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

Sibling Rivalry

Sand shark, photographed by Richard Ling

1948: When Stewart Springer, who worked for a Florida shark fishing company, reached inside the oviduct of a heavily pregnant sand shark, he was bitten on the hand. (Serves him right, you might say, for putting his hand there in the first place.) He had been nibbled by “an exceedingly active embryo which dashed about open mouthed inside the oviduct”. Springer had discovered one of the less endearing qualities of the sand shark – intrauterine cannibalism – in which the dominant embryo devours the other embryos until it is the only one left in the womb.

Source: Copeia, 1948

Enthusiastic Party

Henry “Chips” Channon, photographed in 1930

1947: Henry “Chips” Channon was delighted with the dinner he hosted at his London home on 25 November. The house in Belgrave Square “looked very grand and glittering, lit up and full of yellow chrysanthemums”; the queens of Spain and Romania attended; and William Somerset Maugham complimented him, “This is the apogee of your career.” The drinks contributed to the success of the evening. “I ‘laced’ the cocktails with Benzedrine,” Channon revealed in his diary, “which I find always makes a party go.”

Source: Sir Henry Channon, Chips: The Diaries of Sir Henry Channon, ed. Robert Rhodes James (1967), p. 419

“Gryte Blytheness”

1946: William Lorimer embarked on a translation of the New Testament into Scots. The stories are familiar and the language mostly recognizable. In the Nativity, for example, Mary “wis fund tae be wi bairn bi the Halie Spirit”. Jesus was born in a stable, “sin there wis nae room for them intil the inn”. Angels brought “guid news o gryte blytheness” to nearby shepherds, who “hied owre tae Bethlehem” to see the newborn child. “Spaemen frae the Aist” followed a “stairn gaein on afore them, on an on,” and when it “stappit abuin the houss”, they went inside and fell on their knees and “wurshippit” him.

Source: The New Testament in Scots, tr. William Laughton Lorimer (2012), pp. 3, 4, 101–2

Casualty Of War

1945: One of the many victims of the Second World War was the Wake Island rail, a flightless land bird that scuttled about the remote Pacific atoll, but was found nowhere else. Japanese forces occupied Wake at the beginning of hostilities. When the garrison’s supply route was cut, starving soldiers hunted the rail to extinction.

Source: Errol Fuller, Extinct Birds (2000), pp. 127–8

Genuine Applause

Anna Akhmatova, from a 1922 portrait by Kuzma Petrov-Vodkin

1944: Stalin loved applause, as long as it was directed at him. Applause for others made him jealous and suspicious. After the entire audience at the Polytechnic Museum in Moscow had spontaneously stood up to acclaim the poet Anna Akhmatova, Stalin reputedly asked, “Who organized this standing ovation?”

Source: Nadezhda Mandelstam, Hope Abandoned: A Memoir (1974), pp. 375–6

Mark Of Identity

1941: Like all adult German Jews, Victor Klemperer was forced, from the middle of September, to identify himself in public by wearing the distinctive Judenstern, or Jewish star, for which he was obliged to pay 10 pfennigs.

Source: Victor Klemperer, I Shall Bear Witness: The Diaries of Victor Klemperer 1933–41, ed. Martin Chalmers (1998), p. 414

Castro Offers Deal

1940: “I am twelve years old. I am a boy but I think very much.”

Writing to his “good friend Roosvelt”, the young Cuban student offered a deal: “If you want iron to make your sheaps ships I will show to you the bigest (minas) of iron of the land”; in return, he requested that the American president enclose “a ten dollars bill green american, in the letter, because never, I have not seen a ten dollars bill green american and I would like to have one”.

At the end of his short letter the boy who thought very much signed off with an elaborate signature: Fidel Castro.

Source: www.lettersofnote.com/2009/
09/my-good-friend-roosvelt.html

Wholesale Slaughter

1939: “They are saying, ‘The generals learned their lesson in the last war. There are going to be no wholesale slaughters,’ ” Evelyn Waugh wrote in his diary on 1 November. “I ask, how is victory possible except by wholesale slaughters?”

