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Age is no barrier: meet the world’s oldest top athletes

Richard Godwin catches up with five pensioners, aged up to 108, who thrive on extreme exercise


Edwina Brocklesby: triathlete, 76, Kingston-upon-Thames

I didnt do any exercise at all until I was 50. I remember trying out for the long-jump team at university for a laugh and I couldnt move for two weeks afterwards. So that was the end of my athletics career. And then I had three children and I was busy with my job. I was a social worker and ran two adoption agencies.

One day, I went to see an old friend from Nottingham University who was running a marathon. I thought that would be fun to do, at least a half marathon, anyway. I came back and told my husband and he laughed and said I wouldnt even be able to run as far as Northampton, which was about three miles from where we lived at the time. Its good to have a challenge like that! Sure enough, it did inspire me to run my first half marathon.

Then my husband died when I was 52. By then I had a small group of running friends and they were brilliantly supportive. I trained as a counsellor myself, but I found running better than counselling for dealing with grief. For one, you always feel better after youve been for a run as the endorphins kick in. But I think what is more important is the social element. Youre with people who support you and value you. You can talk if you want to, or you can be silent if you want to.

The running club was only small, but it did have one place in the London Marathon and thats when it became more serious for me. I ran my first marathon in 1996, when I was 53. I moved to London and became a member of the Serpentine Running Club and, with them, I completed my first London Triathlon when I was 58. I dont have an anterior cruciate ligament in either knee my daughter told me that Id need surgery if I kept pounding the streets like I used to and thats how I got into cycling and swimming as theyre a little easier on the joints. When I started swimming, at 56, I couldnt do crawl at all and swam breaststroke with my head above water like most women of my age. But swimming is a wonderful feeling. It might have something to do with our spending the first nine months of our gestation suspended in water.

Theres so much evidence that if you keep physically active, you dont experience some of the difficulties associated with ageing. There are lower rates of type 2 diabetes among the active, but falling over is the biggest thing. If you can keep your bone and muscle strength up, youre less likely to fall and you might also be able to prevent yourself from hitting the ground if you do fall. Falls are one of the things that costs the NHS the most money.

Im getting slower as I get older, of course I am. I do manage to run 5k, but I walk a bit more. I feel lucky that I can still jog along the Thames.

Edwina Brocklesby is the director of Silverfit, a charity that promotes physical activity among ageing people. She is also the UKs oldest Ironman triathlete. She was recently awarded the British Empire Medal

Eddy Diget: personal trainer, 74, Milton Keynes

Eddy
Mature people are much more aware of the goodness that can come out of training: Eddy Diget. Photograph: Pl Hansen/The Observer

Ive always trained: cross-country running; ice skating; roller skating; fencing; cycling I represented England in the Commonwealth Games in Perth 1962 in diving and swimming. Ive been doing weight training for about 45 years now and I was British bodybuilding champion twice, once at 58 and once at 68. Ive been a stuntman. I was a medical officer in the Royal Navy. And I have been recognised as a Shaolin Master for my commitment to Chinese martial arts. Some Shaolin monks turned up at my studio in Oxford Brookes one day in their saffron robes and presented me with a piece of parchment. I broke down and wept. It was such an honour.

In a way, I have my father to thank. He was an extremely aggressive man. A big man, too. He used to knock me and my mother about quite a bit. The only way I could escape from him was to be outside and thats how I discovered sport.

One day, when I was 16, I was fishing at Tooting Bec ponds when my mum came round with a black eye. She said: Joes in a real bad mood. Hes coming to find you. All of a sudden, my father came down the hill and started punching me. I think I was coming up to a brown sash in kung fu at the time and I just tore into him. It was over in seconds, 16 years of pent-up fear and hate. I blinded him in one eye, which I wasnt happy about. But after that we were the best of mates. And he was a different man. A respectful man. He never touched my mother again.

People have become more educated about being fit over the years, especially the over-50s and over-60s. Mature people are much more aware of the goodness that can come out of training.

But younger people in particular are looking for a quick fix. The personal trainers are all 10mg of this, 10mg of that. Its become too complicated. You see the same people come into the gym every day, doing the same exercises. Its so they dont have to think about it. But the more you change it, the more results youll get.

I am a rehab consultant, so I train people who have had cancer, wheelchair users, people with chronic regional pain syndrome, amputees. But I also train Ironmen, ultra-marathon runners and an Olympic fencer. It really is an extreme diversity of clients and I feel incredibly privileged and humbled to do it. Personal training is not really about the training, its much more to do with the person.

Id never been ill in 74 years, never even been inside a hospital. But last year, thanks to the NHS bowel screening programme, I learned I had bowel cancer. I went in on the 19 November at 11am and came out a 8.30pm with a whole section removed. Im pleased to say Ive never had any pain at all because of my fitness. The consultant commented on it before my surgery. He said: I dont see many people with your stamina or your outlook. But Im a fatalist. Theres nothing I can do about it. Im just pleased I caught it. And now I feel fabulous. I feel on top of the world.

Eddy Diget is a stuntman, model and personal trainer at the DW Fitness First gym in Milton Keynes

Gwyn Haslock: surfer, 73, Truro

Gwyn
I entered my first competition in 1965 as the only woman, and then I was the first proper British ladies champion in 1969: Gwyn Haslock in Cornwall. Photograph: Sarah Lee/The Guardian

My family always used to go to the sea when I was growing up. We all started surfing in the 1950s on the north coast of Cornwall with wooden belly boards, which are like planks of wood. Then the lifeguards started to import Malibu longboards, which were 10ft long, and before long they started making them there in Newquay. I bought a secondhand one and started properly surfing in 1965.

