientists who have invariably discovered a miracle cure or diet). Sources that cannot be verified may as well not exist. In all probability they don’t; they’re made up by lazy reporters and conspiracy theorists. Anything that requires a manufactured source is, by definition, unreliable. Don’t be taken in by it.

Then there’s the mainstream, ostensibly respectable media. Broadsheet newspapers and, here in the UK, the BBC, Sky and so-called Independent Television News (ITN). However these media have earned their respectability, there is no reason not to apply the enquiries I outlined above; moreso when they rely on their reputed respectability, assumed by many to be synonymous with ‘accurate’ and ‘reliable’, to inform and direct our thinking. Take as an example the reporting this week of Covid-19 fatalities in the UK by both the BBC and Sky TV news. Significantly, both networks used an identical phrase to announce that 454 death certificates on a given day ‘mentioned Covid-19.’ (you can see it used here on the BBC‘s web-site.) Notice how the word ‘mentioned’ slips by; the number of deaths is the focus of the announcement.

But what does this ‘mentioned’ mean? That 454 people died as a direct result of the virus? Evidently not, otherwise the announcement would say so: ‘454 people died of Covid-19 today.’ It doesn’t, though perhaps the use of ‘mentioned’ is intended to make us think this is the case. In fact, the phrase is the replacement of an earlier one designed to amplify the number of deaths attributable to the virus. This read ‘x number of people died with Covid-19’, conflating ‘with’, with ‘of’. The two are evidently not the same. The number of deaths directly attributable to Covid is lost, masked by the number of unfortunate individuals who had indeed contracted the illness but died of other causes, as humans, particularly elderly ones, are prone to doing. 

In fact, both the old and new phrases emanate from the Office of National Statistics, a government body that exists for who knows what useful purpose. That the BBC and Sky News adopted both phrases – the earlier one that tried to make ‘with’ mean the same as ‘of’ and the newer one with its casual use of ‘mentioned’ – reveals that neither the BBC nor Sky did their own work here; they merely repeated (parroted?) what government sources told them. How much more of their Covid reporting was and is like this?

None of which is meant to imply that the pandemic is fake news. Clearly it isn’t. Nor is it likely it represents any sort of conspiracy on the part of government or press. To coin a phrase, there is no need to ascribe to deviousness that which is adequately explained by incompetence or compliance. Reporting fatalities in this way has meant, however, that the UK appears statistically to have the highest mortality rate from Coronavirus in Europe. It has also helped alarm the populace into compliance with severe lockdown restrictions.

How many people have died as a direct result of Covid-19? We can’t tell from these particular statistics, reported as they are with a misleading use of language.

Evaluate everything.


Rule 3 Story: Neville

He’s over there, talking to her now. The two of them like hoodies on a street corner. She’s upset, he’s looking over at me with that look of his. The one that means, ‘I’ll get you, you evil little toad.’ What do I care what he thinks. So I answered the old cow back. If she can’t take it she shouldn’t be here.

Now he’s coming over, still trying to look like some sort of a tough guy. I make out to ignore him. What do I care.

‘Neville Fowler,’ he says. And then he sees Roy with me and says to him. ‘Roy Andrews. Get that silly grin off your face and both of you get yourselves over here. Now.’ So we do, as slow as we can, like. The silly prat doesn’t bother me and Roy.

‘What?’ I say as we get near him. ‘What d’you want?’

Old Robbo curls his lip and takes his time. It’s hard not to laugh. I know if I look at Roy we will, so I don’t look at him. The sooner we get this over with the sooner we get back in the lunch queue.

‘You inconvenience a member of my staff…’

‘Inconvenience? Don’t know what you mean.‘ I say. I mean, inconvenience. Who’s he think he is?

‘You inconvenience a member of my staff, or me or, indeed, any other pupils…’

‘Pupils, sir?’ I say. ‘What’s pupils?’

‘You inconvenience a member of my staff, me or anybody else, Mr Fowler, and I promise you, I will inconvenience you even more. You understand?’

‘Yeah,’ I say. ‘Can we go now?’ I look at Roy.

