When Grandpa Was A Boy, Were There Any Dinosaurs?

When Grandpa Was a Boy, Were There Any Dinosaurs?

A Popular History of the 20th Century

Nobel Hotspot

Derek Walcott, photographed by Bert Nienhuis in 2008

1992: If braininess were measured in terms of number of Nobel Prize winners relative to size of population, Saint Lucia would have a strong claim to be the world’s brainiest country. The Caribbean island, with a population of less than 150,000, celebrated its first Nobel Prize winner, Arthur Lewis, for economics, in 1979, and its second, Derek Walcott, for literature, in 1992.

Source: Guy Ellis, St Lucia: Helen of the West Indies (2006), pp. 1, 2, 8

Disorientated

NASA photo of cosmonaut Sergei Krikalev

1991: The Soviet cosmonaut Sergei Krikalev blasted off from Baikonur Cosmodrome for the Mir space station on 18 May. During the 312 days he spent in orbit, communist hardliners staged a short-lived coup against Mikhail Gorbachev, the Commonwealth of Independent States was formed, and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics officially ceased to exist. When Krikalev returned to Earth on 25 March 1992, he landed in the newly independent state of Kazakhstan.

Source: Brian Harvey, Russia in Space: The Failed Frontier? (2001), pp. 29–32

Shorter Queues

1990: “I don’t believe all our propaganda about you starving in the West.” The quote, near the end of Robert Carver’s travel book The Accursed Mountains, came from “an intellectual in Leningrad”. “I think you have queues at your shops, like us,” the man said, but “not as long as ours.”

Source: Robert Carver, The Accursed Mountains: Journeys in Albania (1998), p. 330

Summary Justice

1989: On Christmas Day, deposed Romanian leader Nicolae Ceaușescu and his wife, Elena, were put on trial for genocide, armed attacks against the people, the destruction of buildings and state institutions, and undermining the national economy. The prosecution offered scant evidence, but it was enough to satisfy the military tribunal. In less than an hour the Ceaușescus were found guilty and sentenced to death. The couple were immediately taken outside and shot.

Source: Peter Siani-Davies, The Romanian Revolution of December 1989 (2005), pp. 136–41

Infinitely Slowly

John Mainstone, of the University of Queensland, photographed in 1990 with the pitch drop experiment

1988: For half a century, John Mainstone oversaw the University of Queensland’s pitch drop experiment, in which pitch – the tarry substance used to make boat seams watertight – dripped infinitely slowly from a funnel into a flask. Set up in 1927, the experiment demonstrated that pitch is not a solid, but an extremely viscous liquid.

Although a drop fell from the funnel only once every decade or so, paradoxically, when this happened, it happened in an instant. One weekend in April 1979, aware that a drop was about to fall, Mainstone kept a close watch on the experiment, but nothing happened, so he went home. When he returned on Monday, the drop had fallen. Nine years later, he was determined to witness the next drop, but briefly abandoned his vigil to go for a cup of tea. When he came back, the drop had fallen.

Source: www.wnycstudios.org/story/
267176-never-quite-now

Out Of Limbo

1987: The antiretroviral drug AZT, developed in the 1960s to combat cancer, proved too toxic for its intended use. After years in pharmaceutical limbo, the drug returned to favour in the 1980s when it was found it could treat HIV and AIDS – appropriate, given that it was first isolated from herring sperm.

Source: Barry D. Schoub, AIDS & HIV in Perspective: A Guide to Understanding the Virus and Its Consequences (1999), pp. 177–9

Easy Peasy

1986: A year after CIA counterintelligence officer Aldrich Ames began betraying secrets to the Soviets, the American spy agency scheduled a lie detector test for him. Although it was only a routine test, it put the wind up Ames.

He got in contact with the KGB and asked them to suggest ways to foil the polygraph. Their advice: “Get a good night’s sleep, and rest, and go into the test rested and relaxed. Be nice to the polygraph examiner, develop a rapport, and be cooperative and try to maintain your calm.”

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Moscow Calling

U.S. President Ronald Reagan

1985: When his hearing aid started playing up during a White House briefing on the Soviet Union, President Ronald Reagan turned to intelligence official Robert Gates, smiled, and said, “My KGB handler must be trying to reach me.”

Source: Robert M. Gates, From the Shadows: The Ultimate Insider’s Story of Five Presidents and How They Won the Cold War (1996), p. 344

Deceptively Peaceful

1982: The 26 March issue of The Penguin News included articles on Polish sailors jumping ship in the Falklands (the 11 seamen represented “an increase in the population of the Falklands of over one half of one per-cent”), the construction of six houses in Stanley (“the biggest spate of house building that the capital has seen for many years”), and the horticultural society’s annual vegetable and home produce show (entries were “much more numerous” than the previous year). In fact, rather like a parish magazine, except that other articles expressed unease on a topic of wider importance: Argentine claims to the Falklands. The islanders were right to be apprehensive; a week later Argentine troops invaded the islands, which put an end to all that parochial calm.

Source: www.fig.gov.fk/archives/online-
collections/periodicals/penguin-news

Underwater Activity

1981: Animals can sometimes make humans look really stupid.

In October, a Soviet submarine ran aground on rocks close to the naval base at Karlskrona in southern Sweden. This was undeniable evidence of foreign intrusion into Swedish territorial waters, and it made Swedes jumpy.

For the next decade, unidentified submarines were frequently reported along the country’s coastline.

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Defence Of Honour

1980: Under Colombia’s new Legal Code, parents who murdered their daughters, husbands who murdered their wives, and siblings who murdered their sisters could no longer get away with lighter sentences by claiming to have killed in defence of honour.

Source: Las Mujeres en la Historia de Colombia: Tomo 1: Mujeres, Historia y Política, ed. Magdala Velásquez Toro (1995), p. 425

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

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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Brum Tory Slogan

1964: The Tory candidate in the Birmingham constituency of Smethwick secured victory in October’s general election by tapping into the racial anxieties of the white population. A slogan going round the town warned voters: “If you want a nigger neighbour, vote Labour.”

Source: Robert Winder, Bloody Foreigners: The Story of Immigration to Britain (2009), p. 374

Pandiatonic Clusters

1963: Music critic William Mann praised John Lennon and Paul McCartney as the “outstanding English composers of 1963”. Writing in The Times, Mann drew attention to the “chains of pandiatonic clusters”, “flat submediant key switches” and “major tonic sevenths and ninths” in the Beatles’ music. He detected “melismas with altered vowels” in “She Loves You” and an “Aeolian cadence” at the end of “Not a Second Time”. All of which presumably went clean over the heads of the group’s screaming, swooning fans.

Source: Dominic Pedler, The Songwriting Secrets of The Beatles (2003), chap. 5