Some favourite urban legends


The thing about urban legends ( or urban myths, if you prefer) is whether you can believe that the events actually happened. Some of the occurrences are so astonishing that most people would love to believe that they are true. But there again, it must be easy enough to invent an urban legend. Make up your mind about the following ‘ stories ‘ that are adapted from Rodney Dale’s book It’s True…It happened to a friend(1984). We at Jot HQ are inclined to believe that most are true.


No such thing as a free ticket.


A Surrey couple had their car stolen from their front drive. Four days later when it reappeared, the owners found  two theatre tickets on the front seat and a note which read: ‘ Sorry. We had to take your car in an emergency. Please accept the tickets with our apologies.’ A few days later they used the tickets and returned to find their home stripped, even to the curtains.


This is surely a familiar trope. Conan Doyle used elements of it in two Sherlock Holmes stories, notably ‘The Red Headed League’. More recently, sports stars, usually footballers, are often burgled when the criminals are certain that they will be away from their homes on award-ceremony evenings.


Get rich quick


A man advertised ex-government trousers at a ridiculously low price. The orders rolled in, the man became wealthy, but did nothing. He still did nothing when those who had ordered trousers complained. Only when solicitors became involved did the man buy a pair of trousers and forward them to the customer. Most who had sent him money did not bother to pursue the matter. The low cost of the trousers meant it was not worth their while to go after the fraudster, who became very rich.


Ponzi scheme ?


Placebo effect


A hospital in Edinburgh used its ECT machine for over two years, reporting beneficial effects, before discovering that there was something wrong with the power supply and the machine had never worked.


Do as you are done by.



Rodney Dale

The owner of a stately home not open to the public was somewhat annoyed when he saw a car and caravan turn into his drive, park on the verge, and disgorge a family, which proceeded to unpack all the apparatus necessary for preparing a meal. He did not complain but instead took the number of the car and somehow managed to obtain the address of the offenders. Months later he loaded his car with his own equipment and family, drove to the suburban home of the transgressors, and held a pic–nic on their tiny drive. Lord Montague of Beaulieu tells a similar story.


Saved !


A friend’s mother loved to travel. On a mountainous part of Europe she found herself at a frontier post, whereupon she was asked to produce her ‘papers’. Feverishly scrabbling around in her handbag she discovered that she had left her passport back at the hotel, but decided to offer the guard her Post Office Savings Book instead. He riffled through its pages and came back to her with the remark. ‘ You are always visiting Ondemand. This will make a pleasant change ‘. The book was stamped and handed back to her with a salute.


This sounds like a joke. Wouldn’t the guard be suspicious of the many withdrawals of money recorded? On the other hand, perhaps it is supposed to be a comment on the intelligence of foreign customs officials.


Mincing around


Apparently, it is normal in the UK for someone selling a car with a noisy gearbox to fill it with sawdust. However, a friend informed me that the custom in South America is to fill the offending gearbox with mince meat.


All fired up


In 1938 Mary Carpenter burst into flame in a boat on the Norfolk Broads in full view of her husband and children. She was reduced to ashes, but the boat, her husband and children were unharmed.


This is surely not a legend, but a medical case. The phenomenon of spontaneous combustion is well documented, but a popular belief persists that the stories surrounding it are exaggerated or even fabricated. A few years ago the biologist Brian Ford conducted an experiment which proved beyond reasonable doubt that the phenomenon had a scientific basis. He concluded that acetone manufactured in the body during the normal process of metabolism can in some very rare cases ignite body fat with the result that, due to the ‘ wick effect ‘, the victim is consumed with little or no damage to the immediate environment.


Has he got the guts ?


A student climbed into the window of a college in Cambridge carrying some entrails he had bought from a butcher. He places them on the window sill spikes, utters a terrible cry and then leaves. Eventually, the professor of anatomy confirms that the guts are not human.


A variation on the ‘head in the bed’ anecdote that people associate with medical students. Surely, some, if not all, must be true.


A cake enjoyed by every body.


A parcel containing dried fruit and a mysterious greyish powder arrived from Australian cousins. There was no note, but the fruit was assumed to be for the anniversary cake, which was duly cooked, the powder being included as special ‘spice’. All who ate the cake pronounced it delicious. Soon afterwards a letter arrived with the instructions: ‘ By the way, the grey powder in Uncle Joe’s ashes. Would you please scatter them on his mother’s grave ?’.


There are several versions of this anecdote, none of which sound remotely true. Why would someone send dried fruit twelve thousand miles ?



One thought on “Some favourite urban legends

  1. Jan Willem Nienhuys

    The 1938 story about Mary Carpenter is wrong. She was not called Mary or Carpenter, she was alone, her clothes caught fire (in a not very mysterious way) and she died in hospital the next day. It was on a boat alright, but it was moored in the yacht station of Yarmouth.


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