‘Do you understand?’ he says again, like there’s one of those full stops he’s always on about between each word.

‘I said I did, didn’t I?’ I say. What a prat.

‘Then you can go and join the lunch line again,’ he says.

‘Thanks,’ I say sarcastically and Roy smirks. We walk back to the line, enjoying all the admiring glances that are coming our way. The queue’s moved on and we’re up near the front now. We push Adele Hargreaves and her mate out the way and get our place back.

‘Just a minute, Mr Fowler. What you think you’re doing?’ Robbo’s followed us over. Creepy or what?

‘Getting back in the line again, like you said. You forgot already?’

‘No, I didn’t forget,’ he says. ‘But obviously you did, when I said if you inconvenienced me or my staff, I would inconvenience you more. Your place in the queue is there,’ and he points to the end of the line, twenty people away at the far side of the room.

‘Oh but, sir. That’s not fair we’re near the front.’

‘Not any more, you’re not,’ he says and stands there waiting. ‘Go on.’ And me and Roy do. I don’t know why, we just do. We set off for the end of the line.

‘And that, Neville,’ Robbo says as we pass him, ‘is what’s called an inconvenience.’


Rule 3: Take responsibility for your actions and their consequences

‘Take responsibility for your actions and their consequences’ sounds preachy, though I don’t mean it to be. ‘We’ definitely includes me!

Politicians exemplify the lack of foresight that needs to precede action. From Trump’s actions and speech while president that deepened divisions within the United States, to the British government’s stop/start policy for lockdowns, politics is beleaguered by short term thinking. Rarely do presidents and prime ministers have regard for the long term consequences of the decisions they make.

I’ve noticed that many people seem to have no idea that their personal behaviour inevitably produces results of one sort or another. How could they not? Yet so many seem oblivious to the fact that action (even inaction) has consequences; oblivious or wilfully ignorant. These consequences are not always the ones that might be expected – see the law of unintended consequences – and certainly they are not always positive or beneficial.    

The rest of us can be much the same. We think only of now. Indeed, we’re encouraged to do so by exhortations to ‘live in the moment’ and  ‘sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof’ – but as useful as such existential advice might be, we also need to give some though both to the future and to the impact our behaviour might have on others. And we need to own it. Our individual behaviour and its consequences are our personal responsibility, if we’re mature adults that is (and isn’t this what we try and instil in our children?)

We have nobody else to blame for either the way we act nor for what it leads to. Nobody makes us act or react in a particular way, we make the choices ourselves. Granted we may not all have the same advantages in life. Our background and personal baggage may well influence how we behave. Nonetheless, our behaviour, and what it leads to, is ours alone and ours to own. Given this, it is well to give some thought to the consequences of our actions ahead of time. ‘Act in haste, repent at leisure’ as the old proverb has it.

A woman – let’s call her Sarah – who was a member of a group I once belonged to was sharply critical of everyone else. She could, in fact, be extremely nasty. However, if anyone responded to her in kind, as people often did having been subject to her unpleasantness, Sarah was stung and deeply offended. ‘What an extremely rude person,’ was her usual retort. In this way, she systematically fell out with most other people in the group. When a new person joined, someone with whom Sarah had fallen out with previously, she declared she would leave if this person was allowed to stay. She had no supporters, having behaved unreasonably with most other members and consequently Sarah left, feeling unjustly and unkindly treated. She could not see how her downfall was of her own doing.

We can take credit when the effect of our actions is positive. We need to take responsibility when it isn’t. If we wrong someone else or affect their or our own lives adversely, then it is up to us to make reparation, to put right what we can. What we haven’t done, however, is offended any gods. We have not ‘sinned’. Neither has anyone had to die to fix things for us. No imaginary sacrifice from thousands of years ago is going to pay a penalty on our behalf. We remain irresponsibly infantile if we excuse ourselves with such thinking. We are the only ones who can take responsibility for our actions and their consequences. We learn and grow when we do while others are ‘saved’, from our carelessness and belligerence.

