When Grandpa Was A Boy, Were There Any Dinosaurs?

Tag archive: Britain

Occupational Hazard

1947: Britain had 383 known opiate addicts: 219 of them female and 164 male, including (seemingly an occupational hazard) 82 doctors, three pharmacists, one dentist and one vet.

Source: Richard Davenport-Hines, The Pursuit of Oblivion: A Global History of Narcotics 1500–2000 (2001), p. 297

Animal Wisdom

The Duke of Windsor, photographed in 1970

1972: On the evening of 27 May, the Duke of Windsor’s doctor was surprised to see that the duke’s favourite pug, which had seldom left its master’s bed during the previous few weeks, had moved on to the bedroom floor. Early next morning, the duke died.

Source: Michael Bloch, The Secret File of the Duke of Windsor (1989), pp. 425–6

Hypnotic Acts

1952: Britain’s Hypnotism Act (“An Act to regulate the demonstration of hypnotic phenomena for purposes of public entertainment”) prohibited the hypnotising of people under the age of 21.

Source: ‘Current Law’ Statutes Annotated 1952, ed. John Burke (1952), chap. 46

Promise To Be Good

1947: After dusk on 7 April, a search party of coalminers recovered the body of 4-year-old Glyndwr Parfitt from the River Afan in south Wales. The boy’s hands and feet had been tied with bootlaces. The police charged a 9-year-old playmate with murder. When questioned, he admitted the killing but promised, “I won’t do it again.”

Source: David James Smith, The Sleep of Reason, p. 5

Farewell Flight

1943: The Royal Air Force lost 55,000 men during the bomber offensive against Europe, and the Americans, 26,000. Aircrews were gloomily aware of the odds against them. “If you live on the brink of death yourself,” the pilot Denis Hornsey pointed out, “it is as if those who have gone have merely caught an earlier train to the same destination. And . . . you will almost certainly be catching the next one.”

Source: Max Hastings, Bomber Command (1979), pp. 220–2

Unexpected Visitor

Rudolf Hess, Hitler’s deputy and self-appointed peace envoy

1941: In May, Hitler’s deputy, Rudolf Hess, flew to Scotland on what appears to have been a misguided peace mission. Hess baled out of his aircraft and parachuted down near a cottage where David McLean, a ploughman, lived with his mother, Annie. The ploughman checked the airman for weapons, and then escorted him to the cottage. Mrs. McLean, meanwhile, had responded to the excitement by making a pot of tea. Hess politely refused the tea but asked for a glass of water.

Source: Roy Conyers Nesbit and Georges van Acker, The Flight of Rudolf Hess: Myths and Reality (1999), pp. 70–1

Culinary Expertise

1940: Clement Freud began his culinary career as a trainee chef in the “huge dank dark” kitchen of the Dorchester Hotel. The vegetable cook was an elderly Frenchman, a heavy-drinking garlic chewer who garnished dishes by stuffing his mouth with chopped parsley and spraying it through the gaps between his teeth. This technique, Freud reported, was “particularly effective with new potatoes, where the evenness of his aim made the dish look impressive”.

Source: Clement Freud, Freud Ego (2001), pp. 35, 36

“A Perfect Day”

1939: “A perfect day,” wrote Harold Nicolson from his home in Kent, “and I bathe in the peace of the lake.” The date was 4 September; Britain had declared war on Germany the previous day. It was all very confusing: the tranquillity of the English countryside; the way things seemed to carry on as they had before. “Even as when someone dies, one is amazed that the poplars should still be standing quite unaware of one’s own disaster, so when I walked down to the lake to bathe, I could scarcely believe that the swans were being sincere in their indifference to the Second German War.”

Source: Harold Nicolson, Diaries and Letters 1939–1945, ed. Nigel Nicolson (1967), p. 30

Hands On The Levers

Boris III of Bulgaria, the royal train driver

1936: Boris III of Bulgaria had his hands on the levers of power in more than one sense. Figuratively, he was absolute monarch of his country; literally, his favourite pastime was driving locomotives. His brother, Kyril, was also a railway enthusiast, and when Edward VIII and Mrs. Simpson visited Bulgaria, the two brothers squabbled over who should drive the train.

