First things first; I, Alex Horne, am still on track to become the World’s Oldest Man. I’m just a month away from yet another birthday and then just about a century away from the record. I can almost smell it.
The plan at this point is still simply trying to stay alive as much as possible. I’m taking each day as it comes, keeping focussed and doing my best not to make too many enemies. Thanks to innocent (my sponsors who are sending me food and drink purely so that I don’t die) I’m eating healthily, I’m doing semi-regular exercise, but mainly I’m just being quite careful. But could I do more? If I’m really serious about this thing, should I be looking at other, perhaps more sinister options?
In the last couple of weeks I’ve seen two things that made me think about cheating. The first was fiction and might not strictly be classed as deception, the second fact and definitely (allegedly) fraud.
If you’ve not seen The Island, a 2005 movie starring Ewan McGregor and Scarlett Johansson, I wouldn’t particularly recommend you spending two hours of your life in front of it. It’s fun, yes, but so is chucking a Frisbee around, and that’s got to be more healthy (although I find my throwing hand can get quite sore after a while). It wouldn’t make my own 50 things to do before you die list.
The basic plot (thank you IMDB) is this:
A man goes on the run after he discovers that he is actually a "harvested being", and is being kept along with others in a utopian facility.
I suppose that’s fine. Films can’t all be about people pottering about their normal lives, reheating food and flicking through magazines (I’m still not convinced my plans for a World’s Oldest Man Movie are going to come to anything). Some of them have to be about ‘harvested beings’. I think I’m just more into films that aren’t entirely ridiculous.
But what did manage to grab my attention was the reason why the beings in the film was being harvested (and at this point I ought to say something like SPOILER ALERT. So here goes):
These beings were being grown and then harvested as clones of other ‘normal’ but very wealthy people. They were insurance policies. Say I was one of these normal but very wealthy people, I would pay $4 million (I think that was the price – I wasn’t taking notes) to have a clone then if I ever needed a liver transplant or new eyes they’d be waiting for me in the body of that clone who was living in joyful ignorance that he was a clone in a strange underground (or very high in the air – I wasn’t ever sure) clone harvesting facility (run by Mr Bean) (Sean Bean).
Reading that back, it doesn't sound like too bad a story and really, when I say the film was entirely ridiculous I’m mainly talking about McGregor’s accent and eyebrows. After all it’s not completely unthinkable that one day people will be able to grow spare organs in case of emergency; perhaps scientists somewhere are already on the case. But what I want to know is whether or not this is cheating? If I managed to say alive for hundreds of years simply by replacing body parts whenever they developed a fault, would that be alright (on a Guinness World Records level, not anything more legal or ethical)?
I'm now going to weight it up.
Right, done. And the verdict is this:
On balance, I think it would be fine to get replacement body parts from a clone. Sure, it’s not particularly natural, but all of our atoms are coming and going all the time anyway, who’s to say what’s really ‘me’ at any point? We're made of of completely different matter when we die compared to when we were born, shedding our skin like snakes throughout our lives, so yes, I don't think it would matter too much if we got more involved with the whole healing and regeneration processes.
What I think I’m saying is this; if you happen to be reading this at your own cloning facility I’d be happy to come in for a chat.
A cheaper, simpler but more rubbish scam was revealed in Tokyo last week. According to the BBC website (and many other sources), ‘officials’ had planned to visit a man called Sogen Kato and congratulate him on his 111th birthday. That’s the sort of thing that happens if you’re the oldest man in a city, and that’s why I want to become the oldest man in the world. I want to be sung happy birthday by officials, not just my not very musical family.
Mysteriously, however, these benevolent officials were greeted not by proud great-great-great-grandchildren, but by a rather solemn granddaughter who sent them away, saying that Mr Kato ‘doesn’t want to see anybody’. The officials called again, desperate to offload the birthday cake they’d had made specially and ‘family members repeatedly chased them away’. ‘Chased’! That’s the word the BBC used. It’s a strange old story but I think that’s a lovely image.
Understandably, the officials smelt a rat (this might, literally, have been true). Why would anybody not want to be wished happy birthday by officials? So the police were called, the door broken down and Mr Kato was found; in bed, but very very dead.
Can you be very dead? Yes you can. Mr Kato was mummified. That’s more than just dead. He was wearing underwear and pyjamas but he’d been dead for more than thirty years. Again, it’s a strange old story but I think that’s a lovely image.
So, Mr Kato has been stripped of the title of Tokyo’s Oldest Man and his family are being investigated for pension fraud. But, like the clones on The Island, I don’t think this was too bad an idea. If you’re aiming high, you’re going to have to take risks at some point. If I really want to be the Oldest Man in the World, I may have to cut some corners at some point.
I would therefore like to announce to my family, and anyone else who might be able to help, that if it looks like I’m not going to make it to 130 years old, please try to clone me as quickly as possible And if that doesn’t work, mummify me and chase the officials away. At least Mr Kato got in the papers. At least he made his mark.
I’m still alive and still inching up that leaderboard (I wish there was a comprehensive leaderboard, by the way: a full list of the names of the people on earth, in order of age. It’d be a nice record and useful for me to know who my closest rivals are).
Meanwhile, because I did survive another week I’ve been able to write up the second half of that BBC list which advised us to do 50 things (no more, no less, just these fifty please) before giving up on life. Here are the final 25:
26. Climb Mount Everest. NOT DONE. This is a biggie (the mountain and ‘thing to do’). My normal ‘to do’ lists mainly feature buying milk, not climbing the tallest mountain in the world. But I do have a plan. K2, I’ve heard, is actually catching up with Mount Everest (or Mount Everest is getting smaller – I can never remember). So I’m going to wait until Everest is only the second tallest mountain in the world, and then climb it. Should be easier, at a mental level at the very least.
27. Wonder at a waterfall. DONE. There’s a waterfall quite near my house. Recently I was standing by the waterfall and I wondered what I was going to have for dinner. I have, therefore, wondered at a waterfall.
