When Grandpa Was A Boy, Were There Any Dinosaurs?

Tag archive: Great Britain

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

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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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

Discordant Note

Caricature of William Somerset Maugham

1955: William Somerset Maugham’s affair with Syrie Wellcome and their subsequent marriage produced one child but little happiness. When they divorced in 1929, Maugham was obliged to agree to a costly settlement to secure Syrie’s silence regarding his homosexuality. As the years passed, Maugham deeply resented the misery of their marriage and the continuing financial burden of the settlement.

Syrie died in London on 25 July 1955. Maugham heard of her death while playing cards at the Villa Mauresque, his home in the south of France. He put down the pack and drummed his fingers triumphantly on the table. “Tra-la-la-la,” he sang. “No more alimony. Tra-la, tra-la.”

Source: Robin Maugham, Somerset and All the Maughams (1966), p. 208

Sumthing Liek Dhis

1949: In March, Mont Follick introduced a bill into the British parliament to rationalise the spelling of English. George Bernard Shaw, the Simplified Spelling Society and others had long advocated a simple, logical and consistent spelling system. Follick proposed the adoption of reformed spelling first in schools and then in government publications and later in general use. Despite considerable parliamentary support, Follick’s measure was opposed by the government and at the end of the debate it was rejected by a slender margin – 87 votes to 84.

Which iz hou dhe tekst ov dhis blog kaem widhin a whisker ov being spelt sumthing liek dhis.

Source: M. Follick, The Case for Spelling Reform (1965), chap. XXII

Slap Down

1946: During the first half of the 20th century, travelling from Britain to India entailed a lengthy, rather monotonous journey by sea. Radclyffe Sidebottom, who served in the Bengal Pilot Service from 1929 until 1946, remembered one voyage where a female passenger – a governor’s daughter, in fact – grew tired of the stuffed shirts in first class and took a liking to a handsome young steward in second class. At the fancy-dress ball, the high point of the voyage out, they danced together all night. Next morning, though, when he approached her with a little too much familiarity, she informed him: “In the circle in which I move, sleeping with a woman does not constitute an introduction.”

Source: Charles Allen, Plain Tales from the Raj: Images of British India in the Twentieth Century (1977), p. 49

Slip Of The Tongue

1945: Sir Alan “Tommy” Lascelles, George VI’s private secretary, lunched on 18 April with Quintin Hogg, the newly appointed undersecretary of air. “Hogg said that [Baron] Faringdon, a notorious pansy, had recently thrown the House of Lords into consternation by addressing their Lordships as ‘My Dears’.”

Source: Sir Alan Lascelles, King’s Counsellor: Abdication and War: The Diaries of Sir Alan Lascelles, ed. Duff Hart-Davis (2007), p. 316

Intoxicated Octopus

1943: “Just then the air-raid siren went off,” Joan Wyndham recorded in her diary on 5 July. “We hailed a taxi . . . . As soon as I’d sunk into my seat Dylan [Thomas] smothered me in wet beery kisses, his blubbery tongue forcing my lips apart. It was rather like being embraced by an intoxicated octopus. I tried to tell myself that I was being kissed by a great poet but it was a relief when the taxi finally stopped.”

Source: Joan Wyndham, Love Is Blue: A Wartime Diary (1986), p. 120

Dunkirk Spirit

1940: In Britain’s hour of need, “heroes in jerseys and sweaters and old rubber boots” stepped forward to man an armada of “fishing boats, steamships, barges and pleasure steamers” that crossed the Channel, braving shellfire and Stuka attacks, to pluck the British Expeditionary Force off the beaches of Dunkirk. That’s the way British propaganda portrayed it, but it wasn’t all like that. The Royal Navy had to requisition small craft in Devon whose owners declined to volunteer and the fishing fleet of Rye in Sussex collectively refused to go.

Source: Angus Calder, The Myth of the Blitz (1991), pp. 96–8

Precise Number

1938: The British astrophysicist Sir Arthur Eddington announced that he had calculated the precise number of protons in the universe:
15,747,724,136,275,002,577,605,653,961,
181,555,468,044,717,914,527,116,709,
366,231,425,076,185,631,031,296.

Source: Sir Arthur Eddington, The Philosophy of Physical Science (1939), p. 170

Noisy Send-Off

1931: As Arnold Bennett lay dying from typhoid in his flat near Marylebone Road, the local council gave permission for straw to be spread in the busy street to muffle the noise of traffic, possibly the last time this was allowed in central London. Bennett died at nine in the evening of 27 March. “It was a night of rain. The straw became sodden and slippery. Just after midnight a milk dray skidded and overturned, sending its load of churns crashing along the pavement below the flat in a thunderous din.”

