15 posts categorized "Tales from the attempt"

Monday, October 04, 2010

the future


Put your hand up if you're still in the running to become the Oldest Man In The World?

About half of you. That makes sense.

Well, so am I! And I'm more confident than ever having consumed: 3 berocca, some spinach, 4 smoothies, 4 small fish and a dozen Sea Dog Pills (see the entry on Hong Kong) in the last week.

Full of both life and self-belief, I've decided to look ahead to how life will be different when I eventually claim the title. But, because I can't actually look ahead because it hasn't happened, I'm going to do that by looking backwards. I'm going to have a look at how life was different 100 years ago to give us some idea of what it might be like 100 years hence.

What follows is a list of 32 things that have been invented in the last 100 years (up until my birthday, 10th September 1978). This might be less of a blog and more a load of information copied and pasted from Wikipedia but it should hopefully make you think, 'wow, if the equivalent of all that stuff gets invented in the next century, won't it be amazing!' That's one reason why I want to be alive at the age of 132. I want to see what we come up with. I mean, look at this lot:

• 1910: Vitamin B (in my opinion, the tastiest of the vitamins. yummy)

• 1910: Dental Braces (my childhood was blighted by these but they may just keep me going - gum disease is, surprisingly, a killer)

• 1910: Neon lighting (can you imagine life without neon light? I know I can't. But will there be a new sort of light soon? Let's hope so)

• 1911: Knapsack parachute (the knapsack, by the way, was invented over three thousand years ago)

• 1913: Aerobatics (it was probably a good thing these to were invented in that order)

• 1913: Crossword (and then sudokus came along in 1979 and ruined everything)

• 1913: Stainless steel (before, just dirty dirty steel)

• 1913: X-Ray (surely x-ray specs are just around the corner)

• 1923: Television (my tv currently has 543 channels. At that rate, in 100 years time there will be more channels than people in the world)

• 1928: Sliced bread (maybe in a hundred years time we'll have pre-made Ikea furniture)

• 1929: Mechanical potato peeler (the best thing since sliced bread - although comparison carries the least weight for this product)

• 1934: Hammond Organ (what new musical instruments are in store for us? I'm hoping for something made out of moss)

• 1938: Ballpoint pen (will people remember pens when I'm a hundred? Will we be able to write on the air? I expect so)

• 1941: Computer (but it was the size of a house. Now they're the size of books. I'm sort of hoping they'll go back to house-size in a hundred years)

• 1941: Velcro (the best invention. I can't believe so many people still insist on using laces. That's medieval if you ask me)

• 1942: Bazooka Rocket Gun (bad things but great name)

• 1945: Slinky (ditto)

• 1945: Microwave oven (can be dangerous in the wrong hands)

• 1945: Nuclear weapons (ditto)

• 1946: Bikini (an amazing etymology - no time to go into it here but the story is told beautifully in this book: Wordwatching, by Alex Horne - also available on the Kindle - will I outlive books?)

• 1947: Pocket calculator (the pocket was invented in the late 18th century)

• 1947: Polaroid camera (extinct by the 22nd century?)

• 1950: Credit card (surely money will be dead too)

• 1952: Hovercraft (but when, oh when, will we get these bloody jetpacks?)

• 1967: Mumps vaccine (thank goodness. Mumps would be a silly way to go)

• 1969: Video cassette (RIP)

• 1971: Instant noodles (I'm hoping all food will be instant when I'm old. Same with washing up and writing blogs)

• 1971: Karaoke (can anything possibly be more fun? Or less fun? Depending on if you like it)

• 1974: Rubik's Cube (will I complete my first Rubik's cube before I'm 132 years old? Unlikely)

• 1977: Mobile phone (some people are very excited about how this will develop. For me, they should stop now. You can phone people and walk around, that's enough)

• 1978: Spreadsheet (this, however, could do with some more work. Excel, in particular, could be four thousand times simpler please)

• 1978: Me (or I could become four thousand times cleverer)

So, that's your lot for now. It's almost impossible to imagine life without all those things which makes life in a hundred years time even more exciting. I would say I can't wait. But I can. And I will.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Long Life News Update

I’m still alive and, as far as I know, fatal-disease-and-accident-free. Good news. If I keep going this way, only old age will get me. But I want to get it too. So that’s fine.

