The other day, my flatmate discovered that the school where she teaches had been accidentally paying her too much. And they wanted it back.
“But they can’t!” I spluttered. “They’ve given it to you, it’s yours. You’ve won the luck lottery! It’s in your bank - it can’t come out again, it’s like… a ship in a bottle! It’s.. it’s.. THE LAW.
It isn't the law, of course. It's the law of being embarrassed to say you can't give it back because you spaffed it all on ASOS.com. I realised as I said it that: firstly, my knowledge of this legal area is based entirely on the time in Friends when Phoebe’s bank gave her money by accident and let her keep it, and secondly, that there are many things that we all assume are THE LAW which really aren’t the law at all.
Such as a shop being legally obliged to sell you something cheap if it’s marked at the wrong price. Why do we believe that? Do we think it’s, like, punishment for their clerical error? “You got sloppy with the pricing gun, chump, now flog me this discount ceramic puppy ornament and choke on the bitter taste of your own incompetence.”
I imagine these shonky misconceptions are about 20% based on things we’ve seen on telly, 15% on our innate sense of human fairness, and 65% on things our mums say, because their mums said them, because their grandmothers said them, because in 1894 you could probably demand your neighbour’s best goat as penance for them giving you the shifty eye in the post office.
Another classic is: places that serve food must have a customer toilet! It is THE LAW. We know of course that this one can’t actually be THE LAW, because if it was then all the Pret A Mangers within Zone 2 would have been shut down. But we continue believing it, presumably based on some warped digestive science logic that says if you can put it in one end, you must provide means for it to come out the other. You hear it, every day, every hour probably, echoing around the cafes and kiosks of the nation – somebody’s mum, saying, “Well they must have a toilet, they serve food! It’s THE LAW” whilst doing an agitated wee dance by the napkin dispenser.
My absolute favourite, however, is the enduring urban legend that says a pregnant woman caught short can relieve herself in a policeman’s helmet. Everybody loves this one, despite knowing really that finding a policeman in a helmet these days is more elusive a mission than finding a functional loo with paper and an antibac hand gel dispenser.
But I’m happy to say that after much extensive googling on the topic (one of my favourite things about the internet is that you can type in “pregnant wee helmet” and it knows exactly what you mean), I haven’t found anything conclusively saying it isn’t true. So by THE LAW of believing things are THE LAW unless you’re told they absolutely aren’t, it must be THE LAW. Go, find a pregnant lady looking desperate in a toiletless café and tell her about it now.