A DECENT cup of coffee and a trip to the pub. That’s what Nick Hancock has marked as the first two items on his to do list after returning from Rockall this weekend. Remarkably restrained, I reckon. I might have opted for a magnum of Champagne, 15 caramel wafers and a trough of macaroni cheese. After 44 days on a lump of granite, 260 miles west of the Outer Hebrides like a cork bobbing in the North Atlantic, anything goes, I say.
Hancock, a 39-year-old chartered surveyor from Ratho, returns home having not only bagged the record for time spent living on the rocky stub (three Greenpeace activists held the previous record of 42 days of continuing human occupation set in 1997, but no disrespect intended, it’s not the same if there are three of you – that’s enough to play several satisfying rounds of Old Maid) but also having raised £7,500 for the charity Help for Heroes. The last solo record for living on the islet was held by Tom McClean, who managed 40 days back in 1985.
Last week, when I happened to be standing on the beach at Scarista on the south-west coast of the Isle of Harris, I was looking out to the horizon marvelling at the beauty of the place. Jeans were rolled up, toes were submerged in the crystalline water and the hot sun was beating down. It looked like something from a holiday brochure – all white sands and turquoise shallows, fronds of seaweed and the odd jelly fish. I felt that unavoidable smugness you feel when you see Scotland’s most beautiful scenery lit with dazzling sunlight. And lucky too.
I may well have been looking right at Rockall. I gave a nod to St Kilda, which I probably could’ve seen if I’d climbed the hills that surround the beach, and after that I just thought of endless ocean. Hancock was probably sitting there as I gazed – too far away for my eyes to see – hopefully enjoying a bit of sunshine and a breather from his RockPod, the watertight (well, nearly) 8ft tank in which he lived while there. Secured on a rocky ledge 15 feet above the water, the tank started leaking during a wild storm in the early hours of 2 July during which he lost his supplies and equipment to the raging sea, leading him to cut short the goal of 60 days he was originally aiming for.
My island home on Lewis was a touch more salubrious: under-floor heating, fluffy towels, Egyptian cotton bed linen and not a ration pack to be found. You could’ve strung me 15 feet above the raging sea and it would still have felt luxurious. But I still had that pang I’ve had every time I’ve travelled from the mainland to an island, from the city, even one as manageable as Edinburgh, to an isolated cottage standing at the top of some cliffs where you have to stand on a rock at the far end of the garden to get a mobile signal. It’s both a pleasure and a test. Could I live here? What could I miss? What wouldn’t I miss? I think this time I realised I could probably manage just fine. Maybe I should try Rockall next time.
No rest for the wicked
‘Resisting the temptation to act unethically requires energy and effort.” That’s what the academics from John Hopkins, Georgetown and Washington universities have found in some recent research. They asked 200 people to take part in problem-solving quizzes then tested how honest they were about their performance. They found that people who get up at the crack of dawn, “larks”, when asked about their results in the evening told big porkies. They seriously inflated their scores. Some have concluded this means that instead of being the bastions of probity these larks often present themselves as, they are in fact big cheaters. No longer can those who never sleep in occupy the moral high ground – they are not better people than us, their body clocks are just wired differently. But there’s a hitch: “owls”, those of us who stay up late and get up later aren’t above cheating either, we just do it at a different time of the day – in the morning when we’re tired. It’s the tiredness that does it. You can see why the researchers think their findings could have important consequences; if I was a professional poker player I’d want to know if my evening opponents were up with the larks. It might also assist those of us insisting that we all need to get more serious about sleep. Come on, it’s about making us better people.
Hollywood water torture
I like classic Disney animation as much as the next person. Actually, when I say like, I mean I become a candidate for grief counselling when I watch Bambi or Dumbo. Pinocchio is only marginally better. I’m not sure it’s going to become any easier to watch now that I know what the little boy who played the wooden puppet, one Dickie Jones, a star on the rodeo circuit by the age of four who later appeared in films with both Laurel and Hardy and Al Jolson, suffered to be Gepetto’s sidekick. Jones, who died recently at the age of 87, was basically waterboarded when he played Pinocchio for the underwater scene. “They had me lie on a table and poured water in my mouth while I tried to read the dialogue,” Jones said. “I almost drowned.” Oh dear. «