15 posts categorized "Tales from the attempt"

Friday, May 28, 2010

A short film about Rosie the tortoise (with voice overs)

Earlier in the week we met Rosie in the form of words and pictures. Now let's really bring her to life via the medium of full motion video with voice overs.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Meet Rosie


First things first: I am still alive! The attempt is still on. I had some worrying stirrings in my stomach for two days after a curry (lamb bhuna) but they passed and I didn’t die so it’s all looking good.

This isn't the first time I've looked danger in the face and won. You’re probably wondering how I can possibly keep up this incessant march towards the world record. Well, I should admit that for the last couple of weeks I have had some help. All too aware that more potentially deadly curries could be lurking round every corner, I found myself a pace-setter, a running-mate, a friend-for-life. 


If you've been following my progress closely, you may have heard me enigmatically mention this lady on twitter – she’s called Rosie and has generally been lounging round, eating salad and, crucially, not dying for the past couple of weeks. She's an ideal sparring partner. As a female she’s not a rival for the record and I have a feeling that, even though she’s already fifty years old, she’ll keep me company for decades to come.

Because I sneakily neglected to mention one important detail: Rosie is a tortoise.



I’ve always felt that the species that lives longest is the best (because, of course, everything should be a competition). Life is about survival. That’s why we wear seatbelts and drink smoothies[1], that’s why tortoises have hard shells, that’s why I’m trying to break this world record. We all want to live for a long time[2].

So we humans can be pretty proud of ourselves. We’re not doing too badly on the longevity stakes. According to Wikipedia's list of longest living animals, humans rank 14th in the world. That’s pretty respectable (although it is also USA’s current FIFA world ranking). And unlike other species, we seem to be moving up the charts. It surely won't be long till we catch up with 'George the lobster' who, aged 140, is at number 13, or even the Geoduck (a nerdy sounding species of saltwater clam) who has been known to live over 160 years.

But at numbers 7, 8, 9 and 11[3] we find the tortoise – four different species of tortoise, actually: a Greek one (Timothy, who was 160 when he died in 2004), a Galapagos one (Harriet, who was born died in 2006 aged 175 and allegedly met Charles Darwin), a Radiated one (Tu'i Malila, who made it to 188 and is the world's oldest verified vertebrate) and an Aldabra Giant one (Adwaita, who is unverified but may well have been a majestic 250 years old when he died in March 2006).

Now, my Rosie is a Mediterranean tortoise who can, experts say, live for 80 years or more. So much like humans. And unlike most other pets. Dogs and cats would make poor running mates, with their rather feeble ‘dog years’ and ‘cat years’, whereas tortoises often outlive their owners (which, sadly, is how Rosie and I were brought together).

She may not look particularly youthful (in fact, she looks like she’s at least three millennia old), but she’s playing a canny game. She seems to avoid anything that looks even remotely dangerous. If a shadow passes near her she instantly retreats into her shell. That’s the sort of attention to detail that has earnt tortoises their high world rankings – and that’s what I’m going to try to emulate.

Later on in the week I’ll make a little film showing Rosie’s typical day but until then, all you really need to imagine is a wise little head, inside a tank-like shell, studiously surviving every minute of every day by doing very little indeed.


If you're wondering what the top 6 long living animals in the world are, we have: 

At number six, Red Sea Urchins, who live to over 200 years but make disappointing pets

Bowhead Whales at number 5 who, at 211 years, are the oldest mammals but are impractical to own

Koi fish (at number 4) who I did try to obtain - the oldest koi, Hanako, died in 1977 at the age of 226 - but I'm rubbish at fishing

At three, an Icelandic mollusk called the ocean quahog who has lived over 400 years but who, frankly, gives me the creeps

An Antarctic sponge, at number 2, that is estimated to be 1,550 years old but whom I wouldn't trust myself not to eat

And, at number one, a little beast called Turritopsis Nutricula who is a cheat. He's a Hydrozoan species, related to jellyfish, who can turn from a mature adult to an immature polyp and back again, meaning that there is no natural limit to his life span. Clever, but would the Guinness Book of Records allow it? I doubt it.

And if you want to choose a slightly more common animal to accompany your own long life, there are a couple of other surprising options, besides the tortoise: 

You could get a tuatara (a type of lizard whose likeness I happen to have tattooed on my left arm (which will almost certainly be the oldest tattoo in the world one day) (the oldest tuatara tattoo at least)); a tuatara called Henry recently mated for the first time at the age of 110 in a musuem in New Zealand. That's both good going and slightly embarassing. His mate was 80. They had 11 babies. Incredible.

Or you could get a bird. Some birds are surprisingly good at not dying. Macaws can live for up to 111 years (one called Charlie is apparently still going after having been owned by Winston Churchill) (although his daughter, for some reason, denies the claim) (that's Winston's daughter - not Charlie's daughter). Cockatoos can live to their 70s. Even ravens can live to 50. Get a raven!

