Impossible People

Sometimes you hear about people who seem impossible. Some of them are bonkers.

Take Monsieur Mangetout for example, a Frenchman who made a living out of eating weird things. I don’t mean sausage in chocolate sauce. I mean bicycles and supermarket trolleys. He once ate a tree. And he even ate a bloody Cesna, for gawd’s sake.

But how? Did he chew them or grind them down to a powder and glug ’em back like a protein shake. Or was it all a lie? Perhaps it was all trickery and as the documentary makers queued up to film him, he went laughing all the way to the bank. Before eating a cashier.

Other impossible people are less fantastical if no less amazing. A few years ago there was that Sikh fella still running the London Marathon into his eighties. He won his class every year by being the only person in it.

On a similar fitness theme I met Albert yesterday in the cafe of my first Belgian campsite. A gaggle of friendly locals were wearing matching t-shirts, emblazoned with the number 81 and proudly claiming to be members of Team Albert.

What Albert had done was cycle – not electric, mind – up the three different routes to the top of Mont Ventoux, a 1,900-metre Tour de France favourite, on three consecutive days. The significance of the 81 was that that was his age.

Albert was one of those people of whom your standard 30-year-old says, “If I can do half of what you’re doing at your age, I’d be happy” when in fact they can’t do a quarter of what he’s doing right this minute.

My dad’s a more normal 80-odd and he can’t make it up the stairs. It’s nothing to be ashamed of; it’s just his body. But Albert’s talents are not purely down to genetics. He has the physique of a jockey, yes, but only years and years of cycling will see you climb Ventoux into your 80s.

We need to keep doing whatever it is we’re doing. It’s the only way. Even if we do, it’s unlikely we’ll end up in this “impossible” group. But if we don’t, at least we know we were let down by our genetics and not our determination, and then we can relax and get old and fat happily.

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