McDonald's drinks sabotage, National Insurance army secrets, jabs fear and chewing gum - our youthful beliefs

Urban myths of childhood included vaccination fears, reasons why McDonald's withdrew root beer and water slide sabotage Pictures: Getty Urban myths of childhood included vaccination fears, reasons why McDonald's withdrew root beer and water slide sabotage Pictures: Getty
Urban myths of childhood included vaccination fears, reasons why McDonald's withdrew root beer and water slide sabotage Pictures: Getty | Getty
When we were young we would believe anything - from McDonald's drinks rumours to National Insurance conscription - and with no internet we lived in blissful ignorance

Just as email killed the pigeonhole - a sad loss to office and academic life - so internet-enabled mobile phones dealt a fatal blow to the pub quiz.

While they have given us the benefits of being able to do banking in the bath and catch up on news while on the bus, the omnipresent smartphone has also (as well as making all the contestants at the Jersey Lily suspect other tables of cheating) had another dispiriting effect on our lives. It's destroyed the joy of the disprovable urban myth.

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Now, as a trusted news organisation, I should instantly point out that we are here for accuracy in the big things in life. It's important. But, if you are over 30, when you look back on your childhood you will realise that you and your friends clung to some beliefs in the face of common sense, and I miss those innocent times.

I think back to school, and the time when were issued with National Insurance numbers. It was taken as gospel truth that the letter on the end denoted the order in which you'd be called up to the army in the event of a war that required conscription - so those ending A would go first. This is utter nonsense, but as a 'D' I was - and remain - quite pleased. Googling it now, I see the same theory popping up with absolutely nothing to back it.

Another story that scared the bejesus out of me, this time at a younger age, was that the tube waterslides at the local leisure centre had razorblades in them halfway down, stuck on with chewing gum by ne'er-do-wells. The logistics on this one would be very fiddly to achieve, although as nine-year-olds we didn't think it through. And another myth that we accepted as a plausible truth was that root beer was removed from sale in McDonald's in the early 90s after a disgruntled employee, er, defecated in the machine. Not for us the sense to decide that one action would not lead to a massive commercial decision, we just went with it. It was rumoured to have happened in Tooting, by the way.

A quick invitation to colleagues reveals equally enjoyable fallacies - many of which were clearly invented by adults keen to make a point, oblivious to the longevity that their fictions would have. Someone cracked their head open and died because they were leaning back in their chair - there's one.

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And the well-known knowledge, seen around the country, that if you kick a football over a certain hedge it would never come back because the person who lived in the house was dead (they were alive and well, they just hated children).

The BCG vaccinations that we had as early teenagers were full of rumours about needles that were thicker that the arm itself - and there was no recourse to Google Images to refute this. And another colleague who grew up at the other end of the country also reported vaccination scaremongering - "When I started Year 7 and all the Year 8 kids told us newbies that when you had your jabs at school you had to have one that was eight needles at once. Can't remember what that was supposedly for. Not true, of course!"

There are so many more to enjoy. When you swallow chewing gum you will either die, or see the offending piece of Wrigley's stay in your gut for seven years, we thought. Neither are true, and again both probably propagated by parents who didn't want the stuff in the house.

And finally, a shock from another colleague who flags that she was told that "turning the light in the backseat of the car on while my parents were driving was illegal". I didn't even question that in my childhood and I still thought it was true now (decades late, I have now checked and turns out it's not). But I've told my own children this in the last three months. Perhaps always-on internet can't deprive us gullible folk of all myths, just yet...

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