I wasnt what youd call a typical surfer like in the Beach Boys songs. A lot of the good surfers worked in the surfing trade, in surf shops and so on, but I worked for the council as a shorthand typist. It was very 9 to 5, but I surfed at weekends.

I just liked the sea. And when I saw people standing up as if they were walking across the water, I thought, Id like to have a go at that. It took me about a month before I could stand up and a year before I got any style. I entered my first competition in 1965 as the only woman, and was the first proper British ladies champion in 1969. But like any sport, youre always learning.

I always say to people, the most important thing with surfing is paddling. Youve got to paddle out, so you have to duck dive under the waves or push yourself over them. Then youre out the back, as we call it. Youll see a lovely wave coming, paddle for it and up you get. You need to be fit to build up the momentum and then its like floating in air, but across the wave. Sometimes its just seconds, sometimes the wave peels and it can go on and on. Sometimes at Fistral, you get nice long rides right along the beach. But the conditions are never the same and it always tests you.

Ive never seen any sharks in Cornwall. I have surfed near dolphins and you do see seals sometimes. I sprained my wrist once, but Ive never had any bad accident. I know my limits and now I wear my helmet. I want to enjoy it.

I never married. I lived with my mother until she died seven years ago, and Ive been retired for eight years now. When I was working, I couldnt go surfing in the week so much, but now I can go whenever I like, which is good as it gets busy at weekends. Back in the 60s there was a lot more water space it wasnt like now when everyones in there. I like playing tennis, too. I do a bit of fencing. Gardening. Theres lots of things to do.

Ive surfed in Wales, Ireland, France and once in Portugal. Australia and New Zealand they dont appeal to me at all. I did go to California on holiday once and we drove through Malibu and I wasnt that impressed with it to be honest. We have plenty of surf down here, why do I need to go anywhere else?

Gwyn Haslock was Britains first competitive female surfing champion

Ida Keeling: sprinter, 104, Harlem, New York

Ida
I go to the gym, ride my bike, work out, stretch, reach, do push-ups: Ida Keeling with her daughter. Photograph: Poon Watchara-Amphaiwan

I was 67 when I started running. I had lost my two sons to drug-related violence in 1978 and then in 1981. It was so quick. They were stabbed up or shot up or whatever they did to them. Too quick. No warning. It just broke me. I was very depressed.

My daughter Cheryl came by one day and saw I was down in the dumps. That isnt usually who I am. She wanted to take me out for a mini run and since I was already so down I said: All right, go ahead. And it did good for me. It kept me moving. I could feel myself getting stronger and feeling more free. It helped me immensely. And Im still running now.

I grew up in Harlem, USA, in San Juan Hill they call it Hells Kitchen now. I was one of eight children. Everybody was poor. There was already a Depression there even before they called it a Depression. But there are happy memories. Children dont have to pay rent. My dad took us to Central Park on his day off from the factory. We had a good time, looking at all the fishes swimming and doing all the things children do: run, play, jump, roll and all that type of stuff. In the summertime when it was hot, the police department would put a sprinkler on top of the fire hydrants for the children to play in.

We hung swings from the fire escapes at the back of buildings. And on Saturdays the bigger boys from around the corner would turn up with a pail and a couple of wooden spoons to drum on it and wed do the Charleston, the drag, and everything else. We played hooky from school to go and watch the Lindy Hop dancers at the Apollo. We had some good times coming from bad times. But Harlem changed when drugs came in. Everybody wanted to make this quick money. And it dragged in my sons.

I felt like I was being held in a grip, or like I was in a bag or something. But the more I ran, the faster and stronger I became. As I was running like crazy, I released the hold that death had on me. From then on, I belonged to track and field. I said, shoot, sprinting is faster. Im not going to do all this long-distance, Im going to sprint. I wanted to go as fast as I could.

Now Im 104, Im not so fast. But I go whatever distance I can and if I start a race, I finish it. Im always the winner for my age group as I dont have no competition. Im usually chasing myself. But I go with what Ive got left. I go to the gym, I ride my bike, I work out, I stretch, I reach, I do push-ups, I do upper weights, I get on the floor and turn my feet up over my head, and when I dont get out, I stay right here and work out in my room. Im as healthy as a 25-year-old, my doctor says. I have no intention of slowing down. Age aint got nothing to do with it. When you really want to do something for yourself, go and do it. And if you fail, try, try, try again.

Fauja Singh: marathon runner, 108, Redbridge

Fauja
Freedom for me is being independently mobile: Fauja Singh, who ran a marathon at 89 and stills walks 5m a day. Photograph: Hindustan Times via Getty Images

I was born in a village in Punjab in India in 1911. My memories are of a simple life without the stresses that people all over the world seem to have nowadays. I came from a farming family, and we learned to live within our means after working hard and honestly. We remembered God and were thankful to him. We shared with others less fortunate than ourselves. This is in keeping with the three tenets of my Sikh religion.

I had a happy childhood and I was nurtured because I was weak. I couldnt walk until l was five. I wanted to be sporty, but until then, I lacked the strength. But I enjoyed watching all the simple sporting activities that were prevalent in the rural environment at the time. And I remember the joy all around me when I became strong enough to be able to walk.

