Sunday, 2 June 2013

Facebook, Family Tales and the Coming of Age

A life time ago I joined Facebook. Not sure why, it seemed a good idea at the time. It was one Christmas when my parents were coming up to stay and they wanted to know what their children, grandchildren and great children were up to. After joining and collecting a number of ‘friends’ it became clear that letting my parents see what the aforementioned family were up to was not the best idea I have ever had. I stopped using Facebook by tea time on the Boxing Day. However, and I don’t know why, Facebook seem happy to send me alerts when one of these 'friends' posts a message.  

Last Monday, they told me Natalie Ann was watching ‘the Bare Necessities’ from Jungle Book with her daughter. Natalie Ann is herself the eldest daughter of my youngest sister Sarah. Sarah reminded Natalie Ann that her Granddad Roy, my Father (obviously) used to watch this with her over and over again when she was a small child – an interesting sense of continuity.

Thursday, sitting at my desk, sipping my first cup of coffee, I got a text to say that my eldest daughter had given birth to her newest son and daughter at 05.35. Great news! They are number 7 and 8 grandchildren – and as I am writing this, so far un-named. Surprisingly, they were the first twins in the family – ever, and they are non-identical twins. What I didn't know until last week was that there are approximately 125 million twins in the world (apparently 1.9% of the world population). If anyone knows how it is possible to agree this figure it would be good to know.

I was reminded by one of my friends (a real one that is) that there have been absolutely lots of ‘twin studies’ which have helped us better understand many social, health and behavioural issues. In the UK, the majority of these studies are conducted through the Department of Twin Research & Genetic Epidemiology (DTR) at Kings College London. Known as TwinsUK, it is the biggest UK adult twin registry, with some 12,000 twins aged between 16 and 98 who help in the study of genetic and environmental factors that might cause disease and ill health.

TwinsUK was set up by Tim Spector in 1992. Its patron is the delightful Baroness Betty Boothroyd (a dancer with the 'Tiller Girls' dancing troupe in the 1940s), who was the first UK female Speaker of the House of Commons. TwinsUK is the UKs only adult twin registry and the most clinical detailed in the world. Their research looks at osteoporosis, osteoarthritis, melanoma, baldness, cardiovascular disease, ageing and sight, diabetes, asthma and musculoskeletal problems. By using the DNA profiles of identical and non-identical twin pairs, the importance of genetic and environmental influences on many common diseases can be better understood.

Next week (the 8th June to be precise) TwinsUK celebrate their ‘coming of age’ 21st anniversary party. It will be held at St Thomas’ Hospital, London, which, interestingly is where my eldest daughter did her nurse training! As for Facebook, well yesterday's Times described it as a ‘passing fad’. Membership is down to only 14 million people, each of whom on average use Facebook for only 8 hours a week. However I do wonder what my daughters new twins will be writing about in 15 years time, and will my children ‘censor’ my viewing of whatever is going to be the next generation Facebook. Perhaps more importantly, will they be inviting me for Christmas?