Story for Rule 2: Endgame

Very dark. Can barely see. Fading light in the far distance. Too frightened to move. Don’t know what’s underfoot. Damn, talking to myself. Hope no-one can hear.

You’re here too. Knew you would be.


It’s me, old friend. Right beside you.

Who’s me? Can’t see you. You’re just… a disembodied voice.

You too.

So where are we?

Where’d you think? Where we always are.

You know, this isn’t making much sense. I remember being in bed, then… here. Am I dreaming?

No… I don’t think so. Something else.

I’m not… not… dead, am I?

Course not. You wouldn’t be here talking to me if you were dead. I thought you knew: once you’re dead you’re dead. That’s it. No afterlife.

Okay, yes, I do know that. But this… this isn’t the judgement, is it?

Judgement? There’s no judgement. No sin from which to be absolved. You know it doesn’t work like that.

You’re right, I do know that. But what about regrets? And guilt? I’ve quite a lot of those.

Not a lot of point though, is there? I mean, what can you do about it now?

I could make changes. When I wake up – this is a dream, right? – when I wake up, I’m going to make some changes. I’m going to tell my children, grown up now of course, that I love them. I never told them enough.

They know.

Yes, but I want to tell them. Tell them and hug them. I’ve never been as demonstrative as I should’ve been. I regret I wasn’t a better parent.

Still, if they’re adults now, they’ve made it haven’t they?

Well, yes. I guess so, but I can’t help but feel I should’ve done more with life.

Such as?

Doing something worthwhile. Something that was me. I should’ve been more myself. Not tried to be something I wasn’t.


That’s what religion did for me. I certainly regret that!

You know, there’s no point regretting anything. Not now.

I thought you said this wasn’t the judgement?

You wouldn’t be here if it was. As I’ve already tried to explain, neither of us would. There’s nothing on the other side. Nothing. The fact we’re here at all proves this isn’t some sort of life after death.

So, why are we here, wherever here is? And who are you, anyway?

I thought you knew. I thought you’d recognise my voice after all this time.

Your voice? Why would I recognise your voice?

Because, my friend, I’ve always been here beside you.

You have?

I have. But now we have to go. Both… of us. Time… is up and it’s… getting darker.

Go? Go where? Why can I barely hear you now?

It has been good… knowing you. We’ve made a good team. But time… is… short.

Wait. What are you

We’ll go together. Like always

Yes, okay. We’ll go togeth


Rule 2: This Is It (so make the most of it)

My partner Dennis and I often take a walk in the local cemetery. It is a sobering experience but also, strangely, an inspiring one. Graves there date back to the 1700s, right through the 19th and 20th centuries to burials that have taken place in the past few years. Many people died young, not only in previous centuries, but recently. There are many graves of children and babies. Equally, there are many gravestones that record the long lives some people lived, even in the years before modern medicine.

All of these people, whatever the extent of their existence, lived real lives. They experienced the same highs and lows as those of us alive today. They enjoyed love and celebrated the same occasions we do. They suffered pain and hardship in much the same way as us, probably more so. They shared the same hopes and aspirations, for themselves and their children, experienced the same successes and disappointments. They sought meaning, some of them finding it (or having it imposed on them post-mortem) in religion, if the inscriptions on their tombstones are anything to go by. Quite a few modern graves have them to.

And yet, to what end? Every one of these people is gone. Long gone in most cases. They and their concerns, loves, hopes, dreams, worries and aspirations, whatever they were, died with them. None of them, not even those who trusted their souls to Jesus, has a renewed existence. Not one of them has gone on to a new life here or in heaven. Death was the end, as it will be for us too.

Which is where the inspirational aspect of contemplating the brevity of existence comes in. The few decades for which we are alive (if we’re lucky) is all there is. They are the only time we will experience life. We owe it to ourselves to enjoy each and every moment as well as we’re able. This life is not a prelude for another, better one after death (what sort of nonsensical contradiction is that?) This is it.

So, live the life you have. Savour every moment, even in lockdown or the mundanity of the daily grind. Change whatever it is that stops you from living. Live life fully while you can.

