Villagers toast the secret to a long retirement – a glass of the hard stuff
Hinton St George has the UK's highest life expectancy for men over 65. Liam O'Brien meets some of its residents
Tuesday 24 April 2012
Hinton St George's residents are pretty pleased with themselves. This small Somerset village of 400 people has the highest life expectancy for retired men in the country. Here, men over the age of 65 – and there are a fair few of them – can expect to live 88.7 years, four more than in the Bootle area of Liverpool, which has the lowest life expectancy for those currently of pensionable age.
Enjoying what they describe as a "media frenzy" – a few photographers and a reporter – residents are happy to regale everyone with stories of what they believe holds the key to a long life: most often, they claim, it's a drink.
In the Lord Poulett Arms, James "Jock" McKee proclaims alcohol's life-giving powers. "I don't do much except come to the pub – that's about it," the 86-year-old admits. Every day he has half a Carlsberg and four or five generous measures of Betty's Whisky – though that depends, a bar manager interjects, "on how he has behaved".
"Most of them have at least one glass of red wine a day," confides Gill Esp, a woman in her sixties who works at the local tea shop. Indeed, this tea room also runs a wine club, but Ms Esp and her fellow members won't tolerate any old plonk. "No no, they order from the wine society," she says. At the last meeting Alison Peat succeeded in bamboozling everybody with her South African chenin blancs. Perhaps it's this discerning taste in wine that means the women can expect to live for 91.6 years on average.
There's no avoiding the real reason behind the residents' long life expectancy, however: it is the quiet wealth of the place. The larger cottages sell for more than £1m, and the stress of poverty is absent.
Hinton St George is a world away from Bootle, which has struggled to recover from the closures of the nearby docks in the 1970s and 1980s, languishing at the bottom of the life-expectancy table. Based on the mortality rates of 150,000 retired people, a survey by Towers Watson found that male pensioners over the age of 65 in that part of Merseyside will live to just 84.9 years.
So would Barry Tyler, 62, a Hinton resident for 33 years, ever dream of swapping lifestyles and moving to Bootle? "Yeah, can't wait," he jokes.
Old age, however, isn't always such a boon. At 98, Neil Hooper, a former aircraft engineer, is the village's oldest resident. Although he's looking forward to his card from the Queen on his 100th birthday and "still gets up and down the stairs", the years have taken their toll. He's hard of hearing, and is almost completely blind. His day, he says, is spent thinking of what he's going to have to eat – and he only eats frozen meals. Since his wife, Betty, passed away two and a half years ago at the age of 92, he has been looked after by his carers. But while it's a "quiet way of life", he's excited by the prospect of the village's Jubilee street party.
Many of the village's younger men commute to London every day, where a few serve as barristers – but they have come to Hinton to relax and refuse to bring the city stress back with them.
"In other places, you see people scrubbing their driveways and keeping up with the Joneses, but you wouldn't have that here," says Jane Bourne, 38.
They're already planning this year's "punkie night" – an October tradition when women take revenge on men who have drunk too many "flagons of the local cider" by chasing them around the High Street with hollowed out vegetables. If they ended this tradition, perhaps they could all add yet another year on to their lives.
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