Bleepers for opening peepers of railway sleepers
Anthony Clavane is the author of Does Your Rabbi Know You're Here?, a social history of Jewish involvement in English football, which was shortlisted for the 2013 Football Book Of The Year. His first book, Promised Land, won the 2011 Sports Book Of The Year.
Saturday 27 June 1998
By day, Clive's a self-employed, double-glazing window-fitter from Essex. By night, he's a visionary inventor driven by the desire to awaken his fellow countrymen from their apathy; to arouse them from their slumber. Especially if they happen to be travelling on the 18.48 from Liverpool Street to Clacton. "This time, next year," he keeps promising his young partner, Brett, "we'll be millionaires".
As Brett and I board the 18.48 - 20 minutes late due to a broken-down train in Chelmsford - we joke about inventing a bleeping device that could alert commuters to delays. If anyone can do it, we agree, Clive can. "Wolly's very charismatic," Brett purrs. "Always coming up with ideas."
One of "Wolly's" greatest ideas involved installing cars with high-pitched whistles to scare away foxes, badgers and rabbits, thus reducing the animals' prospects of being run over. Unfortunately, it attracted dogs instead and had to be ditched. "So, rather than squashed foxes," explains Brett, "you'd have got squashed Labradors."
Sadly, Wolly will not be joining us on tonight's journey. When I rang him to arrange an interview, the self-appointed champion of the dozing commuter confessed to being a non-rail user. "I drive a van," he chuckled. "I've used the train twice in my life."
Brett produces a prototype of the pocket-sized personal destination indicator, which will bleep half a mile away from your stop after picking up a signal from a track-side beacon. Martin from Braintree, who is sitting opposite, eyes it suspiciously. "It's another intrusion, as far as I'm concerned," he huffs. "Soon people will be wearing a belt with all these electronic devices attached. If you think about it deeply, it smacks of electronic tagging."
When Clive meets us at Kelvedon, he appears unperturbed by such scepticism; everyone he speaks to has their own horror story of being marooned. "How old was this Martin from Braintree? Middle-aged, I bet," says the inventor. No, early 30s. "Well, I'll smash his face in." After the laughter has subsided, he adds: "It doesn't hurt to hear the other side. But if I had that personality, I'd think: `Oh blimey, no point in me continuing then'. But that's me. I'm always trying to think of ways of making money."
The interest in the Sleeper Bleeper vindicates his instinct. Journalists are beating a path to his door. Tomorrow's World is interested, the DTI have given him financial backing and - the ultimate accolade surely - he is being followed around by a fly-on-the-wall documentary team.
Being a docu-soap star has great spin-off potential, which is why Clive is seeking a shirt sponsorship deal a la Shearer and Beckham. "That Maureen, the learner driver on the telly, made 50 grand last year. People can relate to her."
People can also relate to Clive. His invention might not appeal to the Martins-from-Braintree but he seems destined to become as famous as Maureen from Driving School and Jeremy from Airport.
"I'm talking to the right people now," he sighs. "Eight years ago, when the idea came to me, I wasn't. And people with great ideas, like me, weren't getting any support going any further." The Del Boy of Bleep Britannia winks at his partner Brett. "This time it's different, ain't it, geezer. This time we're going all the way. All the way, mate."
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