No. 6: Drink a bottle of 1787 Chateau Lafite
In 1985, a bottle of 1787 Chateau Lafite was sold at auction by Christies for a cool $160,000, making it the most expensive standard bottle of wine in history. If you pride yourself on knowing your sauvignon blanc from your shiraz, you might lust after a bottle of this choice vintage – but you probably wouldn’t want to drink it.
The record-breaking bottle was bought by Christopher Forbes, a son of the famous Forbes magazine dynasty. As a wine collector, he was particularly drawn to the bottle because it was etched with the three letters ‘Th.J’. This, it was reported, was proof that the wine came from the collection of the USA’s third President and one of its founding fathers, Thomas Jefferson.
Jefferson served a stint as ambassador to France and took the opportunity to develop his taste for fine wine. And they don’t come any finer than those from the vineyards of Château Lafite, near the village of Paulliac in the Médoc region north-west of Bordeaux. The Chateau made its name in the early 18th century thanks to the wine-making prowess of its owner, Nicolas-Alexandre, the marquis de Ségur, and his shrewd stroke of marketing genius in introducing his wines to the French royal court. Since the 19th century it has been owned by the powerful Rothschild family, and today it is often known as Chateau Lafite Rothschild.
Even the greatest vineyards have their ups and downs, of course, but the glorious summer of 1787 produced a vintage that was widely acknowledged, as one for the ages. However, Bordeaux wines have a drinkable life span of no more than 50 years. Today, the contents of this once-glorious 1787 Lafite would, almost certainly, taste about as good as table vinegar. But to find out for certain, you’ll need the permission of the Forbes Collection to test it – and it seems unlikely that they would say yes.
Top end bottles of wine are generally sold at auction, where bidders get caught up in the heat of battle – Forbes clearly won on the day, but there must have been an underbidder willing to $150,000. Unsurprisingly, 1787 Lafites seldom come on to the market. Nonetheless, other bottles of the vintage have since been sold on the internet for less than the 1985 auction price – though they lack the presidential link. So if you have $120,000 burning a hole in your pocket, you why not treat yourself to a bottle and sprinkle it over your fish and chips?
No. 36: Practise telekinesis
Telekinesis – a term coined by Russian author Alexander Aksakov in 1890 – is the alleged ability to harness the power of the human mind to move distant objects. There’s precious little scientific proof that it exists, but that has not stopped the world’s superpowers investigating. So how could it be done?
Telekinesis is a branch of psychokinesis, the ability to influence the physical world with the power of the mind alone. In a 2006 US survey, around 30 per cent of respondents indicated they believed the idea to be plausible – but there has never been a single controlled laboratory experiments to prove it. Despite this, it’s widely acknowledged that during the Cold War, both US and Soviet governments were actively involved in telekinetic and psychokinetic research. The Americans, for instance, reputedly ran Project Jedi, which aimed to create a breed of ‘super-soldier’ able to kill by thought alone.
This project is detailed in the book and film The Men who Stare at Goats – a title that refers to a series of experiments at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, in which potential psychics tried to kill goats simply by focussing their thoughts. Uri Geller, probably the world’s most famous claimant of psychokinetic abilities, says that he was asked to take part, but as an animal-lover, he declined and stuck to bending spoons instead.
Most advocates of telekinesis suggest that to develop your own abilities, you must have faith in your potential. The required skills, they say, take a long time to perfect. Start by meditating, relaxing yourself entirely and clearing your mind. Practise breathing exercises and consider chanting mantras. Then gradually begin to build up periods of intense concentration. (Until, say, you can focus on a particular thought or emotion to the exclusion of everything else for fifteen minutes at a time.)
Do not start out with big ambitions – even believers would say it’s highly unlikely that you’ll be able to move stationary objects at once. Instead, try to prolong the momentum of an already moving object, such as a spinning coin.