All Along The Watchtower III

Jim has shaken the dust from his sandals. As he says, and as I knew, he wasn’t really looking for a discussion. He was looking to draw me, and the others who received his letter, into his cult. When it was obvious I wasn’t going to be, he lost interest. Plus, I mentioned Jesus’s non-return. I don’t think he liked that.

Hi Neil, 

Thanks again for your response. I think we’ll have to agree to disagree. We aren’t here to debate over things but we do respect your beliefs and thank you for taking the time to talk to us. 

We find what we read in the Bible answers many of life’s big questions and there is much archaeological evidence today to back up Bible accounts which adds to the accuracy of the Bible. So we want to share the truths and hope we have found with others, but we do respect everyone’s beliefs. 

Take care, 

Jim and Sandra 

All Along The Watchtower II

I’ve had a reply from my friendly neighbourhood Jehovah’s Witness, Jim and Sandra. Well, from Jim. Sandra seems to have left him to it. Naturally, politeness compelled me to reply to Jim’s reply.  

Jim first:

Hello Neil 

We wanted to say thanks very much for your email. We appreciate hearing what you had to say. We hope that you and your family are well, and continuing to stay safe. We want you to know that we fully respect your beliefs so thank you for sharing them with us. But please consider what we have to say in response with an open mind. 

Firstly, you may be familiar with the ‘Cambrian Explosion’ which marked the time when most of the major groups of animals first appear in the fossil record. The reason they call this an ‘Explosion’ is because of how short the period of time with which almost all animal life suddenly appears. As you mentioned with Occam’s Razor, we have found that the Bible provides one explanation as to how life got here, whereas science points to an accumulation of many different theories that even scientists themselves don’t agree on… such as Sir Isaac Newton and William of Ockham as well as many other scientists who do believe in an intelligent designer – God.

You also raised excellent points about God’s existence too, you mentioned that according to our reasoning things that are complex must have a creator. While we completely agree God is definitely complex, the Bible answers that question by saying that “From eternity [God has] existed” and “From everlasting to everlasting, you are God”. So we can see here that while God is the creator, he is not a creation. So as hard it is for us as humans to comprehend (as everything we know has a designer) God wasn’t created as he has always existed. 

You also mentioned that if God created everything, this would mean that he also created viruses etc. However if we think of Benjamin Franklin, for example, he created electricity… but we would not say he was the cause of people dying due to the electric chair would we? The Bible does clearly state that God “created all things, and because of [his] will they came into existence and were created”. So while we would not dispute God did create everything, things we experience today are present as a byproduct of a situation God never intended to happen.  However this then raises the questions… What was God’s initial purpose for humans? And why does God allow suffering and diseases?

If you would like the answers to those questions, just let us know in your reply and we would be happy to discuss that with you too.  In the mean time, we found this video that we thought you would find really interesting. You can watch it for free and by all means please let us know your thoughts on it.

Kind regards, 


And my reply. I wanted to turn the discussion round to that JW weakness – one of many – their preoccupation with Jesus’ return (or lack of it):

Hi Jim,

Thank you for your response. I hope too you are both well. I have to say I was unconvinced by your assertion that Ben Franklin created electricity – he certainly didn’t. Electricity is a natural phenomenon that humans have been interested in for thousands of years. Consequently, your analogy between Franklin and God doesn’t stand up. If God created viruses, germs and parasites (as he must’ve done if he created ‘everything’) only to let them run amok amongst the rest of his creation, then he is responsible for the outcome. You say this is not what he intended but as an omniscient being he must have known what was going to happen, just as he must’ve known in advance that Adam and Eve would ‘sin’. Yet he still went ahead and created viruses and the like, knowing the havoc they would cause. How could a loving God do that?

I have to tell you, I’m not going to be persuaded of God’s existence by the argument from design, nor by the argument – though it’s really no more than an assertion – from incredulity. It’s the one in the video clip you sent that says essentially, ‘this natural phenomenon is just so amazing I can’t understand how it came about. Therefore it must have been God.’ Similarly, for you to quote the bible’s claim that God has always existed isn’t convincing either; that some ancient tribesman and their scribes thought so does not constitute proof. 

