Bunhill: Wouldn't life look better if our glasses cleaned themselves?

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The Independent Online
I reckon Bunhill's readers are about to boost the GNP by half a percentage point. I asked, if you remember, for suggestions of things that don't exist but that should. All we need now is companies to turn these wonderful ideas into products and the economy will surely boom again.

The ideas can be divided into several categories. First, vengeance:

q a bracelet programmed to respond to sounds or events by administering electric shocks. Could be used for parents who let their children scream in supermarkets, directors who say their companies are driven, led, committed, focused, etc (Christopher Sherwin, Newcastle under Lyme);

q a discreet pocket model jammer that stops mobile phones working in restaurants, pubs etc (Mr Sherwin).

Second, bizarre:

q sports tops with hoods at the front to cover the unacceptable faces of today's supporters (Laurence Manning, London).

Third, sensible:

q something we can put our reading glasses in at night that will have them beautifully clean when we wake up in the morning (Roger Keen, Bath);

q a bath that will fill itself with water to a pre-set level and temperature (Mr Sherwin again);

q a device that resets timing clocks after a power cut (and again);

q an automatic switch that keeps light levels steady at dawn or dusk (David Large, Gosforth);

q a shirt with a cuff you can write on, because you always think of things while away from paper (me, Bunhill Towers).

Fourth, Big Design in Dublin. They want me to plug their inventions, so here they are:

q a product that instantly heals shaving cuts;

q a device for cleaning a computer mouse's guts.

Who gets the champagne? Well, I handed out three bottles last week, so I will give another two away now - to Christopher Sherwin for inventiveness in bulk, and to Roger Keen because I, too, believe there is nothing as fine as a clean pair of glasses.

A HAPPY by-product of this competition is that I now have a personal radio I can listen to while swimming - which I said should exist a couple of weeks ago. Jane Griffiths of Huddersfield kindly sent me a brochure advertising the Speedo Surf Runner Radio, a snip at pounds 27.95. I am now the proud possessor of this device, which straps to the back of my head just under my wig. Nothing now will keep me from the swimming pool, and I confidently predict the rapid development of a washboard stomach and bulging pectorals.

I will now perform the same service for DJ Bell of Ware, who wants an audio system that allows you to set a timer to record radio programmes. It exists - I have one made by Aiwa, and simple ones are (or at least were) also available from Argos.

Bunhill - the useful column.

Smoked out

I WAS intrigued to see that Janet Sayers, a partner at the law firm Kennedys, has been given an award by the City of London Solicitors company for contributions that include "tireless work on the Carbolic Smoke Ball".

Couldn't let that one past, so I rang Kennedys and demanded to know what this strange event was. It is, it turns out, a lawyer's joke, which I shall now explain for non-lawyers.

In 1891/2, a winter of epidemics, a Mrs Carlill saw an advertisement in the Illustrated London News and Pall Mall Gazette. It was for a Carbolic Smoke Ball, which cost 10 shillings and was guaranteed thus: "pounds 100 reward will be paid to any person who contracts the increasing epidemic, influenza, colds after having used the ball three times daily for two weeks." It also said the ball would cure snoring and was used by a line-up that included the Kaiser and Lord Tennyson.

Mrs Carlill bought one, caught 'flu and when the company refused to give her pounds 100, issued a writ. The case came before Mr Justice Hawkins, who ruled that an advertisement "is capable of ripening into a contract". During its defence the company, which went into liquidation in 1895, used a barrage of ingenious defences. So ingenious, indeed, that the case of Carlill has been studied by contract law students ever since. Which explains why the Carbolic Smoke Ball is called that, even if it does not explain what a carbolic smoke ball is.

KIWI, the shoe polish company, has a theory. It is that the best employees are also the smartest employees. To test this, it has launched the Smart awards, under which personnel managers from British companies are asked to nominate staff who are (hold on to your stomachs) Strategic, Motivated, Admirable, Realistic and Time Efficient.

The interesting thing is that even though smartness is not a criterion of winning a Smart award, Kiwi expects the winners to be a thoroughly spruce bunch, with especially shiny shoes. "A positive appearance ... does make an important contribution to self confidence and the way in which others perceive that person," it says in its letter to us.

In the interests of testing this theory, which if true spells disaster for my prospects, I hereby encourage personnel directors to ring Georgina Marples on 0171-439 7227 to ask for an entry form.

All row together

I SAW my first dragon boat race last autumn. Now, apparently, this is one of the most popular corporate sports of the Nineties. Where do these "corporate sports" come from? Who invented the paint ball? Who decided executives need to race around in go-karts? Who is now putting them into colourful boats and sending them whizzing around London's Docklands? The answer, of course, is the consultant - who spends his or her time thinking of ways of forcing people together into teams so that camaraderie will be bred and a spirit of collaboration created. Clever people these consultants: never see them in teams, do you?