The Order of the Oaf

Gregorio Marañón, a man famous around the world as a physician, scientist, inventor, creative-historian, a serious writer and philosopher. Across Spain, he is perhaps best remembered for his attempt to invent the mobile telephone. The accompanying image to this story shows Grego – as he was known to his friends – with the original prototype placed atop a blueprint design.

The idea for a mobile phone first came to Marañón in his private study, whilst typing an article draft for Spanish smut magazine El Hombre, in early 1959. A telephone call had come through from La Quiniela lottery company, informing him of a ten million peseta jackpot win. By today’s value, this is equivalent to approximately two million pounds sterling.

Astounded by the news, Marañón had leapt out of his chair as if struck by high voltage electricity. A fly on the wall, had it been inclined to watch, would have witnessed a man punching the air, repeatedly bending down onto his haunches and leaping upwards, fast losing his composure.

Absorbing the caller’s information and reacting to the instructions being relayed to him, Marañón next began looking for his winning ticket. A tickle of panic flustered inside the amygdala department of his brain, as the great man realised that he couldn’t rightly recall where he’d left it. Drawers were hastily pulled out from the bureau as he went from one to another, searching through stationery and little souvenirs he’d picked up over the course of a privileged life.

‘Sí, sí, I have it!’ He blurted out in response to a prompt from the caller. ‘Un momento, I have it somewhere!’

Large snow flakes of swirling documents fell out from the air all around the grand Erudite, until suddenly the answer materialised. He knew where the ticket lay. A glance across his study landed on an overcoat hanging from the back of the door. Marañón strode forwards. Except, rather quickly and much to his shock, he found his stride immediately impeded. With anxiety reinstated, Marañón realised that his over-zealous physical animation had caused his legs to become entangled in the telephone wire. Furthermore, the curly section of wire connecting the handset to the base of the telephone had itself, wrapped around his torso. The more he struggled, the tighter the restraints held onto him.

‘Señor, señor! Are you there?’ The caller’s voice had developed an urgency. ‘I need you to read to me the numbers on the ticket. In this way we verify your jackpot win. Señor, do you understand? Esto es muy importante!’

Embroiled within an epic struggle, Marañón found himself gasping for breath, the vision of his fine herringbone patterned coat with a fur collar, shifting in and out of focus. “Sí, sí. I have it. Un momento, por, favor!’ Investing every last joule of energy into the muscles that encased his aged bones, he lunged and fell forwards. Unable to break his fall, a pitiful wail filled the room as he skinned his knees and elbows during an ungainly slide across the wooden floor extending out beyond the rug.

To his relief, he found himself able to shimmy and roll, the wires that had held him so tightly, gradually loosening. Managing to sit upright, leaning with his back against the door, Marañón wedged the telephone handset between his shoulder and jaw. ‘I have it, I have it!’ His voice was hoarse but his mood now grew triumphant. Reaching up with both hands, his fingers clawed at a coat pocket.

A minute later a small, rectangular piece of paper bearing a unique sequence of numbers, lay flattened-out on the lap of the acclaimed Spaniard. ‘There, I have it finally. I am sorry for the wait.’ A tear of joy ran down his left cheek as he prepared to read out the life changing numbers.

‘Eight, forty-eight, fifteen, twenty-seven, thirty-seven and eleven.’ He paused a moment before continuing. ‘I’m sorry, would you like me to read them out in numerical order, smallest first? Would you like me to do that? Tell me, por favor.’

Silence.

‘Hola? Are you there? Hola? Hola? Can you hear me?’ Marañón barked his enquiry into the receiver, wiping the tear track from his cheek and coughing to clear his throat. His bottom had started to ache. He shifted his weight in search of some relief, looking across the trail of mess that led from his bureau to where he sat. Despite some remaining coils of telephone wire tied loosely around his ankles, he found himself able to lift his legs free. It was after this, he noticed a glint of orange light reflected from a raw strand of copper, torn from its insulation and out of a wiring box, fixed to a wall.

‘Dios mío, it can’t be true!’

But it was true.

In the struggle to reach the lottery ticket, the telephone cable had been wrenched from its connection. The lottery administrator, who had insisted on the numbers being read out as a way of proof, had gone. The rules stated that if you could not fulfil this condition, the prize automatically rolled over to the following week.

It is said that Marañón’s first mobile telephone prototype consisted of the crushed remains of the handset and base with which he had taken that lottery call. Having ground it down to a fine powder, he’d placed this inside a thin plastic box, rectangular in shape. Later, the numbers zero to nine were written onto a piece of cardboard, which he glued onto one side of the box.

In a final twist of fate, Marañón was to pass away that following year and his idea for a portable, wireless telephone, along with the prototype, was lost for decades. To this day, in his home city of Madrid, to be referred to as an unlucky oaf is indeed, to be un Marañón.

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