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

Peace In Wartime

1941: “You hear people say that fishing is a waste of time,” wrote the novelist and keen angler H.E. Bates. “Can time be wasted?” he pondered. “In a hundred years it will not matter much whether on a June day in 1941 I fished for perch or devoted the same time to acquiring greater learning by studying the works of Aristotle, of which, anyway, I have no copy. The day is very hot, and there are thousands of golden-cream roses blooming on the house wall in the sun. Perhaps someone will be glad that I described them, sitting as I am forty miles from the German lines at Calais. Perhaps someone will wonder then at the stoicism, the indifference, the laziness or the sheer lack of conscience of someone who thought roses and fish of at least as much importance as tanks and bombs.”

Source: H.E. Bates, The Country Heart (1949), p. 30

Mouldy Clothing

1940: If the Wehrmacht crossed the English Channel and German jackboots got as far as Oxford, the Australian Howard Florey and his team of researchers at the university planned to destroy their work on penicillin to prevent it benefitting the enemy.

Hoping to salvage something from their efforts, they intended to rub Penicillium notatum into the fabric of their coats, knowing that the spores of mould could survive for years. Then at some time, somewhere, they might be able to resume their work.

Source: Eric Lax, The Mould in Dr Florey’s Coat: The Remarkable True Story of the Penicillin Miracle (2004), pp. 4, 158–9

Orwell Makes A Point

1939: George Orwell’s novel Coming Up For Air didn’t contain a single semi-colon, though three sneaked into the postwar edition.

Source: George Orwell, The Complete Works of George Orwell, VII: Coming Up For Air, ed. Peter Davison (1997), pp. 249–50

Hitler’s Cosmetics

1938: In his diary entry for 8 May, Italy’s foreign minister, Count Galeazzo Ciano, noted: “Mussolini believes that Hitler puts rouge on his cheeks in order to hide his pallor.”

Source: Galeazzo Ciano, Ciano’s Diary 1937–1938 (1952), p. 113

British Innovation

1937: When Britain’s ambassador in Berlin, Sir Nevile Henderson, reproached Hermann Göring for the brutality of Germany’s concentration camps, Göring took down a volume of a German encyclopaedia from his bookcase, opened it at Konzentrationslager, and triumphantly read out, “First used by the British, in the South African War.”

Source: Sir Nevile Henderson, Failure of a Mission: Berlin 1937–1939 (1940), p. 29

Icelandic Delicacies

1936: Letters from Iceland introduced tourists to some of the more curious items of the island’s cuisine. Hákarl, “half-dry, half-rotten shark”, had a flavour, W.H. Auden reported, “more like boot-polish than anything else I can think of.” Dried fish, Iceland’s staple food, came in varying degrees of toughness, he wrote. The tougher kind tasted like toenails, the softer kind like “the skin off the soles of one’s feet”. Sheep’s udders pickled in sour milk, however, were “surprisingly very nice”.

Source: W.H. Auden and Louis MacNeice, Letters from Iceland (1937), pp. 42, 44

Controlled Exit

1935: Instead of allowing incurable breast cancer run its deadly course, the American writer and social reformer Charlotte Perkins Gilman inhaled chloroform to bring her life to a close.

“When all usefulness is over, when one is assured of unavoidable and imminent death, it is the simplest of human rights to choose a quick and easy death in place of a slow and horrible one,” she wrote in her suicide note. “I have preferred chloroform to cancer.”

Source: Charlotte Perkins Gilman, The Living of Charlotte Perkins Gilman: An Autobiography (1935), pp. 333, 334

“What A Dandy Car You Make”

1934: “While I still have got breath in my lungs I will tell you what a dandy car you make.” The compliment, in a letter delivered to the Detroit office of Henry Ford on 13 April, came from Clyde Barrow of the Barrow gang. “I have drove Fords exclusivly when I could get away with one. For sustained speed and freedom from trouble the Ford has got ever other car skinned, and even if my business hasen’t been strickly legal it don’t hurt any thing to tell you what a fine car you got in the V8.”

There were doubts about the authenticity of the letter, but no doubts about Barrow’s enthusiasm for Fords. It was in a V8, just over a month later, that he and Bonnie Parker were ambushed and killed near the Louisiana town of Gibsland.

Source: Jeff Guinn, Go Down Together: The True, Untold Story of Bonnie and Clyde (2009), pp. 298–9, 418

Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker’s Ford V8 after their fatal ambush near Gibsland, Louisiana, on 23 May 1934

Secret Of A Long Life

1933: The chemist Robert Chesebrough, who lived to the age of 96, attributed his longevity to a daily habit of eating a spoonful of his most famous invention – Vaseline.