As I never went to school, I farmed all of my working life. It was always handy to be able to run after straying cattle, but that was about as exciting as it got.

I didnt really run competitively until I arrived in England 20 years ago.

Since then I have been looked after by one of my two remaining sons this is the Asian culture where the parents are looked after by their children. I dont speak English and not being able to communicate with those whom you meet does pose problems, but a smile always helps. I am usually accompanied, but over time I have become familiar with the routes and places I visit regularly. It must be equally frustrating for those who want to communicate with me. One thing is for sure: shouting or saying things slowly does not make it easier this is what I observed from tourists visiting other countries! Being illiterate and monolingual does have its advantages I am not aware of any abuse that may be directed at me. Anyone who is different sadly suffers this in the modern world.

When I attempted to run a marathon for the first time at 89, the reactions were mixed. Some were excited to see if I could do it and wished me well, others doubted I could do it. Those who have been constant in supporting me were my coach, Harmander; my running club, Sikhs in the City; and my family.

Training was easy: I just followed the instructions of my coach without question. If it was a training run, he never let me be exhausted as he said it is good to train but not so good to strain. When it came to the race, I was simply awestruck by the support from the crowds along the route. My coach always ran alongside me and held me back from exerting myself too much in the early stages of the race. He then encouraged me to keep going later on in the race, when the going got tough. I also then started talking to God to help me get through to the finish.

I dont think I ran competitively in the true sense it was simply a case of me finishing a distance as fast as I could. My records seem to be simply a by-product of my age. Records are meant to be broken and I wish the person who breaks my records all the best. If running a marathon at my age has inspired others to not give up then I am pleased to have had a positive impact on society.

My last race was the Hong Kong 10km in 2013 when I was 101. Currently, I am not able to run as I have a hernia, but I remember fondly the feeling of freedom when I used to run not so long ago. I am just pleased that I am still mobile and independent. I still walk about five miles each day.

Freedom for me is being independently mobile, and retaining a sound mind and a positive outlook. The rest is up to God.

Fauja Singh has been awarded the British Empire Medal. He is thought to be the oldest person to complete a marathon, but as India did not issue birth certificates in 1911, the record is deemed unofficial. This interview was translated by Harmander Singh

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Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/global/2019/apr/07/age-is-no-barrier-meet-the-oldest-top-athletes

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Anthony Bourdain’s last interview: Trump, Weinstein and travel

The chef and TV presenter talked about revolution, parenting, abuse and Trump voters in what is believed to be the last interview before his death

Anthony Bordains final interview has shed light on the chefs thoughts on travel, culture and politics. The piece, which surfaced on independent publication Popula on Sunday, includes Bourdains takes on Bill Clintons behaviour in office, Obamas performance as US president and his own daydreams about the demise of Harvey Weinstein (Bourdains partner, Asia Argento, was one of the first to accuse the former movie mogul of rape).

But Bourdain also spoke about other things, such as the joy that comes from friendship, and how to think about parenting. Here are some of the highlights:

On travel

I much prefer people who just showed up in Paris and found their own way without any particular itinerary, who left themselves open to things happening. To mistakes because thats the most important part of travel.

On talking to strangers

You go to a place like Beirut and you find yourself talking to a Muslim woman. If youre a journalist tasked with an agenda, you know, youre there to report a story, and you come right out with it. Youre going right into some very difficult areas. Whereas I have the luxury, Im there to eat! Presumably. Im there to eat, and Im asking very simple questions.

What makes you happy? What do you like to eat, where do you like to go to get a few drinks; you know? What do you miss about the place when you go away? And I find, again and again, just by spending the time, by asking very simple questions, people have said the most astonishing things to me. Often things that would be very uncomfortable for them outside of that casual context.

On property

I know very much what wont make me happy. The perfect car will not make me happy. The perfect house will probably make me sad, and terrified

Im a renter by nature. I like the freedom to change my mind about where I want to be in six months, or a year. Because Ive also found you might have to make that decision you cant always make that decision for yourself.

On luxury

My happiest moments on the road are always off-camera, generally with my crew, coming back from shooting a scene and finding ourselves in this sort of absurdly beautiful moment, you know, laying on a flatbed on those things that go on the railroad track, with a putt-putt motor, goin across like, the rice paddies in Cambodia with headphones on this is luxury, because I could never have imagined having the freedom or the ability to find myself in such a place, looking at such things.

To sit alone or with a few friends, half-drunk under a full moon, you just understand how lucky you are; its a story you cant tell. Its a story you almost by definition, cant share. Ive learned in real time to look at those things and realise: I just had a really good moment.

On cycles of abuse

You know a lot of the chefs, all of the really bastard chefs, most the really oppressive ones, the old school ones, were abused children, were abused by their parents, were abused and neglected, physically, mentally, in every possible way, and then became just like their abuser, and would perpetuate the system.

A lot of chefs never really understood, or understood only really belatedly; theyd been powerless for much of their careers. I dont know. For most of my career, chefs were creatures without power. To talk about power imbalance, is in retrospect, there was one. But I think we all saw ourselves at outcasts, as weak, except in our little bubble in the kitchen.

On Trump voters

The contempt and the ridicule which has been heaped on places like West Virginia, which is the heart, demographically, of enemy territory, as far as New York liberals like us are concerned This is something we fucked up in the sixties. We were fighting against cops and construction workers cops and construction workers were exactly who we fucking needed! They were the first to die, in Vietnam. We werent gonna!

