Matthew Parris Matthew Parris

The 31 inventions that Britain really needs


‘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.

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