What might convince me? Possibly if the things Jesus said he was going to do had actually happened. Take, as one example, his promise that God’s Kingdom would be established on the Earth while those he was speaking to were still alive (Matthew 16:27-28, Matthew 24:27, 30-31, 34 and Luke 21:27-28, 33-34 amongst other places.) If this had happened, I’d be able to look around and see God’s plan for humankind in action and say to myself, ‘how mighty fine it is to live in the wonderful kingdom God has blessed us with these past 2000 years. He truly is real.’ But of course he didn’t, and Jehovah’s Witnesses and other branches of Christianity have been making excuses for him ever since. 

I keep a blog you might like to read. A while back I did some posts on the non-arrival of the Son of Man, the final judgement and God’s Kingdom on Earth. While you might find them irreverent, you can see them here:

I do hope you’ll read them. Feel free to explore other of my posts too.


All Along The Watchtower

One post in and already a diversion from my planned ’12 Rules’ series. This is because I was fortunate enough to receive a letter in the post recently from my ‘neighbours’, Jim and Sandra. You can see it above. I’ve no idea who Jim and Sandra are – I’ve changed their names here to protect the guilty – but they tell me they’re Jehovah’s Witnesses. They want to convince me of their God, first by pointing out that we are, everyone of us, created by him. They then proceed to demonstrate their God’s existence with rather weak versions of the weak ‘argument from design’, with a spot of the so-called ‘argument from incredulity’ thrown in. Having ‘proved’ God, they conclude with a lovely non-sequitur, that God = purpose.

As they had gone to a lot of trouble to do this, I felt Jim and Sandra deserved a reply, specially as they were kind enough to include their email address. So here it is.  

Hi Jim and Sandra,

I was interested to get your letter recently. I notice you ask the question, ‘was life created?’ Of course it was! You’ll get no argument from me there. Nature and the processes of natural selection and evolution created life as we know it today. You of course want to draw God into these processes, but actually he’s not needed to explain them. 

Your ‘argument from design’ doesn’t work at all, because if God created all the wonderful, intricate things you talk about, he also created viruses, including covid-19, cancer and parasites. You can’t say he created everything and then discount all the nasty things as the product of natural processes or man’s sin or whatever. Either everything was made by God or everything is the result of natural processes – you don’t get to pick and choose. 

You say that only (your) God could make all the complexities of life, as complexity necessitates a creator. But that creator must, by definition, be more complex than his creation – yet you don’t think he had a creator, do you. But he must have done – because according to you, complexity has to have a creator. This principle doesn’t grind to a halt with God just because you or your church or holy book says it does. 

The intricacies and complexity of life that we see are the result of organisms, including ourselves and all other life & non-life, like viruses, adapting to their environments over billions of years. That’s it – no need to add another layer of complication, like a god, to this explanation (you may have heard of Occam’s razor, which is what I’m applying here). If something complex has existed for eons it is far more likely that it is something we know for sure exists – nature – rather than something we don’t. 

Life has in fact many purposes; one doesn’t need a God who doesn’t exist to discover them. I’d be happy to share some of these with you, though I imagine you are already quite set in your beliefs. That’s a shame.

Best wishes,


12 Rules of Life: first rule

Considering what might be my twelve rules of life (after Jordan B. Peterson):

I wrote about my first ‘rule’ in 2019 BC (‘Before Covid’): Be Yourself – or, Don’t Pretend To Be What You’re Not. I know this is the theme of every Disney movie there is, but just because it’s a cliché doesn’t mean it’s not true. Don’t spend your life at war with yourself. I spent too much of mine doing just that and it leads only to self-hatred and depressive illness. The only way out of the resulting inner conflict and its consequences is to accept yourself and live with who you are.

Life isn’t a box of chocolates but it is like a hand in a card game. You can only play with what you’ve got, not with what you wish you had, nor with what you’re pretending you’ve got. There’s more chance of winning on this basis, though it’s not guaranteed. At least you stand a chance of happiness. 