On Trump

Somebody at the White House press briefing has to sacrifice their job and say: You utter piece of shit! Do you really expect us to swallow that steaming load of horseshit? How do you live with yourself? You should be ashamed. Give me one guy to throw themselves on a fire like that, lose access, lose the gig at the White House, for that infinitely repeatable meme. Give me that. Just give me that. Someone to stand up.

On not being an artist

From the very beginning Ive always and only made the television I wanted to make, and as soon as I could I told whoever was involved to go fuck themselves, and somehow landed on my feet someplace else, with somebody who was willing to indulge me in even grander fashion. So I havent had to deal with the grim reality of well, you either do the Best Burgers in America show, or you have no work at all! I havent had to live with that. I havent had to be particularly nice to people I dont like. Ever.

On revolution

We cannot choose the leaders of our revolutions, theyre all deeply flawed and they will all all revolutions will be corrupted

The minute everybody in the room agrees with you, youre in a bad place, so Im a big believer in change just for its own sake, just to show that you can change, to move forward incrementally, but aint nobody gonna make everything better. Whoever has the intestinal fortitude or the megalomaniac instincts sufficient to lead any kind of a revolution will inevitably disappoint horribly.

The best revolutionaries of course are martyrs who died before they could turn into disgusting, self-serving, corrupt pieces of shit. As they all do.

On parenting

Asia [Argento] said this to me: children create themselves independently of us. All you can do is show, like in my case, my daughter feels loved. She knows shes loved. She has good self-esteem. Very important. And good martial arts skills. So she knows she can take any boy in her age group. Thats all I can do as a father I cant pick her music, her boyfriends, whatever, however shes going to turn out. I can give her these basic things.

On the imagined death of Harvey Weinstein

My theory of how he goes is uh, hes brushing his teeth in a bathroom, hes naked in his famous bathrobe, which is flapping open, hes holding his cell phone in one hand because you never know who on the Weinstein board has betrayed him recently, and hes brushing his teeth he suddenly gets a massive fucking stroke he stumbles backwards into the bathtub, where he finds himself um, with his robe open feet sticking out of the tub, and in his last moments of consciousness as he scrolls through his contacts list trying to figure out who he can call, who will actually answer the phone.

And he dies that way, knowing that no one will help him and that he is not looking his finest at time of death.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2018/jul/18/anthony-bourdains-last-interview-trump-weinstein-and-travel

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Read this and you may never eat chicken again

Most meat animals are raised with the assistance of daily doses of antibiotics. By 2050, antibiotic resistance will cause a staggering 10 million deaths a year

Every year I spend some time in a tiny apartment in Paris, seven stories above the mayors offices for the 11th arrondissement. The Place de la Bastille the spot where the French revolution sparked political change that transformed the world is a 10-minute walk down a narrow street that threads between student nightclubs and Chinese fabric wholesalers.

Twice a week, hundreds of Parisians crowd down it, heading to the march de la Bastille, stretched out along the center island of the Boulevard Richard Lenoir.

Blocks before you reach the market, you can hear it: a low hum of argument and chatter, punctuated by dollies thumping over the curbstones and vendors shouting deals. But even before you hear it, you can smell it: the funk of bruised cabbage leaves underfoot, the sharp sweetness of fruit sliced open for samples, the iodine tang of seaweed propping up rafts of scallops in broad rose-colored shells.

Threaded through them is one aroma that I wait for. Burnished and herbal, salty and slightly burned, it has so much heft that it feels physical, like an arm slid around your shoulders to urge you to move a little faster. It leads to a tented booth in the middle of the market and a line of customers that wraps around the tent poles and trails down the market alley, tangling with the crowd in front of the flower seller.

In the middle of the booth is a closet-size metal cabinet, propped up on iron wheels and bricks. Inside the cabinet, flattened chickens are speared on rotisserie bars that have been turning since before dawn. Every few minutes, one of the workers detaches a bar, slides off its dripping bronze contents, slips the chickens into flat foil-lined bags, and hands them to the customers who have persisted to the head of the line.

I can barely wait to get my chicken home.

Chickens
Chickens roam in an outdoor enclosure of a chicken farm in Vielle-Soubiran, south-western France. Photograph: Iroz Gaizka/AFP/Getty Images



The skin of a poulet crapaudine named because its spatchcocked outline resembles a crapaud, a toad shatters like mica; the flesh underneath, basted for hours by the birds dripping on to it from above, is pillowy but springy, imbued to the bone with pepper and thyme.

The first time I ate it, I was stunned into happy silence, too intoxicated by the experience to process why it felt so new. The second time, I was delighted again and then, afterward, sulky and sad.

I had eaten chicken all my life: in my grandmothers kitchen in Brooklyn, in my parents house in Houston, in a college dining hall, friends apartments, restaurants and fast food places, trendy bars in cities and old-school joints on back roads in the south. I thought I roasted a chicken pretty well myself. But none of them were ever like this, mineral and lush and direct.

I thought of the chickens Id grown up eating. They tasted like whatever the cook added to them: canned soup in my grandmothers fricassee, her party dish; soy sauce and sesame in the stir fries my college housemate brought from her aunts restaurant; lemon juice when my mother worried about my fathers blood pressure and banned salt from the house.

This French chicken tasted like muscle and blood and exercise and the outdoors. It tasted like something that it was too easy to pretend it was not: like an animal, like a living thing. We have made it easy not to think about what chickens were before we find them on our plates or pluck them from supermarket cold cases.

