3 posts categorized "Wise people"

Monday, November 08, 2010

Holding the Keith to Long life


As you may know by now, I am trying to become the Oldest Man in the World. If you didn’t know by now, don’t worry – it’ll probably gather a more momentum when I break into the top 3 billion.


So far my attempt is going well. I’m still alive. That’s all I can really hope for at this stage (apart from some rapid premature ageing on my part which I don’t really want or some rapid apocalyptic disaster killing everyone older than me which I don’t really want either).


Since telling people about this attempt I have become known, to a small extent, as the guy who is trying to become very old. I’m fine with that. But recently I’ve become increasingly aware of another guy, a rival perhaps, who looks like he’s going to become very old but who seems to be doing everything in his power to make that not to happen. He’s inching closer to the title reluctantly. He already looks like he could be the oldest man in the world and he clearly doesn’t give a damn. He really doesn’t care if what he does might kill him but he’s still very much alive. He’s already twice my age. And his name is Keith Richards.


His autobiography is fittingly called ‘Life’ and how he’s managed to keep hold of his seems to be the main selling point. Since the book’s launch a couple of weeks ago, Keith’s face has been all over the papers, and what a face, like a gnarled oak tree, hammered by woodpeckers and eroded by time. I’d like that sort of face when I’m 120 (maybe not when I’m 67). I occasionally worry that I don’t have enough wrinkles, that I haven’t lived an exciting enough life to earn laughter-lines. Richards has earned his stripes. But as well as his face, almost every article seems to have featured some level of astonishment that Keith has managed to stay alive at all. It would appear that he has already defeated the odds, that he should really, to be blunt, be dead and so he must, to some extent, hold the keys to immortality.


According to rock critic Nick Kent, Keith in his prime was ‘mad, bad and dangerous to know’. I’m rarely described as any of those things. Here’s a tiny selection of the mad, bad and dangerous things he’s done:


Drugs – Keith was tried for drugs-related charges five times before I was even born. The most serious occasion was in 1977 when he was arrested in Toronto by the Canadian Mounted Police with 22 grams of heroin on him. That’s a lot of heroin and horses. Mad, bad and dangerous.


Cars – he may have been pardoned in 2006 but back in 1975 Keith was arrested for reckless driving in Arkansas. He may well have swerved wildly because he was adjusting the radio as he said at the time (as opposed to smoking marijuana or drinking booze as the police thought at the time) but either way; mad, bad and dangerous.


Trees - More recently, in April 2006, Richards fell of a tree in Fiji. Shows were cancelled and he underwent cranial surgery in New Zealand. Mad, bad and dangerous.


Ash – the following April, Richards admitted snorting the ashes of his late father. ‘He was cremated and I couldn’t resist grinding him up with a little bit of blow’, he told NME magazine. ‘My dad wouldn’t have cared... It went down pretty well, and I’m still alive’. Exactly. He’s still alive. Despite being mad, bad and dangerous.


So perhaps I shouldn’t worry so much about being safe. You clearly can live a long while popping pills other than vitamins, running wild and taking risks. Do I want to reach 120 having sat on my sofa wrapped in cotton wool for the last 90 years? Wouldn’t it be better to scrap my way to old age and have some amazing memories to keep me going for that tricky last decade (if I still have enough brain cells to cope with the images)?


I’m no less determined to break the record. Don’t you worry, I’m in it to win it. But there may be an alternative route to the title. I can play an attacking game rather than sitting back and defending. In October last year, Richards was presented the Rock Immortal Award by Johnny Depp at Spike TV’s Scream 2009 awards ceremony in LA. He is immortal. And he’s won an award for it.


‘I liked the living legend, that was alright’, said Richards, referring to yet another award he’d been given in 1989, ‘but immortal is even better’. Quite right, Keith.

I'm a magnificent man.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Biblical Proportions (Part 2)


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.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Biblical Proportions (Part One).

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.


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.