28. Travel into space. NOT DONE. I think this one should really be ‘travel to the moon’, not just into space. I saw Prof. Brian Cox travel into space in the course of his brilliant Wonders of the Solar System but I didn’t really envy him that trip (I’d have preferred to see the eclipse in India). The thin blue line of our atmosphere is only about 350km away but because it’s straight up it’s tricky to reach. If I’m going to the trouble of that trip I’d prefer to set the satnav for the moon, thank you very much, and whether or not I make it, I’m bound to at least tick this one off.
29. Explore the Galapagos Islands. NOT DONE. Yes, this would be in my own top ten, I think (alongside eat a lovely steak). I mainly want to see the long-living Galapagos tortoise close up, and maybe get a signed photo for Rosie.
30. Trek through a rainforest. DONE. I remember thinking on day one of the trek (this was in Peru) that I trek through rainy forests quite often at home. I wasn’t impressed. But then we saw snakes and frogs and monkeys and our guide cut open a branch and we all drank from it and I began to see what all the fuss was about.
31. Gallop a horse along a beach. DONE. Gallop is a strong word. I went horse-riding about eight years ago in France and I’m almost certain we went via a beach. Unfortunately I had diarrhoea at the time so don’t remember everything (I’m hoping this will be the only one of the list which involves diarrhoea).
32. Ride a camel to the Pyramids, Egypt. NOT DONE. It doesn’t say where the starting point is for this one. From Chesham? Where do I find a camel in Chesham? How do I mount it? From a bench? Still, I’m up for the pyramids so will find out. I always like visiting large things that are simply shaped – like the Dome or garages.
33. Take the Trans-Siberian Railway from Moscow to Vladivostok. NOT DONE. Will probably wait till my son is a little older. He’s not great on planes or trains and I have a feeling this one’s a long trip. So yes, I’ll wait until he’s at least six, or till I really really have to get to Vladivostok.
34. Catch sunset over Uluru (Ayers Rock), Australia. NOT DONE. I haven’t even seen sunrise over Uluru yet so I really have got some catching up to do on this one. The thing is, Australia is massive; so large, that if I walked non-stop for a hundred years in a straight line west, starting on the east coast, I wouldn’t even get a quarter way across (this is completely made up but it’s definitely big). Maybe I’ll move there for a year or two when I’m a hundred. Is it harder or easier to get a visa at that age?
35. Go wing-walking. NOT DONE. Do we have to be airborne? If so, I suppose I’d do it, even though my brain (which is me, really) would be telling me I’m an idiot the whole time. I don’t really understand the thrill. I’ve never even fancied climbing out of my sunroof when I’m driving a car.
36. Climb Mount Kilimanjaro, Africa. NOT DONE. Lots of my friends and relatives have though, and they all say it’s exhausting. I’m sure at least one of them said it’s nice too, but mainly – exhausting. Luckily, I quite like being exhausted. It makes me feel like I’ve achieved something (eg climbed Mount Kilimanjaro).
37. Fly over a volcano. DONE. An actual live volcano too, not one of the numerous dead ones. It was in Costa Rica and it spat at us as we gawped down. It was an awesome sight, making me realise how much I take for granted this country’s stability – our football team might be perennially disappointing but at least our hills aren’t full of boiling lava.
38. Drive a husky sled. NOT DONE. There’s a man in Chesham, where I live, who has two huskies. I’ve never spoken to him but will now do so. The trouble is he always walks with them strapped to him via a harness so he’s normally doing a fair old speed. Perhaps I’ll approach him on a moped.
39. Hike up a glacier. DONE. New Zealand. I didn’t like it. Too cold and white and hikey. Sure, it was worth doing but on balance, I’d prefer to just eat a some sausage or have a bath.
40. Ride a rollercoaster. DONE. Of course, done. Who hasn’t? And I quite liked it. I’m not an adrenaline freak (which is lucky for this record attempt) but I liked certain aspects of the experience. In fact, thinking about it, I think I liked the queue best: the people watching, the etiquette, the anticipation. Everything – EVERYTHING – should involve a queue.
41. Fish for Blue Marlin. DONE. When I was ten I used to go fishing with my friend Ben. I didn’t like it because I always dreaded what I’d have to do if I actually caught a fish. Thankfully that never happened. So I don’t know what I was fishing for. It may well have been a Blue Marlin. Almost certainly a Marlin of some colour.
42. Go paragliding. NOT DONE. This is one of the ones I’d love to do after I’ve hit three figures. I always like stories in which a very old person does a very exciting thing, so one day I’m going to be one of those stories. Meanwhile, I’ll get on with things like:
43. Play a round of golf at Augusta, USA. NOT DONE. Yes, I’d like to do this now, please. And then again when I’m 80. I’ve just got into golf, mainly because I’ll need a sport I can keep playing in the fifty odd years between my retirement and my death.
44. Watch mountain gorillas. NOT DONE. Where are these mountain gorillas? Can I nab them on the way up Everest? No. I’ve just checked. They’re in Central Africa and they’re enormous. I think the one who played the drums to the Genesis track in the Dairy Milk ad is a mountain gorilla. That sort of thing, anyway. They live for about fifty years, in case you’re interested (which I hope you are).
45. See tigers in the wild. NOT DONE. The TV station Animal Planet, did a poll of 50,000 viewers from 73 countries and discovered that the tiger is the world’s favourite animal. So I really must go and see a tiger in the wild. The dog came second, by the way. I’ve seen them before. Much easier (even seen some in the wild, in Africa; makes you look at poodles with a bit more respect). The next most popular animals are dolphins, horses, lions, snakes, elephants, chimpanzees, orang-utans then whales. On a related note, I went to the zoo yesterday and saw an okapi. This is now my favourite animal. I’d never heard of or seen one before. They’re either new or have very bad PR.
46. Do the Cresta Run, Switzerland. NOT DONE. I didn’t know what this was, to be honest. I thought it might be something to do with nicking toothpaste but it’s actually a ¾ mile long skeleton racing sled track. Will probably do this the day after my paragliding, just to ensure some press coverage (take note, okapi).
