THERE is 100 years of history to get through today, but first I’m going to try the shortbread. Phyllis Ramsay, who will be 101 years old this July, made it this week as part of the regular baking she does for friends and family. It is not the only remarkable fact about her.

Firstly, she does not have a carer because she doesn’t need one. She also pretty much has never been to the doctor. And then there’s the dramatic story of her life which stretches from the year 1917 through the days of the British Raj in India, and VE Day, right up to what she sees as the troubling politics of the present-day UK. There aren’t many people who have lived through all of that and are still around to talk about it.

The reason I’m meeting the former nurse at her home in Edinburgh is that, extremely late in life, she is achieving quite a bit of celebrity status. Mrs Ramsay is one of six 100-year-old women featured in The Century Girls, a new book by the historian Tessa Dunlop. The book has been published to mark the first female franchise in Britain and tells the stories of some of the women who were born in 1918 or before. It’s the personal story of six women with different lives, but it’s also the story of social and cultural reform, war and peace, and what has and hasn’t changed for women over a hundred years.

Mrs Ramsay’s assessment of the kind of change we’ve seen in the last century is mixed. We’re not as happy as we used to be, she thinks, partly because we’re obsessed with technology. She also thinks we’re far too gushy and emotional and if there’s one thing she can’t abide it’s people crying on the television all the time. “It’s a lot of rubbish,” she says. “And some of their grammar is shocking!”

However, don’t mistake Mrs Ramsay for the kind of person who thinks we’re all going to Hell in a handcart and the past was better than the present. In fact, she thinks the British are far too obsessed with the past, particularly the Second World War, and that the obsession partly explains why Brexit is happening.

“Look ahead,” she says emphatically (she has earned the right to say things emphatically). “People keep looking back at the war. I’m a Remainer because I think an awful lot of them weren’t using their heads to think what’s ahead of you.”

She takes the same dim view of the idea of Scottish independence. “It really upsets me,” she says. “You can be nationalistic but not to the extent that they are trying to do it over here. You’ve got to get on with the rest of the world.” At the last election, some 100 years after some women won the right to vote, she voted tactically to keep the nationalists out.

Talking to Mrs Ramsay about her long life, it’s not hard to spot where these values and her sense of internationalism come from. She thinks of herself as British and always has done, but she was born in Bombay to an Irish father and a mother who had an Indian grandmother. She then spent most of her childhood moving about India and Burma with her father’s job as a wireless operator; she also went to boarding school near Darjeeling in the Himalayas. This is where her toughness and practicality comes from, and the motto of her life: get on with it.

From an early age, she was also used to mixing with different races, although it was a complex situation in British India: hierarchical, snobbish and restrictive. The Ramsay family had servants – a nanny, a chauffeur, and a housekeeper – but they were by no means at the top of the social hierarchy in India. There were the government people at the top, says Mrs Ramsay, then the civil servants, including her father, then the people who worked in shops and factories, and then a big drop to the Ango-Indians.

So there was a lot of snobbery? “Yes,” says Mrs Ramsay. “Even though we didn’t say anything, we felt that we were better than Anglo-Indians – we had white skins.” However, the Ramsays were also a victim of the snobbery – it was considered best to have been born and schooled in Britain, but Phyllis’s mother had been born in India.

“I played with an officer’s daughter in school but I was never invited to her house,” she says. “But my father didn’t believe that – you mixed with everyone according to him and my mother never stopped us mixing.” However, she also remembers a friend of hers being turned away from a swimming pool because her skin was too dark.

Phyllis then met a Scottish man, Jim Ramsay, during the war and moved to Edinburgh, but the tensions did not go away. The new Mrs Ramsay was Catholic but her in-laws were conservative Presbyterian Scots and the relationship was not easy. She also stood out because of her accent, which was hard to place but definitely not Scottish.

She coped with her usual mix of bluntness and practicality. Her father-in-law wanted her to marry in his Church but she refused. She also tried her best to get on with her new life. “I’m resilient,” she says.

She thinks this resilience may be one of the reasons she has lived so long, although it’s impossible to pin down any one factor. Her diet is certainly good (breakfast is usually porridge, lunch is a sandwich maybe and some fruit, and dinner is something nice from M&S).

She’s also never smoked and has been drunk only once in her life when her son passed his accountancy exam. “We had a bottle of champagne,” she says, “and I must have drunk too much because that night, I was stotting off the walls.”

However, there’s another factor which may well explain Mrs Ramsay’s extraordinary physical resilience and mental sharpness: her connectedness to other people and wider society. She has lived in Scotland since she was 23 and for most of the time has volunteered for a huge range of organisations including Save the Children, Edinburgh Zoo and the National Trust for Scotland and is still doing it – she tells me that she’ll soon be making some more shortbread and lemon drizzle cake for an event to raise money for cancer research.

She also has a healthy circle of friends and acquaintances. Most of her family live abroad now, but she says that most days there’ll be something to go to – a group of friends like to get together, for instance, to do a bit of colouring in. She also does crosswords and jigsaws – there’s one on the go by the window – and reads lots of history and adventure novels. All of it has sharpened her brain until it gleams.

The memory is certainly sharp. She tells me about VE Day and going down to London to be part of the crowd outside Buckingham Palace. “London was buzzing, the excitement of everything. I’ve always been interested in history and I’ve always wanted to be where the action was.”

She says she has particularly fond memories of the period after the war, which for her meant nursing and working in a munitions factory.

“The best years, I think, were the 50s and early 60s. We’d got over the war, we struggled, we had a hard

time after the war and everyone accepted it and now we won’t. That’s gone – they are always wanting something more and I don’t think modern technology does much for the young ones. They are giving them computers at six years old.”

She points at my mobile phone which is on the table in front of me. “You all do it,” she says.

Mrs Ramsay also has reservations about some of the social changes since the 1950s – for example, she preferred the days when gay relationships were private – but in other respects she is startlingly modern. In Tessa Dunlop’s book, she describes how she once breast-fed her son Jimmy on a train.

“It was full of soldiers and everything else,” she says. “My younger sister Pat, by then she’d come over from India, she used to say ‘Phil, you can’t do that here!’ I said, ‘Ach, I just get on with it.’” She also celebrates the advances made in the education of women – “we did not have opportunities like that”.

Mrs Ramsay has some of these memories written down in her memoirs, which she keeps in a series of notebooks, carefully handwritten, and she appears to be pretty gratified with her life and how it’s gone. She did miss the companionship of her husband after his death in 1984 and she does have a regret that she never went down the Amazon. “There were no tourist parties when I was able,” she says. “That’s my only regret.”

Otherwise, Mrs Ramsay still likes to travel – she travelled to Staffa in the Western Isles when she was 99 for instance, and keeps on sharpening the mind on books about history and adventure. This is part of the mindset and philosophy founded in India and Burma and honed in Scotland and the rest of the world. She sees herself as multicultural and, in her own words, a citizen of the world.

A century of life could take you anywhere but in the case of Phyliss Ramsay it is has taken her here: a life lived on inquisitiveness and openness. How does she see herself, I ask her. “Oh, I’m a free soul,” she says.

The Century Girls is published by Simon and Schuster at £20. Tessa Dunlop and Phyllis Ramsay will be appearing at Aye Write in Glasgow on March 15 at 7.45pm. See