FeaturesUrban Legends of my Childhood

Urban Legends of my Childhood

Although the arrival of dial-up internet in St John means that all of the parishes have technically joined the electronic age, Jersey is an old-fashioned place where passing information quickly and accurately is no substitute for the pleasure of telling a good story. You could report the facts, or you could savour the telling of a tale that gets more exaggerated as it winds its way through every muttering corner of the village. It probably explains how our community managed to survive for a thousand year period where the only entertainments were playing petanque, reading the Bible in Latin and trying to meet somebody who isn’t your cousin. 

It says a lot about people that urban legends continue to flourish in an age where it should only take fifteen seconds to disprove most of them. If anything, the existence of the internet has made rumours and falsehoods proliferate to a degree where humanity’s collective store of unlikely stories probably outweighs our actual knowledge. Future generations will know little about our daily lives, as our historical records are more likely to contain tales of the time there was a finger in our hamburger, or a list of the different things that hospital doctors are rumoured to have removed from our bottoms.

I’ve done my bit for posterity by hand-picking some of the finest rumours from my own childhood. I did come up with at least a hundred, but by the time I’d removed all the ones that were libellous or simply too unpleasant to print this article was all that was left. Call 01534 811100 if you want to have a good time.

Dye of embarrassment

I could write a book of tall tales that revolve entirely around Fort Regent from 1980 onwards, but a personal favourite has to be our local variant on the myth that swimming pools contain a special dye that shows when you’ve peed in them. This isn’t and has never been true, but that didn’t stop Jersey kids circulating terrifying tales about the time a kid from your brother’s class lost control during Pluto’s Playtime and was socially ostracised for leaving an orange/purple/lime green disaster puddle in the water next to the blow up sausage. Logically, this would have meant that the small, suspiciously warm, kids pool would have been bright purple most of the time, but logic has no power over somebody who absolutely swears on their mum’s life that they saw a kid get decapitated on the eggs once. However, the rumour that the swimming pool foot dip was radioactive did turn out to have an element of truth – the States only built the cavern under the Fort as a safe place to house foot mutants, lurgy sufferers and kids who got locked in the ghost train at closing time.

The a-peel of illegal drugs

The “war on drugs” had many fronts, incorporating efforts to put kids off narcotics via messages on the title screen of Golden Axe, the scary villain in the Michael Jackson Moonwalker movie, and the continuing existence of hippies. The anti-drugs campaign was also strengthened by the power of the urban legend, leading to numerous lurid schoolyard tales about the misadventures of various kids from your estate, older classes at school or just old enough to own a motorbike. Some of these undoubtedly had their origins in real tragedies, but the most memorable will always be the sad tale of the boy who took so much LSD that he thought he was an orange and tried to peel himself. If only he’d stuck to “soft” drugs, like banana skins and the cannabis-scented joss sticks that your cousin got cautioned for shoplifting from Horseplay.

E-numbers were developed for chemical warfare

You didn’t necessarily need illegal drugs to go crazy, as rumour had it that even the aisle of the local newsagent contained hidden multitudes of lethal, mind-altering substances. Long before parents were willing to excuse their badly-behaved offspring by self-diagnosing them with ADHD, poor behaviour was attributed to the presence of artificial additives in many children’s foodstuffs. Many of us will remember the kid who ate NERDS and ran under a bus, or the numerous perils said to proceed from scoffing too many Wham bars, fizzy Astro Belts or the MSG in a Chinese takeaway. According to some parents, effects of food you saw advertised during Emu’s Pink Windmill could range from causing cancer in rats, making your hair fall out or gluing up your insides so you gradually starved to death – given these warnings from our elders, it is amazing that any of us lived to be old enough to copy them and move to using factor two sunscreen and smoking unfiltered Silk Cut.

Nightmare on King Street

The moral panic over so-called “video nasties” was right in one respect, in that the wide availability of VHS horror movies would have an irreversible effect on the children who got access to them. It didn’t transform us into serial killers or Satan-worshippers, but it did lead to a generation of twelve-year-olds who believed that spiritual corruption and gruesome murder were things that regularly happened to people in our community. It was a slippery slope: first you watch a bootleg copy of Hellraiser (ideally the X rated one where people actually died filming it), then you start talking to spirits in the mirror, within weeks you’ve bought a Ouija board and have made a pact with the devil by drawing a pentagram and setting fire to a picture of Cliff Richard. Your inevitable grisly death would serve as a moral lesson to future sleepovers, even if nobody could remember your actual name.

My cousin has nunchuks

and a bo staff

You could say that frightening stories about drugs and the supernatural are a logical response to a barely-understood social menace that children feel powerless to doing anything about. Luckily there was one threat which you could prepare for: the epidemic of gang-related street violence was the problem, and the solution was ninja weaponry, martial arts training and sometimes the finishing move of WWF wrestler Jake “the Snake” Roberts. Even in Jersey, we were reliably informed that innocent bystanders were being stabbed outside discos and shot in back alleys like Batman’s parents. Some people chose to cower away, but some people (my cousin) were inspired by the Karate Kid to train so hard that within a matter of weeks they could break an opponent’s neck with a single roundhouse kick and were unanimously agreed to be toughest in juniors, possibly even including year 11s. After training at the Dojo, you then need to register your hands and feet as a deadly weapon, but whatever you do, do not tell the police about the nunchuks and ninja stars you brought back from the secret Japanese shop in St Malo. The police don’t like criminals, but for some reason they also don’t want you to have the power to defeat a gang of five bikers just by yourself – probably because the cost of having them all in intensive care is very high. I am your sensei, and if you pass this technique on I will be forced to kill you. Hai!

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