WHEN do you reach your mental peak? And, more vitally, when do you start to slide off it?
It was thought that memory, and the ability to think, began to decline in healthy people at about the age of 60. Now a study published in the British Medical Journal suggests those powers start to deteriorate at 45.
So am I really less smart than I was a decade ago?
I don’t think so – but maybe that’s just my memory playing tricks on me.
A closer look at that study provides some reassurance.
It was based on observation of 7,000 people over a 10-year period, which sounds like quite an impressive sample and a serious, committed approach. But there’s a ‘but’. Quite a big one.
Those 7,000 people were civil servants in Whitehall. Every last one of them.
So in fact the survey doesn’t show that “people” start to lose mental ability at 45. Only that Whitehall civil servants do.
And that may say more about the boredom of bureaucracy and the nature of the Whitehall hierarchy than it does about the human brain.
Stop working out and your muscles will soon start to weaken. Keep exercising and they’ll stay in shape. If you’ve never done enough exercise at all, your muscles will always have been flabby and they’ll stay that way.
The same goes for the brain. Use it or lose it.
It’s not how old you are, but what you do that counts. Your little grey cells need exercise too.
IT may seem perverse, at a time when everything from libraries to lollipop ladies, nurses and the police, are facing savage cuts, to commit £32billion to a new railway. But this is one rare time when I think the government has got it right. Probably.
There are, inevitably, people along the route of the proposed new high-speed London-to-Birmingham line who will be upset. Several of them Tory MPs. Which is certainly no reason to oppose it.
The Queen’s alleged fear that the passing trains might startle her horses at Stoneleigh Park in Warwickshire is either a red herring or a most amusing piece of nimbyism. (And that from someone whose “back yard” is rather bigger than yours, mine, or indeed anyone else’s.)
I have more sympathy with Europe minister David Liddington’s plea for “a less environmentally destructive and less costly way” of upgrading rail links between England’s first and second cities.
The current proposal is less damaging to the landscape than a new motorway, for example, would be. And rail travel is certainly far more environmentally friendly – in real, rather than cash, terms far cheaper – than road transport.
But there must be some question whether laying down a whole new line is actually a better option than improving the existing rail network to the proposed standard.
The devil in that comparison must be in the detail, including the disruption to traffic if the upgrade option were to be chosen. And those kind of details are precisely what we don’t know yet and therefore can’t judge.
The Campaign to Protect Rural England rightly favours rail over road. But its head of planning, Fiona Howie, warns: “If HS2 is taken forward it must be designed and routed carefully to minimise its impact on our countryside.”
Which might sound obvious but is none the less true for that. Again, devil in the detail.
The claim by supporters of the plan that it will create a million jobs outside London and erode the north-south divide must be taken with more than a pinch of salt.
A slight suspicion lurks that David Cameron – who is alleged to have said (‘privately’), “we have to build it” – likes the idea of the high-speed line as a solid, lasting, personal legacy. Even though the so-called HS2 was first proposed by Labour when it was in power.
Rather as Boris Johnson has assumed the glory of the Olympics even though it was proposed, and “won” for London, while Tony Blair was in No.10 and Ken Livingstone in the mayor’s office.
HS2 is at least likely to leave a longer, and more useful, legacy than the Olympics.
And there is at least a chance that Ken will be back in office in time to enjoy this summer’s party.
So, who said this?
“Our people are depressed. They want something important, something dramatic, which would encourage them to look about and see in what way they can get the trade of the country going again.”
It wasn’t anyone talking about either the HS2 or London 2012.
It was Lord Ashfield, chairman of the Underground, recommending to Parliament in October 1921 the £6million job-creation scheme that would become the Northern line.
We could do with more of that kind of thinking now.
More capital projects like the HS2 and fewer cuts elsewhere.