When Grandpa Was A Boy, Were There Any Dinosaurs?

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Haggis Burgers

1978: The British art historian Sir Anthony Blunt visited Germany for a Poussin exhibition. As he passed a McDonald’s takeaway, he remarked to his companions: “How strange to find a Scottish restaurant in Düsseldorf.”

Source: Brian Sewell, Outsider II: Always Almost: Never Quite: An Autobiography (2012), pp. 126–7

Test Or Taste

1976: When Shashikant Phadnis, an Indian chemistry researcher at Queen Elizabeth College, in London, was instructed to “test” a sucrose derivative, he mistakenly thought his supervisor said “taste” it. Phadnis did as he thought he was told, and dabbed the compound on his tongue. This potentially lethal mistake – the chemical could have been toxic – resulted in the fortuitous discovery of an exceptionally sweet substance, which was later named sucralose and developed commercially as an artificial sweetener.

Source: New Scientist, 19 June 1986

Catching A Gonk

1975: Wartime slang among Rhodesia’s white population:
catch a gonk phr. take a nap
chibuli n. beer
flat dog or mobile handbag n. crocodile
flatten a chibuli phr. down a beer
floppy n. terrorist or guerrilla (because they flop down when shot)
jam stealer n. non-combatant soldier
slot a floppy phr. shoot a terrorist
tick taxi n. dog

Source: A Concise Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English, ed. Paul Beale (1991), pp. 531–2

Stuck For A Title

1974: When Peter Benchley finished his story about an enormous shark terrorizing a beach resort on the East Coast of the United States, he was stuck for a title. His father, the novelist and children’s writer Nathaniel Benchley, suggested What’s That Noshin’ on My Laig?. Thanks, dad. In the end, Peter decided to call it Jaws.

Source: André Bernard, Now All We Need Is a Title: Famous Book Titles and How They Got That Way (1995), p. 15

Founder Member

1973: Vladimir Lenin’s best years as a political leader were well behind him, but when the Communist Party of the Soviet Union decided to renew party documents, he was issued party card number 00000001.

Source: John Gray, The Immortalization Commission: Science and the Strange Quest to Cheat Death (2011), p. 169

Messy Picnickers

1971: Like messy picnickers, astronauts on the Apollo moon missions scattered their empty food packages on the ground, trampled all over the place, and didn’t take their rubbish home. Neil Armstrong and Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin left more than 100 items at the Sea of Tranquillity. Between 1969 and 1972, at six different landing sites, American astronauts left behind them earplugs, facial wet wipes, towels, two golf balls, 12 pairs of boots and 96 bags of urine, faeces and vomit.

Source: www.theatlantic.com/
technology/archive/2012/12/the-
trash-weve-left-on-the-moon/266465/

Lost For Words

1970: The philosopher Bertrand Russell died on 2 February at the age of 97. Shortly after, The Times printed an anecdote, contributed by Valerie Eliot, the widow of T.S. Eliot. By coincidence, the poet had once caught a taxi a few evenings after the driver had picked up Russell – two celebrity passengers in quick succession. Eliot listened as the taxi driver recounted his recent conversation with the philosopher. “Well, Lord Russell, what’s it all about?” he had asked. “And do you know,” the cabby told Eliot, “he couldn’t tell me.”

Source: The Times, 10 February 1970

Young Racist

1968: The only black people on the whites-only Orient Beach at East London, in South Africa, were a sad-looking cleaner in blue overalls, and a girl who sold ice creams, whose black feet left footprints in the wet sand. Seven-year-old Don McRae wasn’t sure she should be allowed on the beach barefoot. Whenever he visited the beach, he made sure his small, white, prejudiced feet “stepped over her black footsteps”.

Source: Donald McRae, Under Our Skin: A White Family’s Journey through South Africa’s Darkest Years (2012), p. 46

Franco Strikes Lucky

Francisco Franco, photographed in 1950

1967: What do dictators do at the weekend, after a busy week dictating? Francisco Franco doubtless checked the pools results. The Spanish leader was keen on football, and each week he filled out a pools coupon. In May he struck lucky and won 900,000 pesetas.

Source: Paul Preston, Franco: A Biography (1993), pp. 700, 731

Tapeworm Blamed

1966: On the afternoon of 6 September, a parliamentary messenger named Demetrio Tsafendas stabbed and killed Prime Minister Hendrik Verwoerd in the chamber of South Africa’s House of Assembly. Tsafendas was quickly labelled a “crank” and a “madman”: he had a history of mental illness, he had been detained in institutions in several countries, and he was obsessed with, and his actions driven by, an illusory tapeworm in his stomach.

Source: Tiffany Fawn Jones, Psychiatry, Mental Institutions, and the Mad in Apartheid South Africa (2012), pp. 86–92

Mental Decline

1965: William Somerset Maugham and Winston Spencer Churchill were almost exact contemporaries. Maugham was born at the beginning of 1874, Churchill at the end; Churchill died at the beginning of 1965, Maugham at the end. As the two men grew old, their physical and mental health declined, though Maugham liked to think that he had withstood the passage of time better than Churchill. “If you think I’m g-g-ga-ga,” he stuttered, “you should see W-W-Winston!”

Source: S.N. Behrman, Tribulations and Laughter: A Memoir (1972), p. 308

Up In The World

Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev, photographed in 1967 by Ulrich Kohls

1964: Leonid Brezhnev replaced Nikita Khrushchev at the top of the Soviet pecking order. Brezhnev enjoyed the trappings of power, with no Marxist misgivings about the privileged lifestyle of the communist leadership.

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Crystal Ball

Shipowner Aristotle Onassis, photographed in 1967

1963: Soon after President John Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Charles de Gaulle predicted that the president’s widow would end up on the yacht of an oil tycoon. In 1968, Jacqueline Kennedy married Aristotle Onassis. Onassis had made his money in shipping, not oil, but he did have a very large yacht.

Source: André Malraux, Fallen Oaks: Conversation with De Gaulle (1972), p. 55