Wednesday 8 July 2015

Greetings, mortals!

A mere youth

It ain't what you do, it's how long you do it

There are many people making money by selling stuff that’s supposed to help live a long and happy life, from vitamin supplements to creams and potions that make the most furrowed of brows into a baby’s bottom, but if you’re serious about living a very long time indeed, you’re going to want to sit down as I tell you what you’re going to need to do.

While our Greek friends extol the Mediterranean diet, and the prospect of overlooking the Aegean sunrise whilst munching on feta and olives, washed down with a little retsina is undeniably appealing, it just won’t do if you’re looking for nearing immortality.

Looking at the oldest living organisms on the Earth today, it is obvious that the more God awful, the colder, the more miserable a place is the better chance you’ve got of making it through a reasonable number of millennia.

Exactly how God forsaken? High, arid mountain deserts and Antarctica seem to be the popular options. The other advice is, be prepared to slide down the food chain. Quite far. The final advice for the aspirant immortal is learn to clone yourself. Consider it self-recycling.

This is how the oldest tree hangs around. Pando, is a colony of Quaking Aspens, which clones itself from an enormous underground root system, and it is likely to be 80,000 years old. There’s a bunch of seaweed in the med that’s meant to be 200,000 years old and there’s tell of an 11,700 year old creosote bush.

Perhaps it’s because of ‘progress’ humanity’s tendency to trash everything it touches, but you’ve got to go to odd places for longevity. Elephant island has some 5,500 year old moss. The place is a barren rock on the less popular side of Antarctica, where penguins go to be depressed. It’s just an awful place.

When you move slightly higher up the food chain, it doesn’t get much better. One of the oldest creatures is the Greenland Shark, who clocks up 400 years by virtue of being the only shark in very cold water and its flesh is poisonous, which may be why it’s not been captured killed and baked into extinction by the locals. However, it is said to be edible if buried underground for several months.

The other pension busting creatures are mainly giant tortoises. Adwaita finally shuffled out of her shell in 2006 at the age of 255, originally a pet of Clive of India.

The splendidly named Timothy was for many years the oldest inhabitant of the UK, a spur thigh tortoise (who names there species?) who was found on a Portuguese ship by the Royal Navy and became their ships mascot, and by his presence became the last survivor of the Crimean war. Eventually he was put into retirement under the care of the Earl of Devon, who discovered in 1926 that he was a she (take a tortoise on the wild side), a fact that didn’t help reproduction as well as expected and she passed away aged 160 in 2004.

But the prize goes to a type of jellyfish, which can go from maturity back to a polyp, making them technically immortal.

These, then are the options for longevity, become a tree or moss somewhere horrid, a tortoise, spending centuries worrying about small children turning you upside down or a jellyfish.

Who says God doesn’t have a sense of humour.

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