Friday, 27 June 2014

Five Days in London

Five Days in London, May 1940

John Lukacs. Yale University Press, New Haven.1999. pp XVI + 236, Photos.

This review was written on June 30th 2005

I had lunch with Eda Sagarra in May 2005. I had met her at a lecture by Eunan O’Halpin at the Bank of Ireland and she appeared to be anxious to meet with me again - hence a luncheon at her home a few days later. She is a Fellow of Trinity College where she had been a Professor in German. Surprisingly, for a distinguished academic, she is a keen and frequent golfer. Amongst other things, she spoke admiringly about Winston Churchill and his decision to continue fighting after Dunkirk despite the opposition of many of his colleagues. The conversation led me to this book.

The book is interesting with its principal theme the decision the British authorities needed to make within a few urgent days about continuing the war after the disaster of the successful German offensive in the West in May 1940. The five days preceded the relatively successful Dunkirk evacuation, and decisions had to be made about continuing the war when it seemed likely that few if any of the surrounded British army would escape from the continent. There were many doves among the leaders who would seek a capitulation but Churchill was adamant that, despite the apparently hopeless situation, Britain and its Commonwealth countries would eventually prevail. It required five days of hectic meetings to reach a decision but one felt that Churchill was never likely to capitulate, even if all his colleagues wished to do so. He gradually wore the doves down and received a prolonged ovation from his colleagues at the last meeting when the decision to continue the war was agreed.

Much of the later pages are taken up by a description of the extraordinary success of the Dunkirk evacuation when more  than 400,000 British and French soldiers were successfully evacuated, not only because of the Trojan response of the British at home but also, strangely, by Hitler’s decision to halt the attack on the British forces for two days. Without this extraordinary decision, much fewer would have reached the shores of England and the casualties would have been very much greater. It was a seminal moment in the history of Europe and of the world.

I enjoyed the book and at times felt a little of the tension which must have prevailed during these five days. The Hinge of Fate is surely a most appropriate title of the first chapter of the book, and Survival is equally the appropriate title of the last chapter which describes the Dunkirk evacuation in some detail.

Friday, 20 June 2014

2050 - a man talks to his son about birds.

In the year 2050 Joe Garland talks to his five year-old boy about birds.

Joe on his garden swing at Tigroney when he was four
Joe Garland was born on the 24 of March 2010. He was born and bred in his parent’s house in the townland of Tigroney in the hills above the village of Avoca in the County of Wicklow in Ireland. When he reached the age of 18 his parents and sisters, Molly, and Rosie, moved to a more commodious house with a fairly large kitchen garden near the old motorway near Arklow. Joe remained in the family home in Tigroney and was to continue there during his years of apprenticeship and after he was appointed to a position in an internet company where he was to remain for the rest of his life.

The area he lived had been quite isolated when he was born but it is now in mid-century quite densely populated by new houses and shacks because of the major shift in population caused by the disastrous flooding of our low-lying towns and cities and the more than doubling of the Irish population during the last 50 years. This rapid increase in population was partly due to the arrival of some of the millions of people who were dispossessed worldwide from their coastal homes by the rising ocean and the more frequent and severe storms.

Most of the countryside in Ireland provides opportunities for people to grow their own food and vegetables so that by mid-century they are not too greatly affected by the increasing shortage of commercially produced products. The building of numerous country habitations is widespread by using old estates, waste land, deserted golf courses, unused airdromes, old public parks and some divided farms.  There is a lot of linear housing built along parts of the motorways and main roads now that motor traffic is no longer a feature of the countryside.

Joe seldom leaves the house as his occupation is entirely conducted by electronic means. Shopping is almost solely local or by internet, and smart phones and advances in the internet area have largely eliminated the use of cash and postage. The prohibition of private cars using unsustainable energy has been effective and anyway it and train travel are prohibitively expensive. You can travel to Dublin from Avoca by bike on the old Wexford motorway or by cycling to Rathdrum or Rathnew to catch a train to Dublin but there are only two trains every week connecting the port of Rosslare and Dublin, one on Wednesday and the other on Saturday. They are mostly used for transporting of goods or the rare traveller from abroad.