Considering the length of this venture it may seem ambitious to write a weekly blog about my efforts but I’m confident this will remaining a thrilling spectator sport for the next century. Look at the London marathon. I do, every year, for at least four hours, and every year I’m engrossed. I don’t care who wins, I don’t support a particular runner and I’m not trying to spot someone I know. I just like the event. So it shall be with my longevity race, I hope. And if it does get dull I’m sure I can find someone dressed as a lobster to talk to.

To reflect this on-going appeal, I thought I’d present my top ten recent news stories on the subject of longevity. Every day someone writes something new about something old; here are those that I have found most useful/interesting/odd over the last few weeks:


Here’s a report on a city in China called Rugao which is home to 255 people over the age of 100. Considering it only has a population of 1.45 million, this is a remarkable number. Its secret? Well, there’s more than one: ‘regular and healthy eating’ (I certainly do the former), ‘good sleeping habits’ (I do have a habit of sleeping) and a ‘favourable environment’.

This last one is probably the most tricky because according to a study by the Jiangsu Provincial Institute of Geological Survey (you’ll probably know them as JPIGS – like JPEGS, just more piggy), the area has more selenium in its soil than is usual and selenium, they say, can stop you getting cancer. So as soon as I find a good selenium shop, I’m buying a load of the stuff and spreading it across my garden, before having a big meal and going to bed.


So, this book was published back in 2003 but it’s still getting a lot of attention today, hence its inclusion here. The blurb boasts that ‘The Omega-3 Miracle’ (an excellent title, I think) ‘is the secret to longevity’. Setting aside the thorny issue of whether a secret can still exist when printed in a book, it goes on to explain that Icelandic people don’t get ill much because they eat fish oils so we also, should eat fish oils. As far as I can tell, that’s the entire message of Garry Gordon’s book.

Sorry, he’s not just Garry Gordon, he’s Dr Garry Gordon, M.D., D.O., M.D.(H.), who ‘received his Doctor of Osteopathy in 1958 from the Chicago College of Osteopathy in Illinois... his honorary M.D. degree from the University of California, Irvine in 1962 and completed his Radiology Residency from Mt. Zion in San Francisco, California in 1964’. Not only that, ‘Dr. Gordon is founder/president of the International College of Advanced Longevity and is currently a fulltime consultant for Longevity Plus, an Arizona based nutritional supplement company whose products are widely used by alternative health practitioners around the world.’

Highly qualified indeed. Too qualified? Should you really trust someone who is both founder and president of an ‘International’ College of something called ‘Advanced Longevity’. Well, someone calling herself AndreaK thinks not: recently she reviewed his book with the following blast; ‘There are NO medical studies on Mr. Gordon’s product. The author is NOT an MD, though he uses the title in his name. He is not a cardiologist. He is not a practicing radiologist and, despite the bio, he can not be located anywhere as a practicing Osteopathic doctor either. He is a complete hoax! So eat healthy foods, live a healthy life style and save your money – don’t fork over your hard-earned cash to a guy who lies about his background. Love the photo on the cover of him with a stethoscope around his neck – almost makes you think the guy has a medical background.’

That’s the sort of passion the longevity game can engender.


I never knew it existed but now I think I should almost certainly get myself some ‘longevity insurance’. Obviously, if/when I reach 150 years old Innocent Smoothies will be slipping me a cool million but it’d be nice to have money in the bank until that point too.

Longevity insurance, or deferred annuity, protects you from outliving your money, something I should probably have considered when setting about this project. According to this helpful site ‘a typical longevity policy is purchased after one turns 60 and begins paying a monthly income after the policy holder turns 85’ – about halfway through my life.

Back to the website for a quick summary: ‘Is a longevity policy worth the expense? The key factor, obviously, is your life expectancy. If you’re in good health and come from a long-lived family, a longevity policy could make a lot of sense. People are living longer and longer’. Well, yes, I suppose we are.


