The club where no one knows your name

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The Independent Online

Only dodgier readers - apparently respectable people who are secretly leading double or even triple lives - will know of the existence of the Liars Club. This unofficial meeting-place for those who have something to hide is unlike most other clubs. Those who belong rarely boast of membership or mention it in their Who's Who entry. Its code is the antithesis of that of the bar in Cheers; here, nobody knows your name.

Only dodgier readers - apparently respectable people who are secretly leading double or even triple lives - will know of the existence of the Liars Club. This unofficial meeting-place for those who have something to hide is unlike most other clubs. Those who belong rarely boast of membership or mention it in their Who's Who entry. Its code is the antithesis of that of the bar in Cheers; here, nobody knows your name.

The club's critics claim that it encourages misbehaviour, while its defenders argue it serves a useful social function. What is certain is that the club has always been hugely popular among those who are running an affair, or enjoy a secret drinking or gambling habit, or simply need, now and then, to be able to get out of reading the children a bedtime story. Once an all-male preserve, the Liars opened its doors to women a few years ago, since when membership has soared.

The club has one rule. Members are required to cover for one another, providing the occasional alibi for an evening or, perhaps, an address for love letters. Recently, a few of the older hands have been discussing a scheme that would save them from the humiliation suffered a few years ago by Nelson Rockefeller - that of dying in the arms of his mistress. An adulterous end to life helps no one, turns the funeral into an embarrassment and tends to cast something of a pall over all that has come before. The new Liars plan would ensure that a distressed lover could put through a quick call to the club, which would then send members around to relocate the body to a more respectable place.

In the interest of research, I visited the Liars last week to find out how members are reacting to the news that deception has recently become even more sophisticated and professionalised. According to an article in The New York Times, something called "an alibi and excuses club" has proved extremely popular among mobile phone users, first in Germany and now in America.

Someone in need of an excuse sends out a cry for help in the form of a text to fellow club members. The alibis can vary wildly in importance. A man needed someone to ring his wife pretending to be his boss so he could sit in a bar watching a football game. A woman who had become pregnant while her husband was serving in Iraq was looking for an excuse. A stranger from the club, which has almost 4,000 members, then volunteers to make a call, impersonating a boss/friend/business partner before disappearing back into cyberspace.

A simpler form of deception, which avoids depending on a cooperative stranger, is also now on the market. Companies have started manufacturing sound effects for mobile phones to allow callers to disguise their whereabouts. With these devices, you can ring the office in the morning from your bed with traffic-jam noises in the background; or for those wishing to throw a sickie, a rasping cough is on offer. Using these devices is "not necessarily malicious or nefarious," a sound effect maker has commented. "It lets you control your environment."

The reaction to these developments at the Liars Club was unsurprisingly upbeat. "It's a great breakthrough," said one member. "Not so long ago, lying was seen as a sign of being morally dysfunctional, even sleazy. Now everyone's at it. If you have a double life, it is accepted you are having double the fun. It's positively stylish."

I suggested that once fake background noises on a telephone were regarded as controlling your environment, morality was on a slippery slope.

The Liar smiled knowingly. "The slippery slope is where some of the most interesting things happen," he said.

Miles Kington is away

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