It’s strange, but I don’t hear about El Niño so much these days. At one time it was held responsible for everything that was wrong with our climate – rainfall when one wasn’t carrying an umbrella, snowfall in countries without snow and so on.

It was the eternal excuse. Surprisingly enough, it usually worked.

"Why haven’t you done your homework?" the teacher would ask, waiting for that much-touted excuse: the dog ate my homework. But someone decided that there could be a better excuse: "I couldn’t finish it because of El Niño," you said, and the teacher let you off, secretly thanking you for original thinking. Or at least that’s my theory now.

Late for an appointment? Blame El Niño. Overslept? Blame El Niño. Didn’t tip enough at the restaurant? "El Niño made me do it." Ironically, El Niño was like water – the universal solvent. All issues could be dissolved in it.

Man is a social animal. He is also an excuse-making animal. No dolphin late for an appointment has to look for an excuse, no earthworm, no white-breasted eagle. But we need to.

After losing a tennis match, Rafa Nadal said that it wasn’t the time to look for excuses. How wrong he was! That is exactly the time to look for excuses. Fever, lack of sleep, pinched nerve, crowd noise, anything will do. If all else fails, there’s always El Niño. Sportsmen sometimes make the excuse that the other guy or the opposing team played better. This is a cop out. There can be no excuse for not finding an excuse.

Research has shown (meaning I asked a friend) that the human activity requiring (and therefore getting) the most number of excuses per annum is being late for work. Professionals worked out long ago that honesty is the worst policy. You cannot tell your boss (as you would have to if you were being honest): "I hate seeing your face every day, so I deliberately overslept and hoped you would be captured by aliens." Truth is a dangerous weapon. Nor can you channel your inner schoolboy and say, "The dog ate my car."

Out go such excuses as: I lost my way because I was in a great hurry to see you, I saw a rainbow and was chasing it, and I had to stop to save a young child from a charging rhino.

If your boss is one of those people whose day isn’t complete till he has chewed out a few staffers and fired a few more, your best bet is "El Niño". It sounds scientific, and has the bonus of keeping him out of your way because he thinks it might be a dangerous disease.

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