Inventing ways to be a superhero of humanity

Ellen's son, dressed as Spiderman

Ellen's son, dressed as Spiderman - Credit: Archant

Ellen Widdup’s escape to the country

LAST night when I was going to bed I received a strange text message from an unknown number.

It said: “Do you want to change the world? Yes or no?”

Obviously I didn’t reply.

My first thought was that it might be some clever ruse to scam me out of personal, financial or sensitive information for the purpose of identity theft.

Then I wondered that by responding to the rallying call when it was not actually intended for me, I might be infiltrating or obstructing an ingenious plan to wipe out Third World debt. And who wants that on their conscience?

But the overriding reason I did not click “reply” was that I didn’t really know what to say.

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I mean, how on Earth do you answer such a question with a simple yes or no?

Sure, it would be great if I could erase poverty, disease, crime, war and pollution.

But sadly I do not possess superhero powers.

Having said that, there are people past and present who were not endowed with superhuman agility, endurance or strength but were simply born to make a difference.

Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King, Karl Marx, Charles Darwin, Mahatma Gandhi, Shakespeare, Mozart, Picasso, Einstein, to name just a few.

There are others whose misguided intentions and megalomania have also had an impact, albeit a less positive one – Adolf Hitler springs to mind.

And yet more who have helped shape life as we now know it.

After all, where would we be without the scientific discoveries which led to the wide use of antibiotics, anaesthesia and immunisation? And wouldn’t it be terribly dull if the inventors of the computer, aeroplane, telephone and television had never had a brainwave?

I took to Goggle this afternoon (with thanks to Tim Berners-Lee for the World Wide Web) to find out what, if anything, I could do to make my mark.

I quickly ruled out world leader – I’m simply not cut out for such responsibility. I also drew a line through scientist (not clever enough), musician (I don’t play an instrument) and artist (the white emulsion on my living room wall doesn’t quite have the impact of the Sistine Chapel). I briefly wondered if I could change the world as a writer but then discounted that too. I’m not sure my ramblings about living in the countryside and bringing up two children are going to leave a lasting impression.

I was left with inventor.

Well it can’t be that difficult, can it?

A quick peruse of Wikipedia reveals that a great many things were discovered by accident, including cornflakes, microwave ovens, Post-it Notes and crisps. Alexander Fleming, of course, discovered penicillin after mould grew on a dish he forgot to wash-up.

Perhaps I could just sit tight and hope to find a miracle cure for hair loss in my toilet bowl?

Alternatively I could try to identify a problem and provide the solution.

Surprisingly, I actually found a website called Betterific, which lists dilemmas for novice inventors to solve.

Under the heading “wouldn’t it be better if” was a selection of ideas.

Some were practical: Wouldn’t it be better if your house had a central locking system like your car; toilets had pedal-lift lids like dustbins so you didn’t have to touch the seat; milk cartons changed colour when the milk went off; handbags had little lights inside so you could see what’s lurking in the bottom when you opened it.

Others were funny: Wouldn’t it be better if Batman had a lightsabre; I could read my wife’s mind; prisoners were put on giant hamster wheels to generate electricity for the rest of us. But none of them seemed particularly achievable ways for me to change the world.

I was just logging out of my computer, resigned to the fact that the mysterious text had done nothing but point out that I was a miserable failure, when my son walked in dressed as Spider-Man.

“Have you seen the Green Goblin?” he asked.

“No, sorry,” I replied, scanning the floor for his plastic nemesis. “What do you want with him?”

My son rolled his eyes (a tricky thing to do behind a latex mask).

“Well obviously I need to stop him before he strikes again,” he replied. “It’s up to me to save the world.”

What a relief. It looks like it’s not going to be my job to leave a lasting legacy after all.

As the original comic book hero said: “Not everyone is meant to make a difference. And with great power comes great responsibility.”

Email me at or find me on Twitter @EllenWiddup.

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