Town mouse: A brave feat of endurance

Few people deserved a party more than Luke Birch and Jamie Sparks, who were given one in Kensington recently. Old friends, separated by university-they’re undergraduates at Edinburgh and Bristol-they’ve recently spent 54 days in close proximity, completing the Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge. This meant rowing the Atlantic in a boat about the size of a walnut shell. The feat took mental courage as well as physical brawn. After a strong start on leaving the Canary Islands, they found themselves blown practically back to the beginning by bad weather. Sometimes, they faced 40ft waves.

But, on they went, in two-hour shifts. Salty and soaked, they developed-as a video graphically showed us-agonising sores. They hollowed out their foam mattresses to relieve the pressure on tender parts, but, then, the mattresses themselves were washed overboard.

A bad moment was the loss of Jamie’s last iPod. After 3,000 miles, each looked like a cross between Ben Gunn and an Indian guru, but they raised more than £300,000 for Breast Cancer Care, entered Guinness World Records as the youngest rowers to cross an ocean and staggered, with wobbly legs, onto the quayside at Antigua, with a fuller sense of what it means to be alive. I know what my children would say: ‘Epic.’

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