It was at an international meeting in New York in September in 2014 that the world’s political leaders and governmental authorities took the first serious steps to reverse the damage to the environment and the great loss of wild animal and vegetable life caused by human greed and behaviour.  These more advanced policies were at last accepted by the world’s leaders as the basis of the destruction of the flora and fauna of the world. It was realised that we were faced with the danger of creating a planet which might no longer be consistent with human habitation.  The advances in the internet have greatly contributed to the virtual abolition of motor traffic and particularly the private motor car, and to all unnecessary flying.

There is now an emphasis on human life based on local and community structures freed from the use of non-sustainable energy rather than a worldwide community based on the abuse of nature’s limited resources. There is an increasing emphasis too on the urgency of human population control which has already reached 9 billion, a level which is at last widely accepted as unsustainable within the limited resources of the earth. 

Important changes in community life have now taken place, at least in Ireland and other first level countries. The old established motorways are now used largely by cyclists and the horse is again coming into its own for shorter travellers. The bicycle, skaters and scooters have made great strides in technology and efficiency, and progress in this area has been remarkable and happily this progress continues. A recent scooter is believed to have done the trip of 60 kilometres from Arklow to Dún Laoghaire in Dublin in less than two hours and to have returned on the same day!

Timber, and particularly ash, has almost entirely replaced metal for bicycle frames but its use is a further drain on our vital but inadequate sources of timber, despite the efforts of the government and the local people to ban all efforts to burn wood for heating purposes.

The shortage of timber is a reason why we need a permit to cut trees while small new plantations are encouraged by government grants. No acorn must be allowed to rot! The use of timber as a source of heat is being strongly discouraged and domestic heating in now largely dependent on adequate clothing and house design. We are back to drying clothes on the line and we are learning again to use the skills of the seamstress or of our family members to repair all our serviceable clothes. The collection and storage of water for washing and cleaning is routine since the use by all habitations of a rainwater butt.

There are still a few bogs but the use of turf for fires and heating in general has long since passed. The remaining bogs are still under the control of the Irish Peatland Association and are strictly preserved as a reminder of our traditional dependence on turf as fuel and of peatland as part of our countrywide heritage. The widespread areas of cutaway bog are in increasing use for certain aspects of food production.

Added to his work, Joe has a great influence as founder and chairman of the local Tigroney Allotments and Tree Committee which is concerned with guiding the local people to grow their own vegetables and fruit. Joe also organises the weekly market to arrange the distribution of produce among the inhabitants and to ensure that the less abled are also cared for.  By the year 2050 there is little opportunity to eat meat in the form of lamb or beef because of insufficient land availability but the pig still survives and the recovery of the horse trade has now popularised the horse as another source of meat.  The big supermarkets Joe knew as a child are long since gone, at least in the countryside and most of the towns in Ireland.

The Tigroney Committee is also concerned with the building of new cottages and country houses. Local trees and stone must be the main sources for building and other utility purposes. Every effort is being made to ensure that trees are being planted and cared for in available sites in the area.

The Kindle and the internet approach to reading have left us with millions of books which are no longer of common use and hardback publishers have largely gone out of business. These books are now becoming useful as the inner contents of the cottage walls to retain heat loss in the absence of artificial heating. Some day a few of our prestigious libraries may end up as the contents of our walls rather than our shelves!

Important sustainable development is proceeding gradually through the production of solar and wind energy. This is one of the most promising aspects of progress in protecting all sustainable energy sources and already much has been achieved in this area and more is expected. Using more advanced design and cheaper materials are promising in the utilisation of wind and solar energy in the future.

Joe's cottage in Tigroney
Joe married at the age of 35 and has one child, a boy of five also named Joe. Like nearly all women between the ages of 14 and 50, his wife is on the long-acting anovular pill which is distributed free of charge by the government, and is supplied every six months to each appropriate household. Among the 60 odd habitations in Tigroney only one house has two children less than 10 years and less than half of the others have one child only in this age group. With the increasing concern about the excess of human population, hopefully the majority of young people will make the supreme sacrifice of remaining childless.