Source: Reginald Pound, Arnold Bennett: A Biography (1971), p. 367

Hint Of Glamour

1928: Picture palaces lured film-goers with their aura of glamour. According to Denis Norden, at the Empire Leicester Square in London, ushers lined up before opening time, lit Havana cigars and puffed smoke around the foyer.

Source: Enter the Dream-House: Memories of Cinemas in South London from the Twenties to the Sixties, ed. Margaret O’Brien and Allen Eyles (1993), p. 39

Gunned Down

1927: On 27 September, Police Constable George Gutteridge was murdered on a country road in Essex. In the small hours, Gutteridge flagged down a Morris Cowley, unaware that it had been stolen earlier that night. While he questioned the two men in the car, Frederick Browne and William Kennedy, one of them pulled a revolver and shot him in the side of the face. (Kennedy subsequently blamed Browne; Browne denied he was even there.) As the policeman lay badly injured in the road, the gunman approached and finished him off with two shots at close range – one in either eye.

Source: Christopher Berry-Dee and Robin Odell, The Long Drop: Two Were Hanged – One Was Innocent (1993)

Borrowed Verse

1923: In January 1927, a 12-year-old schoolboy from Swansea named Dylan Thomas made his first money from poetry. The Western Mail, which published “His Requiem”, paid 10 shillings for the work. Nobody else realised it at the time, but Thomas had plagiarised, more or less word for word, a poem by Lillian Gard that had appeared in the November 1923 issue of The Boy’s Own Paper.

Source: Paul Ferris, Dylan Thomas (1978), pp. 7, 41

Improving On Dickens

1921: T.S. Eliot wrote in May that he had “a long poem in mind and partly on paper”. This was “He Do the Police in Different Voices”. Eliot juggled the words, enriched the meaning, shaped the rhythm. And replaced the original title – a quote from Charles Dickens’s Our Mutual Friend – with another, better, title: “The Waste Land”.

Source: Marianne Thormählen, The Waste Land: A Fragmentary Wholeness (1978), pp. 28–31

Cordite And Conkers

1917: “His Majesty’s Government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people.”

“In present circumstances it is felt that school children could give most valuable assistance in collecting the [horse] chestnuts . . .”

What could possibly link the Balfour Declaration with a Board of Education circular urging British youngsters to gather conkers? The answer: cordite, acetone, the bacterium Clostridium acetobutylicum and the chemist (and ardent Zionist) Chaim Weizmann.

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Making Mischief

1912: Eight-year-old Cecil Day-Lewis entered Wilkinson’s prep school in central London. The future poet laureate got to know Nicholas Llewelyn Davies, one of J.M. Barrie’s adopted boys. When Llewelyn Davies took his friend to the playwright’s house in Campden Hill Square, the two youngsters went up to the attic and fired an air gun at pedestrians in the square.

Source: C. Day Lewis, The Buried Day (1960), pp. 72–4

God’s Too Busy

1910: Among those taken to see the funeral of Edward VII was Lord Kinnoull’s young daughter. That evening, at bedtime, the girl’s mother asked her whether she had said her prayers. She hadn’t.

“Why not?”

“I don’t mean to say them to-night.”

“Why not?”

“Well, because it won’t be any use, as God will be too busy unpacking King Edward.”

Source: Lord Riddell, More Pages from My Diary 1908–1914 (1934), p. 149

Green Girls

André Derain, photographed in about 1903

1906: The young girls of London, André Derain wrote to Henri Matisse, have faces “made to stand out in the misty streets or in the cold calm of English interiors”: “very blond hair, untidily wound up, with plaits tight around a matt-ivory coloured face, with their lips and cheeks lightly tinted pink, which makes the skin green”.

Source: Ernst Vegelin van Claerbergen et al., André Derain: The London Paintings (2005), p. 133

Chance Discovery

1905: Edgar Purnell Hooley patented Tarmac in 1902. The story goes that Hooley, a county surveyor, came upon a hard-wearing and dust-free stretch of road. Tar had been spilled on the surface and slag from a nearby ironworks used to cover it. Hooley set up a company to exploit his discovery – The Tar Macadam (Purnell Hooley’s Patent) Syndicate Ltd., which in 1905 was renamed Tarmac Ltd.

Source: J.B.F. Earle, A Century of Road Materials: The History of the Roadstone Division of Tarmac Ltd (1971), pp. 16–17

One Man’s Poison

1902: One man’s poison is another man’s meat. The abrupt postponement of Edward VII’s coronation (caused by the king’s appendicitis) meant that delicacies destined for coronation banquets were distributed instead to London’s poor. Soup kitchen menus briefly included prawns, oysters and Dover sole poached in Chablis, as well as quail, snipe and consommé de faisan aux quenelles.

Source: Andrew Roberts, Salisbury: Victorian Titan (1999), p. 823