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Bear thrills

Bear Grylls courtesy of Channel 4 Pictures

Bear Grylls © Channel 4

HE’S an adventurer extraordinaire, a plucky pioneer and a dashing daredevil.

And when I met survival supremo Bear Grylls I found he had the infectious enthusiastic spirit of a fearless and wonder-filled child.

I met him at the launch of his new Channel 4 TV show The Island, which sees men aged from 21 to 70 from all walks of life endure the perils of the wilderness with no food, no water and no technology – as an experiment in whether modern man can cope in the wilds of nature.

He left the 13 men on a remote Pacific island for 28 days to see what would happen but feared they could come a cropper.

He was scared one of them would be dead within 10 minutes after they were stranded without outside help days in a supreme test of their survival skills.

“I was worried about people dying. Genuinely,” Bear, 39, said.

“You let people loose with machetes and it’s like, ‘You almost took your knee off.’ It’s so easy to go like that – boom – and it’s straight through the leg.

“You cut an arterial vein and you’re dead within 10 minutes.”

He continued: “I could’ve found the island they expected which was a beautiful Fijian paradise. But I wanted it to be about the hardship.

“What they got was a swamp – a crocodile, snake and scorpion-infested s***hole.

“It tests what they’re made of. This was an experiment in trying to find some answers about modern man.”

He continued: “Men totally feel emasculated at the moment.

“In olden days it was always clear – they used their speed, their agility and their brains, their resourcefulness and their courage. All that stuff made a man.

“Nowadays we’ve swapped the bow and arrow for the iPhone. It only uses a fraction of what it is to be a man.

“What I wanted to do – and I didn’t know the answer to this – is if you strip man of everything – the microwave, the bed and all of this stuff that we take for granted – when pushed and the bravado’s gone would they crumble or are the skills still somewhere in there?

“In the modern world what is masculinity?”

Bear has tested his manly mettle to the max via paramotoring in the Himalayas to martial arts training with a karate grandmaster in Japan, escapades with the SAS, and, at 23, being one of the youngest climbers to scale Everest.

And Bear – whose eyes glisten with verve – reckons it’s all about your mind… and your heart.

“It’s more important what’s in your head and heart in these kind of situations,” he said.

“The mental battles that these guys went through, I think they’ll agree, were much tougher than their physical ones.”

Bear gave the lads just one day’s survival training before abandoning them.

“They had the clothes on their back, a couple of machetes, a couple of knives, water for a day and that’s about it.”

He said it was important they felt truly isolated and weren’t just playing up for telly, which is why four of the group were embedded camera and sound crew.

“I wanted it to be really authentic. As soon as you put a TV camera in front of someone there’s always that bravado so that’s not a true indicator of what’s really going on inside of people.

“You only get to know people when they’re under pressure and they’re being themselves.

“When you’re vulnerable with people you create a bond. And where’s there’s a bond there’s strength.

“If society started to live like some of these guys, you could totally change the world.”

He added: “It’s an accelerated course in manhood and I hope it’s inspiring and encouraging.”

Meg Hine courtesy of Channel 4 pictures

Meg Hine © Ch4

I received an accelerated course in survival thanks to words of wisdom from Bear and a training session with his close pal Meg Hine – a mountaineer and expedition leader – in the tough terrain of the, erm, Channel 4 garden in the City of Westminster.

She taught me one of the most important things you need in a survival situation – how to create a fire.

Following your instinct is essential. Preparation is key. And it seems being in touch with your feminine side is crucial to thriving.

One of the major elements of her kit is a stash of tampons which, when smeared with Vaseline lip salve, become highly combustible.

She said: “They’re one of the best things for starting a fire. And soldiers carry them in their kits because they’re good for bullet wounds.”

I created a fire from the lady accoutrements and bark I’d peeled off silver birches. I ignited it with flint and a flick of the wrist, then added knife-chopped kindling to get it roaring.

Meg then taught me a vital skill needed in ANY situation – how to brew up a cuppa.

We positioned metal receptacles in the roaring flames, added water – which we’d collect from rain or a nearby stream but which was from the Channel 4 canteen – and then sprinkled in some nutrient-packed leaves.

