I was lighting my nineteenth cigarette of the day when I opened the fateful email from Joe. The subject line had piqued my interest: "Fancy Climbing a (big) Mountain?". At first I thought it was an appeal to take on some extra marking (we're both teachers) but it soon became apparent that his wife, Palma, was about to do something insane.
When I discovered that she was looking for a partner to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro with, I would love to tell you that I yelled "Me! Me! Me!" at the top of my nicotine-smeared lungs, but the sad truth is that I simply trashed the email, made a mental note to sponsor her, and lit my twentieth tab of the day.
A few days later I asked Joe how his search was going and he showed me some pictures of the expedition and I have to admit that it all looked very pleasant. The part of my brain that associated the word Kilimanjaro with "bloody high mountain" must have been malfunctioning because I started to seriously consider the possibility that a 30-a-day, technology-obsessed, chronically unfit, couch potato could actually do something like this; I discovered much later that Chris Moyles is attempting the very same climb for Comic Relief but I honestly had no idea at the time.
Then my wife, Sue, started to encourage me: "You've been threatening to do something stupid for ages now," she said, sagely. She urged me to grasp this life-changing opportunity with both hands - not only would it be cheaper than buying a Ferrari to assuage my rapidly encroaching mid-life crisis, it would get me out of the house for a bit as well.
She was right. 2009 was rapidly approaching and my thoughts had turned towards the perennial self-delusional resolution rigmarole. Give up smoking; join a gym; eat healthy food; take a break from my email, you know the drill. I also knew deep-down that I wouldn't keep any of them - I didn't have an incentive. Apart from the normal health benefits, of course, but they've started putting gorenography on cigarette packets and that hasn't stopped me, has it?
But what if I had to give up? What if my life actually depended on it?
Kilimanjaro was the perfect solution. If I ever felt tempted to light up a sneaky ciggie, or skip a session on the treadmill, I would be severely harming my chances of reaching the top of the mountain. Even the fittest can have problems so I need all the help I can get.
Another factor that played into my decision to seriously consider this endeavour is Greg Preston, the character played by Ian McCulloch in the 1975 post-apocalyptic TV drama, Survivors. I've been ploughing through the original series on DVD recently, having been taken in by the distinctly average remake on BBC1, and the only thing that's kept me going is Greg. In the remake Greg is a fairly unremarkable guy but in the original he's a force of nature. A tough, no-nonsense, hands-on, brooding enigma, Greg always does the right thing. Usually in a parka. Whenever the wife and I are faced with a tricky task or a moral dilemma we often joke to each other, "What would Greg do?"
Would Greg follow Palma to the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro for the sake of a good cause? Of course he would!
The chance to do it for a good cause was the icing on the cake. I would get the experience of a lifetime and I'd be raising money for a great charity at the same time. It suddenly felt like a no-brainer and twenty minutes later I handed over my passport to Joe, and 15 minutes after that I received an email confirmation that my booking had been made.
So here I am.
Some of my closest friends are in shock, one of them is still laughing.
Since then I've been doing plenty of research and these days it's difficult to get a sentence out of me that doesn't involve the word "altitude" but I'll save that for another day...
The "regime" starts on Monday. No tabs. No junk food. Lots of running up and down and sweating. I can't wait. And you can follow it all here, from the comfort of your own armchair.
And assuming I get the go-ahead from Mr. McCulloch to use his likeness, you can expect some 'What Would Greg Do?' T-shirts for sale (all profits will go to UNICEF!) in the very near future...