I live, most of the time, less than an hours drive from Gainesville, Georgia, the self-described poultry capital of the world, where the modern chicken industry was born. Georgia raises 1.4bn broilers a year, making it the single biggest contributor to the almost 9bn birds raised each year in the United States; if it were an independent country, it would rank in chicken production somewhere near China and Brazil.

Yet you could drive around for hours without ever knowing you were in the heart of chicken country unless you happened to get behind a truck heaped with crates of birds on their way from the remote solid-walled barns they are raised in to the gated slaughter plants where they are turned into meat. That first French market chicken opened my eyes to how invisible chickens had been for me, and after that, my job began to show me what that invisibility had masked.

My house is less than two miles from the front gate of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the federal agency that sends disease detectives racing to outbreaks all over the world. For more than a decade, one of my obsessions as a journalist has been following them on their investigations and in long late-night conversations in the United States and Asia and Africa, with physicians and veterinarians and epidemiologists, I learned that the chickens that had surprised me and the epidemics that fascinated me were more closely linked than I had ever realized.

I discovered that the reason American chicken tastes so different from those I ate everywhere else was that in the United States, we breed for everything but flavor: for abundance, for consistency, for speed. Many things made that transformation possible.

But as I came to understand, the single biggest influence was that, consistently over decades, we have been feeding chickens, and almost every other meat animal, routine doses of antibiotics on almost every day of their lives.

Caged
Caged battery hens in a chicken farm in Catania, Sicily. Photograph: Fabrizio Villa/AFP/Getty Images

Antibiotics do not create blandness, but they created the conditions that allowed chicken to be bland, allowing us to turn a skittish, active backyard bird into a fast-growing, slow-moving, docile block of protein, as muscle-bound and top-heavy as a bodybuilder in a kids cartoon. At this moment, most meat animals, across most of the planet, are raised with the assistance of doses of antibiotics on most days of their lives: 63,151 tons of antibiotics per year, about 126m pounds.

Farmers began using the drugs because antibiotics allowed animals to convert feed to tasty muscle more efficiently; when that result made it irresistible to pack more livestock into barns, antibiotics protected animals against the likelihood of disease. Those discoveries, which began with chickens, created what we choose to call industrialized agriculture, a poultry historian living in Georgia proudly wrote in 1971.

Chicken prices fell so low that it became the meat that Americans eat more than any other and the meat most likely to transmit food-borne illness, and also antibiotic resistance, the greatest slow-brewing health crisis of our time.

For most people, antibiotic resistance is a hidden epidemic unless they have the misfortune to contract an infection themselves or have a family member or friend unlucky enough to become infected.

Drug-resistant infections have no celebrity spokespeople, negligible political support and few patients organizations advocating for them. If we think of resistant infections, we imagine them as something rare, occurring to people unlike us, whoever we are: people who are in nursing homes at the end of their lives, or dealing with the drain of chronic illness, or in intensive-care units after terrible trauma. But resistant infections are a vast and common problem that occur in every part of daily life: to children in daycare, athletes playing sports, teens going for piercings, people getting healthy in the gym.

And though common, resistant bacteria are a grave threat and getting worse.

They are responsible for at least 700,000 deaths around the world each year: 23,000 in the United States, 25,000 in Europe, more than 63,000 babies in India. Beyond those deaths, bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics cause millions of illnesses 2m annually just in the United States and cost billions in healthcare spending, lost wages and lost national productivity.

It is predicted that by 2050, antibiotic resistance will cost the world $100tn and will cause a staggering 10m deaths per year.

Disease organisms have been developing defenses against the antibiotics meant to kill them for as long as antibiotics have existed. Penicillin arrived in the 1940s, and resistance to it swept the world in the 1950s.

Tetracycline arrived in 1948, and resistance was nibbling at its effectiveness before the 1950s ended. Erythromycin was discovered in 1952, and erythromycin resistance arrived in 1955. Methicillin, a lab-synthesized relative of penicillin, was developed in 1960 specifically to counter penicillin resistance, yet within a year, staph bacteria developed defenses against it as well, earning the bug the name MRSA, methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus.

After MRSA, there were the ESBLs, extended-spectrum beta-lactamases, which defeated not only penicillin and its relatives but also a large family of antibiotics called cephalosporins. And after cephalosporins were undermined, new antibiotics were achieved and lost in turn.

Each time pharmaceutical chemistry produced a new class of antibiotics, with a new molecular shape and a new mode of action, bacteria adapted. In fact, as the decades passed, they seemed to adapt faster than before. Their persistence threatened to inaugurate a post-antibiotic era, in which surgery could be too dangerous to attempt and ordinary health problems scrapes, tooth extractions, broken limbs could pose a deadly risk.

For a long time, it was assumed that the extraordinary unspooling of antibiotic resistance around the world was due only to misuse of the drugs in medicine: to parents begging for the drugs even though their children had viral illnesses that antibiotics could not help; physicians prescribing antibiotics without checking to see whether the drug they chose was a good match; people stopping their prescriptions halfway through the prescribed course because they felt better, or saving some pills for friends without health insurance, or buying antibiotics over the counter, in the many countries where they are available that way and dosing themselves.

But from the earliest days of the antibiotic era, the drugs have had another, parallel use: in animals that are grown to become food.

