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A blast from the past

My old college lecturer just popped up on TV - boy, do I feel old?

I had one of those blast-from-the-past moments late night while watching the telly. My old lecturer and college mentor, Mary Beard, was on, presenting a programme about Pompeii.

I knew that she was a Cambridge don, of course. But it's quite different actually seeing and hearing someone again. She had exactly the same walk, for instance, which made me nostalgic, and other than having gone from brown to grey, she had changed little from the last time I saw her, about 30 years ago. And what a shock it is to realise that it is THREE DECADES.

Where on earth does the time go? It seems like five minutes ago. 

Back then, in 1981, the now-Professor Beard was a lecturer studying for her doctorate, and - already known as a rebel and iconoclast - she took a particular shine to certain students each year. For some unknown reason, she was very kind to me, perceiving something in me that her fellow lecturers certainly didn't, and gently chivvying, cajoling and hectoring me along, according to requirements. Without her intervention, I would probably have been thrown out at the end of my first year, for non-attendance. 

Her smoke-filled study at King's College was the kind of room I'd never seen in my life before, lined with books from top to bottom, with ideas whizzing thick and fast, jokes, cigarettes being passed back and forth. There, in her domain, Mary would expound just as freely on sex (at that time a theoretical issue as far as I was concerned), wine or drugs as on Ovid, Hesiod or why Catullus's mistress didn't really exist.

I had never before met an intelligent person who swore. Or smoked. Schoolteachers don't do that sort of thing in front of their pupils, and being from a resolutely working class background, my teachers were the only 'clever' people I knew. My parents saw almost no-one socially (they only went out once a year), and we didn't know any white-collar folks. Meeting Mary was like meeting someone 'off the telly'. Like David Attenborough.

She was therefore one of those people, like my Latin teacher Mr McChrystal, who had a big influence on me without ever knowing it, simply by being themselves. Those people who give you a glimpse into another world, and whose words you can still remember, decades later. This is the broader meaning of the word 'education' - the adjunct, and not the synonym, for one's schooling. 



Brains before beauty

The latest findings show that men live longer lives if they're married to educated women

Well-educated women not only live longer themselves - their menfolk live longer too, according to the latest findings.

In fact, their wife's level of education has more influence on men's longevity than their own education does. 

All good news in this house, says the DH, as I have a 'proper' degree (in Classics) rather than his vocational one (in Photography).

(Not, dear reader, that this has ever made any difference to our earnings - all our lives together, he has earned between three and five times as much as I have. The glass ceiling is still very much there, as we all know. ) 

Menfolk aside, however, the effect of education is important for ourselves. A woman with only a school level of education has a 53 per cent greater risk of dying early than a woman who went to university.

It would be intriguing to know precisely why, of course. It may be due to things like eating habits - it's generally acknowledged that educated women are more likely to know about nutrition, just as they are likely to know more about general health issues such as the importance of cancer screening, quitting smoking and alcohol units. 

But it may also be the case that it is simply that educated people - including women - earn more money. And people with money they tend to have nicer jobs that don't wear their bodies out or involve them in using risky machinery, etc. They tend to live in larger houses that they can heat more easily, because they have more disposable income.  They might drive a car rather than hang around cold bus stops, and can afford to take holidays, get therapy, have a massage and all the other things that reduce stress levels. They also tend to have come from a richer background in the first place, and have had a better start in life.

Whatever the real meaning of the findings, however, it's clear to scientists that education, overall, is the key and that perhaps the best way to improve the nation's health might be to improve its educational levels - especially for women. 



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