When Grandpa Was A Boy, Were There Any Dinosaurs?

Category archive: 1970s

Starvation Diet

Kurt Gödel, photographed as a student in Vienna in the 1920s

1978: Breakfast, for the mathematician Kurt Gödel, generally consisted of a single egg, one spoonful of tea, or possibly two, and sometimes a little milk or orange juice. For lunch, he usually ate string beans, but never any meat. In the last months of his life, Gödel’s obsessive fear of poisoning meant that he existed on navel oranges, white bread and soup – though he stopped buying soup when the grocery store put up the price by two cents. At the time of his death, from “malnutrition and inanition” resulting from a “personality disturbance”, Gödel’s weight had dropped to 30 kilograms.

Source: John W. Dawson, Jr., Logical Dilemmas: The Life and Work of Kurt Gödel (1997), pp. 248–53

Taking Revenge

1977: When his first wife, Elaine, confessed to an affair with another man, Kenneth Tynan caned her – he got a thrill out of caning. One stroke for each letter of his wife’s lover’s name:
K-I-N-G-S-L-E-Y-A-M-I-S

Source: Kenneth Tynan, The Diaries of Kenneth Tynan, ed. John Lahr (2002), p. 374

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

Bearing The Brunt

1979: The introduction, in 1979, of a one-child family policy in China was followed by more intrusive birth control measures that reached a peak in 1983. The number of abortions increased from 5.4 million in 1978 to 14.4 million in 1983, while sterilisations jumped from 3.3 million to 20.8 million. Women bore the brunt: female sterilisations outnumbered male sterilisations by three to two in 1973; by 1985, four times as many women as men were operated on; in 2000, the ratio was more than five to one.

Source: Susan Greenhalgh and Edwin A. Winckler, Governing China’s Population: From Leninist to Neoliberal Biopolitics (2005), pp. 255–61

Final Breath

1977: The novelist Vladimir Nabokov died in a Swiss hospital (window carelessly left open, bronchitis) at the age of 78. Véra, his wife, and Dmitri, his son, were in the room. With his last breath, said Dmitri, his father emitted “a triple moan of descending pitch”.

Source: The Observer, 25 October 2009

Global Cooling

1975: “There are ominous signs that the earth’s weather patterns have begun to change dramatically and that these changes may portend a drastic decline in food production,” warned a science story in Newsweek. “The evidence in support of these predictions has now begun to accumulate so massively that meteorologists are hard-pressed to keep up with it.” What evidence? A shorter growing season in Britain, drought near the equator, lots of tornadoes in the United States. “The central fact is that after three quarters of a century of extraordinarily mild conditions, the earth’s climate seems to be cooling down.”

Source: Newsweek, 28 April 1975

V For Victory

Richard Nixon signals V for victory as he leaves the White House, photographed by Ollie Atkins

1974: Faced with impeachment over the Watergate scandal, Richard Nixon resigned the presidency of the United States. Even in utter disgrace, Nixon managed a final act of bravado. As he climbed aboard the helicopter that would whisk him away from the White House, he lifted both arms and stuck out his fingers in a V sign – V for victory.

Source: Stephen E. Ambrose, Nixon: Ruin and Recovery 1973–1990 (1991), p. 445

Forcible Removal

1973: In certain parts of medieval Switzerland it was the practice to cut an ear off any loitering gypsies. The message from the sedentary population was clear: go away and stay away.

In 20th-century Switzerland the charity Pro Juventute separated the children of Jenisch travelling people from their parents and placed them in orphanages or with foster parents among the wider community, so as to “improve” the children through education. In time, it was hoped, the supposed scourge of nomadism would be removed and the Jenisch way of life would fade away.

Between 1926 and 1973 the Kinder der Landstrasse (“Children of the Open Road”) project systematically and often forcibly removed over 700 Jenisch children from their parents, until a Swiss magazine exposed what was happening, and public outrage forced it to end.

Source: Mitya New, Switzerland Unwrapped: Exposing the Myths (1997), pp. 108–9

“Clinical Material”

1972: For 40 years, black men in Alabama were the unwitting participants in a Public Health Service study of the effects of untreated syphilis. From 1932 until 1972, when The Associated Press broke the story, the Tuskegee Study followed the progress of the disease in a group of 399 men. No effort was made to cure the men. When penicillin became available for the treatment of syphilis, it was deliberately withheld from them, since its use would interfere with the experiment. By the time the study was terminated, at least 28 and possibly as many as 100 of the participants had died from complications caused by the disease. “They were subjects, not patients;” James H. Jones observed in Bad Blood, “clinical material, not sick people.”

Source: James H. Jones, Bad Blood: The Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment (1993), pp. 1–2, 179

Killer Robot

1979: “A robot may not injure a human being, or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.” Isaac Asimov’s laws of robotics notwithstanding, this year saw the first known killing of a human by a robot. On 25 January, workers at a Ford Motor Company plant in Flat Rock, Michigan, noticed that a robot appeared to be giving incorrect information about the number of parts stored on shelves. When Robert Williams climbed on to a shelf to investigate, he was fatally struck on the head by the robot’s arm.

Source: The New York Times, 11 August 1983

Foreign Bodies

1974: Over a five-year period, St. Vincent’s Hospital and Medical Center of New York treated 28 patients with foreign bodies lodged in the rectum or with perforations of the colon resulting from “self-administered instrumentation”. Plastic battery-powered vibrators were the instrument of choice; other items used included bottles, bananas, a broom handle and an onion.

Source: Annals of Surgery, November 1976

High Altitude

Rüppell’s griffon, photographed by Rodney Campbell

1973: On 29 November, a commercial aircraft collided with a vulture over Abidjan, the capital of Ivory Coast, at an altitude of more than 11,000 metres. The impact damaged one of the plane’s engines and made a nasty mess of the vulture, a Rüppell’s griffon, but bolstered its reputation as the world’s highest-flying bird.

Source: The Wilson Bulletin, December 1974

Efficacious

Greater galangal, photographed at a Bangkok market by Susan Slater

1972: “The rhizome [of greater galangal] dyes wool yellow,” remarked G.A.C. Herklots in Vegetables in South-East Asia, “and it is efficacious for all ailments of elephants.”

Source: G.A.C. Herklots, Vegetables in South-East Asia (1972), pp. 485–6

Birth Of Email

1971: It was the year of the first email address and the first network email message. Computer programmer Ray Tomlinson created the first address, tomlinson@bbn-tenexa, which he then used to send the first message: “QWERTYUIOP” or “TESTING 1 2 3 4” or something similar, Tomlinson vaguely recalled – “the content was insignificant and forgettable”.

Source: http://openmap.bbn.com/
~tomlinso/
ray/firstemailframe.html

Lethal Cocktails

1970: “Drink more, eat less,” advised the Russian writer Venedikt Yerofeev. Moscow Stations, his account of a drunken rail trip across the Soviet Union, included recipes for his favourite and most lethal cocktails. Spirit of Geneva: a mixture of Zhiguli beer, spirit varnish, White Lilac toilet water and sock deodorizer. The Tear of a Komsomol Girl: lemonade and mouthwash with smaller quantities of Forest Water eau de Cologne, lavender water, verbena and nail varnish, stirred for 20 minutes with a sprig of honeysuckle. And, “last and best”, Dog’s Giblets: Zhiguli beer and anti-dandruff solution combined with Sadko the Wealthy Guest shampoo, brake fluid, insecticide and superglue.

Source: Venedikt Yerofeev, Moscow Stations (1997), pp. 46–51