Source: Evelyn Waugh, The Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, ed. Michael Davie (1976), pp. 448–9

Lollipop Period

1938: Art historians might quibble, but the summer of 1938 could be regarded as Pablo Picasso’s Lollipop Period. On holiday in the south of France, he drew and painted a series of pictures depicting mostly men sucking lollipops or licking ice creams.

Source: Sabine Rewald, Twentieth Century Modern Masters: The Jacques and Natasha Gelman Collection (1989), pp. 206–9

Airdrops

1937: In southern Spain, Nationalist pilots devised a technique similar to dive-bombing to drop supplies within the perimeter defended by civil guards and Falangists at the mountain monastery of Santa María de la Cabeza. Fragile supplies – medical appliances, for example – were attached to turkeys, which were released over the monastery. The birds plunged towards the earth in flight that was characterized as “heavy, majestic, and vertical” (“lento, majestuoso y relativamente vertical”).

Source: Hugh Thomas, The Spanish Civil War (2001), pp. 611–2

Glum Outlook

1936: Having sold only two copies of More Pricks Than Kicks in a year, Samuel Beckett’s publisher was understandably reticent about his next effort, Murphy. A further 41 publishers turned the novel down before it was eventually accepted.

“I do not feel like spending the rest of my life writing books that no one will read,” Beckett wrote to a friend. Thoroughly disillusioned, he contemplated swapping his desk and typewriter for an aircraft cockpit. “I hope I am not too old to take it up seriously, nor too stupid about machines to qualify as a commercial pilot.”

Source: Samuel Beckett, The Letters of Samuel Beckett, Vol. I: 1929–1940, ed. Martha Dow Fehsenfeld and Loise More Overbeck (2009), p. 362

Kenyatta On Screen

Jomo Kenyatta depicted on a 1964 Kenyan postage stamp

1935: Sanders of the River combined footage filmed on location in Africa – tribal dancing, wild animals, native canoes – with a storyline shot at an African village constructed in a film studio near London. The black extras for the British sequences were mainly dockers, but also included an overseas student named Johnstone Kenyatta. Thirty years later, having changed his first name in the interim to Jomo, Kenyatta became the prime minister and then the president of independent Kenya.

Source: Stephen Bourne, Black in the British Frame: The Black Experience in British Film and Television (2001), p. 36

Nazi Sympathizers

1934: Norfolk farmers showed little sympathy for skylarks, regarding them as pests that damaged winter crops. Newspapers offered farmers some support for the need to control lark numbers. The migration of larks from northern Europe and recent political developments in Germany were behind one finger-wagging headline: “Skylarks that sing to Nazis will get no mercy here”.

Source: Paul F. Donald, The Skylark (2004), p. 225

Cockroach Whiskers

NKVD mugshot of Osip Mandelstam

1933: The poets Osip Mandelstam and Demian Bedny landed themselves in trouble for injudicious comments about Stalin. Mandelstam described how
His cockroach whiskers leer
and
His fingers are fat as grubs
and Bedny wrote in his diary that books he lent to the Soviet leader came back with greasy fingermarks on the pages.

Source: Nadezhda Mandelstam, Hope Against Hope: A Memoir (1971), pp. 13, 26

Painful Birth

1932: Jessie Beale accompanied her husband, a forest manager with a teak firm, into the foothills of Burma. At Karen and Kachin villages they distributed Epsom salts, boracic washes and aspirin. Other than that, the villagers had to rely on local medical care, some of it “pretty grim”.

“I once saw a poor girl who was being looked after by some old women in childbirth. They put a plank on her stomach and jumped on it to force her baby out.”

Source: Lines from a Shining Land, ed. Derek Brooke-Wavell (1998), p. 9

Cryptic Cinema

1930: The Film Society was sufficiently impressed by Germaine Dulac’s surrealist silent film La Coquille et le Clergyman, to screen it, with English subtitles, at a London cinema. The British Board of Film Censors took a dimmer view of the film’s merits and rejected it for general release, supposedly on the grounds that it was “so cryptic as to be almost meaningless. If there is a meaning, it is doubtless objectionable”.

