Today the Hann family is celebrating three notable landmarks: our younger son’s first-ever day at school, the 15th birthday of our senior Border terrier, and the 21st anniversary of my death.
I realise that it may be hard to square that last anniversary with the fact that I am here to write about it, so let me explain.
Conscious of having a responsibility to stick around for a while, as the elderly father of young children, and additionally mindful of being overweight and insufficiently active, I logged onto an NHS website at the weekend in search of advice.
It informed me that I was obese, with a BMI (Body Mass Index) of 32.5, and counselled that I needed to lose 5st 10lb to drag myself into the mid-range of healthy weights for my height.
To put that into perspective, that would be a weight I have not seen in approximately 50 years. It would also be more than a stone lighter than I was during the period of my adult life when I came the closest I have ever been to being slim, in 1974. And a full 2st 5lb less than the weight I briefly reached during my last successful (and competitively incentivised) diet of 2008.
That took me down below 14 stone for a very short while, during which I felt and (I believed) looked better than I had done for years, though I was repeatedly discouraged by so-called friends commenting on how much I had aged. A bit of surplus adipose tissue does a remarkably effective job in filling in the wrinkles around one’s face.
Concluding that such a massive weight loss as the NHS recommended was never going to happen, I turned to one of those weight and lifestyle assessment websites to see what sort of lifespan I might expect if I did nothing at all. It solemnly informed me that I had died in 2010.
So I tried twice more on other sites, with progressively deteriorating results. I gave up after one advised me that I had died in 1995, and unkindly added that it served me right.
This was all a mite depressing, until a rather wonderful thing happened yesterday afternoon. In the course of my work I had a meeting with a senior medic who informed me (and I summarise in my own words here) that pretty much all official public health advice is bollocks.
BMI? Nonsense. If you want to maximise your lifespan your best bet is to be a bit overweight (though admittedly not obese, as I supposedly am). Or, as the Victorians apparently put it, “carrying a bit of spare”.
Exercise? Definitely, but there is no need to go to the gym. Just getting off the bus a couple of stops early, or walking from the far side of the supermarket car park, should do the trick.
Alcohol? Isn’t it a strange coincidence that they always recommend unit consumption that is neatly divisible by the number of days in the week? A nightly malt whisky would do more to prolong my life than teetotalism.
I haven’t warmed to a doctor so much since I enjoyed regular consultations in the City with a fat old boy who could always be relied upon to be suffering from a more acute version of any ailment with which one presented, and who dismissed my Northumberland GP’s stern advice to stop drinking with the words:
“Do you think your doctor enjoys a drink?”
“I’ve never asked her.”
“Her! Say no more. Well I enjoy a drink and I’m telling you to take no notice.”
I did that, gladly. And I’m still alive to tell the tale, apart from the small impediment of having died 21 years ago.
My new contact of yesterday also helpfully suggested that I had a brilliant starting point for a novel, in which I had indeed died in 1995 and everything since had been a dream.
Considering that this has included finally getting married and fathering two entirely unexpected children it’s certainly been a better dream than the nightmares that usually disrupt my sleep these days.
Adopting the successful Team GB Olympic philosophy of “marginal gains” I have resolved that I shall henceforth reduce my intake of strong ale and sticky buns a little, and push my trolley from the farthest reaches of the car park when I go to the supermarket to stock up.
And I shall murmur “doctor’s orders” each evening as I pour myself a warming glass of malt. As my late uncle did when he drank the two pints of beer a day he claimed to have been prescribed after ingesting engine oil when his ship was torpedoed during the war.
A doctor once pointed out to me that drinking two pints of water a day would have been equally effective, but noted “Tell a man to drink two pints of water a day and he probably won’t. But tell him to drink two pints of beer a day and he certainly will.”
I’ve no idea whether I shall be meeting yesterday’s contact again, but I very much hope I will. Apart from anything else, I feel the need of some urgent advice on how seriously to take the warning that having sex once a week over the age of 60 doubles the risk of a man suffering a heart attack or stroke.
There are, of course, many worse ways to go. Choking on a Scotch pie or a battered sausage, for a start.
I wonder whether it was the food, the drink, the lack of exercise or the sex that did for me in 1995?
Sadly, I feel pretty sure that it wasn’t the sex.