47. Visit Walt Disney World, Florida, USA. NOT DONE. Half. I’ve been to Eurodisney (my wife and I camped nearby and I was so nervous – or maybe just ill – that I was sick in a plastic bag just before entering the park) and I think that’s me done. At least until my son finds out about the popular mouse (I’m going to try to keep the two apart until he’s at least 18 – wish me luck).
48. Visit Las Vegas, USA. NOT DONE. ‘Visit’ seems a bit of an understatement. I don’t there’s much point merely visiting Las Vegas. If, no when, I make the trip, I’m going to ‘do’ Las Vegas. And I will have many regrets.
49. See orang-utans in Borneo. NOT DONE. So many of these trips are so far from home. Why isn’t there ‘see gannets on Bass Rock’? I’ve done that and it’s great. Or ‘see the pigeons in Trafalgar Square’ or ‘see the tortoise in your garden’. I shall start saving up right away.
50. Go Polar Bear watching. NOT DONE. The phrase ‘go Polar Bear watching’ makes this sound like something you can do on a whim on a Tuesday morning: ‘I’m just popping out, love’. ‘Where?’ ‘Oh, just Polar Bear watching.’ ‘Ok then, have fun’. But then I guess if it was that easy, it wouldn’t make the list. But should the list only be full of once in a lifetime things? I really like eating Soreen malt loaf – could that make the list? Perhaps near the end of my life I’ll make my own list and see if there’s any overlap. So stay tuned for that (in about a hundred years).
There we go. I’ve done 7.5 out of this 25, so a total of 19 out of 50. And if I’m (roughly) 2/5 of the way through my life I’ll end up living to (about) 80. This is not nearly good enough. I have to slow down or else I’ll burn out too young. I need to pace myself. I’m in the lucky position of having time to do all these things. And I must remember to keep one or two till the very end. It’s important to always have something to look forward to.
I have emerged from another week unscathed. My record attempt continues.
In 2003 the BBC compiled a list of the 50 things you should do before you die, based on the suggestions of 20,000 people. I should point out that these were meant to be exciting things, not the practical things that will make life easier for your surviving relatives (like 'make a will', 'explain how the recordable dvd player works' and 'earn enough money to buy a house that your children can inherit and then sell so that they can buy their own houses which their own kids can inherit and sell and so on) or more ethical ideas (like 'don't destroy too much of the earth', 'try to help people in need rather than watch Glee all the time' and 'floss').
So today I thought I'd copy and paste the first half of the list (50 is a large number, although not, obviously, in age terms) to see how many of these things I've already done and how many I still need to do in the hundred or so years I have left on this earth. I can then decide how quickly or slowly I need to get on with them (it'd be a shame to polish the lot off when I'm still in my early 40s and then have to sit around for the next 90 years), and maybe even make an order so I don't leave myself something particularly active (like 'play a game of squash') till I'm 120 (I haven't copied, let alone pasted, the list yet so don't know if 'play a game of squash' made it yet).
Right then. Enough faff. Here is the first half of that list:
1. Swim with dolphins. DONE. TWICE! Once in a river (yes, you get river dolphins too – they're pink) in Bolivia and once in the sea in Costa Rica (yes, I went to Costa Rica – it was my honeymoon – sorry our honeymoon). Both times I found the experience disconcerting. But then that's probably because I developed a mild phobia of fish after treading on a dead one (which then rose to the surface) when I was 11. I know people say dolphins aren't fish but look at them; they're basically fish.
2. Scuba dive on Great Barrier Reef, Australia. DONE. My my, it already looks like I've done a fair bit of travelling in my so far short life. I'm sure (and I hope) there'll be more gaps as this list progresses. This one I also found a bit disconcerting, partly because of the fish thing (see No.1) but mainly because of the whole being able to breathe underwater thing (we'd booked onto an incredibly (worryingly) cheap trip and were given our underwater training lessons on the side of the boat, five minutes before tumbling in).
3. Fly Concorde to New York, USA. NOT DONE. Tricky one too, this. I know they've been decommissioned, but anyone know if you can still hire them for a one-off? They must be around in someone's garage somewhere, surely? Quite fancy getting it ticked off. I like flying (especially the films. Airlines seem to make and then show very good films).
4. Go whale-watching. DONE. South Africa this time. And I liked this one even though I'm scared of fish (again, whales are basically fish – see No.2). Thankfully it was whale-watching not -swimming-with or -riding. And I preferred whale-watching to bird-watching because they're a lot bigger so you don't need binoculars.
5. Dive with sharks. NOT DONE. Oh dear. Really not keen on this one. Why are these so fish-related so far? I know some people like them but do we really have to swim with them all the time? Can't we just look at them occasionally and eat them on Fridays? Especially sharks. I might just leave this one to last and then go out in a blaze of glory on my 130th birthday.
6. Sky diving. DONE. Australia again. And I liked this one too, far more than bungee jumping which was just scary and irritating. Sky diving was scary and exciting – and you have a free man strapped to your back. If it's allowed (I'll check) I might even do this one again before I die, ideally from that concorde.
7. Fly in a hot air balloon. NOT DONE. My mum's done it and said it was 'nice'. She may even have said 'really nice' so I'm looking forward to this. Have looked into it once or twice when researching birthday presents and feeling generous, but each time I saw the price and bought a CD instead.
8. Fly in a fighter jet. NOT DONE. Who would suggest this? Fine if you're a fighter pilot but otherwise, surely not what you'd choose to spend your time doing? Still, it's on the list so I must give it a go. Do I just ring up the airforce? Or do I actually have to sign up?
9. Go on safari. DONE. TWICE! Once in Malawi, once in South Africa, both exciting and not at all irritating. Elephants (and that sort of thing) really are amazing to see close up. On one trip a man (from Arizona) dropped his cap off the side of the jeep and insisted that we go back and get it. The driver had to jump out and retrieve the cap (also from Arizona – it said Arizona on it. In fact, the man might not have been from there, I think I'm basing that entirely on the cap. But then I know a man who wears a cap with NY on it and he's from Exeter) even though there was a lion nearby. Silly.