Only when I read this news report did I realise how little thought I’ve given to my bile so far. Quoting research from Canada’s Concordia University (recently published in a journal called Aging which I really must subscribe to), the author writes: ‘bile acids are beneficial to health and longevity. For example, they have shown to accumulate in the serum of long living mice and play a role in improving rodent liver and pancreatic function. This leads us to believe that bile acids have potential as pharmaceutical agents for the treatment of diabetes, obesity and various metabolic disorders, all of which are age-related… they may indeed offer hope for a healthy aging life.’

So, if you know somewhere that sells bile and selenium, let me know IMMEDIATELY.


This one isn’t all that relevant to me (I have a second kid arriving in time for Christmas – fingers, but nothing else, crossed), but on September 4th Edinburgh’s Isa Blyth celebrated her 106th birthday and, in the Sun’s words, ‘puts her amazing age down to being a VIRGIN’.

The rest of the article doesn’t hold too many surprises but you might be interested to know that ‘Isa has never even been KISSED’ (yes, this one was in capitals AND bold), she does like sherry, she worked in a whisky distillery and she celebrated her birthday with champagne. And if you think all that booze sounds a bit much for a centenarian, fear not. Have a look at number five.


Ok, so we’ll rattle through the top five now. They all feature things that will, apparently, increase the length of your life and which I think will improve it too. For more details click the links.

Ignore the fact that this one comes from a website called www.daveywaveyfitness.com, the headline here is enough for me: heavy drinkers live longer. In fact, the more you read, the better it gets. The scientists cited by Wavey Davey (who do their thing at the University of Texas and Sanford University) have proved that both heavy and light drinkers outlive their non-drinking counterparts. The study took an astounding 20 years (but only featured 1,800 people which doesn’t sound like many to me but still...) and concluded that the known risks of alcohol are outweighed by its social benefits. Marvellous stuff.


Over to Tokyo now and news, at last, from the Japan Society for Lipid Nutrition who claim that high cholesterol levels are actually better for living longer. Hooray! There is a whole load of technical stuff about ‘good cholesterol’ and ‘bad cholesterol’ but basically I think I’m now ok to eat lots of eggs cooked in butter and booze.


The news only gets better – you don’t have to enjoy all this not-so-naughty food and drink alone. Another study from America has revealed that people with no social life are fifty percent more likely to die early than those ‘who share a strong bond with friends’.

Now, I have to say that I don’t completely understand the maths here. Does that also mean that those ‘who share a strong bond with friends’ are also fifty percent more likely to die early than those with no social life? Never been good at numbers. Except for counting slowly (one number every year).

Other highlights from the study include the claim that ‘the impact of friends on life longevity was comparable to the effects of quitting smoking’ – so if you do smoke, don’t worry about giving up, just get on facebook; while those with few friends ‘are exposed to mortality risk … even higher than either obesity or physical inactivity’ – so if you are obese, don’t worry. Unless you also don’t have any friends.


Not as exciting as the previous few but important to me at a time when my son is determined that I get up before six every morning: daily coffee also makes you live longer. Perhaps such a conclusion isn’t that surprising from a website promising ‘coffee things’ – there aren’t many goods (weapons excluded) sold on the basis that they actively shorten life. But the conclusions of the researchers at the University of Athens sound quite convincing for me, including as it does ‘the marked improvement that coffee has on the elasticity of the arteries, helping to prevent their ageing and thereby warding off potential heart disease.’ I know my arteries have felt particularly bendy over the past few weeks.

Incidentally, the 500 people examined all lived on Ikaria, a small Greek island also known as ‘longevity island’ because ‘a reported third of people live to reach their centennial birthday’. Not necessarily a fair place for this sort of study but maybe a future holiday destination.


And at number one, mainly because it’s something I can introduce immediately at no extra cost but with a big smile on my face, is a study from the BMJ (formerly the British Medical Journal) which states that a strong handshake means a longer life. Great stuff. Be warned that if we meet I’m going to grip your hand like a good ‘un (couldn’t think of a decent metaphor for gripping).

And here are some helpful links to strengthen your shake: Alternating Multi Curls.