Progress to trying to move small objects, such as matchsticks sealed off from air currents under a bell jar. If you show signs of success, be careful who you tell about your newfound talent – do you really want to answer the door one day to a soldier or CIA operative with a goat tucked under their arm.
No. 46: Write a hit record
Despite the changing landscape of the music industry, there is still nothing quite like having a Number One record to your name. It might be tricky to keep track of the many different charts – physical sales, air play, digital downloads and so on – but in the end it’s all about having a song that people want to listen to.
Writing songs is a bit like kissing frogs in search of a prince. You’ll probably have to write a lot of them before you hit upon the one. For instance, Guy Chambers, Robbie William’s former writing partner and one of today’s most successful hitmakers, reportedly scores one hit for every 47 songs he writes. And songs don’t write themselves, so get on with it – a bit of daydreaming is fine, but you need to get all those words and tunes that are in your head down on paper.
Having a Number One hit is a delicate balance of quality song-writing, great performance, clever marketing and great good luck. Immerse yourself in music. Seek out different styles from different eras. Educate yourself in the theory of song-writing – you don’t have to spend years at a salon, but it helps to have a basic understanding of melody, harmony and rhythm. Familiarize yourself with basic song structures. Don’t be constricted by theory, but use it to free your creativity. According to Billboard Magazine, the average length of a hit song is 4.26 minutes, with a tempo between 117 and 122 bpm. For your best statistical chance of a hit, write in the key of C and stick to major keys.
If you struggle with lyrics, get a partner to look after that side of things – an arrangement that worked out nicely for Elton John and Bernie Taupin.
When you have a song that you think might work, play it to people. If they don’t leave whistling it, perhaps it’s not your hit. However be sure to copyright your song and don’t sell the rights too cheaply or without royalties. Decide if you want to link up with a major record label or not. A multinational will always have the resources and know-how to reach places that you as an individual might not, but increasingly musicians are able to strike out on their own or on smaller labels. Once upon a time, a record’s success depended on radio airplay – if the DJs were on your side, the chances of your song succeeding were good. These days, thanks to the internet, there are more methods than ever of garnering attention, and a wily songwriter will make use of all of them.
No. 59: Establish your own nation
What makes a country a country? It’s a question that’s more vexed than you might imagine. Two-thirds of countries, for instance, observe the sovereignty of Palestine, yet it is not recognized by many others. So if you want to set up a state of your own, what’s the best way of getting people to accept your little corner of the world as a sovereign nation in its own right?
Eccentric musical genius Frank Zappa claimed the qualifications for statehood were simple: ‘You can’t be a real country unless you have a beer and an airline – it helps if you have some kind of football team, or some nuclear weapons, but at the very least you need a beer.’ Zappa, however, famously called his daughter Moon Unit, so he may not be the most reliable font of wisdom. A more reliable source of information might be the 1933 Montevideo Convention on the Rights and Duties of States. Though the Convention does not have the force of international law, it does represent a widely-held set of standards. To be a state, you need at the very least: (a) a permanent population; (b) a defined territory; (c) a government; and (d) capacity to enter into relations with the other states.
Assuming you’re not keen on staging an invasion of someone else’s country and lack the finances to buy one, there are a couple of options when it comes to territory. The simplest is to declare your own property independent, but the chances are that no one will take you very seriously since your land still falls within another nation’s territory. Alternatively, look to international waters – if you can find an unclaimed island 12 nautical miles beyond any other nation’s territorial limit (and 200 nautical miles from any major economic zones, just to be careful), you could be in business.
As head of state, you’ll probably want to create a constitution, along with a flag, national anthem and currency. Award yourself a decent title too – North Korean dictator Kim Jong-il enjoyed monikers such as ‘Highest Incarnation of the Revolutionary Comradely Love’, ‘Great Sun of The Nation’ and the short but elegant ‘Brilliant Leader’.