10. See the Northern Lights. NOT DONE. But yes, I'd love to do this one. I saw Professor Brian Cox (he used to be in D-REAM) (really?) (yes, the band that did 'Things Can Only Get Better') (are you sure?) (fairly) talk about them in his recent (good) series. The name 'Northern Lights' doesn't really do them justice. They should be called Northern (if you insist on having the location in there) Lovely Lights.
11. Walk the Inca trail to Machu Picchu, Peru. DONE. I celebrated my 21st birthday en route, in fact. My friend Mike had carried a bottle of cava all the way up so we could mark the moment. Unfortunately I got quite bad altitude sickness so didn't really appreciate the gesture. Still, it was a nice walk and the view from the gateway to the ruins as the sun rose was worth the dizziness. On this trip I also swum with those pink dolphins, by the way, so a good one for getting these done.
12. Climb Sydney Harbour Bridge, Australia. NOT DONE. So, back to Australia for me, then. Really should have read this list before heading out there (although this list came out after I went out so not entirely my fault). I don't think I've ever actually 'climbed a bridge' yet so don't have any real opinions on this one.
13. Escape to a paradise island. NOT DONE. This is the vaguest 'thing' so far. 'Escape' from what? Do I need to commit a crime or be the victim of a crime first? Can I just escape from a normal week? I'm pretty sure I can just 'go' to a paradise island and concoct some story to suggest I was escaping something. But what makes an island 'paradise'? Can the one of Wight be 'paradise'? I played pitch and putt there and enjoyed it. So maybe I have DONE this one. Let's give it ½.
14. Drive a Formula 1 car. NOT DONE. Falls into the fly a fighter jet category for me. I'm not that interested (I find driving my own Renault Megane at anything over 60 scary enough) and can see getting into the cockpit will require quite a bit of admin and squeezing.
15. Go white-water rafting. DONE. In New Zealand. I quite liked it but was a little suspicious that actually I was white-water sitting and only the tanned man leading the trip was doing any actual rafting. Still, the water was white and I guess that's the attraction of the thing.
16. Walk the Great Wall of China. DONE. In China. I didn't walk the whole thing (I always think with walls, that you can just have a look at a bit of the wall to appreciate the wall. No need to look at every inch of the wall) but I did get my photo taken there, by a sign saying I'd done the Great Wall of China. And yes, good wall. No, Great Wall. Northern Lights, take note of the name.
17. Bungee-jumping. DONE. See No.6. Didn't enjoy it much. Glad I've ticked it off, would hate to have that hanging over me (or under me).
18. Ride the Rocky Mountaineer train, Canada. NOT DONE. Like the sound of this. I've never been to Canada and, more importantly, I've never ridden a train. I've sat in one, yes. I've taken one and caught one but I've never ridden one. I've ridden a horse. So I'm looking forward to riding a Rocky Mountaineer train.
19. Drive along Route 66, USA. NOT DONE. I have driven along some roads in America (can't remember the numbers but most of them were in Florida) and they were fine. They drive on the same side as us so that's helpful. I'm guessing Route 66 is a bit like the M40 here (good services, some nice views – red kites etc – and a good bit where the lamp posts are shorter than usual because of an airport.
20. Fly in a helicopter over the Grand Canyon, Nevada, USA. NOT DONE. Obviously. Has anyone actually ever flown in a helicopter? I doubt it. Of course I'd like to. Of course I'll try. But I'm pretty sure helicopters are fictional.
21. Take the Orient Express from Venice to London. NOT DONE. I'm hoping this is something the Orient Express normally does otherwise getting them to re-route could be a bit awkward. Doesn't it normally go somewhere eastish? More towards China? Perhaps the bureaucratic wrangling is what makes this particularly fun. Also, I live near London, so I'll have to get myself to Venice first. Can I get a return?
22. See elephants in the wild. DONE. See No.9. Who goes on safari and doesn't see elephants? They're huge!
23. Explore Antarctica. NOT DONE. I should probably start planning this one soonish. 'Explore' sounds a bit more imposing than 'visit'. I suppose I'll need a compass, some Kendal Mint Cake and some mittens, at the very least. Is there an exact definition of 'explore' that I need to meet? Can I have a guide please? All I'm saying is, I'd like to play a bit of pitch and putt when I'm there (see No.13 and the Isle of Wight).
24. Ride a motorbike on the open road. DONE. Ish. When I was in China I borrowed someone's motorbike for half an hour. I drove about 50 metres on a road. The road was not closed. So, yes; DONE. Ish. I think that'll have to count because my wife really doesn't want me to ride a moped, let alone a motorbike.
25. Have a go at cowboy ranching. NOT DONE. Cowboy ranching is really stupid. There. DONE! That was the first joke of this piece, on the last suggestion (it was a play on the words 'have a go at') (another play on words would be to pretend I'd read it as 'have a goat cowboy ranching'. This is called a charade. Another example, courtesy of Dave Auckland, would be to misread 'I can't believe it's not butter' as 'I can't believe it. Snot butter!').
So, at the halfway stage (of the list, not my life, I hope), I've DONE 11 ½ out of 25. That seems like an appropriate number. I've been getting on with things pretty well but I'm not too far ahead of myself. My main worry is that if I've not done things yet it might partly be because I don't want to do them. Still, don't knock em till you've tried em (and if you're called Em, avoid people who live by that motto).
I'll be back next week for the remaning 25 and will, of course, let you know if I've flown a fighter jet or explored Antarctica in the meantime.
I’m still going. I may have just eaten an entire Tesco’s finest creamy pasta bake that was meant for two, but I’m still going.
One of the problems involved in attempting this feat is that I have so much time to play with. To break the record I need to stay alive for about another hundred years, so I don’t have all that strong a sense of urgency just yet. I know I’ll probably have to make changes to my slightly podgy lifestyle at some point but right now, another helping of ice-cream seems fine. I’ll eat sensibly in my fifth decade. Or maybe my eigth.
I still do want to live to a ripe old age – beyond ripe, in fact; withered, just before mouldy – but perhaps because I’m fairly healthy (albeit paunchy) right now I can’t bring myself to make the wholesale changes to my lifestyle that I may well need. I don’t smoke, sure, but I do drink, really well. I’m a member of the gym but I’ve only been once this year. And then there’s these pasta bakes...
