When Grandpa Was A Boy, Were There Any Dinosaurs?

When Grandpa Was a Boy, Were There Any Dinosaurs?

A Popular History of the 20th Century

Taking Revenge

1977: When his first wife, Elaine, confessed to an affair with another man, Kenneth Tynan caned her – he got a thrill out of caning. One stroke for each letter of his wife’s lover’s name:
K-I-N-G-S-L-E-Y-A-M-I-S

Source: Kenneth Tynan, The Diaries of Kenneth Tynan, ed. John Lahr (2002), p. 374

Out With A Bang

1976: Staff at a crematorium in Solihull were puzzled by a salvo of explosions during the cremation of a body; investigators discovered that batteries in a cardiac pacemaker implanted in the deceased had detonated. It was the first such incident recorded at a British crematorium, although P.J. Morrell, writing in The Practitioner, gave examples of other explosions during cremations caused, in one case, by an aerosol deodorant can inadvertently left inside a coffin and, on another occasion, by a coconut.

Source: The Practitioner, July 1977

Monster Hoax?

1975: Blurry underwater photographs from Loch Ness purported to show the head, elongated neck and body of large animal, and a diamond-shaped fin or flipper. The conservationist Sir Peter Scott, writing in the journal Nature, proposed that the creature be named Nessiteras rhombopteryxNessiteras combining the name of the loch with the Greek word teras, meaning “marvel” or “wonder”; and rhombopteryx combining the Greek rhombos, meaning “diamond shape”, and pteryx, meaning “fin” or “wing”. Sceptics quickly pointed out that Nessiteras rhombopteryx was also an anagram of “monster hoax by Sir Peter S”.

Source: New Scientist, 18/25 December 1975

Killer Carrots

1974: Yellow, orange and red vegetables and fruit are important sources of carotenes, which the human body converts into vitamin A. Carrots (no big surprise) are particularly rich in carotenes.

Basil Brown, a scientific adviser, was so convinced of the vitamin’s benefits – for good vision, healthy skin and a strong immune system – that he drank several litres of carrot juice each day. His excessive consumption eventually killed him.

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Young Iguanodons

1973: As a child, I played cowboys and Indians or cops and robbers with the other boys in my home village. When Konrad Lorenz was a child, he and his future wife “used to play at iguanodons in the shrubbery”. Which maybe shows why, even at a young age, he was destined to win a Nobel Prize for scientific studies and I was not.

Source: Bruce Chatwin, The Songlines (1988), p. 110

Grammatical Genders

1972: In The Dyirbal Language of North Queensland, Robert Dixon identified four grammatical genders. The first gender included men, the moon, storms, rainbows, boomerangs, kangaroos and possums. Women were in the second gender, lumped together with the sun and stars, bandicoots, platypuses, most birds (since birds were the spirits of dead women) and hairy mary grubs. Trees with edible fruit formed the third gender, and the fourth consisted of parts of the body, the wind, digging sticks, bees and honey, noises, grass, mud and stones.

Source: R.M.W. Dixon, The Dyirbal Language of North Queensland (1972), pp. 306–11

Confined To Bed

1971: From childhood, Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel walked in her sleep. The fashion designer’s somnambulism eventually became so bad that, to stop herself straying at night, she instructed her maid, Céline, and her assistant, Lilou, to tie her down in bed.

Source: Lisa Chaney, Chanel: An Intimate Life (2011), pp. 430–1

Graphic Design

1970: Sign of the times: to create the logo for West Germany’s militant Red Army Faction – the initials “RAF”, in white, against a black machine gun and a red five-pointed star – Andreas Baader reputedly enlisted the help of a graphic designer.

Source: Rupert Goldsworthy, Consuming//Terror: Images of the Baader–Meinhof (2010), p. 19

Tastiest Bits

1969: On a medical patrol in the Southern Highlands of Papua New Guinea, Paul Bastian couldn’t understand why, at a ceremonial dance in a Bosavi long house, men outnumbered women by five to one. His native travelling companion explained: “because women are eaten in preference to men as their breasts taste sweet”.

Source: The Geographical Magazine, April 1969

“Beep And Bang”

1968: Besides the thousands of tons of bombs dropped from B-52 Stratofortresses on the Ho Chi Minh Trail (or the Truong Sơn trail, as it was known in Vietnam) to interrupt the movement of North Vietnamese personnel and supplies, the Americans turned to electronic gadgetry (“beep and bang” warfare) and a range of specially designed ordnance.

Toxic defoliants were sprayed on jungle vegetation. Aspirin-sized bombs were intended to burst tyres and to maim foot soldiers. A chemical agent was used to turn soil into grease. There was even a scheme to drop Budweiser beer (of which the North Vietnamese were supposedly very fond) so that drunkenness would impede their movements.

