A picture can tell a thousand lies

By Nykhil Emanuel-Stanford

Nykhil is a productive procrastinator. Editor by day, inspiring writer and wine connoisseur in her dreams. She'll be documenting her (real) life and travels shortly, stay tuned...

I have a great smile. I think it’s one of my best features. And my laugh, even better. It warms you, it’s inclusive, it “validates the joke”, as someone once told me. If there’s a camera on me I can’t help but show teeth.

They say a picture is worth a thousand words. But are any of them the truth? A photo is just a moment in time: a brief snapshot of a wider reality and the events surrounding it. But problematic because we spend the rest of the time trying to either re-enact or fill that space.

This so-called adult life often feels like a party that everyone rsvp’d to about five years ago, and I’ve only just found my invite. I’ve had to rush around to find an outfit and a gift, and now I’m late! All the good nibbles are gone and the prosecco has started to go warm and flat.

In this haze of confusion I often look through my old photographs. For every detail that the memory triggers, another is lost, and my emotions manifest themselves in the strangest of ways. Past doubts seem irrelevant, and what I was once so sure of is suddenly concerning.

Was I really happy then? Did I do or say the right things? Was he the love of my life? (He definitely wasn’t). Those are just some of the small things I obsess over.

I’ve realised recently that the biggest lie that I’ve told for years was to myself;  That I was confident in my choices and living my best life by aiming for the same as everyone else. What I am is a confident performer and that’s a very different thing.

I’m getting closer to myself these days. But she’s changed a lot from the person I thought she was and wanted to be. Life is hard. Pretending to be a fully functioning adult is even harder.

They say that laughter is the best medicine. And the laugh of my thirties is going to be more honest. More bold. More true.

A white Lie

by Susan Spencer

Susan has been teaching English, with passion, in the UK and overseas for the last forty years.  She is starting to compile a collection of her Dad’s stories.

I had arrive in Bagamoyo, Tanzania as a 25 year old volunteer with VSO and I was going to change the world.  That was in the late seventies.  I had already met the Head teacher who told me that I would be teaching African literature to school boys.  He suggested there were principles about teaching African novels and poetry within the socio-political framework advocated by Julius Nyerere, the innovator of African socialism. 

One, the literature was not to be taught by white women.  Two, there were very few copies of the texts.  Three, would I like to be the new Head of Department as I was the only English teacher in the school.  The Head teacher also introduced me to my house mate, who he assured me, would look after me. 

On my arrival, my housemate disappeared to her bed room for three days.  The light in the bathroom didn’t work and the toilet appeared to be leaking.  I felt physically uncomfortable, culture shocked and thought that my new house mate didn’t like me at all.  Personalising, even back then. 

The short and heavy December rains had started and it was hot, heavy and humid.  90 degrees Fahrenheit and 90% humidity.  I confused the sounds of heavy downpours on the corrugated iron roof with the sloughing of the coconut palms.  The views of the Indian Ocean were spectacular and when the sun shone, the beach was paradise.  I forbad myself to take in this beauty, as it exacerbated my emotions of loneliness, boredom and homesickness. 

And I was very hungry. 

There was a choice of three stoves: charcoal, gas and paraffin.  The charcoal stove was beyond me and the gas oven had families of small rodents living in it, attacking my skirt when I dared to open the oven.  I raked through the cupboards and found eggs, flour and paraffin.  I opted for the paraffin stove.  I remembered Lake District holidays and the use of the Primus.  I would make pancakes.  Squatting on the floor of the kitchen with my pancake mix, I lit the stove and instantly the whole of the kitchen floor was alight.  I screamed and two colleagues rushed into the kitchen.  They hastily, and handsomely, introduced themselves and beat the fire out. 

Life settled down after that.  The rains eased, I started teaching and my housemate, Uronu, emerged from her bedroom: pregnant, hospitable and polite.  Her disappearance in to the bedroom was not my fault then.  My VSO fridge also arrived which also relieved any tension.  Uronu cooked beautiful meals on a charcoal stove, served on flowery crockery.  A gossip announced to me that everyone thought that Uronu was my cook!  This notion was completely.  So in the spirit of collegiality and Tanzanian socialism, I strode off to the market, three miles away in the heat of the day and bought meat, tomatoes and potatoes.  I would make a stew.  I would brave the paraffin stove.

