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Normality, conformity and nine-to-five jobs are anathema to Alastair Galpin. He's hell-bent on standing out from the crowd, being noticed and realising extraordinary ambitions.

Yet on a Tuesday morning in the Pt Chevalier Library, Galpin - wearing a colourful jersey and eating a banana - seems the very essence of ... well, ordinariness. He likes it here at the library, the calm, quiet and orderly environment - and he can tell you exactly where to find one book in particular, the Guinness World Records.

After all, his name appears in it many times. Over the past three years, Galpin has claimed 35 world records, and by next Thursday he hopes to have added two more. The 34-year-old's eclectic selection of records includes: most snails on the face (eight in 10 seconds), most rhinestones on the body (31,680), longest handshake (nine hours, 19 minutes), most rubber-bands stretched over the face (62 in one minute) and most stamps licked (57 in one minute).

British-based Guinness World Records, the ultimate authority on extreme achievements, typically files his efforts under the Unusual Skills section of its Amazing Feats category.

Far less charitably, Galpin's activities also feature on irreverent United States websites listing "most ridiculous" and "least impressive" world records, but he is unfazed by critics. "The category which many of my Guinness World Records fall into happens to be ... the wow, the look-at-that-stupid-fool category but remember that there's a lot else in that book," he says.

"The Olympic sports are in there, huge achievements to do with construction, the natural environment, the natural world, intellectual ability." Lest anyone be inclined to extrapolate Galpin's own intellect on the basis of his more low-brow records, the Auckland University science student quickly adds that he is academically minded too.

"I do very well at university actually, so it's not only brainless putting-snails-on-my-face type stuff. I am quite academic at the same time." He typically achieves B-pluses and A-grades and plans to do post-graduate study. So how exactly did his unlikely penchant for the quirky, even the eccentric, evolve?

Galpin believes "the spark could have ignited" at school in his native South Africa, where his lack of sporting talent quickly became clear. He remembers thinking, "I can't hit a cricket ball too well. I can't play soccer too well. I can't play rugby too well. I don't fit in here. Obviously my life is not meant to be going down this route'."

Knowing he wasn't going to make his name in traditional disciplines, he looked beyond the obvious for acclaim. His upbringing in Nelspruit, a border town near Mozambique, sounds like something out of a Boy's Own Annual. "I was a bush boy," he says.

"Instead of going to movies on a Friday night we would go looking for birds and things in the forest with torches." Thanks to the Mozambique Civil War, army trucks and tanks rolling through town and chance encounters with covert government operatives formed part of the everyday backdrop to his childhood.

Then, in his early 20s, Galpin embarked on what he calls "my African run-around." One of his adventures involved stowing away on a supply vessel which was plying up the Mozambique coast. He spent several years hitchhiking up and down the Rift Valley. "I would start in Johannesburg or Addis Ababa or wherever I was at that time and just go hell for leather and see if I could improve on my time the previous occasion," he says.

So began his obsession with setting and beating records. Despite growing up in a virtual war zone and his hair-raising experiences throughout Africa, Galpin describes his shift to New Zealand in 2002 as one of the most challenging chapters in his life. He found being labelled a foreigner and pressure to get a regular job even more taxing. "I just couldn't get into a normal nine to five job and I didn't really want to because I believed that life was bigger than that."

In Kenya in 1998, he'd gained an insight into exactly how expansive life could be when he met rally driver Simon Evans, who had earned a Guinness World Record for winning the Rhino Charge - a gruelling 4WD cross-country rally. "This guy really got to me and that is what triggered the whole record breaking thing. I think he inspired me into thinking: 'there's something more to life than just going home and just going to work type of thing'," says Galpin.

"And seeing the way he behaved and seeing his enthusiasm for thinking 'the world must get out of my way because I want to be at the top "and I'm going to prove it; I'm just going to get out there and do it'."

Putting this philosophy into action, Galpin achieved his first two world records in Auckland in 2005. "I got hold of some wire and some pliers and various other things and a piece of cloth and ... I lifted these with my tongue. I had to hold them there for 10 seconds and they weighed 1.7 kg. It was very painful."

The pain - which "felt as if someone was sticking a sword down my throat" - was worth it though; he became the proud holder of a Guinness World Record for the greatest weight suspended from a human tongue. His second successful stunt (which may have technically been his first because the paperwork arrived early) was for flicking a coin a distance of nine metres.

"I got that certificate in the post before I got the certificate for suspending weight from my tongue," he says. Galpin doesn't have the words to describe how he felt when he first saw his name printed in the book of Guinness World Records.

Normally clean-shaven with neatly cropped hair, Galpin is apologetic about the longer locks he's currently sporting in preparation for a forthcoming attempt at having the longest hair extensions - a record for which a general hirsute look has been deemed desirable. "I know that I'm looking terrible right now. And this beard is horrible and orange and with grey," he says. "I'm very self-conscious like this. I cannot cut it off for the hair extensions. This is my dedication to records."

