Next time you utter this "expression of surprise or amazement", give a thought, beyond the exclamation, to how many Great Scottish persons there have been and what they've done to cement society as we know it.
We all know that the fertile Scots (with some assistance from the Viking Norsefolk) are responsible (through descent) for millions of red haired, fair-skinned and freckled children worldwide, and who we, here in Oz, take great delight in teasingly calling "rangas", some say from a barely credible resemblance to the orange hair of the Orang Utan. We also associate Scotland with tartan, thistles, whisky, porridge, haggis, bagpipes and black puddin', but how many of us know that many Great Scots are responsible for what we take for granted in our daily lives?
Here's a starting list of just a few of the innovations and inventions, as brought to you courtesy of a 'Jock' or a 'Mac':
- Raincoat - The Mackintosh is thought to have been invented by Scottish surgeon, James Syme, but this fabric 'sandwich' with tarry rubber in the middle, was refined as a raincoat by fellow Scot, Charles Macintosh. Where better to invent an effective rain shield, pre-plastic, than in the land of 'Scotch Mist'?
- Gin and Tonic - The quinine in tonic was reportedly discovered as a treatment for malaria by Edinburgh-born George Leghorn. Because of quinine's bitter taste it was commonly taken with gin, after the the sun had gone down below the yard-arm and the mozzies came out to feast, by a generation of semi-sozzled tropic-based expatriates. I am also guilty of having been 'pissed' after partaking in this prophylactic pastime, all purely for medicinal purposes, of course. I used to regularly imbibe a 'g' and 't' more often than not when in London, rather than when in the tropics, which goes to show that quinine is also effective at keeping mozzies away. After all, there aren't any mozzies in London are there?
- Colour Photography - The red-green-blue colour method, which is the base for almost all practical color processes, was first proposed by Scottish physicist James Clerk Maxwell. Hard to believe that, before the 1970s, we used to take photos in monochrome (black and white), using film which had to be processed at a pharmacy or in a 'dark room' for the enthusiast. Instant digital colour images, however, have still failed to definitively capture the 'pink elephant' or the 'blue monkey', so often seen as a consequence of partaking in too many of the above prophylactic drinks.
- Fingerprints - North Ayrshire born physician, Henry Faulds, has been credited with recognising the uniqueness of the pattern of ridges on our fingertips to each individual. Funnily enough, when he offered his services to Scotland Yard, that bastion of British sleuths, he was knocked back. This goes to show that, unless you 'put your best foot forward' and 'put your foot down', you can't always 'put your finger on' the solution at the right time.
- Penicillin - The dawn of the antibiotic age was heralded by the discovery of penicillin by Alexander Fleming, a Scottish biologist, pharmacologist and botanist. Although mouldy bread poultices have reportedly been used to heal wounds as far back as ancient Egypt, Fleming is credited with the 'accidental' discovery and isolation of what was to revolutionise medicine. The story goes that he found what was to be the lifesaving mould growing on some cultures left out untidily while he was away on holiday. So tidiness isn't always next to godliness? I guess they 'broke the mould' after Fleming was cast ...... ?
- Hypodermic Syringe - The invention of the first hypodermic injecting device that used a true combination of glass syringe and hollow needle has been credited to Alexander Wood who was born in Cupar, Fyfe. It was first used solely for the administration of morphia and preparations of opium, although Wood reportedly was aware of its potentially for much wider application, but perhaps the most interesting tit-bit comes from his biographer, who writes that Wood "had taken the sting of the bee as his model". However, the original hollow steel needle and glass syringe, back in the day, would have appeared more like a giant serpent's fangs than a bee sting which is more akin to the small disposal syringes used this days. Incidentally, one of my butt 'cheeks' still features a large dimple from the application of one of those early horse syringes when I was a sick baby. I don't often share this gem, as I hate to be the butt of others' sharp humour.
- Facsimile Machine - Caithness clockmaker and inventor, Alexander Bain, is credited, not just with inventing the electric clock and chemical telegraph (don't ask), but also with that marvellous invention, the facsimile machine, the first real apparatus capable of transmitting the images which we now take for granted thanks to photocopiers, scanners, digital cameras and email. I am actually old enough to remember when the fax was the best thing since sliced bread. Some of my younger colleagues also believe I had a hand in engineering the pyramids.
- Log Tables - Believe it or not, these magic books of mystical numbers were once the primary method of calculating to great accuracy, and are not a reference to where a lumberjack has his lunch. They were discovered by John Napier, an Edinburgh born mathematician, physicist and astronomer, whose name was cursed by many a youth back in my school days, as they were a pig to use compared to the modern day electronic calculators or maths apps on our smart phones. I also remember the archaic slide rule, the abacus and, furthermore, am capable of performing simple multiplication, division and addition using mental arithmetic, a feat of apparent magic these days, when check-out staff are having problems with their register and there is no smart keyboard within coo hey.
- Eternal Youth - Now hold on, ladies! This is not a reference to some magical potion or cream, which will have you looking like you did when you saw the first sparkle in the eye of your now husband. I pitifully plead guilty to providing a hook in order to draw you to the end of my list. This eternal youth is, of course, a reference to the mischievous imp, Peter Pan, who spent his endless childhood in Neverland, and to his creator and famous Scots novelist and playwright, JM Barrie. So let me make amends, fair damsels, by quoting young Pan, who, when talking to Wendy, states:
"one girl is more use than twenty boys.”
When not researching the weird or the wonderful, the comical or the cultured, the sinful or the serious, I chase my creative side, the results of which can be seen as selected photographs of my travels on my website at:
The author of the above, Ken Boddie, besides being a sometime poet and occasional writer, is an enthusiastic photographer, rarely leisure-travelling without his Canon, and loves to interact with other like-minded people with diverse interests.
Ken's three day work week (part time commitment) as a consulting engineer allows him to follow his photography interests, and to plan trips to an ever increasing list of countries and places of scenic beauty and cultural diversity.