When Grandpa Was A Boy, Were There Any Dinosaurs?

Category archive: 1970s

Without Precedent

1979: After months of strikes, dubbed the “winter of discontent” by British media, the government of James Callaghan faced a parliamentary motion of no confidence on the evening of 28 March.

House of Commons catering staff had “chosen this of all nights to go on strike”, so hungry and thirsty politicians and reporters had to make do without cakes, tea, coffee and alcohol.

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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

Claim To Fame

1978: The popularity of the Golden Gate Bridge with would-be suicides has been attributed to the bridge’s fame, to copycat behaviour, to the likelihood that a leap from the bridge will be fatal (very few people survive the impact with the water far below), and to the ease with which those intent on suicide can get over the bridge’s guard rails (which are little more than waist-high).

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Space Ambitions

1977: President Mobutu Sésé Seko intended that the launch, on 17 May, of a rocket from Shaba province, in eastern Zaïre, would set the country on course to join the select club of space nations. The rocket, designed and built by the West German company OTRAG as an inexpensive alternative to NASA and European Space Agency rockets, reached an altitude of 20 kilometres. But any hopes that Shaba would become the Cape Canaveral of Africa, putting satellites into orbit at cut-rate prices, received a severe setback a year later, when another rocket crashed immediately after takeoff, directly in front of the country’s watching president.

Source: David van Reybrouck, Congo: The Epic History of a People (2014), pp. 365–7, 369–70

Greater Gravitas

1975: Margaret Thatcher worked hard to improve her public speaking skills. Analysis of recordings showed that over a decade she succeeded in lowering the pitch of her voice by about 60 hertz, which made her sound more assertive, gave her more gravitas. She had less success with the tone of her voice. Even at the end of her political career it still sounded (to use Clive James’s description) like a “condescending explanatory whine” that treated the person on the receiving end as if they were “an eight-year-old child with personality deficiencies”.

Source: Anne Karpf, The Human Voice: The Story of a Remarkable Talent (2006), pp. 226–9

Tom Swift And Taser

1974: Inventor Jack Cover secured a patent for a “weapon for subduing and constraining” that consisted of a projectile “connected by means of a relatively fine, conductive wire to a launcher which contains an electrical power supply”. Cover called his stun gun a Taser, an acronym he derived from one of his favourite childhood books, Tom Swift and His Electric Rifle.

Source: Los Angeles Times, 13 February 2009

Gusty In Greenland

1972: A storm that battered the Thule area of Greenland on 8 and 9 March produced winds gusting to 333 km/h, which broke both the meteorological record for peak wind speed at low altitude and the anemometer measuring them.

Source: www.557weatherwing.af.mil/
News/Features/Display/Article/
872212/two-of-thules-extreme-storms/

Blood Type

1971: The journalist Nomi Masahiko wasn’t the first to suggest that blood type influences personality, but the popularity of his book Understanding Affinity by Blood Type gave the theory a big boost in Japan. People with type A blood – so the theory goes – are sensible but stubborn; those with type B are creative but selfish; type ABs are sociable but indecisive; and Os are optimistic but arrogant.

Source: www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-
20170787

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