Channel swimming is off the record

Share
Related Topics

It's years since I looked at a Guinness Book of Records, so I thought I would buy the new 50th anniversary edition, and bring my reference library up to date. I do have a Guinness Book of Records already. It's just that it was published in 1956, and I suspect that some of the records may have been updated since then.

Well, it's not really the records that have been updated. The name has changed from The Guinness Book of Records to Guinness World Records 2005. The whole format has changed, too. The old Guinness looked more like a psalm book, or even a Bible, with a sober dark blue cover enlivened only by the discreet golden Guinness harp. The new Guinness has huge lettering on a glitzy gold cover. It's the difference between a librarian and a man with a megaphone.

And the link with Guinness stout has been severed in the intervening 50 years. The original edition has an introduction by the chairman of Arthur Guinness & Co, Ltd, the Earl of Iveagh. What his Lordship wrote in October 1956 is very interesting, more interesting perhaps now than it was then ...

"Wherever people congregate to talk, they will argue, and sometimes the joy lies in the arguing and would be lost if there were any definite answer. But more often the argument takes place on a dispute of fact, and it can be very exasperating if there is no immediate means of settling the argument. Who was the first to swim the Channel? Where is England's deepest well, or Scotland's highest tree, Ireland's oldest church? How many died in history's worst rail crash? Who gained the biggest majority in Parliament? What is the greatest weight a man has ever lifted? How much heat these innocent questions can raise! Guinness hopes that it may assist in resolving many such disputes, and may, we hope, turn heat into light."

Why Guinness, you may ask? Well, it was all because Chris Chataway was working for them at the time, and when the idea of a reference book came up young Chataway said, "I know just the people who could do that, sir, they're called Ross and Norris MacWhirter," and the rest is history. Suddenly there was a book people could keep behind the bar to settle any kind of argument.

Except that it's not that kind of book any more. I have been through the new, gold-plated Guinness World Records 2005 as carefully as I can, and can find no information on who was the first to swim the Channel. Or the fastest. Or the youngest. Or anything about swimming the Channel at all.

I have also been unable to find any information on the deepest well in England, or indeed much about that sort of thing at all. The old Guinness had a whole section labelled, somewhat riskily, "Boring". The new Guinness is not taking that risk. Nor is there anything about Scotland's highest tree. Or Ireland's oldest church. Or Parliamentary majorities. Or even, I think, rail crashes.

With the partial exception of weight-lifting, not a single one of the questions playfully raised by Lord Iveagh in 1956 can be answered by the book known as "Guinness World Records 2005".

If you want to settle a pub argument in 2004, you'd be crazy to go to Guinness World Records 2005. Actually, you'd be crazy to go to it at all, unless you wanted to know who has the largest ice-lolly stick collection in the world, or the most Pepsi cans from around the world. But I have never been in a pub conversation in which someone said: "I wonder who has got the most yo-yos in a private collection," or "What's the most Smarties eaten by someone using a chopstick in three minutes?"

It's humbling to realise that there is a reference work which tells you that, but doesn't know who first swam the Channel.

I think someone would make a fortune if they produced a simple reference book which told you about the deepest well, the worst train crash, the highest tree in Scotland and so on. Just an idea.

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Project Implementation Executive

£18000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Chiropractic Assistant

£16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Chiropractic Assistant is needed in a ...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive - Midlands

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides coaching ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Errors & Omissions: how to spell BBQ and other linguistic irregularities

Guy Keleny
 

South Africa's race problem is less between black and white than between poor blacks and immigrants from sub-Saharan Africa

John Carlin
NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own