Like many other people, by the mid-century Joe’s house has become the repository of many portraits and figures of animals and particularly of birds, reminders of our depleted wildlife. He has one elaborate figure in bronze of six birds close together in flight. One day recently his young boy was looking at the bronze figure and said to his dad "and used they be able to fly like that?"

"Yes," said his dad with a note of sadness, "all these birds used to fly like the big pigeon which you saw over the river a few weeks back when we were walking near Avoca, and the couple of white birds we saw near Arklow which I said were sea-gulls."

"Some birds used to spend most of their waking hours flying, seeking the company of other birds and seeking food and shelter. They used to shelter and sleep in nests in the trees and bushes and sometimes in the roofs of houses. There were many different birds from tiny sparrows to the large swans, two of which you see in that picture. When your grandfather was alive and young they had a lot of birds around the house, flying all over the place and all with different cries and sounds which were easy to recognise among the different species. One bird which used to come to Ireland during the early summer was called the cuckoo because it made this cuckoo sound which I am copying exactly when I say ‘cuckoo’’.

"It was possible for most people to recognise the different birds by their well-known sounds. The birds laid eggs in their nests and after looking after the eggs and keeping them warm for some time a young bird was born when the egg cracked."

"And what happened to the birds and why are they not still here?" said Joe

"It was already happening about the time I was a boy and the reasons are not easy to explain, but my granddad once told my dad that when he was young the air in the atmosphere was full of flies, bees, wasps, lady birds and other insects. A hundred years ago it was necessary to use sticky hangers in the kitchen to catch the flies in the house and when you were driving a car in the countryside you had to stop at times to clean the car window from all the insects which stuck to the glass. Because people began to use all kinds of newly invented and newly arrived chemicals in gardens and farms and other places to encourage growth and prevent new plant diseases, nearly all the insects disappeared. The flies and insects were the most important source of food for the birds, so they were eventually starved and could not survive."

"There were other causes too such as the loss of nests because of so many new buildings and the more intensive usage of the newly built up areas. Because all the flying and foreign travel which developed in the past, a lot of foreign animals and insects which arrived in Ireland from America, Australia, and Africa had no natural enemies to control them and started to compete with the birds and our own native animals, such as the red squirrels which did no harm to birds or trees.  For example, the grey squirrel arrived in Ireland from America more than a hundred years ago and they used to attack the harmless red squirrels and eat the bird’s eggs which they find in the trees. "

"There may be other causes which we do not understand. For instance, in the old days we had total darkness at night in most places but artificial light may have upset the habits of birds, insects and other wild life. But the main cause was probably the chemicals which we were using in our houses, farms, towns and countryside, and the loss of suitable areas for birds to nest in."

A Bee in Joe's garden in 2014
"We also used to have bees in special boxes called beehives where the bees collected honey from flowers in the gardens and countryside. Honey was like jam and was very popular everywhere. The bees disappeared gradually over the last fifty years and can only be found now in a few areas in the world. Your great grandfather told your grandfather that they used to have beehives in their garden in their home in Rathmines right in the heart of Dublin a hundred years ago and you could find beehives all over Ireland at that time. They also had a big kitchen garden in Rathmines, a lot of fruit trees, some hens for their own eggs and chickens, and lots of flowers to feed the bees – all virtually in the middle of this inner suburb of the city!"

"There were other common birds who visited Ireland at certain times of the year. Some of these came in huge numbers but they too have almost disappeared because of serious changes in the world weather like heat waves and severe storms and because of water shortage caused by drying up of rivers and lakes in other countries where the water was overused by too many farmers and industry. The migrant birds depended on these rivers and lakes to survive on their journeys to or back from Ireland. These foreign birds were mostly found near the coast here. Your grandfather was telling me that when they arrived from Greenland to winter in Ireland they could be found in thousands and thousands on golf courses, fields and on the farms close to the sea."