Source: Christopher Robbins, The Ravens: Pilots of the Secret War in Laos (1988), pp. 290–1

Un Petit D’Un Petit

Un Petit D’Un Petit, alias Humpty Dumpty, illustrated by John Tenniel

1967: Luis van Rooten’s Mots d’Heures: Gousses, Rames, a collection of nursery rhymes translated from English into French, attempted to retain the original sounds of the words rather than their meanings.

Van Rooten’s version of “Hickory dickory dock”, for example, made no mention of la souris scampering up l’horloge; instead, “De Meuse raines, houp! de cloque”.

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Ban On Tom-Toms

1966: Colonel Jean-Bédel Bokassa, the new president of the Central African Republic, set to work straightaway to improve the nation’s morals. A week after seizing power in a coup, he issued a decree that banned the playing of tom-toms between sunrise and sunset.

Source: Samuel Decalo, Psychoses of Power: African Personal Dictatorships (1998), p. 210

“Hug Me”

1965: The psychologist Ivar Løvaas reported success in his efforts to treat autistic behaviour in 5-year-old twin boys using electric shocks. In experiments at the University of California, Los Angeles, one of the boys, Mike or Marty, would be stood barefoot in a room with an electrified floor. A researcher would stand in front of him and beckon him: “Come here.” If the boy didn’t respond within three seconds he would be given a painful electric shock. After just a few sessions, the boys learned to “practically jump into the experimenters’ arms”.

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Brum Tory Slogan

1964: The Tory candidate in the Birmingham constituency of Smethwick secured victory in October’s general election by tapping into the racial anxieties of the white population. A slogan going round the town warned voters: “If you want a nigger neighbour, vote Labour.”

Source: Robert Winder, Bloody Foreigners: The Story of Immigration to Britain (2009), p. 374

Pandiatonic Clusters

1963: Music critic William Mann praised John Lennon and Paul McCartney as the “outstanding English composers of 1963”. Writing in The Times, Mann drew attention to the “chains of pandiatonic clusters”, “flat submediant key switches” and “major tonic sevenths and ninths” in the Beatles’ music. He detected “melismas with altered vowels” in “She Loves You” and an “Aeolian cadence” at the end of “Not a Second Time”. All of which presumably went clean over the heads of the group’s screaming, swooning fans.

Source: Dominic Pedler, The Songwriting Secrets of The Beatles (2003), chap. 5

Diplomatic Incident

1962: Pakistani mullahs made dire threats against the American ambassador to India, J.K. Galbraith; the windows of the U.S. Consulate in Lahore were broken; a jeep carrying U.S. personnel was overturned. All because of the Galbraith family’s kitten, Ahmed.

The Galbraiths had acquired the kitten during a visit to the Indian state of Gujarat. The children had originally called it Ahmedabad, after its birthplace, but later shortened its name to Ahmed. That was a mistake. Ahmed is one of the many names of the prophet Muhammad, and Muslims consider it offensive to give the name to an animal. Hence the dire threats, broken windows and overturned jeep. The ambassador made soothing noises, which dampened indignation in Pakistan. Changing the kitten’s name to Gujarat also helped.

Source: John Kenneth Galbraith, Ambassador’s Journal: A Personal Account of the Kennedy Years (1969), after p. 586

Strange Bedfellows

Malcolm X, photographed by Ed Ford in 1964

1961: Politics sometimes makes for strange bedfellows. On 28 January, Malcolm X of the black nationalist Nation of Islam and representatives of the white fascist Ku Klux Klan held a clandestine meeting in Atlanta to discuss their shared aim of racial separation.

Source: Bruce Perry, Malcolm: The Life of a Man Who Changed Black America (1991), pp. 358, 503

Giddy Anticipation

1960: As the end of colonial rule approached, many in the Belgian Congo grew giddy with anticipation, even if they weren’t exactly sure what to expect from independence.

Some thought that white men’s jobs, houses, cars, even their wives, would be turned over to blacks. Others thought that dead relatives would rise from their graves.

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Intermarriage

1958: South Korea codified the centuries-old ban on marriages between men and women with the same family name and from the same clan. In a country with only 300 or so family names, where Kims, Lees and Parks make up half the population, and where, for example, millions belong to the Kim clan from Gimhae, this affected a large number of couples. Article 809 of the Civil Code stated: “A marriage may not be allowed between blood relatives, if both surname and its origin are common to the parties.”

Source: Legal Reform in Korea, ed. Tom Ginsburg (2004), pp. 20, 32

Ladle Rat Rotten Hut

1956: “Wants pawn term,” in Howard Chace’s version of “Little Red Riding Hood”, there was a “ladle gull” who wore a “putty ladle rat cluck” with a “ladle rat hut”. One morning, the little girl’s mother sent her to her grandmother’s cottage “honor udder site offer florist”. On her way through the forest, “Ladle Rat Rotten Hut” met an enormous wolf and told him she was going to visit her “groin-murder”.

