The regular readers of this blog and the web site which preceded it might be aware that I have always been reluctant to describe individuals as heroes of one country or another: I think of myself as an internationalist and most of my heroes tended to have a similar outlook. I have always been suspicious of those who tub thump about someone achieving, the illusive title of greatness because they were by an accident of birth born in one part of the world rather than another; the most obvious people afflicted by this nonsense are the SNP and the mob who follow them “it might be rubbish but at least it’s Scottish rubbish” those people.
I find it easy to ridicule this baloney when I hear about the Scottish greats like Bruce, Wallace (not the Lisbon lion), and nonentities like Sean Connery and the over hyped Robert Burns; I much prefer John McLean; Keir Hardie; Alexander Fleming and Oor Wullie (OK the last one is a joke). The reason I am writing this is to confess that despite my cynicism about national heroes there is occasionally one who genuinely fits the bill and I don’t mind as much when I hear him / her called a great Scot; if that is illogical then I will live with it.
Two days ago March 22nd. 2010 such a man passed away at the grand old age of 85, Sir James Black; I will put aside my dislike of titles in his case. OM, FRS,FRSE,FRCP a Doctor and pharmacologist, winner of the Nobel Prize for Medicine (1988) even at 85 years old you would have to say that this guy didn’t waste a minute. Millions of people who are familiar with the words Propranolol and Cimetidine which are drugs, have great cause to thank him, when you realize that we are talking about Beta Blockers to treat heart problems which have saved millions of lives as the former and the treatment of Peptic Ulcers and the saving of millions more lives as the latter we can begin to see that this man has played a part in the lives of countless numbers of people; just about everyone knows someone who has benefited from the inventions; research and genius of Sir James Black.
A long time ago I suffered chronic stomach pains and was eventually referred to a consultant who examined me and told me and showed me through X rays that I had peptic ulcers; my response was to ask him how big an operation it would be. About that time the operation was common and it was a big deal and you were out of the game for about 6 weeks; also about that time unknown to me the great man had worked his magic and the operation had become scarce; the consultant was able to tell me that I would be put on a 6 week course of drugs by my GP which would cure me; there would be no side effects and no need for time off work and he was correct.
Consider the savings made by the NHS by issuing a 6 week course of drugs rather than a major operation, the time and money saved by not having to stay off work. Consider the savings in treatment of heart disease and the costs of big dangerous operations and recovery times and time lost at work by his invention of Beta Blockers. This man saved the NHS limitless billions of pounds and improved and saved the lives of countless millions of people and here is the best part; the part that no money grabbing capitalist entrepreneur can even begin to understand, I have heard nothing and been unable to find any evidence of him cashing in on his inventions; it never seemed to occur to him to patent anything. He could have been one of the richest people on the planet but that didn’t drive him he simply followed his brilliant and beautiful mind wherever it took him.
If Scots. must have heroes and statues; forget the usual suspects; unusually for me I would be proud to say I come from the same country as this great man; we had the same accident of birth. Sir James Black deserves the title of a great man and a great Scot. if you prefer to call him that.