Source: James C. Robertson, The Hidden Cinema: British Film Censorship in Action, 1913–1972 (1989), pp. 38–9

Breast Reduction

1929: For almost a thousand years, women had been banned from the monastic communities on Mount Athos, in northern Greece. The French journalist Maryse Choisy, however, managed to sneak in and stay for a month. She claimed she had improved her disguise beforehand by having her breasts “appropriately trimmed” by a plastic surgeon.

Source: Maryse Choisy, A Month among the Men (1962), p. 11

“Kindly Firm”

1928: Treat your children as if they were young adults, the psychologist John Watson advised parents. “Always be objective and kindly firm. Never hug and kiss them, never let them sit in your lap. If you must, kiss them once on the forehead when they say good night. Shake hands with them in the morning. . . . Try it out.”

Source: John B. Watson, Psychological Care of Infant and Child (1928), p. 73

Tea With Auden

1927: In his final year as an undergraduate at Oxford, Wystan Auden fell for an attractive newcomer named Gabriel Carritt. Auden became close friends with the Carritt family, even if they were initially startled by his bluntness. (“Mrs Carritt,” he said one day, “my tea tastes like tepid piss.”)

Source: Humphrey Carpenter, W.H. Auden: A Biography (1992), pp. 75–8

Rich Vein Of Humour

1926: Life and Laughter ’Midst the Cannibals was Clifford Collinson’s account of his adventures in the Solomon Islands and not, as the book’s title might imply, a hodge-podge of missionary-in-the-cooking-pot jokes.

Source: Clifford W. Collinson, Life and Laughter ’Midst the Cannibals (1926)

Plodding Past

1925: In his efforts to modernize Persia, Rezā Shāh Pahlavi took a dim view of anything that drew attention to the country’s backwardness. Camels, for example. Camels were an anachronism in a modernized, motorized nation. So Rezā Shāh prohibited photographs of camels.

Source: Christopher de Bellaigue, Patriot of Persia: Muhammad Mossadegh and a Very British Coup (2012), pp. 78–9

Say It In Hausa

1924: A Hausa Phrase Book provided colonial officials in northern Nigeria with the language to deal with embarrassing situations (“I have been robbed of my trousers”) and domestic difficulties (“Rats have been in here, call the cat”); likewise, the linguistic skills to handle troublesome servants (“Quarrelling, loud talking, and wrangling women are all forbidden”), tiresome guests (“Relieve us of your presence for awhile”), reluctant taxpayers (“You have only brought in half the tax; where is the rest?”) and very reluctant taxpayers (“If you do not pay in one month, your house will be burned and you will be driven to the bush”).

Source: Allan C. Parsons and G.P. Bargery, A Hausa Phrase Book (1924), pp. 2, 4, 9, 11, 45, 49

Delayed Handover

1922: When the head of the Ireland’s Provisional Government arrived at Dublin Castle on 16 January to receive the handover of the building, a huffy British official remarked: “You’re seven minutes late, Mr Collins.” Michael Collins is supposed to have replied: “We’ve been waiting 700 years, you can have the seven minutes.”

Source: Tim Pat Coogan, Michael Collins: A Biography (1990), p. 310

Food Hygiene

1921: The Egyptologist William Flinders Petrie excavated at Abydos over four seasons at the turn of the century. Flinders Petrie was a penny pincher; at the end of each digging season he reputedly buried unused cans of food. These were dug up at the start of the next season and thrown against a wall; any that did not explode were considered fit to eat. Flinders Petrie spent another season at Abydos in 1921. After an absence of 20 years, his return must have been explosive.

Source: David O’Connor, Abydos: Egypt’s First Pharaohs and the Cult of Osiris (2011), p. 27

Flying Felines

1919: John Alcock and Arthur Whitten Brown, who became the first men to fly an aeroplane non-stop across the Atlantic, and the crew of the airship R34, which traversed the ocean in both directions, grabbed the headlines, but it was also a good year for flying cats. A tabby kitten named Whoopsie stowed away on the outbound flight of the R34, and Alcock and Brown were accompanied on their flight by two stuffed black cat mascots, Lucky Jim and Twinkletoe.

Sources: Sir John Alcock and Sir Arthur Whitten Brown, Our Transatlantic Flight (1969), p. 67; George Rosie, Flight of the Titan: The Story of the R34 (2010), pp. 102, 157, 163