When Grandpa Was A Boy, Were There Any Dinosaurs?

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Donkeys And Melons

Ruhollah Khomeini, photographed by Mohammad Sayyad in 1981

1979: The overthrow of the Shah of Iran ushered in an Islamic state. Religion became paramount. The mundane details of governance were of little concern to Ayatollah Khomeini. “Economics is for donkeys,” he once declared, and when Iranians complained of falling living standards, he admonished them, “We did not make a revolution to slash the price of watermelon.”

Source: Vali Nasr, The Shia Revival: How Conflicts within Islam Will Shape the Future (2007), p. 134

Petri-Dish Baby

1978: A human reproductive first: the birth of the first baby conceived by in vitro fertilisation. Louise Brown, born in Oldham, Manchester, on 25 July, was dubbed a “test-tube baby” in the popular media, although the term was a misnomer, as conception actually took place in a Petri dish.

Source: Anthony Dyson, The Ethics of IVF (1995), p. 1

Loftus On Language Distortion

1974: As part of her investigation of memory, the psychologist Elizabeth Loftus conducted an experiment in which university students watched film clips of traffic accidents.

After each clip, the students were questioned; one group was asked to estimate the speed at which the cars had “contacted” each other, a second group, the speed at which the cars had “hit” each other, and other groups, the speed at which the cars had “bumped into”, “collided with” or “smashed into” each other.

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Smelling Of Roses

1973: Two innovations in stamp design from Bhutan: a set of stamps depicting roses, printed on scented paper, and a set of “talking stamps” – miniature gramophone records that really could be played on a turntable.

Source: Stanley Gibbons Simplified Catalogue Stamps of the World (2007), vol. 1, p. 420

Early Nerd

1972: Budding computer programmer Bill Gates, a 16-year-old student at Lakeside School in Seattle, used the school’s computer to arrange class schedules, making sure that “all the good girls in the school” were in his history class and that the only other boy in the class was “a real wimp”.

Source: Stephen Manes and Paul Andrews, Gates: How Microsoft’s Mogul Reinvented an Industry — and Made Himself the Richest Man in America (1994), pp. 44–7

Updated Euphemism

1971: The translators of the King James Bible retained the Hebrew euphemism “to cover one’s feet”. In chapter 24 of the first book of Samuel, for instance, when David was hiding from Saul in a cave: “Saul went in to cover his feet”. Kenneth Taylor’s Living Bible updated this to: “Saul went into a cave to go to the bathroom”.

Source: Kenneth Taylor, The Living Bible (1971), p. 351

Defence Cuts

1970: How many divisions did the pope have? Not many, and even fewer after Paul VI disbanded the Palatine Guard and Noble Guard, retaining only the Swiss Guard as his personal bodyguard.

Source: Thomas J. Reese, Inside the Vatican: The Politics and Organization of the Catholic Church (1996), p. 18

Swiss Guards inside St. Peter's Basilica, photographed in 2006 by Alberto Luccaroni

Swiss Guards inside St Peter’s Basilica, photographed in 2006 by Alberto Luccaroni

Orton Breezes In

1967: Returning from a holiday of sun, sea, sand and homosexual sex in Morocco, the playwright Joe Orton breezed through British customs without a hitch. His technique: “I simply chose the customs officer that, in an emergency, I wouldn’t mind sleeping with, and got through without having even to open my case.”

Source: Joe Orton, The Orton Diaries, ed. John Lahr (1986), p. 230