Source: Duke of Windsor, A King’s Story: The Memoirs of H.R.H. the Duke of Windsor K.G. (1951), pp. 308–9

Wages Of Sin

1924: Christopher Hollis amused his friend Evelyn Waugh with a story he must have heard from someone in the legal world:
“Mr Justice Phillimore was trying a sodomy case and brooded greatly whether his judgement had been right. He went to consult [the former Lord Chancellor, Lord] Birkenhead. ‘Excuse me, my lord, but could you tell me – What do you think one ought to give a man who allows himself to be buggered?’ ‘Oh, 30s or £2 – anything you happen to have on you.’ ”

Source: Evelyn Waugh, The Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, ed. Michael Davie (1976), p. 168

“One Of The Best”

1918: The epitaph to Second Lieutenant W.L. Smart of the Lancashire Fusiliers consoles us that “to live in the hearts of those left behind is not to die”. Subaltern Smart was killed on 29 August 1918 and is buried at the Mory Street cemetery south of Arras. Personal inscriptions in the British military cemeteries of France and Belgium convey immense grief and tenderness. The inscription on the nearby grave of Private T.M. Finn of the Irish Guards, killed two days earlier, reads: “I loved him in life how I love him in death”. Serjeant S. Bates of the Manchester Regiment, who died on 29 March 1917 at the age of 20, is remembered simply and touchingly as “one of the best”.

Source: Personal diary

Patriotic Mush

1916: War correspondent William Beach Thomas churned out patriotic mush for the Daily Mail. In a dispatch on 22 November, he asserted that the way the body of a British soldier lay on the ground was evidence of an innate moral superiority: “As he lies on the field he looks more quietly faithful, more simply steadfast than others.” Thomas even detected a certain modesty, “as if he had taken care while he died that there should be no parade in his bearing, no heroics in his posture.”

Source: Daily Mail, 22 November 1916

Indoor Marathon

1909: A year after his last-gasp victory and disqualification in the London Olympics, the Italian runner Dorando Pietri returned for another marathon. On 18 December, in a race run on a coconut-matting track around the interior of the Royal Albert Hall, Pietri retired after almost 500 circuits, leaving C.W. Gardiner to win in just over 2 hours and 37 minutes.

Source: John Richard Thackrah, The Royal Albert Hall (1983), p. 152

Tetchy Telegram

1908: Violet Asquith was on holiday in Italy when her father, Herbert, succeeded Campbell-Bannerman as prime minister. She dashed off a telegram:
“How dare you become prime minister when I’m away great love constant thought Violet.”

Source: Violet Bonham Carter, Lantern Slides: The Diaries and Letters of Violet Bonham Carter 1904–1914, ed. Mark Bonham Carter and Mark Pottle (1996), pp. 150, 151

Ludicrous Notion

1906: Two years after the Wright brothers had first achieved powered flight, people still scoffed at their claim. Alliott Verdon-Roe, a pioneer figure in British aviation, believed them and backed them. On 24 January, The Times published a letter of support from him, although the newspaper appended an editorial footnote cautioning that “all attempts at artificial aviation . . . are not only dangerous to human life but foredoomed to failure from an engineering standpoint”.

Source: L.J. Ludovici, The Challenging Sky: The Life of Sir Alliott Verdon-Roe (1956), p. 40

Speech Impediment

Winston Churchill in 1900

1900: Newspaper correspondent Winston Churchill began the year in high spirits, having escaped from Boer captivity only days before. A wanted poster issued on 18 December 1899 had offered a reward of £25 for his recapture, dead or alive. The poster had described him as about 5 feet 8 inches tall, of medium build, and had noted that he walked with a stooping gait, spoke through his nose and couldn’t properly pronounce the letter “s”.

Source: Celia Sandys, Churchill Wanted Dead or Alive (1999), p. 103

Bacon Bookmark

1974: Cyril Connolly’s obituary in The Times concentrated, of course, on his achievements as a book critic and author, but noted also his habit of “marking his place in a book at the breakfast table with a strip of bacon”.

Source: The Times, 27 November 1974

Rhubarb Thrives In Dirty Air

1965: Businessmen in Leeds deplored the city’s atmospheric pollution: petrol and diesel fumes from cars and lorries, smoke and soot from domestic chimneys and power stations. The only seeming beneficiary of west Yorkshire’s dirty air, The Guardian reported, was rhubarb: “While radishes are stunted, evergreens wilt, and half the population over 50 has bronchitis, rhubarb apparently remains in robust health.”

Source: The Guardian, 8 May 1965

Sensory Deprivation

1963: After a cerebral haemorrhage at the age of 49, cookery writer Elizabeth David could no longer properly taste salt (nor bear the smell of fried onions.)

Source: Artemis Cooper, Writing at the Kitchen Table: The Authorized Biography of Elizabeth David (1999), p. 231