Eighty percent of the antibiotics sold in the United States and more than half of those sold around the world are used in animals, not in humans. Animals destined to be meat routinely receive antibiotics in their feed and water, and most of those drugs are not given to treat diseases, which is how we use them in people.

Instead, antibiotics are given to make food animals put on weight more quickly than they would otherwise, or to protect food animals from illnesses that the crowded conditions of livestock production make them vulnerable to. And nearly two-thirds of the antibiotics that are used for those purposes are compounds that are also used against human illness which means that when resistance against the farm use of those drugs arises, it undermines the drugs usefulness in human medicine as well.

Caged
Caged chickens in San Diego, California. California voters passed a new animal welfare law in 2008 to require that the states egg-laying hens be given room to move. Photograph: Christian Science Monitor/Getty Images

Resistance is a defensive adaptation, an evolutionary strategy that allows bacteria to protect themselves against antibiotics power to kill them. It is created by subtle genetic changes that allow organisms to counter antibiotics attacks on them, altering their cell walls to keep drug molecules from attaching or penetrating, or forming tiny pumps that eject the drugs after they have entered the cell.

What slows the emergence of resistance is using an antibiotic conservatively: at the right dose, for the right length of time, for an organism that will be vulnerable to the drug, and not for any other reason. Most antibiotic use in agriculture violates those rules.

Resistant bacteria are the result.


Antibiotic resistance is like climate change: it is an overwhelming threat, created over decades by millions of individual decisions and reinforced by the actions of industries.

It is also like climate change in that the industrialized west and the emerging economies of the global south are at odds. One quadrant of the globe already enjoyed the cheap protein of factory farming and now regrets it; the other would like not to forgo its chance. And it is additionally like climate change because any action taken in hopes of ameliorating the problem feels inadequate, like buying a fluorescent lightbulb while watching a polar bear drown.

But that it seems difficult does not mean it is not possible. The willingness to relinquish antibiotics of farmers in the Netherlands, as well as Perdue Farms and other companies in the United States, proves that industrial-scale production can be achieved without growth promoters or preventive antibiotic use. The stability of Masadour and Lou and White Oak Pastures shows that medium-sized and small farms can secure a place in a remixed meat economy.

Whole Foods pivot to slower-growing chicken birds that share some of the genetics preserved by Frank Reese illustrates that removing antibiotics and choosing birds that do not need them returns biodiversity to poultry production. All of those achievements are signposts, pointing to where chicken, and cattle and hogs and farmed fish after them, need to go: to a mode of production where antibiotics are used as infrequently as possible to care for sick animals, but not to fatten or protect them.

That is the way antibiotics are now used in human medicine, and it is the only way that the utility of antibiotics and the risk of resistance can be adequately balanced.

Excerpted from Big Chicken by Maryn McKenna published by National Geographic on 12 September 2017. Available wherever books are sold.

Plucked! The Truth About Chicken by Maryn McKenna is published in the UK by Little, Brown and is now available in eBook @14.99, and is published in Trade Format @14.99 on 1 February 2018.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2017/oct/13/can-never-eat-chicken-again-antibiotic-resistance

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Why Ill be spending my golden years with my golden girls

Kiran Aldridge and her friends are in their 40s and none of them have children. They have decided to buy a house together, where they can pool resources, skills and a yoga teacher and never be lonely

I have a group of female friends and we are all in our early 40s. None of us have children. We have known each other for what seems to be an eternity; we went to college together, and then visitedeach other at different universities and remained good friends. I clearly see a timeline of our conversations throughout the years: how we stayed up all night studying for exams fuelled by copious amounts of Red Bull and Hula Hoops; how we compared notes of the first time we dabbled with drugsat university; we talked of the hedonistic parties we attended and the hearts crushed by an array of unsuitable partners. These days, as well as discussing the healing powers of yoga and green tea, a new topic of conversation has entered our midst like a brick through the now-opaque window of our youth: who willlook after us in our old age?

I feel we have reached an age where this question can no longer be swatted like an annoying fly. It needs to be answered, or at least wrapped up and packaged like an unwanted gift. It is assumed that, if you have children, getting help in your older years is easy. But what if you dont have children to help you chug along when life becomes tough? Who will look after you then?

There are myriad reasons why noneof us had children; some made conscious decisions not to, others did not. Regardless of reasons, we are all in the same position of facing what will certainly be the most challenging times of our lives, in terms of physical capabilities, without children. This makes me feel a little disconcerted. Itold a friend who has three children. Igot an unexpected response: Youdont have kids so they could help you in your old age! To do so would be a selfish motivation, she added. I asked her why she had children. Iwanted to have my own family, she said. Iasked her why, and she said: Iwanted to be surrounded by love. Iquestioned whether her own motivation to have children was an altruistic one.

We want children to love, to fill our lives, to give us purpose, to carry on the family name, and to satisfy our own maternal desire to nurture and to love. The decision is never altruistic. Essentially, we are all asking for the same thing: to be loved.

In India, where my roots lie, family does mean looking after each other, especially in old age. Living in an extended family with an elder is the norm. As arebellious teen and as a woman in her 20s, Ihad a very bleak view of this;there seemed to be no room for individuality in a family that worked as a nucleus. (This was my view when I would stroll in at 6am after clubbing trying not to wake anyone).

As I get older, I understand the value of living in a family that has several generations looking out for each other. As a younger person, the focus is on the individual, but when you get older, I believe the focus changes to your connection with others.