As for some of the suggestions I’ve been given over the last few weeks – for which, if you’re reading, I thank you – they nearly all require a level of commitment I’m just not sure I can muster yet.
‘Methodists live 9 years longer than other religions’, I’ve been told. But somehow becoming a Methodist seems too laborious in the short term for the long term gain. There are, after all, four steps to take when will I find the time to take four steps?
‘Practising Qigong for half an hour twice a day will add 20 years to your life, while green tea lower the risk of death by 12%’. Yes, I suppose I could try green tea (although I really do like brown tea), but doing exercise half an hour twice a day? That’s an hour a day! For one hundred years that’s 36,500 hours! Which is 4 years! Ok, so I’d still be in profit, but only just! (seriously, Liam, thanks for the Qigong info – out of everything, this is the one I’m going to do my best to try soon).
‘Why don’t you have a sex change?’ someone asked me. Now that one I could easily answer; because I’m aiming to be the World’s Oldest MAN. Yes, of course, we all know that women live longer than men, but if I become a woman I’ll then have to beat all those aged women too.
‘Well, why don’t you have a quick sex change back again at the end then?’ Now that is an excellent suggestion. Would it work? Do women who were once men live longer than men who have always been men? Again, I’d love to know, but I’ve just got so much on (what with the Edinburgh Festival, World Cup and a baby) I don’t think I’ve got time for the op. It’s not just a quick snip nowadays (was it ever?).
While good, these suggestions are all just so daunting. What I can do is little things. I can do some exercise. I can eat some decent food. Some of you may have noticed that my attempt is being sponsored by Innocent (all good athletes have sponsors nowadays – Federer, Woods, Horne) and that is certainly helping.
But that’s the thing, I’m too lazy to make my own smoothies. I can’t be bothered to find the fruit, crush the fruit, then clean up the fruit. In much the same as I can’t be bothered to go to the gym (find the body, crush the body, then clean up the body).
So, what I’m saying is this: I am 100% committed to becoming the Oldest Man in the World. Of course I am. It may look like I’m not throwing myself as fully into the attempt as is possible, but that’s only because I have to ensure I stay on top of what is still, at this stage, a fairly normal life.
But if there was a way to spend more time testing out the various longevity theories, I would jump at it. If, for instance, someone employed me to stay alive IN THE NAME OF SCIENCE, well, then I’d certainly consider taking those four steps to becoming a Methodist. Of course I have the smoothies from my friends at innocent (plus £1 million when I reach 150) but will those smoothies last another hundred years? I need more commitment!).
In short, I need someone to pay me the same as those footballers get so I really can ensure I do everything in my power to live for as long as humanly possible.
There. That should work.
In other news, the sea dog pills I’ve been taking since my time in Hong Kong are apparently not so much to help longevity as impotence. Still, if it doesn’t kill you...
 But maybe laziness is the key. Of all the old people I’ve spoken to, none has said their longevity comes down to regular and vigorous exercise. In fact most have said they’d always been active, but in a gentle sort of way – they’ve gardened, cycled or played the trumpet.
Last week I took a calculated risk and flew to Hong Kong and back for a fact-finding mission. Since going public with this record attempt several people have told me how safe flying is (in the short term at least) so I was fairly confident stepping inside the big metal tube that would, they told me, go 10,000 feet up in the air, forward 6,000 miles, then down again right into Hong Kong airport. On paper it seemed like a more dangerous way to travel than walking or even running, but apparently the air-people know what they're doing.
I did indeed survive. In fact I even gained an extra 7 hours for my total thanks to the time difference (although I did have to hand these back on repatriation to the UK). And any stress on the flight was definitely outweighed by the facts I found when I got there. Facts, I've discovered, are almost always heavier than stress.
At the bottom end of the scale, countries like Zambia, Monzambique and Swaziland have a life expectancy that is literally half as long, thanks to high rates of HIV infection and infant mortality. It's a sobering thought that the average person in Swaziland won't live to 40. And here I am, at the age of 31, blithely stating that I want to live for another hundred years.
As a UK male, I can expect to live to the age of 77.2. We come 22nd in the World Rankings, just ahead of Germany (for once), a full decade above the overall life expectancy at birth throughout the world (67.2 years; 65.0 years for males and 69.5 years for females). I know I'm lucky to live where I do.
But as soon as I started wandering the streets of Hong Kong it was evident that the people there really do live longer than the people here. There were, quite simply, old people everywhere. In parks, shops and cafes, sitting, squatting and manning booths (there are a lot of booths in Hong Kong); they were everywhere I looked. It was actually quite scary. Thankfully, while they looked old, they didn't look old old. Lines on their faces betrayed the lengthy lives they'd lived but their bodies were still fit and nimble. It was hot in Hong Kong. I staggered up stairs and sweated. They glided up (glid up?) and smiled.
After a couple of days I plucked up the courage to ask a couple of elderly folk what their secret was. They both shrugged and returned to their game of mah jong. I asked a couple more. They didn't speak English. Finally the wisest-looking man I'd ever seen told me that there was no secret.
This was not particularly helpful.
Instead of asking questions I decided to observe. How do they do it? How do they live so long when the city is so grimy (in quite a clean way, admittedly), the air so sticky and tap water so dirty (according to one guide book, anyway)? It's not a verdant place, Hong Kong. It's an incredibly busy city. It's like London but even more busy. Everyone's still up at 2 in the morning and then everyone gets up again at 5 in the morning. It's noisy, over-crowded and thick with exhaust fumes, not peaceful, relaxing or in any way natural.
But within this frenetic whirr lies the answer. Maybe. It is, I think, this raw energy that keeps people going. It's the fact that people do get up early and do things, and then stay up late still doing things, that keeps the country fit. Every morning the parks are full of people doing tai chi, ballroom dancing or some other form of, to my eyes, idiosyncratic exercise, and throughout the day people continue to stretch, bend and move. They are active.