Source: www.damninteresting.com/
nugget/story-of-vaseline/

Pasta Under Attack

Filippo Marinetti, the man who wanted to abolish pasta

1932: Filippo Marinetti provoked uproar in Italy by proposing, in The Futurist Cookbook, the abolition of pasta, which he condemned for inducing “lassitude, pessimism, nostalgic inactivity and neutralism” (“fiacchezza, pessimismo, inattività nostalgica e neutralismo”).

Source: F.T. Marinetti, The Futurist Cookbook (1989), p. 37

No Love Lost Between “Boom” And “Bendor”

1931:  There was much aristocratic tittle-tattle about William “Boom” Lygon, the 7th Earl Beauchamp: his weakness for handsome young menservants; the affection he displayed towards his butler; the parties he organised at Walmer Castle for local lads and fishermen.

When Beauchamp’s brother-in-law heard the rumours, he was determined to ruin the earl. Hugh “Bendor” Grosvenor, the 2nd Duke of Westminster, was a vindictive and homophobic individual. He was instrumental in the separation of Beauchamp from his wife, the instigation of divorce proceedings and Beauchamp’s hasty departure for the Continent.

After the earl’s fall from grace, Bendor sent him a nasty little letter:
Dear Bugger-in-law,
You got what you deserved.
Yours,
Westminster

Source: Jane Mulvagh, Madresfield: One Home, One Family, One Thousand Years (2008), pp. 277–307

Political Asylum

David Lloyd George – much imitated

1930: Another extract from Bruce Lockhart’s diary. Lord Beaverbrook told him a tale of Lloyd George coming back late at night from Criccieth. “L.G.’s car broke down outside Horton Asylum. Knocked up porter. ‘Who are you?’ ‘Oh, I’m the Prime Minister.’ ‘Come inside. We’ve seven here already.’ ”

Source: Sir Robert Bruce Lockhart, The Diaries of Sir Robert Bruce Lockhart, I: 1915–1938, ed. Kenneth Young (1973), p. 133

Hairy Lady

1929: A story from the diplomat Bruce Lockhart’s diary, recounted by the Countess of Rosslyn:
“Lady Theo Acheson had wonderful hair of which she was very proud. In her passport form under the sub-heading ‘any peculiarities’ she put in ‘hair below the knees’. In the passport this was abbreviated by the passport officer to ‘hairy legs’!”

Source: Sir Robert Bruce Lockhart, The Diaries of Sir Robert Bruce Lockhart, I: 1915–1938, ed. Kenneth Young (1973), p. 91

Cat Burglar

1928: The writer Thomas Hardy died on 11 January. His heart was removed from his corpse, which was then cremated and the ashes interred at Poets’ Corner in Westminster Abbey. The heart was buried in the grave of Hardy’s first wife, Emma, in the Dorset village of Stinsford.

Or was it? Rumour had it that the doctor’s cat made off with the heart while it was unattended, though this sounds suspiciously like a tale invented over a few pints of cider in a Dorset pub.

Source: Claire Tomalin, Thomas Hardy: The Time-Torn Man (2006), pp. 371–2

Innocents Abroad

1927: Brian Howard, a leading light among the Bright Young People, was appalled but fascinated to see a man snorting cocaine in a Berlin café. Howard had never seen a drug addict before, and thought at first that the man was performing “deep breathing exercises”.

Source: Brian Howard, Brian Howard: Portrait of a Failure, ed. Marie-Jaqueline Lancaster (1968), pp. 237–8

Minority Interest

1926: Berthold Laufer’s monographs appealed to a minority readership: Ostrich Egg-Shell Cups of Mesopotamia and the Ostrich in Ancient and Modern Times, published in 1926, was followed the next year by Insect-Musicians and Cricket Champions of China.

Source: www.nasonline.org/publications/
biographical-memoirs/memoir-pdfs/
laufer-berthold.pdf

Saved By Jellyfish

1925: One night in July, feeling that he had reached “the end of the tether”, schoolteacher and struggling writer Evelyn Waugh made a half-hearted attempt to kill himself. He went to a deserted beach, undressed and swam slowly out to sea, but turned back when he was stung by jellyfish.

Source: Evelyn Waugh, A Little Learning: The First Volume of an Autobiography (1964), pp. 229–30

Messy Tenants

1924: In July, Pablo Picasso and his family rented a villa at Juan-les-Pins, on the Riviera. Picasso turned the villa’s empty garage into a studio and decorated its bare walls with murals. The owner was not appreciative, and Picasso had to fork out 800 francs to restore the walls to their original state.

Source: John Richardson, A Life of Picasso: The Triumphant Years 1917–1932 (2007), p. 265

Literary Companion

1922: James Joyce’s long-time companion and future wife, Nora Barnacle, read only 27 pages of Ulysses, and that, as Joyce dryly observed, included the cover.