After that I settled down under the canopy erected between trees to enjoy my wild nettle tea, infused with a smoky aroma and bits of ash from the fire, and became one with my surroundings.

But while Meg and Bear can handle themselves in such solitary situations, they both admit that in the long run, humans are social creatures.

Meg said: “You can go three minutes without air, three days without water, three weeks without food and three months without company. We need other people around us.”

And Bear said of the 13 men on the island: “The thing I really noticed with these guys by the end, above everything, was an incredible respect for each other as human beings.

“They’ve walked in each other’s shoes a little bit and that’s an amazing thing.”

He added: “We need connection.”

Sipping my tea, I mused on metaphysical poet John Donne’s famous words: “No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.”

Here are Bear’s top survival tips:

KINDNESS

“What’s the most important quality in a tough, big, butch mountaineer? Kindness. That is not a word we associate with man is it? But it’s incredibly butch to be kind on day 29 when you haven’t eaten for 11 days. That is a man.

“What you really want from the people you are with is that they are kind.

“You want to be a great adventurer in life and in the mountains? It is simple: be kind.”

CHEERFULNESS

“The Royal Marine Commandos with whom I worked a lot in my military days, have the phrase ‘cheerfulness in adversity’ as one of their founding principles and it is a great one to live by.

“It is easy to be cheerful when everything is going like a song, but the real time to be cheerful is when everything is going dead wrong!

“My dad always said: ‘Be the most enthusiastic person you know!’”

INGENUITY

“The key bit of survival kit you possess is your brain.

“What I have always loved about survival is the resourcefulness of it, how you can take a shoelace and a tea bag to make something useful.

“It is ingenuity that can change a situation dramatically.”

FLEXIBILITY

“I try to maintain fitness all of the time really – I consider it part of my job. I train hard most days.

“I also do a lot of yoga which keeps me flexible and bendy for hanging off trees etc. It is functional strength that I am looking to achieve rather than big muscles.”

HARD WORK

“The key to survival is one thing – hard work. Everyone thinks it’s about the bandana around the head, the flexing the muscles, attacking the crocodile – it’s not, it’s about bloody hard work.

“Quietly get up early, be the first to collect the firewood, spend 12 hours trying to light a fire – it’s just hard work.

“The key to success on the island, as well as in life, is just hard graft. The rewards go to the people who work the hardest.”

PERSISTENCE

“I can sum up survival in one quote: ‘When you are going through hell, keep going.’

“We’re all more resilient than we believe.”

BE PREPARED!

Bear is the head of the Scouts whose motto is: ‘Be prepared!’

 

 

 

 

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Jubilant London

“By seeing London, I have seen as much of life as the world can show.”

Samuel Johnson – author (September 18, 1709 – December 13, 1784)


LONDON is electric at the moment.

Maybe it was the brief few days of a heatwave – and by heatwave I mean sunny and over 20 degrees for a couple of days – that has charged the atmosphere with palpable energy but Britain seems Great again.

It appears David Cameron has fixed the country! Nice one Dave. Cheers mate.

There is a definite celebratory air but then we do have a few big things to get our knickers in a twist over this summer such as the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, the Olympics and best of all the fact that Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom is being shown on an outdoor screen at Somerset House. Pimms o’clock or what?

This weekend the bunting is adorning the country’s buildings and will no doubt also become attached to several drunk chaps who find themselves wrapped around lampposts with small triangles of the Union Jack.

As the Queen marks 60 years of her reign and listens to the likes of all her knights and dames – Sir Paul McCartney, Sir Elton John, Sir Cliff Richard, Dame Shirley Bassey and erm, JLS – in a concert outside Buckingham Palace, scores of Brits will be partying like it’s 1999.

There will be picnics in parks, trestle tables piled sky-high with dry potted meat and cucumber sarnies and pubs filled to bursting with folks making the most of a four-day bank holiday weekend. God bless the Queen.

Not that Brits need an excuse to go down the boozer. If things are good – sink a pint, if things are bad – sink a pint. You can, of course, substitute a pint for a good old cuppa – ideally accompanied by a chocolate Hobnob.