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Discordant Note

Caricature of William Somerset Maugham

1955: William Somerset Maugham’s affair with Syrie Wellcome and their subsequent marriage produced one child but little happiness. When they divorced in 1929, Maugham was obliged to agree to a costly settlement to secure Syrie’s silence regarding his homosexuality. As the years passed, Maugham deeply resented the misery of their marriage and the continuing financial burden of the settlement.

Syrie died in London on 25 July 1955. Maugham heard of her death while playing cards at the Villa Mauresque, his home in the south of France. He put down the pack and drummed his fingers triumphantly on the table. “Tra-la-la-la,” he sang. “No more alimony. Tra-la, tra-la.”

Source: Robin Maugham, Somerset and All the Maughams (1966), p. 208

Toffees Rot Teeth

1954: Scandinavian dentists had for years puzzled over the abysmal dental health of the population. In the 1930s, for instance, 83 per cent of 3-year-olds had tooth decay. What were the causes? A deficiency disease? A poor diet? Excessive carbohydrate intake?

The Vipeholm dental caries study was intended to provide answers. Experimenters at the Vipeholm mental hospital in Sweden first tinkered with the vitamin intake of inmates, and when that produced no significant changes in levels of tooth decay, fed them each up to 24 sticky toffees a day. That produced a marked increase in cavities, demonstrating a clear link between sugar consumption and tooth decay.

Feeding exaggerated quantities of toffees to unwitting human beings resulted in lots of ruined teeth and, belatedly, lots of ethical questions, but it also produced much valuable evidence about the causes of tooth decay.

Source: Prevention of Oral Disease, ed. J.J. Murray (1996), pp. 11–13

“Keep Off The Grass”

1953: Stalin once pooh-poohed the possibility of a revolution in Germany – the citizens would be too obedient to step on the lawns, he said – but a strike by East Berlin construction workers on 16 June escalated, the next day, into a large-scale uprising against the government of the German Democratic Republic.

Source: Milovan Djilas, Conversations with Stalin (1962), p. 76

Naughty Doggy

Albert Schweitzer, photographed in 1955 by Rolf Unterberg

1952: The 1952 Nobel Peace Prize was conferred on Albert Schweitzer for his efforts to promote “the Brotherhood of Nations”. Since 1913, Doctor Schweitzer had run a hospital in the jungle at Lambaréné, in French Equatorial Africa. He sometimes had problems keeping peace in his own back yard, let alone the world outside. Soon after the award, he had to scold a dog for chasing chickens around the hospital. “Stop that!” he roared. “Don’t you know this is a Peace Prize house? Be a Nobel dog, and quick.”

Source: News Chronicle, 8 December 1953

Nuclear Wasteland

1951: Congressman Albert Gore suggested that the United States might deter any southward advance of communist ground forces in Korea by creating a nuclear no man’s land. Gore proposed that American forces “dehumanize” a belt of land across the peninsula by deliberately contaminating it with radioactive waste.

Source: Jacob Darwin Hamblin, Arming Mother Nature: The Birth of Catastrophic Environmentalism (2013), pp. 6, 48–9

Clever Doggies

Konrad Lorenz, photographed in 1973 by the Nobel Foundation

1950: In Man Meets Dog, the animal behaviourist Konrad Lorenz drew attention to the ability of dogs to detect quite subtle variations in human speech. Victor Sarris’s three German shepherds, for example, understood who was who, despite their quirky trio of names: Aris, Harris and Paris.

Source: Konrad Lorenz, Man Meets Dog (1994), p. 143

Sumthing Liek Dhis

1949: In March, Mont Follick introduced a bill into the British parliament to rationalise the spelling of English. George Bernard Shaw, the Simplified Spelling Society and others had long advocated a simple, logical and consistent spelling system. Follick proposed the adoption of reformed spelling first in schools and then in government publications and later in general use. Despite considerable parliamentary support, Follick’s measure was opposed by the government and at the end of the debate it was rejected by a slender margin – 87 votes to 84.

Which iz hou dhe tekst ov dhis blog kaem widhin a whisker ov being spelt sumthing liek dhis.

Source: M. Follick, The Case for Spelling Reform (1965), chap. XXII

“A Slogan Is Forever”

1948: A diamond engagement ring is an emblem of the enduring emotional bond between a man and a woman, an expression of their love, a shining symbol of their commitment to each other. If you believe all that claptrap, blame Frances Gerety: she was the Philadelphia advertising copywriter who dreamt up the slogan, “A diamond is forever.”

Source: Cele C. Otnes and Elizabeth H. Pleck, Cinderella Dreams: The Allure of the Lavish Wedding (2003), pp. 63–7