When Grandpa Was A Boy, Were There Any Dinosaurs?

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Noted For His Hats

1938: Winston Churchill smoked from an early age, but the image of him chomping on a long cigar, two fingers raised in a V-sign, dated from the Second World War. These Tremendous Years 1919–1938, published by the Daily Express in 1938, associated cigars instead with F.E. Smith, the Earl of Birkenhead. Churchill, according to the Daily Express book, was noted not for his cigars but for his hats.

Source: These Tremendous Years 1919–1938 (1938), p. 140

Crippled For Life

1937: On 24 October, while riding in wooded country on Long Island, in New York State, Cole Porter’s horse shied and fell on him, crushing both his legs. For the rest of his life, Porter was crippled and in constant pain. Typically, the composer of a host of light-hearted lyrics invented names for his severely damaged limbs: Josephine and Geraldine. Josephine, the left leg, was sweet and obliging; Geraldine, the more painful of the two, was “a bitch, a psychopath”.

Source: William McBrien, Cole Porter: The Definitive Biography (1999), pp. 210–13

Not Optimistic

1936: A new viceroy was appointed for India: the Marquess of Linlithgow. A very tall, rather formal individual with the family name Hope, the marquess was accompanied by his three daughters. Junior officers obviously didn’t fancy their chances with the three young ladies – they nicknamed them “Some Hope”, “Little Hope” and “No Hope”.

Source: Adrian Fort, Archibald Wavell: The Life and Times of an Imperial Servant (2009), p. 243

Thumbs Up For Turing

1935: John Maynard Keynes detested nail-biting. Aristotle had classified it as a form of “bestiality”, Keynes declared, on a par with “buggering bulls and ripping open females with a view to devouring the foetus”. In March, Keynes lunched with a candidate for a fellowship at King’s College, Cambridge, to “inspect him and his fingernails”. “He is excellent,” Keynes wrote to his wife, “there cannot be a shadow of doubt about it. Fingernails as long as yours (in proportion).” On the strength of this “infallible” guide, Keynes gave the young man the thumbs up. “And he was very nice – Turing his name.”

Source: Richard Davenport-Hines, Universal Man: The Seven Lives of John Maynard Keynes (2015), pp. 279–80

Inartistic Island

Walter Gropius, photographed in about 1919 by Louis Held

1934: Shortly before moving to Britain, the German architect Walter Gropius questioned how he would survive in “this inartistic country with unsalted vegetables, bony women and an eternally freezing draught!?”

Source: Fiona MacCarthy, Walter Gropius: Visionary Founder of the Bauhaus (2019), p. 291

Last Of The Moriori

1933: At the end of 1835, the brig Rodney ferried two large parties of Maori migrants from New Zealand to the Chatham Islands, 900 kilometres to the east.

The warlike newcomers overwhelmed the peaceable Moriori inhabitants. “We took possession,” boasted a Maori, “in accordance with our customs and we caught all the people. Not one escaped. Some ran away from us, these we killed, and others we killed – but what of that?”

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Racehorse And Writer

Eric Blair, alias George Orwell, from a 1943 photograph

1932: An easy victory in the 2000 Guineas at Newmarket ensured that Orwell was firm favourite to win the Derby in June. Punters bet heavily on the colt, but he lacked the staying power needed for the longer Epsom race, and finished a long way down the field. At Doncaster, three months later, he had the chance to redeem himself in the St. Leger, but again ran poorly. Win or lose, though, the name Orwell appeared prominently and repeatedly in the sports pages.

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Solomon And Sheba

1931: The new Ethiopian constitution declared that the country’s emperor, “His Majesty Hailè Sellassié”, was a direct descendant of “King Solomon of Jerusalem and of the Queen of Ethiopia, known as the Queen of Sheba”.

Source: Constitution of the Empire of Ethiopia 1931 (1941), p. 13

“Paisley Snail”

1928: May Donoghue worked as a shop assistant in Glasgow. She was 30 years old. On the evening of 26 August, she visited the Wellmeadow Café in nearby Paisley with a friend, who treated her to an ice-cream float. The café owner brought a tumbler of ice cream and a bottle of ginger beer, which he poured over the ice cream. (Important detail: the bottle was made of dark, opaque glass.) Donoghue consumed some of the float. When her friend refilled the tumbler, a decomposed snail slid out of the bottle. Donoghue felt unwell.