"We used to have many sorts of sea birds. They were called seagulls and they were seen in great numbers by the sea. They lived mostly on fish. They used to nest on rocks and islands all over the country beside the sea and only came into the land when the weather was very bad, The Saltee islands not far from here in Wexford used to have thousands of birds nests on their cliffs and rocks but most of these nests were destroyed by the storms and hurricanes which started to happen when I was growing up. You can see a few of these birds yet but they are much less common than they were when I was born. They were also affected by the shortage of the fish on which they depended and, in the Saltees at least, by hungry wild cats."

His father stopped talking and as the little boy looked up towards the empty sky he too looked sad.

Friday, 13 June 2014

Almost a Rebellion.

Almost a Rebellion – The Irish Army Mutiny of 1924. Maryann Gialanella Valiulis. Tower Books of Cork, 1985. (HB&SB rare)

This review was written on January 7th 2013

This book is a study of the Irish army mutiny of 1924. According to the author, the event led to the establishment of civilian authority over the military in post-revolutionary Ireland. It was Maryann’s first contact with our family. She had been a scholar in Chicago University and the subject of the Mutiny was proposed by the professor of history in her faculty. It is by far the most authoritative account of this largely neglected subject. It clearly outlines my father, Richard Mulcahy’s determination that the national army should emerge from Civil War as an apolitical body and the protector of our democratic and national institutions. Its publication was to lead to the family’s invitation to Maryann to undertake Dad’s biography in 1992, a much overdue task which was urged on him by his friends and historians without success before his death in 1971.

Collins’s death was to leave some of the very loyal members of his squad at a great loss. They were the members of his squad who were responsible for, among other things, his important intelligence work and the execution of a number of British spies during the War of Independence. They failed to be reconciled to Mulcahy’s leadership after Collins died and during the  period immediately after the Civil War ended they objected to his efforts to dismiss them when, as Minister for Defence,  he needed to reduce the army from more that 50,000 officers and men during the Civil War to about 15,000 after the War finished.  He was aware of the Collins squad’s important role in Dublin in a revolutionary army but he thought some of them as unsuitable for service in a peacetime force responsible for protecting the demarcated institution of the new State.  Even Collins before he died was critical of their new role in the national army and he was to support the transfer of some of them to Kerry during the Civil War.

Mulcahy inspecting National Army troops.
Mulcahy made it clear that the national army was to remain apolitical, committed to the nation’s democratic institutions and organised along the lines of armies loyal to democratic countries such as Britain and Germany. The mutiny organised by some of the members of Collins’s squad was a serious threat to the stability of the Free State Government and in my father’s view, they constituted a threat to the fragile State by reducing the prestige of the National Army and thus endangering or encouraging the anti-Civil War veterans to resume their military opposition to the government. The Civil War had finished in May 1923 but the anti-Treaty arms were never surrendered to the National Army nor to the state.

The National Army included several experienced members who had fought for Britain during the Great War and who subsequently joined the IRA after their return to Ireland after the armistice in 1918.  They contributed to the successful organisation of the National Army before and during the Civil War and to the capture of Dublin City from the irregulars at the end of June 1922. One was my father’s brother Paddy who had spent 3 years in the trenches as a sapper and who survived with much evidence of shrapnel (seen subsequently on X-ray) but no serious injury.  He joined the north Tipperary Brigade of the IRA on his return to Ireland and was eventually to become Chief of Staff in the 1950s, 30 years after my father occupied the post!

Those who were involved in the ‘’Mutiny’’ were supported by one minister of the Cabinet and a few of the Free State members of parliament. They resigned from parliament in protest. The cabinet was in a serious position in dealing with the mutineers and adopted the decision of sacking the mutineers but also sacking the senior officers of the army and obliging the Minister for Defence, Mulcahy, to resign. It was a drastic action by the Cabinet to dismiss the recalcitrant mutineers and also the senior members of the Army. When I asked my father why he resigned, he said ‘’It was with the Grace of God that I resigned’’. With the fragile state of the new government he implied that if the cabinet had taken any other line we might well have gone back to war with the anti-treaty IRA. His papers in the UCD Archives testify to the high opinion expressed by some of his admirers following his forced resignation.