My mastery of the paraffin stove was marginally better and the stew bubbled ferociously on the precarious ring. 

I laid the table and served the food on the flowery crockery.  The meat was impossible to chew and the potatoes had disintegrated to a pulp.  The whole meal was inedible and was quickly dispatched to a huge pit in the bush, which was the communal dustbin. 

To save my face Uronu said, ‘The market probably sold you a tough bit of meat.  It’s quite difficult to cook gently on a paraffin stove.  Do you usually put potatoes in stews in England?’

‘No, we only eat chips!’ I lied.


Diminishing Norms

by Linda Oubridge

Linda is interested in beliefs and superstitions at the everyday level, in a world of diminishing norms. 

‘This is Natalie, she’s just joined us today.’ I take her hand in both of mine to welcome her.  The intimacy of this surprises her. She pulls back fractionally in spite of the warm smile. Her hand is freezing! The double-handed clasp is a standard church greeting and no practicing Christian would recoil from it.  Not a member of the God-squad then, that’s a relief.

‘Ola!’ She ventures, with some courage.  Like so many before her, she assumes that the sheer volume of black hair makes me quite indisputably Spanish.  I decide to leave this aside for now.

‘Ooh. You must be a very kind soul – your hands are so cold!’ I say, raising my not insignificant eyebrows. I always underestimate the power of these eyebrows, the drama of this face which requires so very little to over-animate it.

‘Well…yours…are very…hot!’ She seems relieved to have thought of a response as if it is some kind of test and withdraws her hand as soon as she can without appearing rude.  I think, how difficult it is for people to behave if you force them to move even a fraction outside the standard patter.

‘That’s because I have a cold, cold heart.’ I say mercilessly, shaking my head slowly but not breaking eye contact. I simply can’t resist the opportunity to play, to insert some unnecessary and quite meaningless drama. Offices are so dull. There it is, that tiny flicker in the eyes…fear.   Ah, she is not a fellow player then.  She is going to be a by-the-book kind of girl, all proper and correct. She will be part of the squeaky clean set, lovely, reliable, safe…a little bland.

‘Well, and where are you coming to us from Natalie?’

‘Ah, I have been at OCR for the past four years.’

‘And yet you seem unscathed!  I worked for them for two years myself before reaching full escape velocity and coming here to lick my wounds.’  She does not know what to say to this and gives a charming and utterly terrified smile.’ I nod and gesture towards a colleague to release her from the ordeal.

'Have you met Peter?  He's our online training manager and an outrageous thespian.  You mustn't believe a word he says.' 

Getting Back Down

by Martin Kendall

Martin is self-employed in the IT industry.  He spent a number of years as a flying instructor, plays Blues guitar and writes humorous action-adventure short fiction and poetry

“Take the chart from my knee! “

I tried saying it as calmly as I could but this was both a command and a plea.   I had descended the aircraft lower and lower to get below the cloud but we were very low.  I was sure our height was now below some of the many radio masts in the area. 

I had only obtained my pilot’s licence the previous year and looking back I was too inexperienced to be flying in these conditions.   Although I had flown in America before, this was the first time I had taken my wife along with me.  She looked so trusting sitting next to me but this only made it worse because I didn’t want to show her how frightened I felt.

I pointed at the chart showing roughly where we were.

“We are heading for the coast, please find any masts within 5 miles either side of our route and tell me how high they are”.

I glanced over. I could see that she realised we were in trouble.   We had flown together many times before and she was very good at reading the aeronautical charts.   She had been thrilled when I suggested that we spent a couple of weeks renting a plane.

It wasn’t until we arrived in Florida that we discovered a particular small-print in the rental agreement that would influence the events on that day.   All aircraft had to be returned by night-fall. It meant that a careful assessment had to be made of weather conditions that may prevent a day-long trip.

As we skimmed under the lowering cloud it was that subtle consideration of the weather that I had failed to make.  We had flown to look at a vineyard a couple of hundred miles away.   The mistake I made was assuming the weather forecast for our return trip was applicable all the way.    Sitting in the cockpit at 400 feet with only an occasional glimpse of the ground meant that it clearly was not.  My inexperience had made me accept that the “no overnighting” rule was an absolute demand.  We should have landed at the nearest airfield whilst still in clear skies.  Instead I pressed on with the hope that the weather conditions would not deteriorate.