But don’t get a humming bird. They only live for 8 years. Pathetic.[4] 

[1] Although I should say (but don’t have to) that Innocent smoothies are good for you and tasty (thank you for those smoothies, Innocent – I shall break this damned record for you if it’s the last thing I do – which it will be).

[2] When I say ‘we all’, I appreciate that I shouldn’t really say ‘we’ or ‘all’ – ‘some of us’ is more accurate but far less impressive.

[3] At 10 there's some old tubeworm.

[4] And they make that annoying humming noise. Tortoises are pretty quiet.


Monday, May 10, 2010

a perilous journey


I am now in Fermanagh, Northern Ireland. I came here via Berwick-upon-Tweed. I started in Chesham, 30 miles from London. I’ve therefore been travelling for quite a long time.

Travelling is dangerous. Research has shown that you’re statistically more likely to be involved in a fatal accident when travelling somewhere than when sitting on the sofa watching snooker.

I did make it here in one piece but that was by luck rather than planning. I happily admit that I should have thought my journey through more carefully. I really can’t afford to take unnecessary risks at this early stage of my World Record Attempt.

So here, in retrospect, is a quick breakdown of the most dangerous forms of travel, based on some statistics on the odds of dying I dug up in the National Geographic.

The headline news, rather dishearteningly for me, is that the odds of dying at some point in your life (normally the very end) are 1 in 1. I will, they say, die. Definitely. But instead of dwelling on this rather stark prediction, I’ve got to make sure that when it happens to me I’ve already lived longer than anyone else.

Bearing that in mind, I should really avoid cars. The odds of death in a motor accident are 1 in 84, the highest non-medical cause. I drove to Berwick and to Heathrow. I was foolish.

Next up comes ‘falling’. Odds of death by ‘falling’: 1 in 218. Wisely I chose not to fall to Fermanagh, even though it would have been more direct than flying to Belfast City Airport and then getting a lift (in another dangerous car) from my mother-in-law.

Pedestrian accident: 1 in 626 – still pretty high. Again, it does seem like a sensible decision of mine not to walk here. What I perhaps should have done, however, is either swum (odds of drowning: 1 in 1008) or bought a motorbike, learnt to ride the motorbike, then ridden the motorbike (1 in 1020). Hindsight is a wonderful thing (in fact all forms of sight: hind-, fore-, eye-, in-, are going to be handy for this endeavour).

The odds of death on a bicycle are very slim: 1 in 4919, but that doesn’t take into account my poor technique. And anyway, it’s still not as slim as that of death by air travel (or space travel which, for some reason, National Geographic groups together with earth-bound flights) for which there’s just one death in every 5051. So, actually, my journey here was at least partially safe. I should have flown to Berwick and back instead of taking the car but at least I took a plane to Ireland. Well done me.

Of course, these statistics make pretty much no sense. I’m almost certain that every 5051st person to catch a plane doesn’t die. If they did, they probably shouldn’t sell that seat - or at least offer a discount.

Also, while air travel is apparently safe in the short term I have to remember I’m in this for the long haul. I have to live for another hundred years. If I choose to fly everywhere every day I’ll probably single-handedly cause the death of the planet itself and that wouldn’t help anybody.

So what I’ve learnt is this: be especially careful when travelling by car or foot. Never travel by falling. And if in doubt, jump on the back of a firework (odds of death by firework: 1 in 340,733, less than any other cause, including ‘legal execution’, ‘bee sting’ and ‘hot weather’).

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

A typical afternoon with Alex

Friday, April 23, 2010

Where this World Record Attempt is taking place

You know when David Blaine sat in that box by the river Thames for eight whole hours? Well I’m going to be living in various boxes for over one hundred years. And if people throw hamburgers at me I’ll not only catch them but I’ll eat them – as part of a balanced and healthy diet.

Right now I live in Chesham, Buckinghamshire, a peripolitan town on the outskirts of both the Chilterns and London. I have access to country air and all the life-saving facilities a capital city can offer. It’s a safe house.

But just to make sure, I have taken the following steps to ensure the house is as dangerproof as humanly possible.*


I’ve put socket covers on the power points to ensure I don’t electrocute myself (although I’m not entirely sure you can electrocute yourself nowadays so may remove these soon and test out the current, and then I'll put them back if I do get a nasty shock).

I’ve put special locks on the doors of the bleach (and other cleaning products) cupboards so I can’t open the doors too quickly and drink the lot. Now I have to press a little button to open the doors which should give me enough time to think about what I’m going to do before actually doing it.

 I’ve put up a little hook by the blind so I can twist the wire round it instead of my neck.

 I’ve put a gate at the top of the stairs. Research shows that if you have to open a gate before doing something you’re far more likely to survive.

*I have also helped make a son, who will act as a doorman and all-round safety officer when he finally learns to walk.