In the 1960’s fewer than 300 people in Britain had reached the age of one hundred. Today there are more than 6,000, a number expected to swell to 40,000 in thirty years time. Stephen Moss of The Guardian interviewed eight centenarians to ask them what it feels like to be so old.
Harry Walker who lives in a care home in Worcestershire suggests that it is great fun, being old. In earlier years he was a teacher but also- a keen sports man himself- he became a regular sports commentator for the B.B.C. Headmaster of four different schools, he is still visited by some of his ex-pupils. ‘On my 100th.birthday I had three letters from girls I had taught in the early 1930’s. Then last week one of the them rang me up and said, Mr walker, you don’t remember me, but you taught me and I should love to come and see you….I don’t fear death at all. I can’t say I am a religious person, but I believe there’s something waiting for me.’
Lotte Erde lives in a nursing home in Nottinghamshire, having lived much of her life in hotels managed by her husband.
‘I had ups and downs as you always do, but on the whole I had a very happy life…I couldn’t live in a better place than this’ she says. She always knew she would reach a hundred. ‘I’m healthy; I’ve eaten properly; we were brought up fairly strictly to understand that we should walk if we wanted to go somewhere. When I wanted a bicycle, my father said, if you were born with wheels you’d have a bicycle, but you’ve got good strong legs and they’re to walk on’.
Harold and Lucy Allgood live in their bungalow in Weymouth. At seventy years, they are Britain’s longest-married couple. Harold was in the navy for thirty years and then re-trained as an accountant. They married hurriedly without much approval from their families; they were together for only six weeks before he was posted to China.
‘Children have more chance, more hope, they’re better educated’ says Lucy. ‘they’ve more to look forward to. They live their own lives, they have their own choice and they must abide by what happens to them. I don’t want to live the old ways. They were too rigid. I don’t want to go back, I’d rather go forward.’
Nora Hardwick lives in Lincolnshire and is a local celebrity. A councillor for 39 years, she still runs the local whist drive, raises money for charity and drives her car (‘I’ve had a few bumps’ she says!). She doesn’t think at all about her age. ‘I don’t feel any different than when I was in my seventies, apart from I can’t walk so well….I try to look forwards. It’s other people who made the fuss about my birthday’ Nora had been to several funerals recently of people much younger than she.
‘I don’t think I’ll go to any funerals’ she says.’I’ll not go until I go to my own.’