“There are two masts ahead.  Both to the right.  One at 300 feet and one at 800”.  My wife was speaking calmly and the tone of her voice was gut-wrenchingly trusting.   Masts less than 300 feet are not charted.  I could not afford to descend any lower.   I knew that our current heading would soon take us over the beach.  I just hoped to hold a steady course.  The fuel gauges were showing less than a quarter full and my calculations told me we had about an hour’s worth of fuel remaining.  My plan was to get to flat ground before the fuel ran out and it was either going to be the beach or the airfield.   The coast road was lined with hotels and restaurants and once I spotted a distinctly red and green coloured hotel I knew that the airfield was just 5 miles inland directly from that point.  

“Can you see any houses below?”  I needed to know if we had cleared the swamp.

“No, just some fallen trees in the water”.  I immediately saw the tall radio mast sail past just to our right.  I knew that in less than a minute we would be over the beach.

“Yes! We are over the town!” My wife was visibly relieved but my brain was battling with choosing an option.  We shot over the highway, the line of hotels and there was the water.   I felt the cold knot in my stomach as I looked at the fuel gauges.  They were busy disputing my calculations as they danced left and right of the ‘E’ symbol.  I calculated 30 minutes before the engine was starved of all fuel.  It was a 10 minute flight between here and the airfield – I just had to turn at that hotel and hold it steady on zero-nine-zero for 10 minutes.

It was a long flat beach.  I turned to my wife to find her gazing at me already.

“We land on the beach if we can’t land at the airfield”.  She looked down at the chart.  She knew how to operate the radio and started tapping in the airfield frequency.

We could see the hotel ahead and I made the turn inland.  The swamp loomed out of the drizzle and I settled down to holding the course.  My mind flashed back to something my old flying instructor used to say: “If nothing else, keep the aircraft in the air!”

We had been flying almost 10 minutes when I saw the runway flash past us and then lost sight of it in the cloud. 

“Make the call!”  I wanted to focus on turning around and getting the aircraft on the ground in one piece.

“Ormond Beach Radio this is November 54321, Cessna 182 in the overhead”.

This was just standard procedure to warn other aircraft of your presence. 

I made the turn back in the airfield’s direction and slowed the aircraft down to descend.  “Ormond Beach Radio, November 321 final approach two-seven-zero”.

I blurted out “Runway lights maximum please!”  and she started transmitting a series of clicks on the radio for the automated lighting controller.

At 200 feet we were both staring into the wall of drizzle when suddenly the pearls of lights appeared to our left.  I pulled the engine lever to idle and we banked towards the lights.  Our arrival on the tarmac certainly tested the undercarriage but we were on the ground and the wheels were turning.

I turned to my wife: “When we hand over the keys we are going to act like this was a non event.”

The reception area was full of other pilots and all eyes turned on us as we sauntered in.  The owner was standing behind the counter with a quizzical look.

“Everything OK Martin?”

“Yep, it will need refuelling though.”

“Do you want to book it for tomorrow?”

“No I think we’ll be doing some local sightseeing for a day or so instead.”

Art Pimp

By Jude Evans

For three years Jude wrote short journalistic pieces for a  local 'what's on' magazine. She hopes her novel 'The drug department' will give a voice to the plight of addicts and the institutions that surround them.

I found this old lie in a bag, shoved to the back of a cupboard, not quite discarded, under boxes and musty slippers.  In the briefcase belonging to an old identity of mine I discovered a small stack of promotional leaflets.  I was founder member of this charity, long since folded and dissolved.

       Did the lie disolve with it? 
       Not as long as I live.
       I don't think a true lie ever really goes off, bad, or out of date, sell-by or otherwise.   
       As long as I live.

The cover image of the leaflet - are three-rows-of-three, small-portraits, wall of honour.  
       Who are we?
       Who were we?
Below our images are the words  'Homelessness is destructive, Flack is creative'  to bolster the illusory quality of the bold, ambiguous image.  More wonky inference than straightforward lie, the smiles and knowing looks on each face seem so positive about something!

My picture was taken by photographer Mark Woods-Nunn. The smile was for him.  Not for her.   I was only there that day because I had a counselling appointment.
       'Come on, join in!'  
Sweating and jangling, near tears, a smile was captured.   
       Job done
When this picture was taken I believed something. I believed the woman was trying to do something good, valuable to people in need.  The big issue was all well and good but all it did for us was provide an oversubscribed way to legally earn money.  