One nibble and a few seconds later the whole packet’s gone.

Most folks I know are staying well away from London during the Olympics. A mass exodus is going on to anywhere but the Big Smoke from July 27 to August 12.

London’s Mayor Boris will love it because he’ll be able to get around on his bike without being harangued or harassed.

My only worry is that visitors will think they’ve spotted one of the Fraggles pedalling around like a lunatic.

The only people who’ll be in London during the Olympics, besides Boris, are the athletes – who’ll be nowhere near the centre – and Americans, as far as I can discern, who love Britain.

We have great music, great comedy, great literature, great history, great architecture, great Press, great greenery, great nights out, great breakfasts, great biscuits, great tea, terrible weather, poor transport services, and constant moaning but, deep down, there is that indomitable spirit.

I’ll hammer home my point by adding hot buttery crumpets, bangers and mash, Marmite, Twirls, and words and phrases like ‘luv’, ‘alright treacle’, ‘me old china’ and ‘flower’ – especially when men use them between themselves as terms of endearment.

Then there’s Bonfire Night, Sunday lunch and James Bond movies on a Sunday afternoon.

And though we’re a small island that is almost three times smaller than the state of Texas, we are home to the oldest football club in the world, we discovered the Periodic Table and the first Briton in space was a woman. We invented the telephone, television and even the World Wide Web.

Apologies, I’m sorry, but Britain really is Great.

And here, in a snapshot of a couple of days in London, are yet more reasons why…

Jay-Z or Jean Michel Jarre?

BRITAIN’S brightest comics are gathered in an underground bunker near Old Street Tube.

It sounds very Keep Calm and Carry On but the only danger afoot here is not getting your pizza delivered at half time.

Not that we’ve ordered pizza – me and my pal will geekily share an egg mayo sarnie during the interval.

Our other two friends though have ordered the pizza from the restaurant upstairs. Oh the joys of living in the 21st century.

This is the City Arts and Music Project and we’re here for the Laughing Boy Comedy Club where comedians from Channel 4’s Stand Up For The Week are trying out their latest material.

There’s the likes of Jon Richardson, Seann Walsh, Josh Widdicombe, Sara Pascoe, Andrew Lawrence and Paul Chowdhry all for the not-so-princely sum of £4. A genuine bargain.

The sarnies we’re eating are a remnant from earlier in the day when I met up with a colleague for a cuppa at a nearby Pret A Manger.

As we were leaving, we were delighted when the manageress asked us if we wanted to take any of the sandwiches “because the charity can’t come today and they’ll all go to waste otherwise”.

In that truly British way we spent about five minutes saying, “Really? Are you sure?” before going for the least extravagant thing on offer. Not for us a hoisin duck wrap or a wild crayfish and rocket bloomer.

There is that apologetic demeanour at work in full glory.

I apologise yet again to the doorman at the comedy club for having to ascend the Bond-like evil subterranean lair to use my phone.

I’m very polite so I don’t rudely use my phone when I’m in the company of friends.

Anyway, I was using my phone to text my friend where we were because the place – being about 100 foot below the streets of London – was somewhat tricky to locate.

Luckily I am naturally good with directions so can impart our whereabouts with ease.

It’s always the folks who have an iPhone who ask you where the train station is.

You’re the one with the piece of satellite communication! Use it!

It seems technology is shrinking intellect. How can you not just know north, south, east and west?

I retreat into Blofeld’s den and settle myself for the show.

The compere Suzi Ruffell is brilliant.

But then, for me, she didn’t have to be.

I don’t know what it is but there’s something about seeing live stand-up comedy with your friends that is hilarious. Even if the comics aren’t funny.

Perhaps they pump laughing gas into these places or maybe it’s just the fact you can always share a giggle with your pals.

If the comedian is funny you laugh together at his or her observations. If they’re not, you guffaw in embarrassment for them or chuckle because you’re reminded of something else.

The comedians on the bill tonight are particular favourites anyway. Then again, I am a big fan of British comedy full stop.

