How many of my fellow grandparents, I wonder, were fired with inspiration by this week’s news that the over-60s are enjoying increasing success in reaching the summit of Mount Everest?
How many rubbed their hands together in delight, thinking: ‘Now, that’s exactly the sort of retirement project I’ve been yearning for’?
Well, if you’re one of the adventurous few, I wish you nothing but luck.
I’m full of admiration of those of my generation (I’m 66, going on 67) who retain their zest for new experiences well into the evening of their lives.
My chief objection to the thought of scaling Mount Everest — as it won’t surprise regular readers to know — is the sheer bloody effort involved
All I can say is, I’m cut from a very different cloth.
The truth is that I can think of few things I’d like to do less than attempt to climb Mount Everest — although among the contenders are swimming with crocodiles, sticking white-hot needles into my eyes and spending what remains of my life chained in marriage to the Duchess of Sussex, listening to her vacuous Hollywood platitudes.
Sir Edmund Hillary, who reached the 29,030ft peak first with Sherpa Tenzing in the year of my birth, 1953, gave as his reason for climbing the world’s highest mountain: ‘Because it’s there’.
Well, as far as I’m concerned, it can stay there, undisturbed by a visit from me.
It’s not just the thought of the bitter cold that puts me off, or the risk of tumbling to my death (they say that ‘only’ one in 100 climbers dies on the mountain — a rate that has remained unchanged over the past 30 years or so).
Nor is it the dismal stories I’ve read of queues for the summit along routes strewn with the litter and excreta of those who have gone before — though if I wanted that sort of thing, I could visit Clapham Common up the road in South London on the morning after an illegal rave.
No, my chief objection to the thought of scaling Mount Everest — as it won’t surprise regular readers to know — is the sheer bloody effort involved.
They may say that we chain-smokers make excellent mountaineers, since our lungs are well accustomed to the oxygen deprivation climbers experience at high altitudes.
To that, I can only reply that I find my weekly two-storey trudge up the stairs to my office at Mail HQ quite daunting enough a challenge, now that the lifts no longer stop at my floor in order to maintain social distancing.
I arrive puffing and panting behind my mask, while younger gazelles bound past me.
Mind you, none of these considerations has deterred others of my age from making the attempt up the mountain, while ever more of them succeed in getting to the top.
According to the report in the Mail, today’s over-60s have about the same rate of success as climbers aged 40 a generation ago.
They may say that we chain-smokers make excellent mountaineers, since our lungs are well accustomed to the oxygen deprivation climbers experience at high altitudes. To that, I can only reply that I find my weekly two-storey trudge up the stairs to my office at Mail HQ quite daunting enough a challenge
Such is the finding of researchers from two American universities — Washington and California, Davis — who analysed thousands of expeditions to Everest since 1953 (though don’t ask me why).
They discovered that between 2006 and last year, climbers aged 60 and more had almost double the success rate for reaching the summit at their first attempt as those of the same age group who attempted it between 1990 and 2005.
Quite how much this owes to improvements in fitness among the current crop of over-60s, and how much to advances in modern climbing equipment, it’s hard to say.
A bit of both, I would guess.
If you ask me, it must also have something to do with the psychological strength that comes from knowing that reaching the peak is not only possible, but that a great many have achieved it before — more than 4,000, at the last count.
To understand what I mean, just think of the four-minute mile — a barrier that some said could never be broken by a human athlete, because of the way in which our species is physically constructed.
But that was before Roger Bannister proved them wrong, a year after the conquest of Everest, when he covered a mile in three minutes, 59.4 seconds.
With that psychological barrier finally breached, it was only 46 days later when the Australian John Landy smashed it again, knocking no less than 1.5 seconds off Bannister’s time.
Since then, more than 500 Americans alone have run a mile in less than four minutes — with the record currently held by Hicham El Guerrouj of Morocco, in a once-unbelievable time of three minutes 43.13 seconds. Bannister’s extraordinary feat now looks positively sluggish by comparison.
The moral is that things tend to get that little bit easier once somebody else has achieved them.
Which makes me wonder how long it will be before someone breaks the record age for climbing to the summit of Everest, set in 2013 by Japan’s Yuichiro Miura at a sprightly 80 years old.
More than 500 Americans alone have run a mile in less than four minutes — with the record currently held by Hicham El Guerrouj of Morocco, in a once-unbelievable time of three minutes 43.13 seconds
None of this alters the fact, however, that you will not find me rushing off to the shops to stock up on crampons, ice axes and thermal underwear in preparation for joining others of my age-group in scrambling up the world’s highest mountain.
For I am one of the laziest men who ever breathed, far too attached to my creature comforts to risk anything that smacks of physical exertion.
Indeed, readers with long memories may recall that exactly 12 years ago, to this very day, I set out a list on this page of things I had once thought I should try before I reached 50.
That column, written four years after my deadline had passed, with nothing achieved, was prompted by the sad death that month of Dave Freeman, the co-author of the worldwide best-seller, 100 Things To Do Before You Die.
For a couch potato like me, Freeman’s book had made hair-raising reading.
Among other items on his bucket-list, he recommended that we should all run with the bulls in Pamplona, Spain, go rattlesnake racing in Mangum, Oklahoma, take part in the murderous five-day Marathon des Sables in Morocco and leap head-first from 75ft frames on the Pacific Island of Vanuatu, with vines attached to our ankles.
To his great credit, as a practitioner of what he preached, Freeman had managed to tick off about half of the items on his list before his untimely death at the age of 47 — not, as it happened, from a rattlesnake bite or from being trampled underfoot by Spanish bulls, but after hitting his head in a fall at his home in Venice, California.
As I commented at the time, this was further evidence of the Almighty’s peculiar sense of humour.
Let us just say that my own list of ambitions to achieve before I was 50 was rather more modest.
It included many things I’d never done in my uneventful life, such as having a sauna, attending a rock festival, buying a pair of blue jeans, having sex in a car, visiting a casino, learning to ski, growing a moustache, riding a horse — and, yes, climbing a mountain to the top.
Among other items on his bucket-list, he recommended that we should all run with the bulls in Pamplona, Spain
A dozen years on, I realise to my shame that I’ve yet to accomplish any of the above — and, let’s face it, it’s looking increasingly unlikely that I ever will.
Indeed, the nearest I’ve come to achieving any of them was by omitting to shave for several days at the beginning of lockdown.
Yet before I’d managed to grow anything that could be described as a moustache, I had to abandon even this most passive of projects, under intense pressure from Mrs U, who told me I looked like a tramp.
So, yes, I doff my cap to all those who look upon retirement as a heaven-sent opportunity to achieve a long-held ambition — whether sailing around the world, seeing the Northern Lights or even climbing Mount Everest.
But each to his own, say I. After a lifetime of work, I see my semi-retirement as a blissful excuse to do … absolutely nothing. But I must go now. Pointless is starting on the TV.