I was looking up cat's eyes with the vague intention of writing something frightfully funny about them; how they originated in the Catskill Mountains where mountain men used to nail roadkill to trees as reflectors on sharp bends. Or something.
That idea stopped seeming funny when I realised the obvious; that the inventor had been inspired by cats' eyes in the first place. I also learned that they had not been invented by a brilliant Swede who never made a penny out of his idea, as somebody once assured me, but by a Yorkshireman named Percy Shaw who patented them in 1934 and started the company that still makes them. Percy had the idea whilst returning from his local pub in a fog. He became a multimillionaire but, rather endearingly, never moved from the house that had been his childhood home. He did, however, strip out the carpets, curtains and most of the furniture, and install three television sets which he kept permanently switched on, tuned to BBC1, BBC2 and ITV respectively. Today he'd have needed more TVs and a bigger sitting-room.
I have done a few bad things in my life, and one of them came over me when I was walking along a deserted road in some remote Shropshire hills with a geological hammer in one hand and a lump of barytes in the other. There were cat's eyes up the middle of the road and, suddenly overcome by curiosity, I accidently excavated one. It was a nicely made thing, consisting of copper encased glass cylinders with convex lenses at one end and reflectors at the other. When run over by wheels or jumped on by amoral geologists, the eyes retracted into their rainwater-filled shell, wiping their little faces clean on the rubber housing as they did so. I believe it was once voted most original invention ever, ahead of Concorde and Tony Blair's Iraq Dossier.
I later left the hammer where I'd parked my bicycle beside Trilobite Dingle, near Welshpool, which served me right.
In the course of my cat's eyes research I happened on a blog called 'Sunset Over Slawit' which included an excellent list of things to do with old CDs. A much better list than the tired old standards which circulate office e-mail inboxes. In fact, I might even add it to my list of favourite blogs for a bit. You can see the list here.
Like Percy Shaw, I've had good ideas whilst returning from pubs. His secret was still to remember it in the morning