Leading Article: As a matter of fax

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The Independent Online
THE DISCOVERY, or rediscovery, of the fact that a Scotsman, Alexander Bain, invented the first fax machine exactly 150 years ago will be greeted blithely in the inventor's native land. Wise men and women in the bens, glens and fitted kitchens from Berwick to Thurso will not start and cry aloud: Wheesht, Jeannie, d'ye see this news aboout the fax] Crivvens and help ma boab, a Scotsman invented the damned thing. They will simply tut and say: Tuts man, of course.

Scotland or Scots invented everything, or everything that counts: the steam engine, the telephone, penicillin, the mackintosh, tarmacadam, the bicycle, television, the scone, and (see Rab C Nesbitt) the thrifty fashion of wearing a vest instead of a shirt. Neither will this race of extremely perceptive people be at all surprised by the news that the admirable Mr Bain died penniless and in the firm belief that the whole world was against him. The whole world probably was, and these days - Ravenscraig steel mill shut, Rosyth dockyard's future doubtful, the incredible decision to leave off painting the Forth Bridge after 103 years of continuous brushing - present generations of Bains would not have to be completely paranoid to believe that the whole world is again.

Still, not a bad list of achievements for such a wee country, eh? Of course, it does not do to look too close. Logie Baird's television was a technological cul-de-sac; Fleming can't take too much of the credit for penicillin; Watt's innovation was the separate condenser which improved the steam engine rather than the engine itself. Better to take the long view and invent something so utterly unnecessary to its age that it suffers 150 years of neglect and is then honoured by a television documentary. Better, if they get Channel 4 in heaven, to be Bain.

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