A Geezer’s Notebook, By Jim Foster
Have you ever wondered how Dr. John Watson must have felt when Alexander Graham Bell was given all the credit for inventing the telephone, knowing full well that most of the glory should have gone to him? Hardly anyone remembers it was John, not Alex, who heard the phone ring, picked it up and bought two tickets to the Shrine Circus.
It has ever been thus. Society has always honoured the inventors with ticker tape parades, statues in the parks and gala balls, but not once have they ever recognised their assistants, those unsung heroes who were so vital to the success of the project. The helpers who worked long hours, often at minimum wage, are quickly forgotten when the awards are handed out.
No one is rushing out to buy shares in Watson Canada or shovelling quarters into a Watson payphone to listen to a machine tell them to press ‘one’ if they want service in English, ‘two’ for service in French and ‘three’ if they would like to request a particular radio station to listen to while they are on hold until the following Tuesday.
How many remember, or have even heard of Cedric Watson, Thomas Edison’s helper? When Tom said, “Pick up that wire and tell me what you feel.” It was Cedric who grabbed it and said, “Nothing.”
Nor did anyone record Edison’s next words, “Well then don’t touch the one beside it. It’s carrying 50,000 volts.”
Of course we all are familiar with Frederick Banting and Charles Best, the discoverers of insulin. But where on the historical plaques honouring these two distinguished gentlemen do we see the name of their aged assistant, Cyril Watson, who sat on the needle?
History is filled with so many examples of these unfortunate oversights. Well, I suppose it’s because we have no way of knowing if there was an assistant on hand to be oversot.
This complete disregard of the contributions of underpaid and overworked lab workers is not confined to the world of inventions and medical science. Many famous composers and artists also gained great glory at the expense of their assistants.
A classic example of this failure in the reward system has to be Antonino Watson, a renaissance painter who worked alongside the great Michelangelo on the Sistine Chapel contract. Granted, Mike worked for years upside down on the ceiling, but no one bothered to thank Antonino, the man who put on the primer. (Although to be honest he wouldn’t have been around to accept the accolades anyway, Tony fell off the scaffold after a three-bottle lunch and is now an integral part of the Sistine floor.)
How many readers have read about, or even heard of, that unsung Norwegian hero, Lars Watson, who toiled alongside Pers Husqvarna perfecting the chainsaw? It was Lars, not Pers, who worked all week trying to cut down a Douglas Fir. It was Lars, a week later when Husqvarna went to see what was keeping him and pulled the cord said, “What’s that noise?”
How often does the name Igor come up whenever the deeds of Dr. Frankenstein are being debated? Yet it was Igor Watson who plodded from grave to grave after dark looking for spare parts.
Joseph Armand Bombardier is world-famous for inventing the first successful snowmobile. His company has branched out into every conceivable form of transportation from jet planes to streetcars. But I don’t see anyone running out to buy a Jean-Pierre Watson snow machine or a Watson 747 named after Jean-Pierre; he was the flunkey lying under the snowmobile waxing the ski when Joe started it up.
Yes there has always been a helper, a friend or some poor soul who happened to be walking by minding his or her own business that contributed to every great discovery, but was forgotten. (Oddly enough, they have all been named Watson — quite remarkable when you think about it.)
Yet to a man, they never received international acclaim. No books were ever written about them. No movies of the life and loves of a Watson starring Kevin Costner or Charlton Heston ever graced the silver screen. The Watsons of this world are the real heroes, yet their deeds and dedication to the cause have been lost to history. There are no fig cookies named after Percy Watson, but it was Percy who was climbing an apple tree to get a better look into the bedroom of Miss Penelope Simms and knocked an apple down on the balding head of Sir Isaac Newton. Newton took all the credit for the discovery of the Law of Gravity, yet without the clumsiness and voyeurism addiction of Percy Watson, the Law would never have been passed and we’d all be lying on the ground today hanging on for dear life.
We all understand how this happens. It isn’t anyone’s fault. That is one of the vicissitudes (I don’t know what it means either) of life.
Few of us will ever hear the story of Isaac Watson, an Israeli tailor who designed Joseph’s coat of many colours. Nor is it recorded anywhere that the sleeves were too long and it had to be sent back for alterations. As if that wasn’t bad enough, some heathen Hittite stole his design and turned out hundreds of cheap knock-offs at a fraction of the price.
However one man must never be forgotten. There is one assistant to whom the world owes so much, Angus Watson. It was Angus who was instrumental in inventing that fine musical instrument that we hear in the better concert halls today. Yes, my friends, I’m talking about the bagpipe. Although all the glory for the invention of this most intricate and melodic instrument was bestowed on Wild William Wallace many centuries ago, it was Angus who really deserved the fame. Everyone knows that William crafted the world’s first bagpipe from his wife’s tartan knitting bag and some drainpipes he found in his basement, but his prototype never worked. Wild Bill blew and blew for hours on end, yet he never produced one sound.
It was Angus Watson who thought to stick in a cat.