Children can have too much of a good thing, according to researchers at the University of East Anglia. Those pushy parents who race their kids from one worthy extra-curricular activity to the next might be helping them to acquire a bumper collection of Blue Peter badges, rosettes and brownie points, but they are also robbing them of the opportunity to slouch around with nothing in particular to do. And "boredom time", as they call it in East Anglia, is of inestimable educational value. It's the one chance children have to daydream and to call upon their inner resources which are ultimately far more important to a child's emotional and intellectual development than an unremitting round of busy-ness.
Fortunately, as with so many of today's problems, the computer offers an obvious solution. If over-stimulated youngsters can find a moment or two in their hectic schedule to visit the Web, they can access a rich galaxy of sites guaranteed to generate as much boredom time as they could possibly need. They could, for example, while away a few unforgiving minutes popping screens of virtual bubblewrap.
But even that seems positively interesting compared to a tour of the Museum of Condiment Packages which is dedicated exclusively to those sachets of sauce, salt and sugar that you can pick up in cafes but can never open. The addresses for these and dozens of other, equally dreary sites can be found at the excruciatingly dreary Dullmen's Club (www.dullmen.com). Conscientious parents will be pleased to learn that the site enables visitors to print out a certificate in dullness.
If you want to be really bored, key in www.waitallday.com. A screen appears promptly asking you to "Please wait". And that's it. Nothing else ever happens. Your life is put on permanent hold. You can achieve much the same effect if you type www.census.pro.gov. Allegedly it's the home page of the 1901 Census for England and Wales, but I can't confirm this as whenever I've tried to visit, I've been told either that the site doesn't exist or that it's too busy to cope with my request.
This shouldn't come as a big surprise: nearly everyone I know seems to be using the Internet to trace their family tree. That wouldn't be so bad if they didn't insist on telling me about their latest fascinating discovery. There is nothing - not even a visit to a museum of condiments - that is quite as boring as having to hear about someone else's ancestors. Mine, at least, are interesting. I've made sure of that.
Instead of hunting for them in records housed in the 10,000 sites listed at www.genealogylinks.net, I simply made them up. So I'm proud to tell anyone willing to listen about the illustrious Evanses who fought at Rourke's Drift, danced at the Folies-Berg re, pan-handled in the Klondike and were in Pudding Lane when the fire broke out.
When they are not tracing their ancestors, surfers are tracking down their old classmates on www.friendsreunited.co.uk. It is one of the UK's very few dotcom success stories: a site that has tickled the nation's collective fancy. Once you've registered - which doesn't cost a penny - you can add your name to a list of other past pupils from your own school. Honestly, it is a truly magical moment which will have you, like Proust biting into a madeleine, in dewy-eyed pursuit of les temps perdu. For a one-off payment of a fiver you'll be given the email addresses of any of the other subscribers with whom you may want to chew the electronic cud.
Since every name is accompanied by a brief biography, it gives teachers a chance to see what their ex-pupils are making of their lives. Log on to the schools at which you've taught and scroll through the names. Some pupils you won't remember; some will bring a smile to your lips - and probably one or two, despite the years, will still have a seismic effect on your blood pressure.
When you click on a name you can read all about them. The snotty nosed kid in the front row is now something big in advertising. The boy who lisped flies Boeing 707s. The imp with the freckles and the pigtails has three daughters of her own and a PhD in molecular biology. I promise you, you will want to hug each and every one of them. And don't hesitate to give yourself a private pat on the back and take some credit for their success. If you suspect that your lessons bored them rigid, remind yourself that, as researchers at East Anglia University have shown, you couldn't have given them a better start in life.
Why don't you bore Arnold rigid with your dull thoughts at:ArnoldJEvans@aol.com