• Dawn Robinson-Walsh

What makes you live to be 100?

Is there an elixir of life which we can all tap into to hit a century (in a good way)? Maybe.

I fell in love with a presentation given by social historian, writer and broadcaster, Tessa Dunlop, at the recent Appledore Book Festival. She was full of fizz, verve and vivacity, passionate about her subject matter which was The Century Girls, a book about women who live to be over 100. These women were super-awesome, so sassy I fancied joining them.

Tessa's research and writing whittled down to six women.

Edna was a domestic servant from Lincolnshire.

Helena was the eldest child of eight in a Welsh farming family.

Olive was one of the first black women to migrate to London after the war; she's from Guyana.

Ann is classified as a London bohemian wordsmith by the author.

Joyce is a Cambridge classicist, who is still working.

Phyllis was a daughter of the British Raj.

Her presentation was peppered with enthralling snippets of interviews and photos, a real peek into the real lives of these real women who lived vital exceptional lives, not in a curing cancer kind of way but in a 'having much to say for themselves' kind of way.

It was a celebration of some women (the propertied classes) gaining the vote in 1918. Wow, what an amazing amount of history these women have lived. Fascinatingly, it was not the War which was key for most of them (that they simply took in their stride).

Really, it takes a certain level of health and determination to live to be 100. Since she wrote the book, three of these centenarians have died, but from a very small number, Tessa's observations about longevity, for anyone who aspires to it, are these:

1. Genetics accounts for about 10%

2. Avoiding the obvious diseases such as heart attacks, cancer, dementia (I added that one in) is vital.

3. Being child-free or certainly having a career /not relying on children to give one's life purpose. No empty-nesting.

4. Having a husband who dies in advance of them, generally much younger. Most of their husbands died younger than they should have due to prevalent smoking-related diseases of the time. Or remaining single. This creates a sense of self-sufficiency in having to do things alone or for oneself.

5. Purpose - this is the biggie. Some of these women were out and about on zimmer frames and wearing incontinence pads but they did not let it stop them from doing what they wanted be it writing a book, travelling, attending meetings, etc.

I haven't read the book yet but bought it for my soon to be 96 ex-mother-in-law, and shall! The lives of extraordinary ordinary women I have always found fascinating, so I can't wait to learn lucid longevity from these ladies.

Will Tessa make it to 100? Well, she has verve. In her mid-40s, she is 3 years into a PhD in Romanian identity and is busy working on her next oral history project. I'd say she stands a very good chance!

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