Kevin O'Higgins
Maryann’s history records the setting up of an enquiry by the cabinet to report on the affair. It was a sop to both sides. The Collins ‘’mutineers’’ refused to attend to give witness nor did Kevin O’Higgins. He was Minister for Finance in the Cabinet and my father’s chief antagonist in the affair. The senior officers in the army were absolved from any blame and my father, subjected to some carping criticism by the chairman of the enquiry, was not subjected to any serious criticism. In his many difficulties as the minister responsible for reducing the size of the army of more than 50,000 officers and men to 15,000, at a time of severe recession and unemployment created largely by the Civil War, he was fortunate to have avoided too much trauma, apart from his loss of income. He continued to receive the support of his many supporters in the Cumann na nGaedheal Party who were responsible for having him restored to the cabinet at the next General Election in 1927

Following his resignation and the next three years before he was restored to the Cabinet, he occupied the back benches. He said to me about these years, in his usual picturesque, almost poetical way

I walked the four corners of Ireland without guard or gun and I never got as much as a slap on the face!

The  army enroute to take over Begger's Bush barracks.
Considering that he was the acknowledged architect of the defeat of the anti-Treaty IRA, his invulnerability may seem remarkable during these bitter and unstable early days of the State but it may have its basis in his reputation as head of the army from its first formation in March 1918. During these six years he was head of the Army for five years (except when Collins, as head of state was Commander-in-Chief for six weeks before his death) and he was Minister for Defence for 2.5 years, partly overlapping his military position.

Thursday, 5 June 2014

Life can be very long

The Challenge of Longevity

Written on March 12th 2014

Life expectation at birth in Ireland in males and females was approximately the same at about 50 years at the end of the 19th century. Early in the 20th century life expectation began to increase and continued gradually during the next 106 years when the census that year confirmed mortality among males of 76.8 years and 81.6 years in females. This increase could be attributed on the one hand to a big fall in infant mortality and to the successful control of most of the epidemic diseases in the 1920s and 1930s. My colleagues and I in our paper published by the American Journal of Public Health in 1970 studied the smoking habits and mortality data in 15 different countries and we were able to conclude that the recent mortality disparity between men and women could be largely if not entirely attributed to cigarette smoking among men after the last war.

The cigarette habit had increased dramatically among men after the war thanks to the influence of the Americans and British who were generous in supplying cigarettes to the troops and subsequently to widespread advertising by the industry.   However, it is now clear from recent data that the disparity is now falling again and it should eventually fall to a more equal level as cigarette smoking is falling rapidly among middle aged men. Also it is clear that the current cigarette is less lethal because of the use of the filter and the reduction in nicotine, tar and carbon monoxide.

It is anticipated that the results of the last census in 2010 in Ireland will show a further improvement in life expectation and a further narrowing in the disparity between men and women. In an attempt to understand the continued improvement in life expectation of both sexes, it seems worth listing the lifestyle and environmental factors which may account for the continued upward survival trend.  I am speculating in this essay on the possible opportunities of maintaining the continued rise in life expectation above the current 2006 figures by studying the life style and other factors which may be relevant to changes in human survival.

Infant mortality continues to be an important factor, having fallen from 78 per thousand after the war to a remarkable figure of 3 in 2009 and 4 in 2010 in Ireland. The figure of 3 was the lowest ever recorded in these islands. Infant mortality has obviously reached an optimum level of control.

The following list includes, firstly, the factors which are likely to contribute to the continued improvement in life expectation and, secondly, the factors which I believe are responsible for our failure to reach our optimum age. For the sake of studying the optimum age of humans I have suggested 95 years when 50% of the population will have died whatever the mode of death recorded on the death certificate.