My grandmother lives in a house that has two generations under the same roof. She is in her late 80s and doesnt worry about whether she can pay the heating bill or not, there is always home-cooked food and a plethora of visitors; loneliness is an alien concept. More importantly, as her ageing body weakens and is prone to falling, there is always someone to pick her up. My granny, who doesnt speak English, who hasnt visited any country other than England, whose world is microscopic compared with mine, will most certainly have a more comfortable old age than the one I see myself facing.

My friends and I have come up with an alternative way to live out our golden years. When the time comes, we have decided that we will pool all our resources and buy a property that we will live in. According to AgeUK, more than 2million people in England over the age of 75 live alone, and more than a million older people say they go for more than a month without speaking to a friend, neighbour or family member. With our alternative old-age plan, wehope to avoid that loneliness. Wewill all live together and be eachothers carer and emotional companion. Therewill be no one tutting and losing patience with our slower pace of life, as we all would be ageing together. Our own individual care will be paramount, as each of us will be relying on the other.

There will be collective responsibility for each others health. Currently, we all participate in pursuits such as running, swimming, yoga and cycling, and none of us are smokers. When were old and living together, we will hire a yoga instructor, who will visit us once a week for a group class.

The feeling of losing ones usefulness and purpose plagues older people, whether you have children or not. Iwonder whether this feeling is magnified if you dont have grandchildren to babysit or children to worry about. When our golden years come a-calling and we all move in together, my friends and I have decided that all our talents and skills will be utilised. No one will feel useless. Its a highly practical plan. One of my friends is a nurse, one of us is a whizz in the kitchen, another a keen gardener, while I love DIY and have an eye forinterior design. We will be pooling not only our resources, but also our unique, individual talents and skills. Instead of being redundant, these willbe needed more than ever andcelebrated.

Since my friends and I came up with our alternative old-age plan, getting old no longer feels like a daunting prospect, and I no longer shy away from it instead it feels hopeful and promising. Iam almost looking forward to it. Sam plays the piano and the guitar, Steph is a published novelist and Im a writer; Ilook forward to the bohemian life that we will lead and being surrounded by like-minded people I will have known most of my adult life.

It almost feels like the perfect society, where we all focus on the greater good: helping each other out when we need it most. I envisage songs and storytelling by the piano and a house filled with a certain joie de vivre. Yes, we have no children to rely on, but we have each other, and we will share the understanding of what it means to get old. In fact, several friends of mine, who do have children, have asked me whether they can be included in our old-age plan.

To some it may appear a little utopian, but as my friend with kids insightfully pointed out, its no more utopian than believing that your kids will look after you in your old age.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2017/aug/26/why-ill-be-spending-my-golden-years-with-my-golden-girls

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My son’s tattoo hurt me deeply

When Tess Morgan's son came home with a tattoo, she was griefstricken. She knew her reaction was OTT (he's 21) but it signalled a change in their relationship

Put out the bunting, crack open the beers, stand there in the kitchen smiling from ear to ear, because hes home our student son is home and the family is together again. And after supper, after the washing up is done, the others his younger siblings drift off to watch television, and he says: Would you like to see my tattoo?

I say, Youre joking.

He says, No, Im not.

But still I wait. Any minute hes going to laugh and say, You should see your faces because this has been a running joke for years, this idea of getting a tattoo the hard man act, iron muscles, shaved head, Jason Statham, Ross Kemp. Hes a clever boy. Maybe during his school years he thought a tattoo would balance the geeky glory of academic achievement.

His father says, Where?

On my arm, he says, and touches his bicep through his shirt.

His lovely shoulder.

In the silence, he says, I didnt think youd be this upset.

After a while, he says, It wasnt just a drunken whim. I thought about it. I went to a professional. It cost 150.

150? I think, briefly, of all the things I could buy with 150.

Its just a tattoo, he says, when the silence goes on so long that we have nearly fallen over the edge of it into a pit of black nothingness. Its not as if I came home and said Id got someone pregnant.

It seems to me, unhinged by shock, that this might have been the better option.

His father asks, Does it hurt?

Yes, I say, cutting across this male bonding. It does. Very much.

For three days, I cant speak to my son. I can hardly bear to look at him. I decide this is rational. The last thing we need, I think, is an explosion of white-hot words that everyone carries around for the rest of their lives, engraved on their hearts. In any case, Im not even sure what it is I want to say. In my minds eye I stand there, a bitter old woman with pursed lips wringing my black-gloved hands. Hes done the one thing that Ive said for years, please dont do this. It would really upset me if you did this. And now its happened. So theres nothing left to say.

I know you cant control what your children do. Why would you want to, anyway? If you controlled what they did, youd just pass on your own rubbish tip of imperfections. You hope the next generation will be better, stronger, more generous. I know all you can do as a parent is to pack their bags and wave as you watch them go.

So I cry instead. I have a lump in my throat that stops me from eating. I feel as if someone has died. I keep thinking of his skin, his precious skin, inked like a pig carcass.

My neighbour says, Theres a lot of it about. So many teenagers are doing it. I stare at pictures of David Beckham with his flowery sleeves, Angelina Jolie all veins and scrawls. Tattoos are everywhere. They seem no more alternative than piercings these days. But I still dont understand. Sam Cam with her smudgy dolphin, the heavily tattooed at Royal Ascot these people are role models?

My niece had doves tattooed on her breasts, says a friend, And her father said, you wait, in a few years time theyll be vultures.

