Family trees make monkeys of us all

THE internet has done wonders for the Stupidity Industry, thanks to a technology that can provide a singing and dancing connection to any consumer with a credit card.

Beforehand, those in the Stupidity Industry had to find out where you lived, get together an interesting mail package and then get it to you. Sometimes, they even had to come round and show you their catalogues of limited edition china rabbits or Ways to Make a Fortune without even Leaving your Kitchen for One Easy Fee.

Now, they just need to send you a nice picture with words that will make you to click on the link. You can even do it while flicking through those pictures of Britney's baby or Prince Harry's lapdancer.

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Genealogy - a word that can lead you to over 95 million websites - was previously the preserve of royalty and people who could afford to spend their time slogging round graveyards and record offices, ie the retired.

The retired could at least defend their interest in departed ancestors on the grounds that it was not so much a pointless hobby, more a way of checking out their soon-to-be neighbours.

The internet changed all that. Now anyone can sign up for assorted groups and services that will bring them in some way closer to those that have gone before.

The BBC has had several series of nonentities following their roots back to wherever, as if Jeremy Clarkson becomes more bearable when you know his great-grandfather sold tripe.

Family history is a big business. It taps into the exciting idea that we are somehow connected to strange, different peoples and places. I remember the first time my parents explained where we came from. Like many, I was filled with a huge curiosity to visit our original homeland. After some basic research, it seemed like only moments later that I was stepping off the No5 bus at Oxgangs, and heading for the local market.

There, I was able to find a variety of traders selling traditional goods just like they must have when my family lived there. Imagine my joy at finding some of the fabled Birds Eye fish fingers of which my father had often spoken. Despite the language barrier, I found locals more than willing to include me in their rituals - I can still recall the thrill of snatching a souvenir domino when everyone's eyes were down. But even I could not have envisaged that the celebration of their returning brethren would include carrying me shoulder-high back to the terminus, where they stood guard until the last bus departed.

Genealogy is just one more example of a decision to live your life in the non-real world. One of the dismal truths about so-called modern life is that large sectors of the populations are increasingly living in fantasy land. Whether its Halo, Narnia or 19th century Ireland, these places are not real. In the first two cases, they are made up, in the last, they have ceased to exist.

Sure, you can pretend they exist and imagine you are battling orcs or piecing together where your famine-struck ancestors had their last baked potato, but who cares? How do you think it makes people who've been adopted feel? Often they can't even find out who their dad is, let alone have their eyes mist over wondering what it must have been like making quilts for Louis XIV.

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People who have undertaken such genealogy quests often tell you their family history as if it implies something about themselves. Funnily enough, few of these people ever seem to have been descended from impoverished wretches, which is odd, as the world had a lot more of them than it has had cobblers to the Royal Court of St Winifred.

Everyone seems to be descended from something noble or noble-ish. Or a profession that allows them to point at some Ordnance Survey map and say "that's where our shop was".

Just like Middle-Earth or Grand Theft Auto, genealogy takes your focus away from the here and now and what you are doing in real life. If the only interesting thing in your life is how interesting your ancestors were, then your life is not interesting.

Do something about it. Change your job or your sex, or both. Put some money into something less navel-gazing than where your ancestors hung their washing. Unless, of course, you are committed to going all the way.

I continue to look forward to a family tree that ends in a picture of a monkey somewhere and comments of "now I know why I've always liked bananas". Even better, one that leads back to Adam and Eve and an abiding fear of snakes.

Robo-lollicops would get the problem licked

THE lack of lollipop people is to be regretted. As beacons of safety they are road warriors with a heart, helping to ensure the young and the infirm can cross our streets.

This must be an image-thing. While the decision to write to every parent is a sound one, could the opportunity itself not be made a bit more attractive?

For a start, the name. There must be more sexy, technical words than lollipop. Of course the term "lollipop" refers to the device used to halt the traffic. Maybe this is the issue. Modern parents would appreciate something more than a bit of card on a pole to halt on-coming urban 4x4s. A cattle-prod or Taser gun pointed at bonnets would be more effective and attractive.

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Similarly, the outfit could do with an upgrade. While cross-dressing may be all the rage, it's unlikely to embrace the lollipop people outfit of dayglo lab coat and cap that suggests a combination of rave organiser/traffic cone.

With some shiny blue latex, skateboard pads and a helmet, we could create 21st century Robo-lollicops. Not only would they deal with drivers, they could use the Tasers to stop those school-kids swearing all the time.

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