When Grandpa Was A Boy, Were There Any Dinosaurs?

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Cannon Fodder

1940: The American broadcaster William Shirer found it difficult to read the minds of Berliners thronging the Unter den Linden on Easter Sunday afternoon. “Their faces looked blank. Obviously they do not like the war, but they will do what they’re told. Die, for instance.”

Source: William L. Shirer, Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934–1941 (1941), p. 241

Cure For Sleepiness

1939: Straight-talking Winston Churchill went down well with wireless listeners. Two millworkers overheard in conversation in Bolton:
MW1: “Ah bet tha heard Churchill.”
MW2: “Aye – I did.”
MW1: “He doesn’t half give it them. I corn’t go to sleep when he’s on.”

Source: Tom Harrisson and Charles Madge, War Begins at Home (1940), p. 158

Singed Eyebrows

1938: In dense cloud over the south of France, a ball of lightning entered the open cockpit window of a B.O.A.C. flying boat, singed the captain’s eyebrows and hair, burned a hole in his seat belt, and then meandered harmlessly through the forward passenger cabin into the rear cabin, where it burst with a loud explosion.

Source: Nature, 5 April 1952

Spanish Shibboleth

1937: At the beginning of October, President Rafael Trujillo of the Dominican Republic ordered his soldiers to round up Haitians living on the Dominican side of the border between the two countries. To distinguish between Creole-speaking Haitians and Spanish-speaking Dominicans, the soldiers would hold up a sprig of parsley and ask, What is this? Those who could not roll the “r” of the Spanish word “perejil” gave themselves away as Haitians.

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Young Maggie

1936: Margaret Roberts was a pupil at Kesteven and Grantham Girls’ School from autumn 1936 until summer 1943. Her nickname – years before “Thatcher the Milk Snatcher” and “The Iron Lady” – was “Snobby Roberts”.

Source: Biographical Dictionary of British Prime Ministers, ed. Robert Eccleshall and Graham Walker (1998), p. 361

Culture Shock

Pearl Buck, photographed by Arnold Genthe

1934: Pearl Buck had lived so long in China that on her return to America she found she was a foreigner in her own country. Like most Chinese, Buck ate little meat and avoided dairy products altogether. She quickly noticed that white Americans smelled. The milk, butter and beef they consumed gave them “a rank wild odor, not quite a stink, but certainly distressing”.

Source: Pearl S. Buck, My Several Worlds: A Personal Record (1955), p. 315

Down On The Farm

1933: Heinrich Himmler often took his daughter Gudrun to visit Dachau. Gudrun was especially fond of the camp’s farm for breeding Angora rabbits.

Source: Harold Marcuse, Legacies of Dachau: The Uses and Abuses of a Concentration Camp, 1933–2001 (2001), p. 30

Vulgar Wailing

1932: “Ravel’s Bolero I submit as the most insolent monstrosity ever perpetrated in the history of music. From the beginning to the end of its 339 measures it is simply the incredible repetition of the same rhythm,” scoffed Edward Robinson in The American Mercury. The main theme, he wrote, was “an overwhelmingly vulgar cabaret tune”, little different from “the wail of an obstreperous back-alley cat”.

Source: Nicolas Slonimsky, Lexicon of Musical Invective: Critical Assaults on Composers Since Beethoven’s Time (2000), p. 138

Hot Pants

1931: On 12 August, the Hawera Star surprised readers with a story about exploding trousers. Richard Buckley, a local farmer, had placed his wet trousers in front of the fire to dry. As they warmed up, they “exploded with a loud report”.

Buckley’s trousers weren’t the only combustible clothing. Elsewhere in New Zealand, a load of laundry burst into flames on a washing line and a farmer’s trousers began to smoulder while he was actually wearing them.

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Quiet News Day

1930: The BBC had a narrow view of what was newsworthy and what wasn’t. If an item didn’t come up to the required standard, it wasn’t broadcast. No effort was made to pad out news bulletins to a standard length. On 18 April, a quiet news day, the BBC announcer simply declared, “There is no news tonight.”

Source: Paddy Scannell and David Cardiff, A Social History of British Broadcasting, I: 1922–1939, Serving the Nation (1991), p. 118

Engine Coolant

1928: A motor track was constructed from the Persian Gulf through the foothills of the Zagros to Gach Sārān, where, in that same year, oil was discovered in large quantities.