                                                          'FLACK'  -----   More than a magazine

'When I became homeless, I lost my confidence and felt very isolated, drifting aimlessly from day to day. I'm now getting my writing published which I never would have thought possible.

Flack has given me a way back into a structured lifestyle.

I feel useful again'

Five of the nine never contributed anything but a bum on a seat, a body counted as 'engaging.'

Put together the ingredients before you, and perhaps your brain, will calculate that these individuals are pleased or fulfilled in some way. Encourage a socially excluded, isolated individual to be a star for five minutes.  Massage their damaged ego and whether comfortable or not, at some point they will smile

She rounded us up, whoever was available that day, from among the hostels and shelters.  Take a seat, join the family!
       'Oh, We'll get him.  He'll come for the sandwiches.'                                             
       'That's so interesting!' 
       'A magazine written by us?'
       'A homeless social enterprise?'
       'Fit in?!' 

Groomed and g'd-up we performed for her multi media lie.
       'Taking part, inclusion, belonging is it's own reward.'

'You're all volunteers, it's all about you and your potential. Give me your poetry, journalism, artwork, and I'll sell it, publish it for you.'

'Flack offers training, support and a voice to people who are often overlooked; and so helps to rebuild their self esteem and break the cycle of homelessness.' 


Truth Telling

According to Dorothy Rowe, from a book, that was leant to me, 'Introverts always make a lot of fuss about truth and truth telling. Knowing what is true is essential for organizing the universe and keeping chaos at bay.'  

Meanwhile 'Extroverts usually have a more permissive attitude about truth and truth telling because they discovered early in their childhood that truth telling can make you unpopular.  Some extravert children become wise to knowing in which situations the truth can be safely told and in which situations it is best to lie.'  

She concludes: '... the one person you must never lie to is yourself.  Do that and you are in trouble.'  Though  'unfortunately, lying to oneself is the most common form ...'

But whether you're an introvert or an extrovert there's a new app, rolling out to Android, called Secret, where you can fudge any truth telling, by doing it anonymously.

Speculation and Rumour

The lie detector for social media which was announced yesterday is not yet listed on the EU's Framework 7 'Find A Project' page, so I wasn't able to put a figure to how much money has been invested to protect us from our lies

The Pheme project encompasses research from five universities, across three countries in its bid to 'analyse veracity'.  Mis and disinformation must be an enormous worry for government - kind of ironic when politicians are clearly one of the most deceitful of professions.

Real Virtuality

As an artist, Michele creates pieces that reflect the immediacy of her daily existence - her son's dispatched army men, a daughter's discarded thong, and her husband's disarray of course lessons and proposals.  Last Spring she completed a Masters in Fine Art at Penn State University, studying printmaking. 


The image revealed beneath Renewable Resource, when all the soldiers are removed.

May 5th 2012

by Katie Henderson

A St Andrews alumna originally from the North East, Katie currently works in publishing and tries to learn a new thing every day.  She is in the process of writing her first novel, set in a war-torn world where technology and real life are more closely enmeshed than every before - with deadly results. 


Shrug. Arms raised to the sky. Not a care in the world! I have money to spend and I will travel the world, stay in 5-star hotels and eat out at fancy restaurants. Look at me, the Graduate! Look how happy I am!

This photograph is a lie.

My partner, a Berlin bear, is raising her arms too. She shines a brilliant gold, and it looks like she is crying cobalt tears. She is crying for me, because I cannot.

In two days, I must go home. Back to where one week slides into the next. Where two jumpers hang from my wardrobe doors, bought a month ago and not worn once. I have nowhere to wear them, no-one to wear them for. Hours trickle by on job sites, job applications.  I become hard, selfish, afraid to feel, afraid of everything. I dream little pipe dreams of potential futures to counteract the little deaths of hope that each rejection brings. I agonise over spending £2.99 on a nail polish.

Ashamed of my failings, I become my own prisoner, stuck in the eternal present and longing for the past.

But for now, a brief respite. For these two days, at least, I am happy. I feel solvent. I am free.

Shrug. Arms raised to the sky in supplication. Give me a chance to prove myself. Please.