EST. May 2000 (AD)


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The 'Science' Behind Fun- What You Need To Know

Contrary to popular perception, scientists like fun as much as anyone. Sure, we might not 'paint the town red' or 'hang out', or even go out, really. We might regard sports and pop culture as a waste of time. We might even feel that smiling is best kept for birthdays and successful outcomes in double-blind clinical trials. But the scientific community recognises that leisure time is an important factor in stabilising society's mental health. And what could be more fun than that!

That aside, fun is not all fun. Yes, some things sound fun. They make even look fun. For example: would you slide down a broken three storey-high curly slide at night, on roller skates, blindfolded?

No? Okay, but you might. If you'd had a few drinks, say, and someone dared you, and you did some rough calculations on a paper napkin and thought that the propulsion would carry you over any - look, we're getting sidetracked here. The point is that summer is like a dangerous curly slide. Make sure you strap your science knowledge on firmly before you embark.

Where does the idea of vacation time come from?

During the later stages of the Roman Empire, in the time of the Etruscan dynasty, and primarily in the reign of Tarquinius Priscus, wealthy young men would set off on travels to the farthest-flung corners of the realm. The journey marked their passage into adulthood and they would compete to bring back a little dish with the name of the place they had been to on it, or a straw hat, or a little soapstone box, or at least get their hair braided. Then their plane was delayed for, like, six hours and they were standing in baggage reclaim and their suitcase never appeared and it's like, was it even worth it at all? Sorry. I was on the phone to my friend and absentmindedly kept typing. Now I've lost my notes. Luckily, however, I'm relatively sure the Etruscan summer experience ran along similar lines.

What were the first modern tourist destinations?

Holidaying was closely tied in to local customs, wildlife and landmarks, and really flourished in Europe at the start of the nineteenth century. In Victorian England, for example, the coalminers of the north of the country would gather in large numbers for summer pig-hurling contests. (Though now officially banned in the UK, pig hurling still exists as an underground sport.) The French, under the Bourbon dynasty, would travel south to the warmer Languedoc region to shoot peasants. In Ireland, people trekked across the land for most of their holiday time to spend a few brief moments by the Gabach Gannah Rock (literally: 'the bland rock' or 'uninteresting rock').

Tourism did not become a powerful economic force in the United States of America until the 1960s, when printed publications - newspapers, books and magazines - were first widely available. Before the printing press arrived in New York in 1961, people used to gather in streets and squares to hear the town crier report the news, and relied on travelling singers for entertainment. Most had never seen a printed picture before. The lush, colour depictions of other States sent people into a frenzy of travel, aboard tramp steamer and ocean liner alike to the new tourist capitals: Oregon; Forth Worth; Boise; Tuscon. People thronged to see the sights, both of natural beauty and manmade wonder. These were exciting times for travel.

I have children. How can I make their summer safe and fun?

The first step is to put your family on high alert! Gather young children around and impress on them - using frightening stories and hand-puppet improvisations where necessary - the many dangers that lurk around them. Remember: a fearful child is a safe child.

Now look around you. Your house and garden are full of danger spots - anything from a rusty spoon to a poorly-maintained helipad could spell death to one of your nearest and dearest. Do you know how many people die in household accidents each year? Nor do I. But let's imagine I did, because facts like that are vital to make a point.

Some simple and fun! steps to summer safety

1. Swimming pools are very dangerous. You should fill in your pool, if you have one. If not, fill in a neighbour's pool.

2. Incinerate your children's toys. Yes, they may be fond of them now, and there may be some sad words as they watch teddy's face flame into life for one brief moment before collapsing into a death mask of ash, but toys are a breeding ground for dangerous bacteria. Besides, children are often just as happy to play with stuff they find on the street.

3. Ban the beach. A day at the beach is full of dangers, from the obvious - windsurfer attack - to the obscure - where does sand come from? I'm sure we all lay awake wondering about that one.

4. In fact, just close the doors. Keep kids in the house. Give them workbooks and fresh new pens and pencils and let them go puzzle-crazy this summer! (And don't be surprised if your teen girl spends more time drawing pictures of Spock with lovehearts around him than solving those puzzles!)

Using a lot of exclamation marks doesn't make you look fun, you know. You have no idea about fun. You are clearly not a fun person at all.

It's not true! It's not! That's just what Peterson and the other scientists said. Well, damn you all. I'm not going down another curly slide to prove I'm fun. No-one was laughing when I had to spend a month in traction, drinking pureed chicken and vodka through a straw.

Okay, they probably were. But not in a fun way.

Fun 'summer fun' facts:

  1. In scientific terms, the funniest jokes are about errors in quadratic equations. But this has proven hard to translate to sitcom format, as 'Married…With Quadratic Equations, 'Two and A Half Quads' and 'The Quadsons' all failed to get a green light. I'll keep trying though.
  2. When asked what their favourite leisure activity was, 31% of people said 'Shopping', 19% of people said 'Why are you wearing a white coat?' and everyone else ran away.
  3. It is always summer in the ocean's depths. Although this kind of summer is characterised by very low temperatures and almost complete darkness, so it is really not the same thing at all.


© 2007 Emma Rowley

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Emma Rowley is a Londoner. Maybe that's why she loves London Town.