First Person - with Gordon Holmes

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“NECESSITY is the mother of Invention...”

Not, as you might think, the introduction to an episode of the Jeremy Kyle Show (“and here is her brother ‘Accident’ and sister ‘Desperation’...).

Rather, it’s the famous quote generally attributed to Plato, the Greek author and philosopher from BC times, though some believe Aesop may have in fact come up with it even before that (but then that might just be a fable), while others suggest Victor Hugo first phrased it exactly that way in 1852, presumably before he was too miserable...

I mention it only because it sums up one of the more appealing traits of human nature - the ability to come up with new thoughts and solutions to problems and obstacles which get in our way.

I came across a great example of this recently in an article from some old magazine in which a chap was sailing his boat in the Atlantic when it collided with a whale, causing the vessel to start to sink, but giving him just enough time to grab what he thought he would need and jump into his life raft.

For the next 76 days he drifted more than 1800 miles before finally being spotted and rescued by a fishing boat. He survived hardships such as dehydration, hunger, shark attacks and exposure to the elements, partly through his unbreakable spirit, but also by keeping his mind sharp developing a life raft which a person would be able to sail and navigate, thus making their chances of survival far greater.


His ordeal inspired him to invent something which would help others in a similar situation.

Most inventors of modern times probably didn’t have to go to quite such extremes before the light bulb flashed above their head (wonder if that happened to Edison when he invented it..?), but nothing new or innovative has ever been discovered without a degree of blood, sweat and tears, not to mention risk and dissent from others.

You would certainly need to be determined, thick-skinned and persistent, which is maybe why so many Scots have been recognised as inventing or discovering a whole host of things through the years.

It would take the rest of this column and more to list all of them but it is quite amazing how many things we now take for granted had to, at some time, be invented.

There’s the obvious things that everyone knows like television, telephone, penicillin, antiseptics, pneumatic tyres, tarmac, bicycles or the thermos flask.


But it was also a Scot who came up with adhesive postage stamps, the decimal point, fax machines, ultrasound scanner, artificial diamonds, hypodermic syringes, radar, microwave ovens, refrigerators, marmalade, postcards, the lawnmower, sulphuric acid, hypnotism... and many, many more.

And it was Scots who founded the Bank of England, the US and, for some reason, Chilean navies, and the BBC.

All of this came to mind one chilly morning last week when it dawned on me that there have been so many incredible inventions and discoveries, so many staggering advances in human knowledge, be it medical, technological, biological or whatever, so many different things that have made our quality of life so much better, that we probably take it all for granted now.

So why, in this age of marvel and innovation, can no-one come up with a quick and easy way to defrost my flaming car windscreen?!

I’m talking the real hard ice covering - de-icer doesn’t work properly and stinks, using a scraper results in skin damage and wet clothes, while using the car’s inbuilt demisting system means waiting for 20 minutes before it has any effect.

So there’s my challenge - invent an instant windscreen clearer and join Baird, Bell and all the other great Scots who made a difference - at least to me.