When Grandpa Was A Boy, Were There Any Dinosaurs?

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Giveaway Vegetable

1942: The poet Robert Graves, living in south Devon, had his application to join the special constabulary blocked by the village policeman. Three reasons: first, because of Graves’s suspicious German middle name, von Ranke: second, because Graves had been heard “talking a foreign language to two disreputable foreigners” – refugees from Franco’s Spain, as it happened; and third, because someone had scratched the words HEIL HITLER! on a marrow in his garden.

Source: Robert Graves, Goodbye to All That (1982), p. 281

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

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