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Herald Express - - Letters & Opinion -

SHE blinded me with sci­ence – Ju­dith Hann, that is. She was there on the sofa the other night as the BBC paid a kind of a trib­ute to its best-ever sci­ence pro­gramme. Mag­gie Philbin was there too.

For­give me an­other week wal­low­ing in TV nos­tal­gia, but I loved To­mor­row’s World through­out the Six­ties and Seven­ties, when Ray­mond Bax­ter and James Burke talked us through the in­tri­ca­cies of the space mis­sions and promised that we would all be trav­el­ling around on per­son­alised jet packs by the 1990s.

Ju­dith Hann ex­plained the lat­est de­vel­op­ments in the world of medicine, and may have had a hand in show­ing us the very first Com­pact Disc, on which we would be able to lis­ten to the mu­sic which up to now had been en­graved into the scratchy grooves in a black vinyl plat­ter.

If mem­ory serves me cor­rectly, they spread mar­malade over a copy of a Dire Straits CD and then played it to prove the laser tech­nol­ogy would work per­fectly well even if the disc was be­smirched. Who knew such won­der­ments were pos­si­ble?

Not ev­ery­thing went ac­cord­ing to plan, and plenty of new in­ven­tions failed to func­tion cor­rectly in the stu­dio. As if in trib­ute, a brand-new robot went a bit hay­wire dur­ing the trib­ute pro­gramme, some­thing to do with band­width. We wouldn’t have had it any other way.

The best of the pre­sen­ters back in the day was the for­mer Se­cond World War Spit­fire pi­lot Ray­mond Bax­ter, who had also com­peted in the Monte Carlo Rally and was there­fore the per­fect per­son to ex­plain the lat­est de­vel­op­ments in sci­ence to an ea­ger fa­ther and son in Paign­ton.

We em­barked on a num­ber of sci­ence projects from the com­fort of our home. We bought a kit with which to make a pocket cal­cu­la­tor, which may have come from Sin­clair. The smell of sol­der filled our house for a cou­ple of evenings as we laboured to as­sem­ble the tiny cir­cuit boards and diodes, and even­tu­ally we had a ser­vice­able cal­cu­la­tor that did all the ba­sic non-sci­en­tific stuff. We also made a rudi­men­tary dig­i­tal watch. Most ex­cit­ing, how­ever, was the dig­i­tal clock that we had some time in the early Seven­ties. This had come in kit form from STC up the road, where dad and his mates had ac­quired the bits and pieces needed to as­sem­ble an ac­tual work­ing clock that had no hands and no winder.

Just a few years af­ter man first set foot on the moon, we were about to have our first dig­i­tal clock. It was a gi­ant leap for Paign­ton.

More del­i­cate wisps of sol­der smoke rose into the air as the great time­piece took shape. A lit­tle green cir­cuit board was kit­ted out with ca­pac­i­tors and other tiny wire com­po­nents, and four glass bulbs were fit­ted in a row to show the fig­ures. A case was lev­ered into place and thing was plugged in.

Af­ter a few mo­ments of ut­ter re­lief that it hadn’t gone off with a bang and blown the fuses all the way down the street, we watched its lit­tle glow­ing red nu­mer­als as they told the time in a mag­i­cal new way.

Did we all sit up, as a fam­ily, way be­yond our bed­times, af­ter the TV had fin­ished for the night, to watch the new clock reg­is­ter a mag­i­cal four ze­ros at mid­night?

Of course we did.

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