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Phantom Hitchhikers & Decoy Ducks

February 2013

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Red Herrings

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Red Herrings

Sample Extracts

The subject of urban myths and legends is one I have been interested in for a couple of years now. It occurred to me, one day at lunch on the Isle of Dogs, that many long rambling conversations (and ours are certainly long and always rambling) will include a tall tale or two. One person will then be reminded of a story they once heard which then is presented as near fact. They start like this. 'That reminds me, I heard a story once….' Or 'I remember my uncle/aunt/sister/hairdresser telling me what happened to a friend of theirs….'

So urban legends are easy to spot and always have a ring of truth about them. It may have happened, it might have happened to any of us. Each of us could have been as unfortunate or stupid at some time and that is one of the reasons we all enjoy urban legends so much. That the misfortune involved didn't happen to us, it was somebody else. And that makes us laugh. They come in many different forms. Some involve ghostly goings on, some are about love or lost love. Some centre on plain stupidity and some have happy endings. The connecting feature is that all are told and then retold and come back around in altered forms and all of them are conversational. They are the modern day version of medieval folklore and all of the anecdotal tales in this collection can be recited the next time you are at lunch, dinner or in the pub with friends. And they can make even the most unimaginative person seem interesting, I promise. It seems to be working for me.

I should point out here that many of the tales told in this collection are probably not true and any names used, apart from when they are used to support evidence, are made up, by me. So, for example, if there really is a Peter Patsalides who worked at the World Trade Centre in New York prior to September 11th 2001 (see caught with his trousers down) then I am not suggesting he was having an affair because that is also the name of a friend of mine, the one who told me the story in the first place. So please don't sue and leave me penniless if your marriage collapses as a result of something I said. I am sure some of the stories included must be untrue, but that is part of the fun of Urban Legends. All of them could be true and it is up to us to decide for ourselves what to believe and what not to.

As for the title we have used, I realise it is a brave move but it is not an attempt to shock, provoke or offend anyone. What happened was that when I submitted the manuscript to Georgina Laycock, my managing Editor at Penguin Books, it was later returned to me with the words 'That's Bollocks' written boldly across the top. So I naturally assumed that was her suggestion for a title, which I quite liked as it is also the sort of thing you can expect your friends to say after you have told them one of these stories. At least, mine do. It was only after The Penguin (fans of the cult film The Blues Brothers will understand why I call Georgie that) later telephoned that we realised it is a great title to use for a collection of anecdotal stories like this.

Obviously it is not going to get me onto programmes such This Morning again because I don't think they would be brave enough. But I fail to see why. There are a lot more offensive book titles out there and also 'Bollocks' is one of the good old-fashioned English words. And they deserve a proper airing from time to time. However, for the international launch we have decided to re-name the book Phantom Hitchhikers and Other Urban Legends to see if we can offend fewer people this time round. (Not my idea!)

As usual, I realise there are some well known Urban Legends missing but they may well pop up in a second volume if this one proves to be popular. That would also give me the opportunity to use the book title 'Even More Bollocks' in the future and to annoy my mum again, although I promise to grow up soon. It is only meant to be a little bit of fun and perhaps to provoke some thought and conversation. Anything that does that must be a good thing and also, reading this book and reciting a few of the tales might make you more popular, you never know.

Finally, I hope you enjoy these stories and then take good care of the book. Now that Georgina has found out that she is listed as 'The Penguin' in my phone there may not be another one.

Albert Jack, Cape Town

January 2013