A man has survived at sea for over a year by drinking his own urine and eating raw turtle.
It made me think about how long I might survive at sea? Not long, was my guess. This man survived a year scooping tiny fish by the side of the boat. I’ve been fishing once – for a radio show. On a fishing boat. For four hours. Solid. With a professional fisherman. And we caught nothing. Not a sprat. Not a tiddler. And we had radar.
The thing is whenever there’s been an accident on the news and only one person has survived, my initial reaction is always “That one person would have been me”. Why do I think that? It’s just ridiculous, unfounded optimism. I’m not particularly strong, or got any survival skills, or great medical ability, or any good in a crisis. I’m weak-willed, have a tendency to panic and my one and only true ability is my ability to fantasise how good I would be in situations I’ve never ever found myself in.
As an example of my ability to deal with a crisis, I once went parachuting. As you jump out of the airplane you are supposed to shout “1000, 2000, 3000, 4000” – I shouted ‘fuck’ all the way down. I had some friends who’d come to watch. I said to them afterwards “Could you tell which one was me?” – and they said “We could hear you from about halfway down”
I worry about being in any position of responsibility. I mean what should you do if you’re sightseeing in a small plane and the pilot has a heart attack? I worry about things like this. People knock computer games but if you find yourself in that situation you want a kid in the back who’s a bit nifty at Flight Simulator on the PlayStation. “Ok Timmy – the pilot – he’s just having a sleep at the moment – just imagine you’re on the sofa at home. And try not to think if I muck this up, doesn’t matter – I’ll get another life. Try and concentrate on this one.”
Even when there’s just lightning I’m never sure about exactly what to do. Because it usually starts with loads of rain – so you think hide under a tree. Then you see some lightning – and you think better get away from the tree, get out into the open – and if you find yourself out in the open – you’re supposed to crouch down and curl into a little ball. But if you saw somebody doing that in the middle of a field in the UK – you’d think they’d lost the plot. Farmer going “What’s that person crouching in the middle of my field for? Oi – stop having a shit!”
They say prepare for any eventuality beforehand. Take an emergency snack, they say. Pop some Kendal mintcake in your rucksack. But the thing is Kendal mintcake is not as nice as it sounds – it’s not a mint and it’s definitely not a cake. It’s a cross between mouthwash and soap. It’s supposed to be good in emergencies – as far as I can see the only reason Kendal mintcake’s good in emergencies is because it’s the only thing you’re guaranteed not to have eaten before an emergency occurs. You could take a Mars bars as an emergency snack but it might get to 11am on the first morning and you’d think with a smile on your face “I believe that emergency has just arrived”. With Kendal mintcake you could have had a pint of beer, smoked a spliff, not eaten for two days and you’d still look at it and go “I don’t think it’s quite got to that stage yet”
The thing is you can’t prepare for being cast away on a boat for a year. And you really don’t know how you would react in those situations until you’re actually in them. All you can suspect is that it would probably involve a lot of crying and dirty underwear. Could you drink your own urine and eat raw turtle for a year? Could I? I don’t know. I just know that last Saturday I parked my car in a car park to go to a concert and when I came back to the car park I couldn’t find the car and I had to wait for all of the other concert-goers to leave before I located it. So probably not.