Monday, January 03, 2005

Squashing the Inventive spirit

Many years ago when I was a third year junior in Cyprus I designed and constructed a miniature dart made from a sewing needle, a piece of insulation from an electrical wire, paper and sticky back plastic. I could load it into an empty biro case and fire it with incredible accuracy. I was so proud of this invention that I had to take it to school to show my friends. They were amazed that I could hit a small target from ten feet.
I spent a while demonstrating this weapon of mass distraction. My friends all stood round marvelling. Suggesting targets I could hit.
I was lining up a shot at a painting on the wall, when someone nudged me saying "Gis us a go." The dart was on it's way and hit Cheryl B in the shoulder. She screamed.
We all stood there looking at her while this hyperdermic was dangling from her skin. She pulled it out and the tiniest beed of scarlet appeared on her skin. It couldn't have been more than a millimetre in diameter. But she screamed some more.
My first thought was she was a wimp. My second thought was "please stop screaming." She didn't. A teacher ran in to see what the commotion was about. Mr Humphreys, God bless him, my favourite teacher.
Cheryl B was a whimpering wreck.
For Gods sake, it's only a flesh wound. Get over it. You're not dead. Claim your purple heart and take it like a man. But she wasn't a man she was a nine year old girl. She stood there holding my incredible invention and pointing to the merest drop of blood on her shoulder.
"Mike Da Hat shot me wiv it."
Yes I wore hats even at that age. Then it was an army bush hat. Given to me by some guy in the UN. I had army badges all over it and wore it Australian fashion one side pinned up. I wore it all the time. Even in bed. The blue UN badge taking pride of place right at the front. To the left was the badge of 261 signal squadron and to the right the badge of the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers. REME.
Mr Humphrey took the dart and my arm and dragged me off to an interview with the headmaster, Mr Warner. I was left outside the office while Mr Humphrey went in to explain the situation to the headmaster. After a few minutes I was called in.
I stood in front of the headmasters desk while Mr Warner held my creation in his fingers.
"This is a very dangerous thing." he said.
I know that. But look at the workmanship. Look at the creative genius that went into making it.
"You could have blinded someone with this."
I know that as well. It's a lethal weapon but I made it with my own hands. Don't you think it's incredible. It's so accurate.
"I don't know what I'm going to do with you.
Give me a medal for being a genius.
"I am going to have to speak to your parents about this."
Please. That would be great, tell them how inventive I am.
"I am also going to have to write a letter to poor Cheryls parents apologising for this incident."
What? What on earth for? She made such a fuss over nothing. You ought to be giving HER grief for being a wimp. We're armed forces children, we're made of tougher stuff than that. Why are you on at me? You should be congratulating me for being so inventive. A credit to humanity. One of the chosen few, who are truly gifted.
"Well? Don't you have anything to say for yourself?"
I said nothing. I shuffled a bit.
"Come on boy, haven't you a tongue in your mouth?"
At this point I knew I had to say something. We were part of the priveliged few. I had responsibility. My Father was the station Warrant Officer, I could not let him down, I couldn't let the armed forces down by keeping quiet and wimping out like Cheryl B. I wasn't going to cry. The reputation of the whole of the British Empire rested on me at that moment. I had to admit responsibility and take it like a man. I wanted to cry, I was so scared. I bit my lip.
"Well?" Mr Warner looked at me with one of his sternest stares.
"It was my dart. I made it, and I'm sorry that this happened."
"And it's not going to happen again?"
"No Sir."
"I don't want to see you in my office ever again."
"NO Sir."
"Well cut along then."
What no punishment? No firing squad? No stripping to the waist and getting whipped to within an inch of my life? Not even detention?
I walked out his office, amazed that I hadn't even incurred jankers. Nothing. I got off scot free. Perhaps he recognised my genius after all. Secretly he knew my dart was a precurser to greater things. I was going to save the world, cure cancer, solve the worlds economic problems, feed the third world, I was going to be the next Kissinger, a nobel prize winner.
How wrong he was. I ended up a nobody. My contribution to this world
amounts to exactly nothing. I have dedicated my life to non achievement.

Maybe I can convince myself I've scared a few birds so planes from Luton and Heathrow didn't crash due to bird strikes. I might have saved hundreds of lives. I've built a few gardens as a landscape gardener. But hey! That doesn't ignite the passions. I've baked countless loaves of bread as a baker and saved the world from hunger. I've repaired countless vacuum cleaners and microwave ovens. But does that drag me into the hall of fame? No. I'm just one of the forgotten masses.

We all crave recognition for the small part we play in this world. I'm a musician. I'm not even a good musician. I do a job. I entertain a few people who happen to turn up at a venue. They don't come to see me. They are there by default. They've got nothing better to do.
But when they start singing along and dancing in front of us, for a very short time I feel important. When girls come up to us and start kissing us and saying "thank you" then it becomes worthwhile. I'm not going to change the world. I'm not going to make a difference. But for a very short while. For a very few people, I am up there. I could have been someone but then so could any one. I'm just me. I don't want to pretend I'm something I'm not. But that dart was something else. I could have laid waste to the world with that dart. A small acorn that was trodden into the dust.

Rock on dudes we're all just small cogs in a bigger world.

iPod now playing - Boom Boom by John Lee Hooker


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