Its the permanence that makes me weep. As if the Joker had made face paints from acid. Your youthful passion for ever on display, like a CD of the Smiths stapled to your forehead. The British Association of Dermatologists recently surveyed just under 600 patients with visible tattoos. Nearly half of them had been inked between the ages of 18 and 25, and nearly a third of them regretted it.

I look up laser removal. Which is a possibility, I think miserably, that only works if you want a tattoo removed. And Im not in charge here. My son is.

My husband asks, Have you seen it yet?

I shake my head. Like a child, I am hoping that if I keep my eyes tightly shut the whole thing will disappear.

Its his body, he says gently. His choice.

But what if he wants to be a lawyer?

A lawyer?

Or an accountant.

Hell be wearing a suit. No one will ever know. And he doesnt want to be a lawyer. Or an accountant.

I know. I know.

I meet a colleague for lunch. He knew how much it would hurt me, I say, tears running down my face. For years Ive said, dont do it. Its there for ever, even after youve changed your mind about who you are and what you want to look like. Youre branded, like meat. It can damage your work prospects. It can turn people against you before youve even opened your mouth.

She says, Tell him how you feel.

But I cant. For a start, I know Im being completely unreasonable. This level of grief is absurd. Hes not dying, he hasnt killed anyone, he hasnt volunteered to fight on behalf of a military dictatorship. But I feel as though a knife is twisting in my guts.

I get angry with myself. This is nothing but snobbery, I think latent anxiety about the trappings of class. As if my son had deliberately turned his back on a light Victoria sponge and stuffed his face with cheap doughnuts. I am aware, too, that I associate tattoos on men with aggression, the kind of arrogant swagger that goes with vest tops, dogs on chains, broken beer glasses.

Is this what other women feel? Or perhaps, I think, with an uncomfortable lurch of realisation, just what older women feel. I stand, a lone tyrannosaurus, bellowing at a world I dont understand.

Tattoos used to be the preserve of criminals and toffs. And sailors. In the 1850s, the corpses of seamen washed up on the coast of north Cornwall were strangely decorated with blue, according to Robert Hawker, the vicar of Morwenstow initials, or drawings of anchors, flowers or religious symbols (Our blessed Saviour on His Cross, with on the one hand His mother, and on the other St John the Evangelist). It is their object and intent, when they assume these signs, says Hawker, to secure identity for their bodies if their lives are lost at sea.

Tattoos, then, were intensely practical, like brightly coloured smit marks on sheep.

Perhaps even then this was a fashion statement, a badge of belonging. Or just what you did after too much rum. Later, the aristocracy flirted with body art. According to the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich (they know a lot about tattoos), Edward VII had a Jerusalem cross on his arm while both his sons, the Duke of Clarence and the Duke of York (later George V), had dragon tattoos. Lady Randolph Churchill, Winstons mum, had a snake on her wrist.

But you can do what you like if youre rich.

On day three, still in a fog of misery, I say to him, Shall we talk?

We sit down with cups of coffee. I open my mouth to speak and end up crying instead. I say, You couldnt have done anything to hurt me more.

He is cool and detached. He says, I think you need to re-examine your prejudices.

I think, but I have! Ive done nothing else for three days! But I dont say that because we arent really talking to each other. These are rehearsed lines, clever insults flung across the dispatch box. (This is what comes of not exploding in anger in the heat of the moment.)

I say, Why couldnt you have waited until youd left home? Why now when youre living here half the year?

Its something Ive been thinking about for a long time. There didnt seem any reason to wait.

Which makes it worse.

Im an adult, he says. I paid for it with my own money. Money I earned.

But were supporting you as well, I think. As far as I know, you dont have separate bank accounts for your various income streams. So who knows? Maybe we paid for it. If you dont want to see it, thats fine, he says. When Im at home, Ill cover it up. Your house, your rules.

In my head, I think, I thought it was your house, too.

He says, Im upset that youre upset. But Im not going to apologise.

I dont want you to apologise, I say. (A lie. Grovelling self-abasement might help.)

He says, Im still the same person.

I look at him, sitting there, my 21-year-old son. I feel Im being interviewed for a job I dont even want. I say, But youre not. Youre different. I will never look at you in the same way again. Its a visceral feeling. Maybe because Im your mother. All those years of looking after your body taking you to the dentist and making you drink milk and worrying about green leafy vegetables and sunscreen and cancer from mobile phones. And then you let some stranger inject ink under your skin. To me, it seems like self-mutilation. If youd lost your arm in a car accident, I would have understood. I would have done everything to make you feel better. But this this is desecration. And I hate it.

We look at each other. There seems nothing left to say.

Over the next few days, my son always covered up talks to me as if the row had never happened. I talk to him, too, but warily. Because Im no longer sure I know him.

And this is when I realise that all my endless self-examination was completely pointless. What I think, or dont think, about tattoos is irrelevant. Because this is the point. Tattoos are fashionable. They may even be beautiful. (Just because I hate them doesnt mean Im right.) But by deciding to have a tattoo, my son took a meat cleaver to my apron strings. He may not have wanted to hurt me. I hope he didnt. But my feelings, as he made his decision, were completely unimportant.

The stars are not wanted now: put out every one; pack up the moon and dismantle the sun.

I am redundant. And thats a legitimate cause for grief, I think.

Tess Morgan is a pseudonym

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2012/aug/11/devastated-by-my-sons-tattoo

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