Finally, how about joining the UN? Application requires only a fairly standard letter, and to qualify as a member you’ll have to promise to uphold UN principals. Unfortunately you’ll also need two-thirds support from the General Assembly, and backing from the permanent members of the Security Council – that’s where things could get difficult.
No. 84: Saw someone in half
Legend has it that this classic illusion was first performed by a magician named Torrini in 1809 for the delight of Pope Pius VII. Fortunately, no humans need be injured in the making of this dazzling spectacle. A foot model who is willing to maintain their anonymity, however, may come in handy…
Nice though the story is, there is sadly no contemporary evidence for the tale of Torrini performing his trick for dubious papal pleasure. The first properly documented performance took place at St George’s Hall in London as recently as 1920, when one P. T. Selbit entertained an invited audience by locking his assistant in a large wooden case. The coffin-like cabinet was then lifted on to a set of trestles, with Selbit seemingly sawing through the assistant’s midriff, before pulling the sections of the box apart. The assistant was then released from the box and, to everyone’s delight, was shown to be unharmed.
The next great development came when an American magician called Horace Goldin worked out in 1921 how to keep the assistant’s head and feet visible for the duration. Blessed with a well-developed business brain, Goldin secured a patent for his technology and effectively blocked other illusionists from practising the trick in the USA for several years. But unfortunately for him, by applying for the patent he necessarily put his technology into the public domain, allowing anyone interested enough to read all about it.
In subsequent decades, the trick has been performed in ever slicker and more impressive forms, but you can still turn heads (and perhaps a few stomachs) with the Goldin method:
Most importantly, you need a pair of assistants. Tradition says that they should be pretty, female and quite scantily clad (though in this age of equal opportunities, there’s no reason not to dissect men if you so choose). You’ll also need a specially designed wooden cabinet, and a deeper-than-normal table with a hollowed-out top. At the mid-point of the box, there needs to be a footrest that stops about half way down the cabinet’s depth. The bottom half of the cabinet has a discreet trap door that exactly aligns with a similar trapdoor in the top of the table, plus two holes from which the feet appear. The top half of the cabinet has a hole big enough so that a head may stick out of it.
Before your audience arrives, one of your assistants (let’s assume you’re a traditionalist, and call her Assistant Two) needs to secrete herself in the hollowed out table top.
With the audience in place and yearning to be amazed, introduce Assistant One. Over-the-top hand gestures and other signs of flamboyance are not essential but they always go down well and can help distract the audience from thinking too much about what else is going on.
Now open the sturdy locks on the lid of the cabinet and swing it open, allowing Assistant One to slip gracefully into the cabinet.
Now for the ‘magic’. As Assistant One takes up position, spin the table so that the audience can see her head at one end and feet at the other. While the feet end is out of sight for the audience, Assistant One contorts herself so that her own feet are nestling on the footrest, while Assistant Two pokes her feet through the trap doors and puts them through the holes at the bottom of the cabinet (giving the toes a flamboyant wiggle for good measure as they come back into the audience’s view).
Using whatever sawing device you prefer, cut through the middle of the cabinet, just along from the underside of the footrest. You’re effectively cutting through thin air inside the cabinet but Assistant One might like to crank up the tension by giving a blood-curdling scream or two. Now insert a couple of metal plates to hide the cabinet’s interior from view – your audience should believe this is to protect them from the terrible, bloody mess held therein. Finally, pull the top half of the cabinet away from the bottom, and enjoy the gasps of the enraptured crowd.
After milking the applause for as long as you feel comfortable, put the two halves of the cabinet back together again. Remove the metal plates and give the cabinet a tap so that Assistant Two knows she should hide her feet back in the table top. Assistant One can now emerge completely unscathed from the cabinet to yet more applause and adulation.
Excerpted from 100 Things You Will Never Do by Daniel Smith. Copyright © 2013 by Daniel Smith.
First published in 2013 by Quercus, 55 Baker Street, 7th Floor, South Block, London, W1U 8EW.
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