Source: James Joyce, Letters of James Joyce, ed. Stuart Gilbert (1957), p. 193

Bedside Comforts

1921: Staying at a hotel above the Swiss town of Montreux, Katherine Mansfield kept on her bed at night “a copy of Shakespeare, a copy of Chaucer, an automatic pistol & a black muslin fan”.

Source: Katherine Mansfield, The Collected Letters of Katherine Mansfield, IV: 1920–1921, ed. Vincent O’Sullivan and Margaret Scott (1996), pp. 244–5

Cads In The Baths

1920: “Little doing,” 16-year-old Evelyn Waugh complained in his diary on 14 August. “In the afternoon I went to the baths but found the water dirty and full of the most dreadful greasy-haired cads.”

Source: Evelyn Waugh, The Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, ed. Michael Davie (1976), p. 96

“Out Of The Vents Rushed Steam And Oil And Air”

Tug alongside a scuttled German destroyer at Scapa Flow

1919: For the children of Stromness, in the Orkneys, conditions on 21 June were ideal for their school outing – a warm, windless day, a clear sky, a gentle swell on the sea. Once the children had embarked on the Flying Kestrel, the Admiralty tender cast off and steamed out into Scapa Flow, past the long lines of German warships interned there since the armistice.

“We came face to face with the German Fleet, some of them huge battleships that made our own vessel look ridiculous,” recalled James Taylor, one of the schoolchildren. He was 15 years old; 20 years later he wrote a vivid account of what happened next.

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“Good English Tea”

1918: As the First World War drew to a close, the German kaiser, Wilhelm II, abdicated and fled the country. On 11 November he arrived at Amerongen, in the Netherlands. For someone who had just lost a world war and an empire, and faced a long exile, he was in buoyant mood. He rubbed his hands together and said, “Now give me a cup of real, good English tea.”

Source: Norah Bentinck, The Ex-Kaiser in Exile (1921), p. 23

Royal Chuckle

1917: George V’s decision to change the royal family’s name from the distinctly un-British Saxe-Coburg Gotha to Windsor raised a chuckle in Germany, where Kaiser Wilhelm II announced he was going to the theatre to watch The Merry Wives of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha.

Source: Elizabeth Longford, The Royal House of Windsor (1984), pp. 20–3

Saving San Diego

1916: Threatened by a severe water shortage, San Diego resorted to a rainmaker to fill its reservoirs. Charles Hatfield promised that for $10,000 he would fill the city’s Morena dam; if no rain fell, he wouldn’t get a cent.

Hatfield began work on New Year’s Day. Four days later, it began to rain – gently at first, and then heavier, and then in torrents. Too little rain became too much. Rivers broke their banks, bridges collapsed, roads and railway lines were cut, houses floated away.

When Hatfield demanded his $10,000, the city council refused to pay up and blamed him for the widespread damage. Hatfield filed a suit against the city, but never got his money.

Source: www.sandiegohistory.org/journal/
1970/january/hatfield/

Rasputin’s Comb

Portrait of Rasputin by Yuriy Annenkov

1915: The marriage of Nicholas II and Alexandra was affectionate, though “Sunny” clearly dominated weak-willed “Nicky”. To stiffen the tsar’s resolve before meeting ministers, she nagged him to part his hair with Grigori Rasputin’s comb.

Source: Nicholas II and Empress Alexandra, The Complete Wartime Correspondence of Tsar Nicholas II and the Empress Alexandra: April 1914–March 1917, ed. Joseph T. Fuhrmann (1999), pp. 237, 239

Dead Giveaway

1914: Lieutenant Erwin Rommel, in action for the first time, noticed the August sun glinting on the metal cooking pots on top of the tall packs of the French infantry as they tramped through fields of not-yet-harvested grain to where he waited in ambush.

Source: Erwin Rommel, Infantry Attacks (2006), p. 11

Nuisance Birds

1913: Gamekeepers on shooting estates in England and Scotland destroyed all birds and animals that in any way posed a threat to pheasants and their chicks.

In Adventures Among Birds, W.H. Hudson recalled a head keeper who slaughtered woodpeckers, blackbirds and thrushes because “he was not going to have the place swarming with birds that were no good for anything, and were always eating the pheasants’ food”; another keeper “shot all the nightingales because their singing kept the pheasants awake at night”.

Source: W.H. Hudson, Adventures Among Birds (1913), pp. 88, 89

Common pheasant, photographed by Dick Daniels

Boating Mishap

1912: George Lyttelton was dining with the headmaster of Eton when the provost’s wife came in with news that the Titanic had sunk. “Quivering slightly with age and dottiness”, she announced: “I am sorry to hear there has been a bad boating accident.”

Source: George Lyttelton and Rupert Hart-Davis, The Lyttelton Hart-Davis Letters: Correspondence of George Lyttelton and Rupert Hart-Davis, 1955–57, ed. Rupert Hart-Davis (1985), vols. 1 and 2, pp. 38–9