Galpin will attempt to have six metres of hair extensions attached to his head on November 13, the official World Guiness Records Day. (He will also attempt to smash the most plates in one minute.) Galpin is the first to admit his line of work is a collaborative affair. "Probably half the kudos that might be given to me shouldn't be given to me. It should be given to the people who help me." He gives the example of his hugging record; there were the 624 people he hugged and then another 15 people "behind the scenes".

Successful record breaking is always a finely tuned and carefully choreographed exercise. In some ways, it's less about the actual one minute spent, say, snapping cucumbers, pulling on underpants or eating jelly with chopsticks - all records which have been broken by Galpin - and more about the preparation beforehand and then the subsequent gathering together of the evidential documentation.

"Breaking world records is not as easy as it sounds," says Galpin. "It requires dedication and extreme commitment. I normally send off between 50 and 100 sheets of paper to the UK with every world record. Some of those have got to be verified by the police or JPs."

As far as the administration was concerned, the record he set for blowing a golf ball a distance of almost two metres was the most demanding. "Blowing the thing is one, two, three - easy.

The paperwork before that took me about 10 months," he says. "And that, I think, separates the men from the boys because there are plenty of people who think: 'oh, we're going to break a record'. And then when they get into it they realise 'I need this verified document. I need this person at this time and that person at this time...'." As his record breaking career matures, Galpin is keen to link his efforts with various social and environmental causes.

In August this year he led a team which made 25,200 litres of vegetable soup, achieving a world record and feeding the South Auckland communities of Clendon, Otara and Manurewa in the process. "It filled a road tanker," says Galpin.

Dropping pokie machines from a helicopter was a stunt he performed to generate publicity for the Problem Gambling Foundation of New Zealand. Guinness World Records, clearly wanting no part of destruction by helicopter, declined it but an alternative organisation called Record Holders Republic was happy to accept it. This adrenalin-inducing record remains one of Galpin's favourites.

Now at the point where he's earning a living from record setting and breaking, he's open to suggestions from corporations and charities. There are only two deal breakers: he doesn't do nudity and he won't risk permanent injury.

Although he devotes up to 25 hours a week to his world records, he doesn't want to be known for them alone. He has other projects that are equally important, he insists. They include spearheading a venture aimed at making houses more sustainable.

"I'm working on a big sustainability project that involves universities and consultants in different parts of the country." He'd like to think that eventually this project, his studies in human geography and his records will all become connected in some mutually beneficial way. Until then, he realises that it's inevitable his world records will continue to garner the most attention. It's a source of some frustration.

"They don't see the rest of me. It's almost the same as a special needs child. People see the disability. They don't see the personality and the individual." But somehow Galpin gives the impression that, despite the intense nervousness that plagues him just before an event, he's addicted to record breaking, and that he'd continue to do it even without the publicity and the good causes.

"Correct. It is my thing," he says. So does he hold the world record for breaking the most world records, then? "I know I'm somewhere near the top. Although there is a man called Ashrita Furman who lives in New York. He has got the most Guinness World Records and he is an amazing man."

Furman's website says he's set 209 world records. On Galpin's wishlist of world records to knock off in the future are the furthest pizza delivery (from New Zealand to Spain), highest dive into a barrel of offal (which he may tie into promoting animal welfare or the meat industry) and the fastest furniture. That's right, a motorised bed is coming to a motorway near you, courtesy of Galpin.

"World records is an avenue in order for somebody to express themselves in a way that is larger than life. It's a way to reach up above the level of many people in the crowd and to stand out and be satisfied by things ... which may be not in reach of the average person," he says.

"I don't want to be another normal person in the sense that I just live and die. I want to be someone who makes a mark, who contributes something."

Believe it or not
Ten of the most bizarre world records

1 Most toilet lid seats broken: American Kevin Shelley broke 47 wooden toilet seat lids with his head on September 1, 2007.

2 Most underpants worn: Australian Joel Nathan pulled on 20 pairs of underpants in one minute on July 27, 2007.

3Largest custard pie fight: 105 participants flung flans at a pie fight organised in New South Wales, Australia, on July 11, 2007.

4 Clothes pegs clipped on a hand in one minute: Mohammed Ahmed Elkhouly from the United Arab Emirates pinned 48 pegs to one of his hands in Dubai on April 21, 2007.

5 Most apples chopped in the air using a sword: Martial arts master Kenneth Lee from the United States cut 23 apples in the air in one minute using a samarai sword on September 14, 2006.

6 Most lives saved by a parrot: A grey parrot named Charlie woke his owner when her home in Durham, Britain, caught fire in December 1999. His alert allowed the woman to get herself and her five children to safety. However, Charlie wasn't so lucky - he died in the inferno.

7 Bus pulling with ears: British man Manjit Singh pulled a single-decker bus a record 6.1m with cables attached to his ears on March 31, 2008.

8 Most yo-yos spun at once: Eric Lindeen from Sweden was able to keep a total of nine yo-yos spinning simultaneously on hooks on November 4, 2006.

9 Longest string of apple pips: The largest string of apple pips is 250m long and was completed by Zdzislawa Szydlowska of Poland on May 28, 2001.

10 Sharing a bathtub with the most rattlesnakes: American Jackie Bibby sat in a bathtub with 87 snakes for 45 minutes on November 5, 2007.