When Grandpa Was A Boy, Were There Any Dinosaurs?

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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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