The Swiss have been unjustly credited with inventing all sorts of things, but there's one thing invented in Switzerland for which the Swiss hardly ever get their due.
That's because most people think it was invented in the USA by NASA.
Yes, it's Velcro.
Just as I did yesterday, one day in 1941 the Swiss engineer George de Mestral came home with burrs from a burdock plant stuck to his clothes.
Photo by Mary and Angus Hogg
See how prickly they are? The prickles have tiny hooks on the end that catch hold of everything.
I was faintly annoyed at finding burrs clinging to my elbows, and threw the burrs away. But what did de Mestral do? He came up with the idea forVelcro.
The trouble was that people thought it was a rubbish idea. He must have sometimes wondered if they were right, too, because it took him ten years to work out how to make Velcro by machine; and once he'd done that it took another four years for the patent application to go through.
And then after all that nobody much wanted the stuff.
But at long last someone invented astronauts, who began using Velcro to do up their space suits (this is why people tend to think that NASA invented it). Then skiers realised it'd be a boon for people wearing gloves; and then divers followed suit.
Soon everyone was using the stuff.
Velcro has been used to hold a human heart together during surgery, and it's a necessary part of the game of tag rugby. A space shuttle carries getting on for three hundred yards of Velcro. Small pieces of the stuff are even stuck inside space helmets.
To act as nose-scratchers, naturally.
If you manage to spot some Velcro, do try the nose-scratching thing to see how well it works.
Unless the stuff's on a pair of old trainers.
Spot the frippet: Velcro. This word is a portmanteau of the two French words, velours, which means velvet, and crochet which means hook.