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Charged As Freight

1927: After gold was discovered in the New Guinea province of Morobe, Cecil Levien set up Guinea Airways to link the remote inland goldfields to the coast. “Passenger fares,” it was announced, “will be A£25 for Europeans. Natives will be charged as freight.”

Source: Anthony Sampson, Empires of the Sky: The Politics, Contests and Cartels of World Airlines (1984), pp. 115–16

Retarded Youngsters

1926: Writing in the Journal of Experimental Psychology, Florence Goodenough established a rough correlation between the amount of English spoken in immigrant households in the United States, and the intelligence of children from those households. Correlation and causation are not the same thing, however, and Goodenough cast doubt on the possibility that “the use of a foreign language in the home” might be “one of the chief factors in producing mental retardation as measured by intelligence tests”.

Source: Journal of Experimental Psychology, October 1926

Licking Like Dogs

1925: Shortly after immigrating to the United States, Inagaki Etsu witnessed something she had never seen in Japan – a man kissing a woman. In A Daughter of the Samurai, she described how her train had come to a halt, and a man had rushed on board, thrown his arms around a passenger and kissed her several times. “And she did not mind it, but blushed and laughed, and they went off together.” The young Japanese traveller, nonplussed, had recalled her mother’s words: “I have heard, my daughter, that it is the custom for foreign people to lick each other as dogs do.”

Source: Etsu Inagaki Sugimoto, A Daughter of the Samurai (1933), p. 184

Blue With Cold

1924: Nguyen Ai Quoc was in Moscow when Lenin died in January. Nguyen had changed his name from Nguyen Tat Thanh; later he would change it again, to Ho Chi Minh. Nguyen still hadn’t fully adapted to European winters. He went to pay homage to the dead Soviet leader dressed only in light clothing. When he returned to his room after hours in the bitter Moscow cold, his “face was blue, and the ears, nose, and fingers on the hands were blue, too”.

Source: William J. Duiker, Ho Chi Minh: A Life (2000), pp. 96–7

Schoolgirl Jibe

1923: Sitting in the autumn sun in Berlin’s Botanical Garden, Franz Kafka was distracted from his Kafkaesque thoughts by a bunch of passing schoolgirls. One of them – blond, leggy, boyish – gave Kafka “a coquettish smile, turning up the corners of her little mouth and calling out something” to him. Kafka didn’t quite catch what she said. He smiled back at her. The pretty girl and her friends stared at him. Then he realised what she had said: “Jew.”

Source: Reiner Stach, Kafka: The Years of Insight (2013), pp. 544–5

Bathtub Gin

1922: F. Scott Fitzgerald’s recipe for bathtub gin: in a large container, mix two parts alcohol to three parts distilled water; in a second container, mix 80 drops of juniper berry oil, 40 drops of coriander oil and three drops of aniseed oil; place five drops of the oil mixture in 23 ounces of the alcohol–water mixture; add an ounce of sweetening – liquid rock candy syrup is best.

Source: Sarah Churchwell, Careless People: Murder, Mayhem and the Invention of The Great Gatsby (2013), p. 148

Abortifacient

1921: The author of The Talented Mr. Ripley, Patricia Highsmith, took her surname from her mother’s second husband. Mary’s first marriage had lasted only a year and a half; Patricia was born nine days after her parents divorced. Halfway through the pregnancy, Mary had tried unsuccessfully to induce a miscarriage. Years later, she remarked to her daughter, “It’s funny you adore the smell of turpentine” – funny because that was what she had drunk to abort the foetus.

Source: Andrew Wilson, Beautiful Shadow: A Life of Patricia Highsmith (2010), pp. 20–2

Prince Charming

1920: At a small railway station on the Nullarbor Plain in southern Australia, aborigines put on a display of dancing and throwing spears and boomerangs for the visiting Prince of Wales. The prince, the future Edward VIII, was not amused. He wrote to his friend Freda Dudley Ward that the display was a “native stunt”, which he loathed, and that the aborigines were the “lowest known form of human beings & are the nearest thing to monkeys I’ve ever seen”. Prince Charming!

Source: Edward, Prince of Wales, Letters from a Prince: Edward, Prince of Wales to Mrs Freda Dudley Ward March 1918–January 1921, ed. Rupert Godfrey (1998), p. 348

“Basket Case”

1919: “Basket case”, in its original sense, referred not to an economy gone to pot, but was American military slang for a soldier who had lost all four limbs on the battlefield and needed to be literally carried around in a basket.

Source: Jonathon Green, Cassell’s Dictionary of Slang (2005), p. 75