Let’s talk about Bob Weighton. The first thing I’d like to say about him is that I hope, at some stage in the future, a descendant of his will marry a descendant of Vladimir Putin, and their children will carry both surnames.
But that’s not really why I want to talk about Bob. I want to talk about the fact that he has just been named as the world’s oldest man. He will be 112 on 29th March. He greeted the news of his succession with admirable equanimity, saying: “I don’t really feel satisfied, because it means someone else has died.” Which is indisputably true. In this instance, it was Chitetsu Watanabe, who died aged 112, just days after being recognised by Guinness World Records as the world’s oldest man. Perhaps the award carries a curse. It seems that most of those who have had it bestowed upon them have gone on to die in the following years!
Bob has lived through five monarchs and 22 Prime Ministers. He has also been alive all three times the Olympic Games have taken place in London. Extraordinarily, until last summer, Bob shared the title of Britain’s oldest man with Alf Smith, from Perthshire, as they were both born on March 29th 1908. Even more bizarrely, Britain’s oldest woman, Joan Hocquard, from Poole, was also born on March 29th 1908. So anyone looking for advice as to how to live a long life might want to consider being born on that specific date – although I appreciate that these things are difficult to arrange retrospectively.
As is traditional whenever someone reaches a genuinely extraordinary milestone, Bob was asked for his secret to long life. He suggested he had been successful in “avoiding dying” which, as a strategy for longevity, is difficult to argue with. Indeed, his candour, and lack of self-congratulation or trite homilies is to be applauded. “I’ve done nothing to deserve or achieve this age. I’m just one of the lucky ones.” This news is heartening indeed for those of us who are also entirely undeserving.
But let’s say you do want to go well into your 12th decade. Maybe you’re desperate, for example, to see just how long Liverpool’s winning streak will go on. Or perhaps you want to learn if the Rolling Stones will still be touring 40-years hence. Or maybe you just like this whole ridiculous, charming, absurd and delightful business of being alive. What steps can you take to avoid shrugging off this mortal coil?
Well, the first bit of advice is to be a woman. Once again, I appreciate that this is a tricky thing to arrange retrospectively, but the fact of the matter is that while Bob Weighton is the oldest man in the world, there are currently around 50 women older than him. The reasons why women tend to live longer may be down to the fact that men have much harder lives. Apart from, you know, the monthly cycle. And childbirth. And breastfeeding. And menopause. Yeah yeah, whatevs, we have to pee standing up. Do you know how EXHAUSTING that is?
The oldest person in recorded history is Jeanne Calment, who apparently reached 122 years and 164 days. She recalled meeting Vincent Van Gogh in Arles, which must have been an extraordinary thrill. You can tell how amazing it was by the fact that she called it “disappointing” and described him as “ugly and an alcoholic.” Jeanne said she had lived so long because she stayed calm and ate lots of olive oil. If she was alive now, someone would probably give her one of those ruddy t-shirts that says something like “Keep calm and eat olive oil”, at which point I’d probably have to kill her.
Impressively, Jeanne continued cycling until she was 100, and didn’t give up smoking until she was 117. That seems an odd age to give up. Did she do so because she was worried it might impact on her longevity? She also had dessert with every meal, had a daily glass of port, and consumed up to a kilo of chocolate every week. It doesn’t exactly sound monastic! Calment died on 4th August 1997, of unspecified causes. It wouldn’t surprise me at all if it was a skydiving accident.
Nabi Tajima, the third-oldest person ever, put her long life down to sleeping soundly and eating delicious food. Which is fine advice, as long as your idea of delicious food isn’t deep fried Mars Bars. Or cyanide pavlova.
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Masazo Nonaka, formerly the oldest man in the world, who died last year, said he lived to 113 thanks to “eating sweets and relaxing in hot springs.” Sweets, too, feature in the diet of Kane Tanaka, currently the world’s oldest person, who is 117. She attributes her longevity to her daily consumption of sweets and three cans of canned coffee or fizzy pop every day, and to her faith in God. I’m guessing God must be quite firmly on her side, because I can’t imagine the rest is part of any nutritionist’s recommended diet.
Speaking of diets, Emma Morano, an Italian who lived to 117, consumed three raw eggs every day, along with copious numbers of cookies, and a glass of homemade grappa. She also suggested that a lifetime of singledom had helped her live so long. She was doing something right – she still lived alone and independently at 115.
It’s a plausible enough argument. The world’s oldest married couple, John and Charlotte Henderson from Austin, Texas, have been married for 80 years, and are 107 and 105. They didn’t have kids, which certainly reduces stress levels. John suggests also “living life in moderation and being cordial to your wife.” I have kids, am anything but moderate, and was last civil to my wife in 2014, so I think I may be in mortal danger. All the more so if Marie-Louise Meilleur, who died at 117, was right when she said that the key to a long life was “hard work.” I don’t think freelance journalism in one’s pyjamas really counts as backbreaking labour.
A clinical study of 20 supercentenarians who reached over 115 found that their lifestyles differed a great deal, but there were some common characteristics. They tended to smoke little or not at all, and had never been obese. And they all found that their physical fitness declined after 105. I find my physical fitness declines after 1:05pm. That’s what a good lunch can do.
So, here it is, ladies and (you few surviving) gentlemen. It seems that, to live a truly long life, you need to be someone born on 29 March 1908, who eats chocolate, sweets, desserts, cookies, raw eggs and olive oil, and drinks canned coffee, fizzy pop, grappa and port. You should smoke, but no more than one or two a day, ride a bicycle until you are 100, and bathe in hot springs. You should be calm, and never argue with your spouse. You should not have children, and remain slim. And, ideally, you should be Japanese. And a woman. There you go, all the information you need. Now it’s up to you to go and organise it.
When not giving unrealistic advice on how to live longer, Benjie is Saga Magazine's TV reviewer, and contributes hilarious weekly blogs about what we should all be watching on the idiot box.