The Industrial Renaissance

Teenage mutant ninja turtles

Teenage mutant ninja turtles (Photo credit: cubedude27)

I have to confess that the names Michelangelo and Leonardo make me think of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles long before I think of Florence and all the amazing architecture and artwork. Even so, it’s an amazing place. We spent a day there and marvelled at all the sights. Our tour guide was a short, round man who sported a massive pink umbrella which he held aloft for us to follow. One of the first things he told us was that he was homosexual. At first I wondered what relevance his sexuality could possibly have, but as he took us around all the beautiful buildings he pointed out, he told us a little about the famous renaissance men.

The way he explained it, they were all lovers and they spent their spare time, whilst they weren’t painting masterpieces or carving marble, sleeping with each other. “It was a marvellous time” he told us in his squeaky Italian accented voice. “There was love everywhere and that’s where the inspiration for all these masterpieces came from.” Whatever it was that inspired those great artists, they did a fine job, even if it does mean you get fleeced everywhere you because you are in the presence of greatness.

Although they are very nice works of art and Florence is a beautiful city, I have far more respect for another period in history. If I could travel back in time, the period of choice has to be the Industrial Revolution. In less than a century, a number of inventors transformed the world. Great advances in textiles, metallurgy and energy made more of an impact than any other period that came before (and arguably afterwards). Isambard Kingdom Brunel built God’s Wonderful Railway and if he’d won the argument about how wide apart the rails should be, we would have much faster, safer and more comfortable trains today. Instead, Stephenson, another Victorian engineer won out. Railway lines spread out across the country in a frenzy of navvies.

It was an age that saw the first postage stamp, the first pedal bicycle and the first flushing toilet. Telephones and typewriters were invented along with petrochemicals. For those with a sweet tooth, someone invented jelly babies and ice cream. Pasteurisation meant you could eat the ice cream without fear of being poisoned. The electric light bulb came along to light up our lives. For those with an ear for music, along came the gramophone and the wireless. Children all over the world (as well as some grown up children) give thanks for the invention of the comic book.

Maybe we will look back at the last hundred years and think it a revolution of a different kind. The internet revolution, although undoubtedly profound, somehow pales in my mind when compared with the achievements of our Victorian forefathers.