This was not a surprise to me. In 1997 I spent 4 months teaching in an industrial town called Quanzhou in the Fujian Province of China, some 200 miles north of Hong Kong. As a naive 18 year old, my biggest culture shock came at 7am, every single morning, when the entire school would troop out onto the football pitch and partake in 45 minutes of group exercise, with loud Chinese pop music blaring out of a tannoy system. It was remarkable. And no-one seemed to mind it. They liked it. And I can't remember a single over-weight kid at the school.
At weekends we'd occasionally make our way to some seaside resort where people didn't lie on the beach like whales. Instead they did more exercise. Children played football or baseball incessantly, while the adults did more tai chi, or went jogging backwards or stood on their heads for hours at a time. I'm sure I'm remembering this correctly. As we topped up our tans and flirted with skin cancer, Chinese men in tiny pants would run backwards past us, up and down the beach.
So is it as simple as regular (and creative) exercise? Probably not. I can't help thinking that traditional Chinese medicine might have something to do with it (Hong Kong spends far less per person on healthcare than the US but has far fewer sick people), and will soon post up a video of my own dabblings in this area. It might also be something to do with their diet. In my week-long stay I ate a goose and drank about a gallon of tea and felt excellent after doing both.
It's probably important too to note that while they do often exercise, they also counterbalance that with sleep. Researchers at Portland State University, Oregon, studied 15,638 people across China and found that those who slept 10 hours or more lived longer than those who didn't and as well as seeing more people exercising than ever before, I did see an inordinate number of people dozing too. At markets, in restaurants, on cable cars, people were more than happy to nap in public. Some lay on the ground by bus stops, I even saw one man fast asleep leaning against a lamp post. They're good sleepers.
But the most important thing I took away from my trip is that if I want to live for a long time, I need to keep doing things for a long time. It's not enough to sit on a comfortable chair, avoiding danger and waiting for the time to pass. I need to get out there, fly to Hong Kong, run backwards on a beach, and sleep on the bus on the way home.
Once again the headline news is that I’m still alive. The record attempt is still on. I’ve now been persevering for 31 years 9 months and 11 days. Beat that Blaine!
(By Blaine, I mean David Blaine – the man who does things like standing up for a week and expects people to be impressed. Be the oldest man in the world, David, and then I’ll think you’re magic)
On Monday this week I found out that two of my great great aunts lived to the grand old age of a hundred. They were called Maud and Tat and they have filled me with hope. I have longevity in my genes. As I’ve said before, three of my grandparents are still alive, nearly all their siblings are still going too, and my very own Rosie is well into her fifties and looking fitter than ever (she is a tortoise). All signs point to me not just beating but smashing the old age record, and then rebuilding it and smashing it again.
Flushed with confidence I therefore decided to put a bet on myself becoming the World’s Oldest Man. Put your money where your mouth is, I thought. So I did. On Tuesday I went to a betting shop, took my money out of my mouth and tried to give it to Mr William Hill.
But to my dismay, Bill Hill wouldn’t take my money. And not just because it was soggy. He said that he wouldn’t give odds for ‘that sort of bet’. I contacted every single other major bookie in the country and was told the very same thing by each one.
I don’t understand this. Bookmakers have a history of giving odds for slightly unusual bets (see this article- one of these I actually made myself – come and see my show Odds in London and at the Edinburgh Festival to find out more. Shameless plug over) so why wouldn’t they touch this? It is statistically rather unlikely that I’ll actually win and anyway, they can choose the odds. What do they have to lose? What are they worried about?
Moreover, if I did happen to win and they’d given me odds of, say, 100,000 to 1, they wouldn’t have to pay out until the year 2121, or thereabouts. That much money will almost certainly be worth far less then. If they put my bet in a high interest bank account they’d make far more money in the mean time. And also, unless the person accepting my bet is younger than me they would, by the very nature of the bet, be dead when I win, so they really shouldn’t worry quite so much.
The only reason I could possibly think that they wouldn’t take my bet is because it might put certain members of the public in danger. For if they were to offer me odds of, say, 1,000,000 to 1 on a £10 bet to be the oldest man in the world, I would immediately have quite a strong motive to ‘get rid’ of everyone in the world older than me. By simply eliminating these three billion people I’d make myself a cool £10,000,000.
But they should know be better than that. I’m a peaceful soul. And also I’m far too disorganised to pull off that sort of stunt.
So, bearing in mind the general apathy of the country’s bookmakers I would like to pass this bet on to you, the reader. Would you like to bet with me that I’ll become the oldest man in the world? If so, what odds would you give me? Let me know and if the numbers seem satisfactory I’ll almost certainly put a bet of at least a quid on. We then just need to stay in touch for another 100 years to see who wins.
Last week I tried to write a blog about the terribly old people who feature in the Bible but I got side-tracked by Dr Aubrey De Grey. I don’t mind being side-tracked. I do, after all, have another century (at least) left to fill. So, at the risk of wandering off the path once more, I would like to acknowledge the following comment left at the bottom of last week’s words:
“As Aubrey points out we have discovered seven biochemical processes which are the root causes of the damage which accumulates from aging. The first was discovered in the mid 1950s and last was discovered almost 30 years ago in 1981, taking into consideration that a greater amount of time has now passed since the discovery of the last of the seven than it took to discover the entire list and then factor in the massive increase in our knowledge of biology that has taken place over that time and it seems quite likely that these seven causes are all there are - crack those and it is highly likely we will have cracked aging!”
Did you hear that? “We will have cracked aging!”
Dr Johnty, the man who wrote this, goes on to explain the seven things that normally kill us and what we can do to stop each of them. I’ve included all that in a footnote on the bottom of the blog* – feel free to have a look – but the main point is that Dr Johnty thinks Aubrey might be right. So it’s not just Aubrey! Another doctor believes it! ‘Aging’, this new doctor says, ‘is no different to any other disease and like all diseases aging is ultimately treatable.’
In fact, he goes on to say, ‘we cannot afford to sit back and accept it. Everyone in history has lived and died but it is a mistake to view aging as a fact of life set in stone when science has progressed to the level where we have the ability to search for a cure.’ I like this attitude a lot. From now on, I certainly won’t be sitting back and accepting the aging process. I will punch it in the face until it goes away. I will become the Oldest Man in the World!