I find that, although I have this as my first rule of life, I haven’t actually written much about it. I wrote more, and more despondently, when I wasn’t being myself. The story that follows, based on something that actually happened to me, perhaps conveys some of what I’m saying here about being yourself. Or maybe not. You decide.

O, what a tangled web we weave, When first we practise to deceive

Frequently and erroneously attributed to Shakespeare, the couplet is from Walter Scott’s epic poem Marmion, published in 1808. I read this story on BBC Radio Cumbria a few years ago.

‘You told him what?’ I said incredulously.

‘I told him you played the piano.’

‘But I don’t play the piano,’ I said.

‘Oh,’ she said. ‘I thought you did. I must be confusing you with someone else.’

‘Like who?’ I said, ‘Liberace? Mrs Mills?’

‘There’s no need for sarcasm,’ she said. ‘I’m sure I’ve heard you play.’

‘I’ve never played the piano’ I said, ‘unless you include ‘Chopsticks’ and the first line of ‘We Three Kings’. That’s the total extent of my repertoire.’

‘Oh,’ she said again, ‘but you can’t tell him that. You’ll have to go along with it now. When he asks, tell him you do play.’ She smiled sweetly as if she’d somehow resolved the predicament she’d created for me.

‘Why would I do that?’ I asked her. ‘He leads a world famous orchestra. He’ll see through me in a second. I’ll come clean, tell him you were confused and that I can’t really play the piano.’

‘Oh, please don’t do that,’ she pleaded. ‘You’ll show me up. I’ll feel a right chump.’

‘Surely not,’ I said. ‘Look, honesty is the best policy, Janice, so if he mentions it, I’ll tell him the truth.’

The man himself was coming towards us. My sister-in-law turned, pretending she hadn’t seen him, and launched herself at the buffet. He held out his hand and smiled broadly. ‘Pleased to meet you,’ he said. ‘Janice tells me you’re something of a virtuoso.’

‘Ah yes, about that…’ I began.

‘Yes,’ he went on, ‘it’s so good to have another musician here, especially one of your calibre.’

My calibre? What had Janice been saying to him? But instead of asking him this, I found myself saying, ‘Ah, well… yes, thank you.’

‘Who did you study under?’ he asked.

I hesitated before spluttering, ‘Miss Marjorie Roe’, the name of my music teacher from primary school. Had he spotted my hesitation? Why was I even worried that he might have done?

‘Can’t say I’ve heard of her,’ he said, puzzled. ‘Still, she was obviously capable of nurturing your considerable talent.’

‘She was very good,’ I mumbled.

‘They should have had you play at the ceremony this afternoon. It would have been infinitely preferable to the noise we had to endure,’ he said sniffily.

‘Oh, quite,’ I said. I had thought the little ensemble at my nephew’s graduation was rather good – though evidently not of the same calibre as myself; not if Janice were to be believed, anyway.

‘Listen,’ he said, ‘some students of mine are looking for a little extra tuition and, obviously, with all of my engagements, I just haven’t the time to oblige. I wonder if you might be …’ he left the implication hanging.

How could I extricate myself from this tangled web? Whatever I said, or tried to say, only ensnared me further. ‘No, really,’ I said, ‘It’s just that, you see, I can’t actually…’

‘I quite understand, old chap. So many commitments and demands on one’s time. And it is quite an imposition, I do agree, to have one’s time taken up by the less capable and – let’s face it – less talented.’

‘No, it’s not that…’ I started again to protest.

‘Then you’ll do it? Splendid!’ he cried. ‘And it does pay rather handsomely. Not that that’s a consideration, of course.

‘It pays rather handsomely?’ I repeated. Why, oh why, was I even considering it? It didn’t matter how much it paid; I couldn’t possibly take on his students when I can’t play the piano!

So here I sit, next to the baby grand in the university’s music room, jotting down the conversation as I recall it. My first student will be arriving any minute and I’m hoping against hope he’s interested in learning ‘Chopsticks’.