‘A teaspoon of whisky in my morning tea’

Sylvia Harris celebrates her 106th birthday.
Sylvia Harris celebrates her 106th birthday.

A teaspoon of whisky in her first cup of tea of the day is Sylvia Harris’s tip for a long and healthy life.

And it certainly seems to be working for the resident of Bamburgh as she celebrated her 106th birthday at the weekend.

The youngest of eight sisters, Sylvia was born in Durham in 1907, the same year that Marconi’s commercial transatlantic radio transmissions began and Rudyard Kipling won the Nobel Prize for Literature.

She marked her birthday on Sunday, surrounded by family, friends and staff at the Abbeyfield Bamburgh home where she has lived for the past seven years.

“When people ask me the secret to my long life I say I don’t know – breathing!” said Sylvia.

“But I do take a teaspoon of whisky in my first cup of tea.

“One of my sisters who died when she was 94 told me to do that.

“Apart from that, I’m not a drinker.

“I never thought about living so long. I’ve never ailed a lot. I’ve had a good life.

“I was still fit and well when I was 99, and my daughter Gail and her husband Harry bought a bungalow in Bamburgh, so I came here to Abbeyfield.

“I’ve never regretted it, you get lovely meals.”

The daughter of the Durham City station master, Sylvia moved around the North East as a child and remembers watching the German prisoners of war in East Boldon, where they lived during the First World War.

She said: “In the second war, I was in Dunston. I was married then.

“My husband worked for the electricity board and he was in the Home Guard.

“I remember the planes coming over the gardens and dropping the bombs, and I saw a few planes brought down.”

Married at 22 to Alfred, Sylvia has three children, Douglas, 84, Linda, 75, and 74-year-old Gail, so named because she was born during a storm.

“I have 30-odd great-grand and grandchildren, at a guess about 34.

“I have eight great-great-grandchildren,” said Sylvia.

“I had 74 birthday cards from my family last year.

“I’ve had a birthday card from the Queen when I was 100 and 105. I think there’ll be another one this year.”

Alfred and Sylvia retired to Seahouses in 1962, and she moved to Craster – a place where they’d enjoyed many family holidays – when her husband died in 1972.

“We’d been coming to Craster for nearly 60 years.

“Our Gail wasn’t born the first time we went,” said Sylvia.

“Gail married a boy from there and they live just beside me in Bamburgh now.

“Linda lives in Sussex and Douglas lives in Essex. I see them a few times a year.”

She decided to move into the supported sheltered housing at Abbeyfield Bamburgh when Gail and Harry bought a bungalow in the village.

A time-served fever nurse and a school cook for 25 years, she was well used to looking after herself.

“I made myself a lunch every day until I was 99,” said Sylvia.

“I made scones everyday and Douglas bought me a steamer and I did meat, veg and potatoes in it every day.

“Then I came to Abbeyfield and I’ve had a lovely lunch every day ever since. My room looks right on to the castle.”

Abbeyfield Bamburgh manager Paula Lingwood said: “Sylvia is amazing – until a couple of years ago, she was catching the bus into Alnwick by herself.”