TAKE a look around you. The television set, the telephone, the computer screen on which you are reading these words. All brilliant inventions, and all of them designed to make our lives that bit easier and more pleasant.

In our age, we take inventions for granted, certain that there will be another one along soon that will be even better than the last.

But there was a time when inventors were thin on the ground. Life went on virtually unchanged from day to day and from year to year. After the wheel, the world rested on its laurels for a long, long time.

Then along came Thomas Newcomen, John Kay and their fellow inventors to turn the entire world on its head. Their machines may have been simple, crude contraptions of wood and iron - James

Hargreaves, for instance, allegedly used little more than a pocket-knife to construct his first spinning jenny. But these adventurous men were taking the first, tentative steps on the road to today.

These yeomen-inventors could not have know it but they were not just sparking off the Industrial Revolution, they were starting a trail that would lead inexorably to our modern high-tech society.

Without the spinning mule, there would have been no motor car. Without Kay's flying shuttle, there would have been no space shuttle.

Maybe we're not totally convinced that the world in which we live is an ideal place. But it's the only one we've got, so we owe it to those pioneers to understand something of what they did and why.