We need to look at the human gene and its influence on longevity, How fixed is it in terms of years of survival and in its distribution around a nominal figure of, say, 95 years? And what are the prospects of increasing the survival capacity of the human gene through research? And, indeed, would it be wise if we were to extend human life through genetic manipulation? I think on this issue that I would be a vigorous opponent.

It is necessary to identify all known risk factors affecting health and survival and to give each an estimated figure of the effect it may have in shortening or prolonging life within the population. Striking a single figure might represent the mean or average of each risk factor in terms of quantity or quality. It would obviously be an empirical estimate and subject to major error but the potential errors inherent in such an approach might tend to even out when all factors are taken into account in estimating a composite influence on survival. My opinions are based on my reading, my experience as a physician, my international role as a medical epidemiologist and my social contacts over the last 70 or more years.

The following factors are proposed as affecting survival with the estimated influence they may have in figures of years:

Education, Those with a 3rd level education in the UK have a greater survival rate than those with a first education. I assume the same applies to Ireland. Benefit - 3 years.

Good housing, less air pollution, and better heating, water supply, hygiene, dental care. Benefit - 0.5 years or less survival for each factor. Obviously these are intimately related to each other and to other factors such as education, wealth and possibly medical care.

Nutrition.  Meat from domestic sources including beef, lamb, pork and high saturated fat foods shorten life. It is likely that the traditional Anglo-Irish emphasis on a high meat diet may be changing to more European foods which contain less saturated fat and salt and with a greater intake of vegetables and fruit. Vegetarians and vegans are extreme examples of the benefits of diet. Dietary changes may account for some of the progressive improvement in life expectation. Proposed benefit of healthy nutrition - 4 years.

Salt. The recent substantial rise in life expectation might be partly related to the gradual reduction in salt in commercial foods and on the table.  There is no doubt that the very high salt intake I recall in the 1930s and 1940s contributed to the frequency of stomach cancer (then the commonest cancer in the population and now one of the rarest)) and hypertension and possibly to heart disease and other chronic diseases – Risk of lifetime high salt intake - 5 years.

Alcohol – more than 21 units weekly over the long-term. This figure includes all those who are deemed to be alcoholics. Risk excess - 4 years.

Obesity. Weight at or above BMI of 30. Risk - 3 years

Medical intervention and the longer survival of the old and the decrepit, including Ivan Illich’s concept of the living death, must contribute to longer life expectation. Fifty or 60 years ago older people who were debilitated and who developed an illness usually died fairly soon afterwards. Nowadays older people can be kept alive for months or years by medical means and better nursing, even if quality of life may be reduced. The contribution of medical intervention (including health education) is particularly difficult to quantify. Clearly preventive medicine in terms of health education is very important in terms of survival, although the increasingly popular health checks, which are widely advertised by private hospitals and clinics, are of very doubtful value and are generally discouraged on the grounds of poor efficacy, unnecessary medical intervention and expense.

Intervention in terms of drugs and surgery obviously contribute to better health and survival but we have to add iatrogenic problems and unnecessary intervention to the equation when we are studying longevity. In aiming at better life expectancy I would give the figure 7 to medicine in general of which 4 or more I would contribute to medical education and 3 or less to medical intervention, Medical education and medical intervention have certainly contributed to quality of life. Total benefit - 7 years

Aerobic exercise or a lifetime programme starting as late as 45 or 50 years of aerobic exercise equivalent to 5 hours walking a week or more at an optimum rate for age has been shown in many studies to benefit longevity. Occupational and anaerobic exercise does not provide the same benefit. Benefit of aerobic exercise – 4 years.

