On Sunday I visited my mother in her new care home, who seems to be settling in well.  She likes the roast lunches that the home has delivered in on Sundays, but tends to eat them alone in her own flat.  In order to get her out and mingling with the other residents, I suggested that she asked the carers to take her lunch to the dining room instead.  She agreed, but only if I ordered a lunch and ate with her.

So it was that Stevie, feeling suddenly quite youthful at 58, sat eating roast pork last Sunday in the main dining room of the care home.  On our table apart from Mum, 92, was Norma aged 96, and Joyce, aged 104.  Joyce, I soon realised, must have been born in the year that the Titanic sank! I was amazed at this lady; she still had all her marbles, although could not see or hear very well.  She sat in a wheelchair next to Mum.

After we had all introduced ourselves, the carers brought round the lunches.  Joyce looked at me and the conversation went something like this:

Joyce:  Is there any meat on my plate?

Me:  Er…yes, there’s a few slices of pork.

Joyce:  Get rid of it.  They never listen!

Me:  What do you want me to do with it?

Joyce: Pick it out and put it on another plate.  Give it to somebody else!

Me: Don’t you eat meat, then?

Joyce : Never touch the stuff!  Why do you think I’ve lived so long?

I smiled at Joyce and did as she asked, but that leaves the question “Does being a vegetarian make you live any longer?”  Mum, eager than most to die and escape from a body which no longer obeys her commands, has eaten meat all her life and is still living at 92, so there could be many reasons why Joyce hasn’t succumbed to disease and old age.  Good genes inherited from healthy long-living parents may have something to do with it, but then again a healthy diet also plays a large part in longevity.  Too much processed meat, saturated fat and a high-sugar diet means that successive generations might die younger than elderly people who have coped with a frugal wartime diet and years of food rationing.

A.J Cronin in his Keys of the Kingdom novel writes a great phrase  for his main protagonist –  ‘Eat less – the gates of heaven are narrow.’  Maybe he’s right!

What do you consider is the key to a long and healthy life?  Mum thinks she’s lived so long because of the small glass of sherry she’s had every evening for the past 40 years since Dad died. Poor old Dad checked out at 49, but had worked for years in a chrome-plating factory as a young man, where his overalls rotted within months due to the chemicals used there.  His brother, who had worked there all his life, died at exactly the same age as Dad.  We are not only what we eat (and drink?), but also what environment we live in and work in.  Perhaps Joyce has just been lucky…who knows?

Added to this is the question of whether you would want to live to 104 if your senses were diminished and you were either bed-bound or confined to a wheelchair.  However, Joyce didn’t seem particularly unhappy with her life.  Dad and his brother were spared the perils of ageing, but never got to meet their grandchildren or great-grandchildren.  Who’s had the best lot in life out of Mum, Dad, or Joyce?  There’s a question!