Tales of the suburbs: 'What happened to the future they promised us on Tomorrow's World?'

Share
Related Topics

I was once told, by someone who knows about these things, that the key to being relaxed and happy is to fill your spare time with an absorbing hobby.

Now, almost everyone to whom I have passed this on has retorted that they don't have any spare time. There are barely enough hours in the day to be stressed, without adding to your burden by trying to make a model of the London Eye out of Bulldog clips.

That's exactly what I said, too – by the time I've taken the kids to school, shopped, washed up and done the laundry, it's lunchtime, and I haven't actually started work. I often wonder what happened to that future they were always promising us on Tomorrow's World, in which computers and robots would run everything so efficiently that we'd all be free to spend our days drinking Pimm's at the yacht club.

But the Man Who Knew was quietly, and rather annoyingly, insistent. He pointed out that the majority of people who say they have no spare time still seem to find an hour or so to watch "I'm Strictly a Celebrity, Get Me Out of the X Factor". Perhaps that's their hobby, I suggested, being careful not to use the first person. No, said The Sage, that's just relaxation. A hobby is creative, fulfilling, makes you feel better about yourself.

So, I've been searching ever since for a pastime in which I can lose myself, in the hope that when I find myself again, I won't be quite so neurotic and shouty.

The first thing I tried was the piano. It was creative and fulfilling, but somehow, when I practised on my daughter's junior electronic keyboard, the sound I produced failed to make either me or my family feel better about me.

Then I began my chutney phase. That really did absorb me, and those rows of little fabric-topped pots looked pleasing in a Good Life sort of a way. But there are only so many jars of spicy pear that a household can absorb before the gag reflex kicks in.

And then, last week, I stumbled on the answer. We'd been talking to the children about family trees, and I decided to do a bit of rudimentary research to get them involved. They were moderately intrigued; it was a good hour before the allure of poring over a copperplate census entry with your great-grandfather's name on it was replaced by Nintendogs.

I, however, was smitten. It is like reading a great novel with a plot you have to work out for yourself. You are drawn into the lives of people who are little more than names, eager to follow their changes of fortune, anxious to know what happened to them in times of war, peace, recession. And this, you should understand, is my husband's ancestry, people I know little or nothing about. I haven't even started on my own yet.

For me, the pleasure is in the detail: the fact that, for generations, his family, like so many others, never moved more than 10 miles from where they had initially settled – why would they? How could they? The fact that, of those four doubtless boisterous children who appear on the census in 1861, only one survived to see the 1871 census taken. The fact that, in those days, not only did you have a job for life – in this case, carpentry – but sons and grandsons would also follow that same path. Something tells me that's not going to happen with IT.

For my husband, though, there's another dimension: he's hoping for a little lustre from all this. He discovered years ago that he shares his surname with one of the signatories of the American Declaration of Independence and Bill of Rights. Since this eminent figure came from Bristol, and my husband's lot from Kent, any connection looked unlikely, but I didn't want to disappoint him. Then, late one night, I stumbled on something: about seven generations ago, an ancestor, asked on a census if he was born in Kent, replied he was not.

I had to keep searching, until gratifyingly, at the click of a mouse, there it was: proof that the old boy did indeed hail from Bristol. There may be no connection, and for me, it really doesn't matter. I'm fulfilled, I'm being creative, and I think I feel better about myself.

Genealogy is a win/win hobby. It cannot be dull, any more than life itself can be. Knowing a few facts about people you'll never meet, but whose genetic make-up is imprinted on those you love, is – and I never thought I'd say this – better than a cupboard full of chutney.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

KS1 Float Teacher needed in the Vale

£100 - £110 per day + Travel scheme plus free professional trainnig: Randstad ...

Science Teacher

£100 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Cardiff: Are you a qualified secondary...

KS2 Float Teacher required in Caerphilly

£100 - £110 per day + Travel Scheme plus free professional training: Randstad ...

Science Teacher

£100 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Cardiff: Are you a qualified secondary...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Daily catch-up: Gordon Brown’s finest hour, a letter from Quebec and the problem of anti-politics

John Rentoul
 

i Editor's Letter: The campaigning is over. So now we wait...

Oliver Duff Oliver Duff
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week