Family history (this figure is based on our own work among patients with coronary disease) We found that it is the habits shared in families which provide the risk factors for heart disease except in the rare case where an abnormal cholesterol profile of genetic origin is found in some or all members of a family. For example, smoking is an example which was often a shared habit in households while other families tend to be non-smokers.  Nutrition is another obvious shared factor. It is likely that family habits may impinge on more than heart disease, stroke and cancer, the three biggest killers. The benefit of family history is minimal but when heart disease was so prevalent 30-40 tears ago it was not unexpected to find more that one case in a family. Risk not relevant

Cigarette smoking (20 a day or more from the age of 18 inhaling) I would posit a very substantial adverse effect of cigarette smoking on survival from my experience, both as a physician and a social observer, That was thirty years or more ago, when cigarette smoking was so widespread among middle aged males and before the habit had begun to decline and the cigarette became less lethal, Some such smokers died in the thirties and forties and many died in the fifties and sixties. I would posit that 50% of all men at that time who continued to smoke and inhale 20 or more cigarettes a day would be dead between 60 and 65 years. My estimate for lifetime smokers would be 25 years for men and 30 years for women.

The figure of 25 years may possibly have been on the conservative side but clearly cigarette smoking is declining rapidly to-day among middle-aged and older people and the benefits of the decline is already apparent in the last 25 years. Cigarette smoking is not only declining rapidly, particularly among the middle aged,  but the cigarette of to-day is much less lethal than formerly thanks to the filter and the substantial butt, to the decline in the amount of tobacco in each cigarette and to a substantial reduction in their nicotine and tar content. Among smokers to-day, with the less lethal cigarette, the risk may be modified but a long term habit of smoking with to-day’s cigarette must still involve considerable risk.  Current risk 10-15years.

Other tobaccos (pipe, cigars). Their adherents were much less vulnerable because they were seldom inhalers. Risk - 1 year. Perhaps snuff adherents had some small risk too.

Occupation - less than 1 year

Social disadvantage, including accident proneness, poverty, chronic unemployment, criminality.  Risk - 4 years

Stress. Pathological rather than ordinary day-to-day concerns. Stress includes mental illness, accident proneness. suicide and poverty. Risk - 3 years

Gender – No inherent risk.

It is hardly possible to quantify an individual in terms of longevity, mainly because of earlier chance events or illnesses but with optimum knowledge of causation and a reasonable adherence to healthy living we should be confident of reaching the 9th or 10th decade.  However, one’s attitude to ageing is important. It is related to the ability to adapt to the normal physical, psychological and social changes of the third stage of life. With an appropriate acceptance of the increasing limitations which are then inevitable, it is possible to enjoy ageing and retirement as much as at other stages of life, including the gradual loss of one’s friends and contemporaries. You may become more housebound and drop more from the social scene but in this modern world there is much to occupy oneself even if mostly confined to the home. This aspect is dealt with in detail in my My Challenge to Ageing 3rd edition on Kindle and is based on observing and recording my experience of and adaptation to the 26 years of my retirement.

This estimate of allotted lifetime reduced or increased collectively in this manner is somewhat speculative. We obviously cannot be specific about the individual because of wide quantitative variations in life enhancing and risk factors and variations in time of exposure. However, if we combine the influence of two or more factors we may arrive at a more acceptable opinion about the influence of life style on long-term survival although we might still be without the support of firm evidence. A few examples may suffice here;
If an obese person with a BMI of 35 who is a heavy salt eater, who tends to eat a diet rich in beef, lamb or pork and who largely eschews vegetables and fruit, and who takes no aerobic exercise, could have the combined estimate of risk of 15 years or more. This does seem a lot of risk but I would think the risk is not far from reality.

If a person of reasonably normal weight who walks or jogs at an optimum rate of 6-8 miles or more a week, who eschews free salt and salty food, who does not smoke and who is a vegetarian (but not necessarily vegans) will very likely  reach the late 80s or the 90s, or possibility one hundred!

This combined approach to the assessment of risk continues to lack specificity but is easier to judge as rational if not firm on scientific grounds. It is of course, necessary to continue studying the role of the specific risk factors which influence health and longevity but already there is much clear evidence in the literature on such lifestyle aspects as aerobic exercise, nutrition, smoking and salt.

In Ireland we are awaiting full information about longevity derived from the 2010 census but the data available so far would suggest a further increase in both males and females with a further narrowing of the disparity between the sexes because of the dramatic reduction in cigarette smoking in middle-aged people.