The rugged road and sizzling temperatures were too much for most vehicles. Engines overheated and took hours to cool. Only one lorry could overcome the terrain and the heat; while the others panted and wheezed, this particular vehicle barely raised a sweat as it climbed the steep slopes.

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Fertile Imagination

1927: What’s on a man’s mind? In the case of Leoš Janáček, quite clearly, his lover’s breasts. They were a motif in the Moravian composer’s letters to Kamila Stösslová at the end of 1927. He imagined them rippling like little waves on the River Otava or swelling like the open sea, and fantasized once about covering them with sheets of music.

Source: Leoš Janáček and Kamila Stösslová, Intimate Letters: Leoš Janáček to Kamila Stösslová , ed. John Tyrrell (2005), pp. 140–1, 150, 156, 161–2

“In My Day . . .”

1926: John Daniell captained Somerset cricket team for the last time, and soon after, played his last first-class match for the county.

Some years later, Daniell was watching a match at Taunton, when the bowler bowled a delivery that struck Frank Lee, the batsman, in the box.

“The box, you say. What namby-pamby nonsense is that?” Daniell spluttered.

A few minutes later, the same thing happened again. “What does he need a so-called box for?” Daniell thundered. “In my day, we hit fours with our private parts.”

Source: The Guardian, 12 January 2007

Icing On The Cake

1925: Marian Arnold’s husband worked for the China Navigation Company and the Insurance Department of Butterfield & Swire. Years later, she reminisced about their time in China.

She remembered in particular a lunch party at a friend’s house. The friend’s Chinese cook was a talented cake maker. The lunch guests were so impressed by his beautifully decorated gâteau that he was summoned from the kitchen and warmly praised. The cook was very flattered. The hostess was very pleased. She asked whether he had iced the cake with the fancy icing set she had bought at a Shanghai department store.

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Realpolitik

1924: Norway’s decision to extend diplomatic recognition to the Soviet Union was impelled, in part, by the need to find markets for the Norwegian herring catch. Twelve years later, herrings again played an unexpected role in bilateral relations. The Norwegian government, fearful that the Soviets would halt purchases of the fish, gagged the political exile Leon Trotsky, and then put him on board a ship to Mexico.

Source: Donald Rayfield, Stalin and His Hangmen: An Authoritative Portrait of a Tyrant and Those Who Served Him (2004), pp. 259–60, 261, 271

Career Advice

Hollywood “It Girl” Clara Bow, photographed by Nicholas Murray

1923: Clara Bow, the “It Girl” of Hollywood silent movies, made her first screen appearance in Down to the Sea in Ships. Her mentally ill mother, who regarded heavily made-up actresses as no better than prostitutes, had threatened to kill her to keep her out of films. “You ain’t goin’ inta pictures,” she had ranted. “You ain’t gonna be no hoor.”

Source: David Stenn, Clara Bow: Runnin’ Wild (1989), pp. 13, 22–3

Clinging To Life

1921: Famine killed an estimated 5 million people in the Volga region of Soviet Russia. Among the starving refugees at Samara, the British journalist Arthur Ransome came upon “a silently weeping little girl” with a “wizened dead face, pale green”, and on the east bank of the Volga, “an old woman cooking horsedung in a broken saucepan”.

Source: www.theguardian.com/century/
1920-1929/Story/0,,126591,00.html

Beauty Regime

1920: “Like every morning I have had my enema, in order to preserve a clear skin and sweet breath,” wrote Princess Ghika in her notebook on 11 January. “It is a family habit, approved of by Dr Pinard,” explained the princess, the former demi-mondaine Liane de Pougy. “One of Maman’s old great-aunts, the beautiful Madame Rhomès, died at the age of ninety and a half with a complexion of lilies and roses, skin like a child’s. She took her little enema, it seems, at five o’clock every evening, so that she would sleep very well. She did it cheerfully in public. She would simply stand in front of the fireplace; her servant would come in discreetly, armed with the loaded syringe; Madame Rhomès would lean forward gracefully so that her full skirts lifted, one two three, and it was done! Conversation was not interrupted. After a minute or two my beautiful ancestress would disappear briefly, soon to return with the satisfaction of a duty performed.”

Source: Liane de Pougy, My Blue Notebooks (1979), p. 83