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Useful And Fantastic: People They Laughed At - 14

Val Yule reveals that she comes from a family of inventors.

I come from a family of inventors - handymen - yes, all men except the modern generation, as far as I know, continually inventing gadgets for immediate problems.

My grandfather, mildest but most patriotic of men, invented an exploding shell in World War 1 that was not taken up until somebody else invented it again about twenty years later. I’m glad it has not my grandfather’s name on it. He also - again with the bad luck some inventors have - invented, in those flyblown days, a metal lid for jugs that had a hinge so the lid hung clear when the jug was tilted for pouring. You sometimes see that idea on lids today. However, when poor grandfather patented his idea, somebody else copied it and my grandfather took him to law and won, but the man went bankrupt and my grandfather had to pay all the costs.

His son was luckier. He just invented a little gimjy for a dairy milk separator that kept the flies out, costing a few pence, and when his farm wasn’t doing too well, he did quite well selling the gimjy.

My father used to invent something whenever given a domestic problem - such as flyscreens when windows opened outwards, and a string from the garage ceiling so you could tell how far in to drive your car, and a soup ladle bigger than you can buy in the shops. When he was 84 and one hand was crippled by shingles, he invented weights to hold paper or objects while he wrote or made things with his good hand, and he adapted a spinner on the car’s steering wheel so he could drive one-handed. Many years after his death, we were looking for something to get branches and leaves off the roof and guttering. We found a very long rod in the garage and lo and behold it had a gadget on the end he had made to do that task.

With all those traditions in the family, I like to invent uses for things that would otherwise be thrown out, for example, margarine tubs and plastic milk bottles.

It’s a bit dim to think you are ‘daring to be different’ and ‘asserting your individuality’ when it is only in ways that mobs of others are doing the same thing, so that you will not be laughed at.

After all, the word ‘eccentric’ only means ‘out of the centre’, and without eccentric gearing, a good deal of mechanics would be impossible.

Some people are good at having a new idea, and others are good at taking it up and developing it.

Trace how many people have been involved in inventing the modern photograph, or the modern computer - hundreds and thousands.
If a school class made themselves into teams to invent in a co-operative way, what would they invent, and who would be the leaders?

It might not be a good idea for everyone to be the people who have ideas. Some need to row the boat and keep it steady and prevent it landing on rocks whenever some bright spark has thought of going off the charted course.

The people who have ideas rarely include the people who consistently mock other people’s ideas, although they do include people who see beyond the limits of what others think and do, and can savagely satirise the people with blinkers. Jonathan Swift did both, rightly and wrongly - he satirised the Big Egg Endes and the Little Egg Enders who went to war over which end of a boiled egg should be cut off. He also satirised the new Royal Society as wanting to capture the sunlight out of cucumbers, because the range of their scientific endeavours understandably in the eighteenth century included what we now see as fantastical, as well as what we now bow to in respect.

And always, the people who have ideas include the people who want to be laughed at. Often they want to get a message through with the laughter. The great comedians and satirists share with the creators similar qualities of observation, quirkiness, innovation and imagination - for example, Mark Twain, Jonathan Swift of Gulliver’s Travel, Sydney Smith, the Marx Brothers, Monty Python, Barrie Humphries and his Edna Everage, Australia’s Rod Quantock, and the Disney designers of Uncle Scrooge McDuck. Laugh at the world as you see it now.

What is silly?

Then you can think about what you could do about it.

There are the great storytellers whose ideas come true - as Jules Verne predicted they would. ‘What anyone can imagine, someone else can do.’
That is a warning indeed to what we imagine.


Please visit http://home.vicnet.net.au/~ozideas/socinvent.htm


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