1994: Wright Laboratory in Ohio suggested an unconventional addition to America’s military arsenal: “strong aphrodisiacs, especially if the chemical also caused homosexual behavior”. Sprayed on hostile positions, the chemical was intended to arouse affection between enemy personnel rather than aggression towards their American opponents. (“Make love, not war.”) The so-called “gay bomb”, however, appears not to have progressed beyond a written proposal; it never made it on to the drawing board.
1993: In a footnote in their textbook Conveyancing, George Gretton and Kenneth Reid strayed briefly from Scots property law to look up at the stars: “It is one of the mysteries of existence that red tape is pink.”
Source: George L. Gretton and Kenneth G.C. Reid, Conveyancing (1993), p. 110
1992: Singapore stamped down on chewing gum: no sales, no imports and, for anyone able to get their hands on some, no spitting it out on the streets and a complete ban from the railway system, with fines or jail terms for lawbreakers.
1991: Did Britain’s ambassador to the European Communities really hide under a table, passing notes to Prime Minister John Major, during a leaders-only session at the Maastricht summit? “There’s an element of truth in it,” the ambassador, Sir John Kerr, later admitted. “It all became rather silly, so I went under the table.” Major’s recollection was slightly different. Kerr “crouched beside me at the table . . . trying to make himself as inconspicuous as possible”, he said, but added that the diplomat “crouched beneath the table”.
1990: Between 1945 and 1999, 712 fatalities were recorded in the United States among professional, recreational, college and high-school players of American football. In just over half a century there was only one year, 1990, when there were no football-related deaths.
Source: Journal of Athletic Training, September 2001
1989: The recent past soon becomes history; a generation grows up that has no direct experience of the way things were. Almost half – 49 per cent – of young Romanians questioned by a survey in 2010 were uncertain whether political repression had existed in their country under communism. In neighbouring Bulgaria, a survey of 15- to 35-year-olds in 2013 found that the expression “Iron Curtain” had no specific meaning for 65.7 per cent of them, while “Gulag” meant nothing to 79.2 per cent (although 3.1 per cent thought it was an Internet search engine).
Source: Teaching the History of Communism, ed. Vasil Kadrinov (2013), pp. 11, 30–1
1988: Among its advice and warnings on how to avoid illness abroad, Travellers’ Health drew attention to a survey of 10,000 cooks in Taiwan: more than two-thirds of them had athlete’s foot.
Source: Travellers’ Health: How to Stay Healthy Abroad, ed. Richard Dawood (1989), p. 6
1987: Andy Warhol thought his tombstone should be blank. “No epitaph, and no name,” he wrote in America. On second thoughts, though, perhaps it should bear a single word: “figment”.
Source: Andy Warhol, America (2011), p. 129
1986: The Norwegian football club SK Brann lacked in consistency. For eight years, from 1979 until 1986, Brann yo-yoed between the country’s 1st and 2nd divisions. In consecutive seasons, Brann was relegated, then promoted, then relegated, then promoted, then relegated, then promoted, then relegated, then promoted.
1985: Norway had its first aircraft hijacking. On 21 June, Stein Arvid Huseby boarded a Braathens SAFE plane in Trondheim carrying an air pistol in his hand luggage. (Airport security obviously needed beefing up.) Midway through the flight to Oslo, he threatened a cabin attendant and warned that there were explosives in the toilets. After the plane landed in Oslo, he allowed the passengers to leave, but kept the crew hostage. Throughout the incident, Huseby consumed copious amounts of alcohol. When the plane ran out of beer, he agreed to give up his gun in exchange for more beer. As soon as he gave up the weapon, special forces rushed the plane.
1984: Mass starvation offers little in the way of humour, but book reviewer Ysenda Maxtone Graham recalled her “malapropism-prone” great-aunt referring to the Ethiopian famine as “the famine in Utopia”.
Source: The Times, 17 February 2018
1982: South Africa’s segregated prisons were harsh institutions; Barberton prison farm, in the eastern Transvaal, was reputedly the harshest of all. While Simon Mpungose was incarcerated there, he once saw warders ironing the corpse of a black prisoner. The warders had beaten him to death and, to avoid awkward questions, they were literally ironing the dead body to try to erase the welts.
Source: Rian Malan, My Traitor’s Heart: Blood and Bad Dreams: A South African Explores the Madness in His Country, His Tribe and Himself (1991), pp. 196–7
1981: Death can be banal. “Mike the Bike” Hailwood was one of the foremost motorcycle racers of the 1960s, chalking up nine Grand Prix championships and 12 wins over the notoriously tricky Isle of Man Tourist Trophy course. On 21 March 1981, after retiring from competitive racing, he was fatally injured in a car crash while on a family errand – fetching some fish and chips.
Source: Stephen Bayley, Death Drive: There Are No Accidents (2016), pp. 191–9
1980: “Beware of the bull” notices fail to dissuade walkers from wandering off designated paths, Viscount Massereene and Ferrard told landowners during a debate in the House of Lords. He recommended instead: “Beware of the Agapanthus”.
1979: After months of strikes, dubbed the “winter of discontent” by British media, the government of James Callaghan faced a parliamentary motion of no confidence on the evening of 28 March.
House of Commons catering staff had “chosen this of all nights to go on strike”, so hungry and thirsty politicians and reporters had to make do without cakes, tea, coffee and alcohol.