The Lies Start Here…

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Although I’ve never kept a diary, the idea of a blog is strangely appealing. Thanks to the European Nuclear industry’s Tim Berners-Lee and Robert Cailliau, it is now possible for just about any living person to read what you have to say about the world.

George Walker Bush.

Fidel Castro.

Gordon Brown.

Paris Hilton.

All you have to do is write it and the world will be your audience.

It is estimated that there are somewhere around 20 billion blogs currently active in our solar system, spewing out over a million words an hour, read by 26,759 people every single minute. It’s staggering. Well, it would been if I hadn’t just made those facts up. That’s one of the many great things about the web, you can make anything up you like and people will believe it. Partly because it might be true: no one really knows.

A few years ago I subsidised my interesting but less than successful independent publishing company by journalism, which mostly involved writing reviews. I was a primary contributor to many London guide books, knocking off 250 words on pubs, restaurants, cafés, bars, shops, markets, whatever, on a regular and quite monotonous basis. I once visited and reviewed 186 pubs and bars in a single week. The pay was low and frankly, there wasn’t much to say about most of them. So I made it up.

Nothing significant, and not all the time. Just occasionally I’d add an interesting ‘fact’ here, a snippet of ‘well-researched information’ there.

‘A house on this site was the regular meeting place for Lord Horatio Nelson and his mistress, Lady Emma Hamilton, the seemingly respectable wife of William Hamilton, British Ambassador to Naples.’

‘Beatles manager Brian Epstein was a regular here until his untimely suicide in August 1967.’

‘Back in the 17th Century, Welsh drovers rested their cattle here, en route to slaughter at Smithfield Market.’

Including a few genuine facts (if such a thing really does exist!), the name of Emma Hamilton’s husband, the date of Brian Epstein’s death, and the ultimate destination of the Welsh cattle, served a twin purpose: adding credibility to the lie and eating up the word-count. When you’re being chased for 150 words per review and you’ve described the furnishings to death, what beers they sell, who drinks there, the little extras are a godsend.

As Edith Piaf suggests, I have no regrets. The lies were never huge and they did brighten up some pretty dull reviews. In the final analysis, the reader won, the pubs themselves received increased cred, and the publishers got a more readable and more salable product.

The only slightly disconcerting side effect  is that much of what I made up has since been adopted as real truth. That’s how journalism, especially guide books, works: you check out the competition to make sure you’re not being left behind and you snaffle the most interesting tidbits.

In my position as creator, I feel a little cheated that I was paid peanuts for such groundbreaking and much-copied work. On the other hand, I realise that throughout history, the true originator has always been penalised. It’s just something I will have to learn to live with.

The moral of my story might well be that we have to question everything we are told. And yes, that goes for you, be it President Bush, Fidel Castro, Gordon Brown, Paris Hilton or the supermarket check-out assistant.

Of course, all I’ve just written could be a lie instead. Maybe we’ll never know.

If a tree falls down in the jungle and no one sees it, did it really fall or was it just a line in some idiot’s blog?

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