‘Get Brexit done, then Arpa’ read Dominic Cummings’s WhatsApp profile. Arpa was what’s now the American Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. Mr Cummings has departed, but our very own British Arpa has arrived. Downing Street has tweaked the Yankee acronym to ‘Aria’ — the Advanced Research and Invention Agency. Its aim? ‘High-risk, high-reward’ scientific research. The cost? £800 million over four years.
Ludicrous, no doubt: one of those fast-forgotten ‘eye-catching initiatives’ beloved of our leaders. But it got me thinking. We’re responsible for so many of the world’s great technologies and inventions. Steam engines, electric motors, television, telephones, incandescent light bulbs, the jet engine, computers, the world wide web, penicillin… What new achievements could lie in store? Where are the great unmet needs of we British?
I’ve been asking around. On the basis of my own and friends’ thoughts, I’ve drawn up a preliminary list. Through these pages, I now submit the following proposals to Aria for consideration — just to kick things off. Here are just some of the British inventions that could transform the 21st century:
• Nail-clippers with a built-in micro–hoover.
• A see-though toaster: why should we have to pop up the toast to find out if it’s time to pop up the toast? It never is.
• Toothbrushes with replaceable heads and refillable self-dispensing toothpaste in the handle. Just squeeze.
• Self-pairing socks. If pedigree bulls can be microchipped, why not errant socks? I’ve a whole drawer of single socks, pining for their lost mates.
• An automatic ‘happy birthday’ text-message sender programmed for a hundred of our closest friends.
• Dog-poo alarm. Don’t laugh. Fire alarms can smell, so why only smoke? With pets, we need alerting before we start looking. Works for babies too.
• Ceiling-rose light fittings that double up as fire alarms, supplying electrical current and obviating the need for those hideous separate alarms.
• Bins with a side-sleeve air passage to stop tightly packed bin-liners being vacuum-sucked to the base of the bin.
• An inverted water jar with connected base to keep pot plants irrigated while we go on holiday.
• Soap-scraps consolidator. New bars from old.
• Automatic hip-hop blocker for radio receivers.
• Automatic atonal-music-blocker for BBC Radio 3.
• Senior-citizen scarers. We can now repel youths with sound frequencies only they can hear. Next we need an equivalent for the elderly. Deploy it around polling stations, for instance.
• Rat-and-squirrel-proof seed waste-catcher for use beneath birdfeeders.
• Kitchen implement to replace unhygienic index finger for getting last jam from under jam jar rim.
• Tree protector, anchored by surrounding ground-level flat skirt of rigid plastic. Beasts cannot move protector while standing on skirt. No more stakes, post-knockers and subsoil rock.
• Clod-remover (like giant pastry–cutter): sledgehammered into the earth then retracted to create deep, tub-sized hole for planting out shrubs or saplings.
• Simple clip-on device to stop rug corners curling up/down.
• Zip-fixer for reuniting the two tracks of a pulled-apart zip.
• Electric stick-thrower for dogs (NB: dog to be trained to place retrieved stick in ejector-cradle).
• Rat trap with carbon-monoxide–dispensing feature for humane killing. No cruel poison.
• (For gentlemen): GPS, or genital positioning system — soft fabric stays sewn to the inside of underpants, allowing decision to dress to the left, the right, or up, or down.
• (For ladies): a discreet internal pouch within each brassiere cup for small valuables (notes, cards, rings, etc). Replaces the unsightly ‘bum bag’.
• Gents-in-shorts alarm: discreet buzzer to indicate to blokes squatting on haunches that something has popped out. Traumatic for children. If only my late father could have benefited from such an invention.
• Book-holding device for reading in bed lying on your back. Avoids aching arms.
• A means for determining the correct relative lengths of the major and minor ends of an as-yet-untied gentleman’s tie: around his neck but before he knots.
• An alarm that screams fattist abuse when a trolley containing high-calorie red-traffic-light food purchases approaches the checkout counter.
• A device that automatically accepts/rejects all internet cookies without asking every time.
• Degradable plastic that degrades on demand but not before.
• Garden parasols that don’t blow over or buckle; the canopy consists of densely packed hanging rags. Minimal wind-resistance, and only with the sun directly overhead will rays pass through.
• For these Covid times: a two-metre encroachment alarm to be worn around the neck, with stern recorded warning from Matthew Hancock.
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