It’s just so… good. And so… funny.

As part of my job I’m lucky to have interviewed and spent time with the likes of David Mitchell, Kayvan Novak, Johnny Vegas, Nicholas Parsons, Kevin Bishop and Robert Powell (think The Detectives not Jesus or Holby City) at various events like the TV BAFTAs, the British Comedy Awards, and the Loaded Laftas.

It’s like being in your very own sitcom, hanging out with these guys.

Like how David Mitchell became Mark Corrigan when accosted by a beautiful blonde lady at the bar.

Despite her advances, he told her: “It just wouldn’t work because, well, you’re you, and I’m… well I’m me.”

Mitchell and Robert Webb’s BAFTA-winning comedy Peep Show is a personal favourite of mine.

It’s sometimes nice to have Mark and Jez on in the background when I’m tidying up or washing the pots. It’s like I’m their third housemate.

One of the most memorable scenes for me is when they go on a double date to the theatre to see a rubbish play.

Mark: “If this was on television, no one would be watching.”

Jez: “Oh God, why aren’t we watching television?”

Mark: “I can’t believe coming here cost more than a film.”

Jez: “I’ve got Heat on DVD at home. We’re watching this, when for less money we could be watching Robert De Niro AND Al Pacino.”

Mark: “I’m going to pretend I am watching Heat.”

Jez: “Ok. Let’s pretend we’re just watching Heat.”

This is a sentiment I’ve had at various events from time to time and Mark and Jez’s Heat tactic is one I use.

I used the Heat tactic when I went to see Jay-Z – or Jay-Zed as I prefer to call him, in a similar way I call Will.I.Am William – and Kanye West at London’s O2.

Obviously these two fellas are very good at what they do and sell millions of records but they’re not exactly my cup of tea. I quite like some of the melodies – mainly because they’ve been nicked from songs I like such as Daft Punk’s Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger – but I’m not such a big fan of the words or the way in which the words are shouted rather than sung.

You may be wondering why I went to see these blokes if they’re not music to my ears.

I went as a guest of my friend along with a load of journalists and PRs and watched from a box right at the back of the arena which had big comfy sofas.

Perfect. I could sit on one of the settees and pretend I was watching De Niro and Pacino at work.

I did wander onto the balcony area though to see the show. And luckily, because of the giant images of the likes of sharks and leopards, I could also pretend I was watching Planet Earth with the true legend that is Sir David Attenborough.

My mind wandered to the privilege I had of meeting this great man and him assuring me that he wouldn’t retire.

It lasted a while but then the noise was too much. Attenborough whispers for goodness sake. He doesn’t, as far as I know, rap.

So then, thanks to the neon light projections and the smattering of electronic samples I pretended I was watching French synthesiser supremo Jean Michel Jarre.

Oxygene Part IV anyone?

The encore went on and on and on. It was the same song done about six times. I’m not just saying that because I’m not an aficionado of the music, it genuinely was just one song on repeat.

Clearly it’s a crowd fave because they went crazy for it.

Mr Zed and Mr West acknowledge this because they shouted out for about 15 minutes, “That s*** cray.”

And just to reiterate the fact, the words kept popping up on the screens.

I was in no doubt they were saying, “That s*** cray.”

Hang on a minute though. How lazy has the world become that we have to shorten a two-syllable word?

I’m later informed by someone more knowledgeable than me that ‘cray’ is not short for crazy but instead refers to the 60s London crime lords the Kray twins.

I don’t know if that’s true but if it is in a way that’s worse because they spelled it with a ‘C’ instead of a ‘K’.

I’m sure Monsieur Jarre wouldn’t have made such a schoolboy error.

Maybe though there’s another explanation.

Perhaps Jay and K had a similar experience to the one I had at Pret and had been offered free sarnies when they nipped in for a brew before one of their gigs.

“Take any of the sandwiches,” the manageress told them.

“Any? Any at all?” Kanye asked.

“Yes, otherwise they’ll just go to waste.”

“Ok, I’ll take the wild crayfish and rocket bloomer. That s*** cray,” said Jay-Z enthusiastically.

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