Living to be 110 is all very well, but the advantage of being dead is that I won't have to clean the juicer

Have you heard about "clean slate syndrome"? It is - reputedly - a new psychotherapeutic term invented to deal with the tendency for married people to respond to the onset of the "new millennium" by getting divorced. Britain already has one of the highest divorce rates in the world, but it seems that even the flu epidemic is failing to halt another huge increase. People are struggling out of their sickbeds to see their lawyers.

It sounded ridiculous when I first heard about it. My own attempt at clean slate syndrome was a resolution to sort out my office - and even this is still in the conceptual stage. But when you start thinking about it, the advantages become clearer. I suspect, for example, if you asked people whether they would like to commemorate 2000 by getting divorced or by visiting the Millennium Dome, you might get some surprising responses. On the one hand you have a day taken up in queues and spending lots of money, and then it's over. On the other hand, as Woody Allen put it, a divorce is something you have your whole life. One counsellor was quoted as saying that people are packing their bags and leaving because they can't bear the idea of another year like the last one. I understand completely. The flaw in the argument as far as I am concerned is that if I packed my bags and left, I'd still be there. One of the great scientific achievements of the new millennium will be that you can pack your bags and leave your own body. The family will come down to breakfast and there will be somebody there looking like Sean French being grumpy, but the real Sean French will be occupying the body of a lithe 20-year-old man on the beach in Copacabana (or maybe the body of a 20-year-old woman - I need to talk that one over with my analyst).

In the meantime, I have to make do with the body I've got and I was riveted by a recent Observer article on 110 ways to live to be 110. I got stuck immediately on number one. "Have one or preferably two long-lived parents (85 plus)." I don't know yet, but I think I'll have to get them to look after themselves a bit better. (The jazz pianist Eubie Blake said on his 100th birthday that if he'd known he was going to live that long, he'd have taken better care of himself.) Looking beyond my parents to my grandparents, the news is not so good. My Swedish grandfather lived to be 92. My Swedish grandmother died in her early eighties, but I think if it hadn't been for the strain of looking after my grandfather she would have lived much longer, so that doesn't count. My British grandparents both died before they were 70, which is bad news for me (but was much worse news for them). But, in fact, having read the other 109 rules, I realise that their lives were so unhealthy that they must have been fantastically strong to live as long as they did, so their years have to be counted almost as dog years and their 69 years really count as about 95.

Apparently, your Body Mass Index is crucial. You take your weight in kilos and multiply it by the square of your height in metres. Using a tape measure, I worked out that I am 1.8 metres tall, which squares to 3.24. I multiplied that by 23, which came out as 74.52. Is that what I weigh? Haven't a clue. I tried to convert it. First I came out as weighing 33 pounds, which didn't seem right. But then it came out as 12 stone, four pounds, and I think I was about 12 and a half stone when I last weighed myself years ago. I probably had lots of clothes and shoes on, so I clearly fall well within the healthy parameters.

Nobody could follow all the rules, but I think I'm doing pretty well. "Enjoy a guilt-free glass or two of wine in the evening." Check. "Avoid binge drinking (5 units or more)." Check - except that the 5 was clearly a misprint for 15. Some rules I've partially achieved: "Buy a juicer and have a 240ml glass of both fruit and vegetable juice every day." I'm halfway there. I bought a juicer years ago, but have you ever tried to clean a juicer? Faced with the idea of doing it every day, premature death seems positively attractive. ("We will receive no letters in the grave," Dr Johnson said, but if he were alive today he would say: "We will clean no juicers in the grave.")

"Train yourself to look on food as a source of pleasure rather than guilt or anxiety." I can manage that without training. It reminds me of when I was a sixth-former and we had to show prospective parents round the school. One earnest father asked a friend of mine if there was a problem with drugs in the school. "No," my friend replied. "No problem at all."

This article first appeared in The plot to keep us puffing

2000-01-17