Belfast Telegraph

Friday 29 August 2014

We must return to a golden age of engineering?

Some Tory tweeted that it was leftie multicultural c***. NI Culture Minister Caral ni Chuilin didn't like the Industrial Revolution bit which, she said, reminded her of British colonialism.

A lesson there about how people watching the same thing can still take vastly different messages from it. Which usually tells us more about their own prejudices than the performance.

But who cares if Danny Boyle's Olympics opener was too leftie for some and too rightie for others?

The important thing is, it wasn't middling.

It was meant to be entertaining and it succeeded spectacularly by choosing the less-travelled route of a quick and quirky romp through (fairly) recent British history from the viewpoint of the working man and woman.

It saluted the jewel (for all its flaws) that is the NHS and it gave centre stage (well, an aisle anyway) to the workers whose hard graft created the stadium. How often do you see that?

There was a bit of trad culture - Shakespeare from our own Isambard Kingdom Branagh: Jerusalem from a youth choir - and a generous swathe of popular culture.

There were unlikely sights - fluorescent doves on flying bikes and the Queen doing Bond.

But for me the high point was the towering majesty of those carbon-emitting factory chimneys.

Maybe there was a message there about industrialisation (capitalism?) despoiling the bucolic landscape of Constable and Worzel Gummidge.

But let's hear it anyway for those dark satanic mills. And for the fitting inclusion in the whole magnificent circus of Sir Tim Berner-Lee one of the great, (relatively) unsung heroes of our age.

The father of the world wide web could have used his life's work to make himself very rich indeed. Instead he continues to champion open and free communication.

Berners-Lee and so many others like him in the field of science, technology and medicine rarely get the credit they deserve in a celebrity obsessed world where it's all about (often dubious) arts and famous for being famous.

Why do we have so little respect in this age for the innovators, the inventors, the scientists and the people who make things?

Aside from Sir Kenneth, Dame Mary, Snow Patrol, the choir and of course the athletes, our most visible contribution to London's Olympics effort has been in the form of transportation - the Wright buses which are built in Ballymena and are now synonymous with the capital's public transport system.

Boris loves them. Dave Cameron praises them. But do the PM and the Coalition fully appreciate the importance of the innovation of the manufacturing and science sector?

Sometimes you have to wonder.

Entrepreneur Sir James Dyson argues: "Our obsession with the Square Mile means that we remain good at making money from money - but we need to get better at making money from making things too."

If the country is to move forward - and particularly in this time of recession - we need to get young people excited, he says, by science and engineering.

Sir James is described as a vacuum manufacturer.

The Coalition, unless they listen to his message and take heed of it, may be in danger of creating a vacuum of their own.

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