So, the Bible then. In the spirit of believing Dr Aubrey’s science, I’ve decided also to believe that the very aged people in the appropriately named Old Testament did actually live for centuries. Why not? We only live once (obviously, this is also up for discussion), what’s the point of being cynical? Remember, my only aim here is to become the Oldest Man in the World. That’s all I want to do. So I’m going to gulp down any positive propaganda on longevity I can lay my hands on.
WIkipedia (yes, I’ve been looking at Wikipedia again) has a useful list of the Top Fifty Old Biblical characters, at the top of which sits the mighty Methuselah; not a bad name for a baby, and not a bad age to live to – 969 years. Although I can’t help thinking he must have been gutted not to have made it to the millennium (dying just my own comparatively tiny life-span short).
There’s not all that much written about Methuselah considering he lived for longer than the period I studied for GCSE history. It seems he died just a week before the beginning of the Great Flood (again, frustrating; after living that long he probably would have enjoying seeing something he’d never seen before). In fact, according to some Bible readers, God actually delayed the Flood specially so that there could be seven days of mourning for this extraordinarily long-lived man. That was nice.
Apart from that, the Bible mainly lays out in quite bald detail Methuselah’s tall family tree (Genesis 5:21-27, Chronicles 1:3 and Luke 3:37). The headline news is that he was the son of Enoch and grandfather of Noah, but I always like reading paragraphs that feature the word ‘begat’ a lot. So here’s the actual bit from Genesis:
(21) And Enoch lived sixty and five years, and begat Methuselah: (22) And Enoch walked with God after he begat Methuselah three hundred years, and Methuselah begat sons and daughters: (23) And all the days of Enoch were three hundred sixty and five years: (24) And Enoch walked with God: and he [was] not; for God took him. (25) And Methuselah lived an hundred eighty and seven years, and begat Lamech: (26) And Methuselah lived after he begat Lamech seven hundred eighty and two years, and begat sons and daughters: (27) And all the days of Methuselah were nine hundred sixty and nine years: and he died.
There it is. Quite a pithy summary of a life but not much doubt about it. Methuselah lived nine hundred sixty and nine years. And he died. Seven hundred and eighty two years after having his last kids.
So, as someone attempting to become the current Oldest Man in the World, I want to know Methuselah’s secret. How did he live that long? If I even live half as long as him I’ll have a jolly good shot at the record.
Well, as you can probably imagine, there are several theories about his age knocking about (yahoo’s answer service is always a good start, I find).
They can, I think, be boiled down to the following seven-point idea broth:
1) These long-living Old Testament types (Patriarchs, to give them their proper title) simply had a better diet than us. If this is the case, does anyone know what people ate back then? I need some of that stuff.
2) There was some sort of something protecting the earth from the sun’s radiation at the time – which was then destroyed in the Flood. This something is often called a ‘firmament’, sometimes a ‘water vapour canopy’ and occasionally a ‘celestial sphere’. It looked, I like to imagine, like the Millennium Dome. If this is the case, anyone want to help me build another firmament? Even just over my house?
3) Our DNA has gradually deteriorated since this era, so now we’re far more susceptible to the likes of cancer and heart disease and car crashes. If this is the case, I need scientists to crack on with the anti-aging science remedies, please.
4) Man was originally meant to live forever. But then Adam and Eve introduced sin (naughty) so life was limited, first to around a thousand years. This sin became even stronger (naughtier) over the next few generations so this time-limit was cut first to 500 years, then 250, then 100. So, Noah’s son Shem only lived to 600, his son (Arphaxad) lived to just 438 years old, his son (Salah) barely broke the 400 mark, then Abraham died at the meagre age of 175 and Moses was only 120 when he passed on, not even as old as our own Jeanne Calment (who died in 1997, aged 122). If this is the case, can we all stop being naughty please? Also, if this is the case, and if Dr Aubrey is also right and we do start living for centuries again, does that mean we’ve finally been forgiven for Adam and Eve’s apple shenanigans? That would be nice too.
5) Someone translated it wrong. They didn’t mean 969 years, they meant 969 months, so he would actually have been 78½ when he died. Unfortunately, if this is the case, Enoch would have managed to spawn Methuselah when he was just five years old.
6) These great ages actually represent an epoch in which these great men were particularly prominent. So when it says Methuselah died at the age of 969, it really means that his reputation lasted that long. If this is the case, that’s a bit of a shame. I don’t think the Guinness Book of Records would accept me as the Oldest Man in the World just because people were still talking about me in the year 2150 (otherwise I’d start thinking about doing something extremely memorable – like inventing something terrific, being King/Prime Minister/Elvis or doing something very bad indeed).
7) The Bible is simply a story – not just The Good Book but a good book. In stories it’s ok to have somebody who is extremely old, in just the same way that the BFG was extremely tall and Scrooge was extremely miserly. If this is the case, well, fair enough.
So that’s it. Food for thought, certainly. The good news is that both SCIENCE and RELIGION seem to think extreme old age is eminently possible. My target of 150 years seems easily achievable compared to what Aubrey and Methuselah are talking about. So I’m still on track!
*1. Cell death and atrophy: Treatable with exercise, stem cells, and chemicals which stimulate cell division.
2. Cancerous cells: Theoretically treatable with a type of gene therapy being developed, called Whole Body Interdiction of Lengthening of Telomeres (WILT).
3. Mutant mitochondria: Mutated DNA in the mitochondria causes a number of diseases. These can be prevented by moving the mitochondrial DNA into the cell nucleus, where the rest of the DNA resides.
4. Cell senescence (unwanted cells): Fat cells and other unwanted cruft can be removed surgically, or by stimulating the immune system to attack unwanted cells.
5. Extracellular crosslinks (loss of elasticity): Certain proteins, such as those in cells making up the arteries, become too rigid over time because they bond to each other. These bonds can be broken with certain chemicals (some in clinical trials even today).
6 Extracellular junk: “Plaque” which collects between cells can be eliminated by stimulating the immune system, and/or by using peptides called “beta-breakers.”
7. Intracellular junk: Molecular garbage can be prevented from overwhelming certain cells by introducing enzymes which are known to be effective against such molecules.
