Sometimes I worry about our near neighbours to the south of Carter Bar. Relax, this is not about the election, although you could be forgiven for thinking so from that first sentence.
There was a strange story in The Courier on election day under the headline “Teabag named in most important inventions”. Perhaps you remember it.
If not, a survey of 2,005 people for English Heritage to produce a list of the top 10 human inventions came up with these: the wheel, the fridge, the sewer, the plough, penicillin, the internet, armour, the light bulb, the clock and the teabag.
It seems English Heritage is having an “Ingenious!” season at its various properties around the country, and that was its excuse for temporarily losing its marbles.
I can go along with the wheel, the plough, and penicillin. As for the rest, what were these people thinking about?
Can you spot the glaring omission, the one without which the fridge, penicillin, the internet, the light bulb, the clock and the teabag would never have been invented?
And the evolution of wheel and plough would have stopped about a thousand years ago.
What is the one invention that made all these things possible?
Ladies and gentlemen of English Heritage, I give you the printing press.
The printing press begat the book, and the book begat education, and education is what taught and continues to teach inventors to invent. You buy a new washing machine which is completely different from your old model, and what’s the first thing you do?
Look at the instruction manual.
The instruction manual is no use to you at all if you are not educated to the level at which you can read and understand it. And of course there would be no manual at all if no one had ever bothered to invent a printing process.
Your Courier would be blank sheets of paper six days a week.
There would be no books. None at all.
No story books (so no Harry Potter, neither the books nor the films, and you think that English Heritage might have been alert to the absence of Shakespeare’s First Folio, and all of Charles Dickens), no poetry (so no Burns, no McGonagall), no essays, no biographies, no nature books (sob!), no technical books, no academic books, no school books, no bibles, no sheet music (so no Mozart, no Jimmy Shand, no orchestras, no big bands, no choirs), your CD collection would be housed in empty plastic boxes and your vinyl collection would be in plain cardboard sleeves with no titles and no liner notes.
And there would be no internet, because the computer screen is just a poor substitute evolved out of the printed page.
Why why why?
So how come the teabag gets in there and not the printing press?
The world was perfectly content drinking tea from tea leaves and teapots, with the added bonus that your future could be told by those who knew how, just by looking at the tea leaves in the bottom of your cup.
These poor sages of teacup astrology have been dumped on the scrap heap, and still the teabag gets into the top 10.
There would be no cars, no aircraft, no internal combustion engine, no jet engine.
When you went to buy your wine or your whisky, there would be no labels on the bottles so you wouldn’t have a clue what you were buying.
There would be no maps, so there would be no satnav (not that that would matter too much given there would be no cars).
There would be nothing at all, the existence of which derives from the process of education through books or documents.
The good news is there would be no stupid opinion polls making up nonsensical lists of no relevance to anything at all.
Of course, the inevitable happens when you immerse yourself briefly in something like this, in the same way you respond to listening to Desert Island Discs.
Surreptitiously, you start to make your own list.
A personal list
So, after the printing press, obviously (without which I would never have done a day’s work in my life), I came up with the following: the Fender Stratocaster, Pringles, Highland Park, ferry boats (to Skye, Mull, Orkney, Colonsay, the Isle of May, for example), the ball (as in foot, cricket, golf), the fountain pen, fresh crab rolls from the wee shed on the pier at Crail, stovies, and the duvet.
It’s all about priorities, see?
I forgot to add that without the printing press, we would all be illiterate, so you wouldn’t be able to read this, and I wouldn’t be able to write it, which is fine because there would be no one to print it anyway.
All of which is why sometimes I worry about our near neighbours to the south of Carter Bar.