Coll The Coll Magazine

Article by Emma Grant (2000)

Looking Backwards to Look Forwards
Regular readers of the Coll Magazine will be familiar with the name Dugald MacEchern. He featured in an article entitled 'Coll of the Waves' in last year's edition, and is well known for his poem of the same name. What folk may not be aware of is that Dugald MacEchern is the great uncle to our very own Julianna Nichols. In my quest for submissions to the magazine, Julianna approached me with an article written by her great uncle some 108 years ago, entitled Raggles' Ghost: A Story of Christmas 1992.

From 1899 to 1918 Dugald was Coll's minister for the Church of Scotland. As there was no church building when he first arrived, services were held at Clabbach. In 1908, he organised a 3-day bazaar in Inverness to raise money for the construction of our present church on the hill. The bazaar included sales of work, concerts, and the production and sale of a magazine. Raggles' Ghost, a love story set in 1992, appeared in that magazine. It tells the tale of Raggles, a young man who died in 1892, and returns a hundred years hence to find his college mates and sweetheart have not aged a drop due to the advances of medical science.

Aside from this prediction of medicine gaining knowledge of the elixir vitae, there are other more mundane and therefore unique suggestions as to what life would be like in 1992. In this, the first issue of our new Millennium, in an age where backward and forward looking seem equally in vogue, I thought it would be interesting to look at Dugald MacEchern's thoughts for his future, our present.

With his first two predictions you can tell the man has been living in Scotland, possibly eating lumpy porridge to try and get that ready brek glow. In the words of one of the forever-young characters: "In 1892 medicine was only in its infancy. Why! it took you a week to cure a cold in those days. Now we cannot even catch a cold. This self-regulating thermogenitor which I, like everybody else, carry in my watch pocket, keeps my body at an equable temperature. Who is ever troubled with indigestion nowadays, seeing that chemistry enables every kitchen to have its food digesting machine, so that one doesn't require even to have such a thing as a stomach?"

He scores a more direct hit with predictions that doctors will be able to "replace a worn-out wind-pipe, or a diseased heart... now even a chemist's apprentice can manufacture either cerebra or cerebella, and provided only the slightest trace of life remains, any damage done to the body may be remedied. Indeed, that famous experimenter, Dr Dohn, expects soon to manufacture live adults in his laboratory." With thoughts of ears growing on the back of mice, the mapping of all our DNA, and the cloning of sheep and pigs, even this last, more far-fetched idea, does seem within the grasp of modern science. Keeping things in perspective, at the time of writing his article medicine was indeed in its infancy. Pasteur, Lister and Koch were at work in the mid to late 1800s, X rays, for example, were not discovered until 1895. The first heart transplant, carried out by Dr Christiaan Barnard, was in 1967. Antibiotics were not even a twinkle in medicine's eye. Life expectancy at the turn of the century was 48 years for men and 51.6 years for women.

Moving on from medical matters, in Dugald's 1992 "that primitive instrument called a pen is obsolete" with use of an "electrical typewriter". He also glimpses the possibilities of outreach education: "none of the masters ever come to the school now. The telephone and the phonograph makes their presence unnecessary". Substitute the Internet or video conferencing and he's hit the nail on the head! Keep in mind that the phonograph was invented in 1877, and electric light bulbs were first being used in the late 1800s. The electric typewriter was not invented until the late 1960s, with computer terminals following close on their heels in the mid 1980s.

Dugald MacEchern was obviously a man of great foresight and good humour. I thought he would possibly appreciate linking up his article with some predictions of our own. To this end, I enlisted the help of Helena Porrelli and canvassed the opinions of some of our school goers, as to what the world, and in particular Coll might be like in a hundred years time.

The notion of elixir vitae is still popular, with the expected presence of "live as long as you like" pills. Looking out to the cosmos, it was thought that in the next century, some humans would be living on a different planet. Closer to home, faster travel was a big issue, with expected inventions ranging from remote control boats, to cable cars going from the mainland to Coll, to a huge crane planted in the middle of the sea to swing people to and fro. Sustainable energy was of some concern, with the prediction that solar energy would be our power source, particularly for cars. There was also the prediction that there would be hot showers and changing rooms on the beaches (AARGH). Finally, demonstrating life's cyclical nature it was predicted that Coll would enjoy a population boom with many more houses being built. Maybe we'll see ruins being renovated with use of solar panels or wind turbines. Whatever the future does hold, it is good to see that our young ones envisage Coll as a thriving community within it ... but just imagine the number of entries for the Coll Show if we can all live as long as we like!

If you are interested in reading the full article contact the Coll magazine committee and they will be happy to send you a copy. EG
Coll Magazine - Article by Emma Grant

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