Down the millennia it is the power of thought that has moved mankind forward. Thanks to those who have been able to look at a problem and solve it and to those who have had ideas for doing things better or differently we have moved steadily forward and it is to the inventor that we owe so much that we enjoy in modern life.
Hollywood and Pinewood used to portray their inventors as quirky characters, from the slightly eccentric individual like Disney’s interpretation of Caractacus Potts to the more extreme mad scientist, but the reality is that you could pass an inventor in the street and not notice them for what they are, unless it was James Dyson perhaps, but that illustrates my point for without his TV adverts you would probably not have known that he anything other than an average chap in the street.
Today I lunched with an inventor in a Cotswold pub not too far away from the aforementioned Mr Dyson’s offices. We met in his office above a shop in the High Street of this market town and as we strolled from there to the pub for lunch what might you have made have made of my companion? A farmer perhaps and if so you might be part right for that is how his career began, or could he be a livestock auctioneer? It is not likely that you would suspect that here is someone who holds a number of patents for civil and military applications and a man with active projects around the world.
Comfortably parked in a cool corner of a pub just off the town centre and away from the bustling market day crowds we order some food and settle with a bottle of decent red to share is start to get an insight into the mind of a true thinker. We start with a discussion of the difficulties of casting hollow concrete panels for the building industry. The basic principle is obvious; a hollow concrete slab is much lighter than a solid one, but to accurately cast such panels with a consistent strength is not easy. From the early days of such products seventy or so years ago their usefulness has never been in doubt, but quality has not always been there and the risk is in building collapse. If caught in time such things are inconvenient, but if ignored they are likely to be catastrophic, and tougher building standards in Europe and the US in particular have been introduced.
Such standards are unquestionably right, but how you meet them is the problem and it is one that my lunch companion today has solved. For example in a world where terrorist actions threaten us daily around the globe we have a greater than ever need to protect vulnerable buildings against blast, and two of his patents cover such protection; one a barrier against the percussive effects and another to prevent vehicles as big as large goods ones even getting close to the site and yet even these two systems have peaceful uses too, both providing protection against floods, landslips and similar environmental disaster amongst other civil engineering applications.
This theme of multiple uses runs through the products of my companion’s mind, and far from the robust solidarity of concrete are the possibilities that a bio-degradable thermoplastic offers. Here again is the diversity between a military product that would reduce the costs of training soldiers and a leisure one for a sport that encompasses both enthusiastic amateurs and Olympians. The breadth of thinking is astonishing, perhaps more so when you consider that these concepts are not the product of a trained scientist.
Translating ideas into working products that can be brought to market has a gestation period that would make an elephant look hasty and there are many hurdles and frustrations that need to be overcome, (but my man has been a successful midwife and dismisses the challenges and frustrations of bringing his latest children into the world). Inventors are very vulnerable to having their offspring kidnapped and exploited by others, but this does not seem to bother my companion unduly for he understands that he needs to fight his corner and that success and failure are, as Kipling alluded, mere imposters. Unlike many of his kind he knows that his ideas will make it into the market only if he drives them there, and hereby hangs a tale for a lot of his solutions have been created despite a lack of funds.
This country is a hotbed of innovation that is of benefit worldwide and yet bringing them to fruition is hard to fund. For sure there are avenues for grants on paper, but sometimes are laden with so many hoops that people only seem to get help if they have the funds already. This is the main stumbling block for the sole proprietor for there are numerous Kafkaesque hurdles to get over, but don’t get me wrong for indeed it has been said of my companion that he is a rare breed, an inventor who does not subscribe to the belief that the world owes him a living. That said he would not mind a bit if some seed corn were to come his way on occasion but in the tacit belief that it could be provided without having to give his whole crop away.
As pudding arrives he is telling me about his current research into the manufacture of bio-degradable clay pigeons and seamlessly moves over to another project on erosion protection on the Gold Coast of Australia. Perhaps you think that if he is so clever he ought to be as rich in pocket as he is in intellect, but there is the dilemma of who pays for ideas let alone solutions. So often good ideas are overlooked and we pay for an imperfect world.
And so we polish off the last of the delicious locally made bread to wipe our plates clean of olive oil and balsamic it is time to drain our glasses and return to our respective daily grind. As we stroll back into the town centre he again seems to know everyone else we meet and they him. They all know him, but I wonder how many of them know what he has achieved and how many people have benefitted from his inventions. Probably not that many for he is a modest and private man, but the world needs people like him.
If you need to consult with a man capable of thinking laterally to devise imaginative solutions to an eclectic range of problems then I know just the chap. It is good to know that such a mind is just a ‘phone call away and so if you have a need, let me know and I can put you in touch.