See you somewhere soon (I’ll be the drunk, fat, slobbering, hyper one with loads of platonic friends with sore hands).

Monday, September 13, 2010

Birthday Enjoyment

Monday, September 06, 2010

The Miracle of Life

I’ve arrived back from Edinburgh, still in one piece (although I cut my nails just before leaving to see if it’d feel weird to have fresh bits of me 400 miles away from the rest of me: it doesn’t). After a gruelling month of festivities, I’m still alive.

I may only be a quarter of the way to my target but the fact that I haven’t died yet is, I think, incredible. Every single day of my life (that’s 11680 so far) I’ve managed to avoid the scythe of death despite that scythe looming on an almost continual looming cycle.

During my last hour in our rented flat I looked up (after clipping my nails) and saw for the first time the gas meter, a couple of feet above the sink. Slapped across the middle of the machine was a sign, framed by hazard symbols, warning me to call the emergency services if I ever suspected there was even a hint of a leak. As soon as I read that I suspected I could smell, if not gas, then a hint of gas. Should I call the emergency services? Was I in immediate peril?

Not prepared to take any personal risk but keen not to get bogged down in admin at this late stage of the festival, we jumped in the car and left the country.
Since that near-incident I see danger everywhere. I seem to be surrounded by potential death-traps. And I’m sorry to interrupt the flow but here are two quick points on ‘potential death-traps’.

1) I remember someone using that phrase as a comedy catchphrase in the 80s or 90s – anyone know who that was?
2) Is there such a thing as an ‘actual death-trap’? The ‘trap’ side of the phrase sounds too fun to be associated with the ‘death’ bit. Is the ‘death’ bit meant to refer to the Grim Reaper himself? Has ‘Death’ set the trap? Would immortality itself be an ‘actual death-trap’?

Enough meandering. Instead, here’s a quick look round my house (at night, so apologies for any gloom) to see just how dangerous my everyday life is. I’ve literally spent two minutes glancing around to see what things might kill m and the results, as you’ll see, are frankly terrifying.

And if any of these things do kill me in the next few days, I’m aware I’ll either look like a prat for not doing something about them, or a soothsayer (given the choice, I’d always pick the second option, even though someone who just say sooth also sounds like a bit of a prat).
So here are just some of the houseassins (my word) I’m having to avoid every single day:


TV – mounted precariously on a chest. It doesn’t quite fit. I could easily be crushed one day.


Radiator – I don’t understand these things. Is there gas in them? Is the gas the thing that’s hot? How does it get hot? Is there a flame near the gas somewhere? I’m an idiot, I know, but should I be worried, shouldn’t I?

Open fire – it suddenly seems ridiculous to me that I have a fire in my house. I often bring in a load of wood and set fire to it, then spend a whole evening trying to create more flames, bigger sparks and hotter heat. Inside my own house. Madness.

Steps – these are steep steps. I sometimes call them steeps. I often stumble on the steeps. And I sometimes sleepwalk. Surely just a matter of time before I steepsleepstumble.

Lights – our bathroom is located directly above these lights. There are gaps in the floorboards of the bathroom through which I can see these lights. So water must often drip onto these lights. As we know, I’m a fool, but doesn’t water plus electricity equal danger?

Peace lily – poisonous apparently. So an ironic name? Or does the peace refer to how I should rest?


Beanbag – I could easily choke on this.

I could go on. I’m surrounded by threats, my life is full of near-misses, I am a brave, brave, lucky, lucky man. So can I go on? Keep your fingers crossed and maybe send me on some sort of Home Economics refresher course.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

message on a bottle

 This afternoon I was sat on the Meadows in Edinburgh with my wife and one-year-old son. All three of us were trying to relax after an eventful, exhausting month. Performing at the Edinburgh Fringe is as close to hard work as a comedian ever comes and, with just a couple of shows left, I was feeling it. Being married to or fathered by someone performing at the Edinburgh Fringe is even more tiring and I don't think the three of us have ever been more tired.

But then, as the sun sank behind the Ladyboys of Bangkok's Big Top (tent not jumper), a minor miracle happened. I took a swig of my drink and glanced at the bottle. There, in appealing red letters, were the words "Long Live Alex".

