18th February 2009
For many years I have worked closely with the Midlands engineering industry and have come to the startling conclusion that it's demise has a direct correlation with smoking.
Let me explain. The foundations of the UK's manufacturing industry were laid by back street engineers, who designed the engines that drove the industrial revolution largely by rule of thumb.
You don't have to look any further than our esteemed Mr Brindley to see what I mean. Here was a man of humble origins and limited training, who masterminded and designed an integrated communication system that turned the UK upside down, setting us on a path that would lead to world domination in trade and commerce. Did he have an MBA in Applied Transportation and the support of a high capacity laptop loaded with the latest versions of Microsoft Project, Critical Path spreadsheets and Visio process mapping? I don't think so! No, Mr Brindley managed to realise his Grand Cross vision from the back of a proverbial fag packet.
The recent transition to a largely non smoking nation has deprived an entire generation of engineers of their most vital support tool:
No smokers = no cigarettes
No cigarettes = no fag packets
No fag packets = nowhere to record those transient moments if brilliance
QED: The demise of smoking and the collapse of Industrial Britain are inextricably linked.
So, as recession teeters on the brink of depression, what are we to do? I could argue that the Government should do everything in it's power to restore the fortunes of the tobacco industry, but that is probably unnecessary. What we need is the innovation made possible by the humble fag packet, not the associated lung cancer - which would kill off the innovative spirit we are trying to encourage. No, all we need are the fag packets themselves. Come to think of it, we don't even need the packets, just the backs.
My suggestion is therefore simple. Pads of "virtual fag packets" should be produced under license from Players, and then distributed to every able bodied man and woman across the length and breadth of Britain. Armed with this essential tool, all those millions of bright ideas will be captured and developed, returning our once great nation to the forefront of innovation and economic prosperity.
Just a thought.
NB. On reflection, I can see a small but significant historical hole in my argument. Mr Brindley undertook most of his canal building endeavours in the mid to late 1700's, and certainly before his untimely death in 1772. Cigarettes, on the other hand, did not become generally available in the UK till after the Crimean War (1853/1856) placing the trusty fag packet beyond his figurative grasp by about 100 years.
However, I don't see why a small technicality like that should stand in the way of a good story!