Hang ups

5th December 1997 at 00:00
I was determined to make soup. I had the vegetables, the utensils, my apron with an amusing slogan. All I needed was a recipe and so - naturally enough - I logged on to the Internet. Six hours and 47 minutes later, I logged off and warmed up a can of Heinz.

It's not that there aren't any suitable recipes on the Net - in fact, if anything, there are far too many of them. But the problem is that once you start hop-skip-and-jumping from one site to the next, it's easy to become distracted from your appointed task. So my initial enquiry about soup soon led me to vegetables in general - believe it or not, cabbages, spuds, lentils and the rest all have their own sites.

It was one of these which led me to some fascinating statistics on the volume of methane generated in the lower intestine by spinach. This, in turn, led to a learned medical treatise on whether flatulence could ever prove fatal. (The answer, apparently, is a reassuring "no", but - a word of warning - you cannot believe everything you read on the World Wide Web.) I located some valuable material on mangetout and, such is the serendipitous nature of the Web, on Monsieur Mangetout - the nickname proudly adopted by Michel Lotito. Aware of the importance of having sufficient iron in the diet, this health-conscious Frenchman has consumed two pounds of the stuff every single day since 1966. He likes it finely ground and mixed with breakfast cereal. So far he has eaten 10 bicycles, seven television sets, six chandeliers, a supermarket trolley, an Apple Mac and a Cessna light aircraft.

In comparison, the 29 hard-boiled eggs that Stefan Sigmond managed to eat in four minutes seems a mere snack. But, the 29-year-old Romanian did go some way to redeeming his reputation by smoking 800 cigarettes simultaneously. He packed the fags into a funnel and inhaled through a rubber tube.

Far be it for me to suggest possible subjects for school assembly, but teachers could do worse than to encourage children to reflect on the example set by Michel and Stefan. I wouldn't go so far as to claim that they are ideal role models for today's youngsters, but at least they made the effort to do something with their lives. Children today (especially boys) are more likely to follow my sad example and squander their time hunched over a keyboard. I shudder to reflect that in the six hours, 47 minutes that I spent not making soup, Stefan would have attempted to munch his way through 340.75 eggs, and Michel would have made serious inroads into the bodywork of a Fiat Uno.

Of course, if you tell children that they should occasionally switch off their computers, they'll tell you that they can't think of any other way of keeping busy. Fortunately, a delightful new book (with an accompanying CD-Rom which will run on a Mac or a PC) isn't quite what you'd be led to expect from the title. 101 Amazing Things to Do With Your Computer (Tag Developments, Pounds 12.99) does, of course, contain plenty of computer-based activities. But many of the suggestions in its 40 or so colourful pages are based on the premise that using new technology isn't an end in itself but a way of opening doors to other, more exciting, activities. The CD-Rom, for example, contains templates which enable kids to produce paper darts and kites. The real fun begins when they switch off their computers and go outside to fly their creations.

Even so, it might not be quite enough to convince fledgling nerds that they needn't spend their whole lives glued to the VDU. In which case, parents and teachers could resort to a more drastic measure: the 102nd thing that can be done with a computer - as demonstrated by Monsieur Mangetout.

Tag: 0800 591262

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