It was a sign. I was going to be ok. I would survive.

It took me a couple of minutes to realise this was no coincidence. The drink was a smoothie made by innocent, the company sponsoring my attempt to be the Oldest Man in the World, and the words did indeed refer to this feat. I'd known they were going to feature what I hope you agree is a truly epic endeavour on their products but I'd never actually seen my name on the side of one of their (or anyone else's) bottles before so was rather moved. Normally when people glance at their drink they see nutritional information or, maybe, competitions involving the World Cup. They rarely read about one man's attempt to live longer than every other man.

So my spirits were lifted. I remembered how lucky I was to have such a fun and full life and that if I am to live to 150 I'm going to need some pretty fine memories to look back on for the last half a century or so. So, I gave my wife a cuddle and chased my son on my hands and knees, giggling.


Monday, August 16, 2010

The Fringe of Death?


I'm up at the Edinburgh Festival. I'm still alive, but if the festival lasted more than its scheduled four weeks I'm not sure I'd stay this way for long. It shouldn't be as tiring as it is. All we performers have to do is perform for one hour every day. Those aren't long working hours. But then there's all the other stuff: the attempts to get publicity, the attempts to get an audience, the socialising, the commiserating, the walking on cobbles, the pies, the alcohol, the late nights, the fun, the festivities. When it's all over, everyone gets ill. That's just what happens. We traipse back to whence we came, lie in our beds and feel as close to death as ever.

Dangerous stuff for someone trying to become the Oldest Man in the World.

But I think it's worth it. Just because you briefly flirt with death, doesn't mean you'll get there any quicker in the long run. In fact, it's good to have these brushes with death (and I do acknowledge that compared to some brushes with death, spending a month at an Arts Festival is a very light one, perhaps with a duster); I think they harden you up and make you far stronger. Victory is even greater when ripped from the jaws of defeat (I know it's a cliché but I was in Istanbul to witness the Liverpool team coming back from the dead to beat Milan and win the Champions League and could only speak in clichés for the following week).

Also, my faith in the attempt has been strengthened during the festival thanks to the encouragement of various people who, at various times, have found me, slapped me on the back and told me I could do it.


‘Don't die, Alex', said one quite drunk young man quite late at night, completely out of the blue. He'd heard about my plans in the article in the Observer but to any uninformed bystander it must have seemed like a dramatic thing to say to a stranger. I told him I wouldn't and he gave me a hug.

‘Is the attempt still going?' asked an older gent a couple of days later. Presumably he thought that I might actually already have died. I wish I'd simply guided his hand to my pulse and walked away but instead I awkwardly said, ‘oh yes, still trying to stay alive, thank you!' and he went on his way. I'm generally useless in social situations but despite the awkwardness I was thrilled that people were behind me.

And then last night, just as I was attempting to order a beer at the bar, my neighbour leaned over and said, ‘I've heard red wine is good for you', before winking knowingly. At first I didn't realise he was referring to longevity and thought it must be some strange chat up line, but then it clicked, we both smiled and then chatted about my plans to avoid death at all costs (I ordered a beer in the end, but do plan to drink a bottle of wine or two on my day off, so that should help).

The more I talk about becoming the Oldest Man the more I think it might happen. Visualisation is key, according to Paul McKenna. So keep coming up to me, keep telling me I can do it, and I'll keep not dying.

Monday, July 26, 2010

50 things to do before you die (Part 2)

 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.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

50 things to do before I die (Part 1) (so, 25 things to do before I die)


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.

Monday, July 12, 2010

I Need Help


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).[1]

    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...

    [1] 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.

    Thursday, July 01, 2010

    Hong Kong Long Life

    I am still alive. And so it continues.


    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.


    According to calculations by the United Nations for 2005-2010, the people of Hong Kong have the second highest life expectancy in the entire world. At birth, a Hong Kong resident might expect to live for 82.2 years (although only 79.4 if you're male, quite modest compared to the females' mighty 85.1). This is just 0.4 years less than a resident of Japan which, at present, is the world's longest-living country.


    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.