There’s a man called Dr Aubrey de Gray who thinks that one of us is going to live to be 1000 years old.
I’ll just let that sink in.
ONE THOUSAND YEARS OLD.
Dr Aubrey de Grey is not insane or four years old. He’s a serious scientist who went on record (on both French and German TV, in fact) to say that he believed the first human to live to 1,000 years old is probably already alive now, and might even be between 50 and 60 years old today. In other words, he thinks that my mum might live to be a thousand.
I’m 31 years old (and very nearly 9 months – a new personal best) at the moment and I feel like I’ve been alive for ages. But if Dr Aubrey de Grey is right (big if) and if I do become the world’s oldest man (smaller if), I’ll literally be alive for ages. I could well make it to the year 3000 (where, I imagine, not much will have changed but we’ll live underwater).
So, could he be right? Could my mum live to a thousand? Who is Dr Aubrey de Grey? Well, I’ll tell you (or rather, I’ll tell you what Wikipedia told me). Dr Aubrey de Grey lives in London, has a PhD from Cambridge University and a tremendously long beard. He’s editor-in-chief of an academic journal called ‘Rejuvenation Research’ and he’s written books called ‘The Mitochondrial Free Radical Theory of Aging’ and ‘Ending Aging’.
And here’s a handy summary of his theory that I’ve nicked from Wikipedia because this is a blog and I don’t need to do exhaustive research: ‘De Grey argues that the fundamental knowledge needed to develop effective anti-ageing medicine mostly already exists, and that the science is ahead of the funding. He works to identify and promote specific technological approaches to the reversal of various aspects of ageing, or as de Grey puts it, "the set of accumulated side effects from metabolism that eventually kills us," and for the more proactive and urgent approaches to extending the healthy human lifespan.’
You can watch him in action here:
Now, that all sounds very nearly convincing. After all, Dr Aubrey de Grey is clearly a clever bloke, almost certainly cleverer than me. But surely he’s massively wrong on this one? (it doesn’t help that the 47 year old Dr Aubrey has cultivated a look – with this tremendously long beard – that suggests he’s already well into his 600s and therefore not aging all that slowly or well himself).
But maybe he is right. There must be a tiny possibility he’s completely correct. Given that admittedly slim chance, shouldn’t we all be a bit more careful? It would be a huge shame to die aged 58 in a baking accident, when you might have another 942 years to live.
And if he is right, it’s not great news for my sponsors (yes, if you didn’t know, I have a company sponsoring me for this World Record Attempt because it is a serious athletic event. The company is Innocent – they make very tasty and healthy things which I drink and eat to compensate for all the very tasty and unhealthy things which I drink and eat). The bosses at Innocent have promised £1,000,000 to the first person to reach 150 years old, thinking – perhaps not unreasonably – that they themselves will be long gone when (and if) this comes to pass.
But if Dr Aubrey de Grey has done his maths right, someone will certainly make it to that meagre milestone in the very near future and the bosses (who are enviably young and dynamic) could well live for many centuries after that date, almost certainly regretting their generous but rash offer of a million quid to the person who simply stayed alive for what will have proved to be a positively miniscule age (always good to the use the future perfect tense where possible).
To be honest, the idea of living to a thousand still hasn’t sunk in with me yet. 1000 birthdays! Currently men become pensioners at the age of at 65 – that’s a hefty pension. That’s a lot of golf. That’s a lot of grandchildren. That’s a lot of time to avoid death. But what if we all lived to a thousand? There’d be a lot of us about. I guess we’d have to extend our current home – or move to a bigger planet. There’s a lot to think about. But at least we’ll have time to do so.
I’d be interested to hear if any of you actually believe Dr Aubrey. It certainly seems a preposterous idea but this man has done the research, he’s spent his life reading and thinking about this subject. He should know better than anyone else how long we can reasonably expect to live. So why don’t we trust him? It can’t just be the beard.
Of course we may simply be suspicious until lots of other clever scientists tell us the same thing, or we actually see it for ourselves. We do need to be told something many many times before we believe it; indeed I still don’t really believe that animals hibernate (although Rosie, my tortoise, may well attempt to finally prove the issue this winter).
But maybe we should trust Dr Aubrey on this one. After all, we would all look a bit silly staggering about at the age of a thousand, wishing we’d saved up more money or bought some sturdier clothes. Either way, there’s no doubt that we’re living a lot longer now than we were just a short while ago, so there must be a good chance that by the time I reach the sharp end of this record attempt, the number to beat will be a high one. There are bound to be a few of us fighting it out, quite literally to the death, and I’d love it if Dr Aubrey is one of them.
So for now I’ll let other clever people get on with making anti-aging medicine, and I’ll simply concentrate on not dying in a silly way. But before sweeping the house for poison and bears, I want to just say, on record, that ‘cleverness’ is a tricky business. Just because you’re clever, it doesn’t necessarily mean you’re right (in the same way as someone who sounds crazy might not necessarily be wrong).
I always found it confusing at school that my favourite teacher, the man I thought most interesting, funny and wise, was a priest (also heavily bearded). He once told us in all sincerity that he believed every word in the Bible. I could never reconcile him being very clever and believing in transubstantiation. How could someone be so bright and gullible at the same time, thought I, at the age of 17 (not any more, mind. Nowadays I’m happy to let people believe whatever they want to believe without judging them. After all, I believe that England are going to win the World Cup, and Liverpool will be Premiership Champions next year. You’ve got to have some sort of faith).
But on the subject of the Bible, one of the reasons I found the whole thing particularly dubious was the extreme age of some of the principal figures. Methuselah, for example, was apparently 969 years old when he died, while Noah got to 950 and Adam 930. These are big numbers – especially for Adam who, being the first man in the world, would have then held the record as the oldest man in the world for almost a millennium – and especially when we remember poor old Jesus who was just 33 years old when he died.
But that’s as far as I’ll go down that path for now. I was originally planning to blog about these immensely aged biblical characters here but got carried away talking about Dr Aubrey. So come back next week for the next instalment. I’m confident I’ll still be here.