Meeting Challenges and Getting On With Life

At the age of 17 Dennis Mapley left London to discover the world. After seeing posters at New Zealand house on the Strand he lied about his age and became one of the first "L10 pommies."

 Read more from Agewell.   

By Mike Milstein

At the age of 17 Dennis Mapley left London to discover the world.

After seeing posters at New Zealand house on the Strand he lied about his age and became one of the first "L10 pommies."

"I didn't even think about coming to New Zealand. I just did it. I thought I can do this. I'll go for it. Seven weeks later I was on a boat coming to New Zealand."

He cycled all over the country for the next two years, living off his wits. During his travels he visited Nelson three times, vowing that if he ever married he would settle here. Three years later he did just that. He's still here at the ripe age of 76.

Dennis's philosophy of life? "I don't reflect. I don't think about it. I just do things. That's who I am. People can be cutting, but don't take offence. It's their problem. Don't make it yours. "

Dennis has faced more than his share of challenges. At the height of a successful career as a soccer referee-"it usually takes about 14 years to get to the top. I did it in 8," he became paralyzed from the second rib down.

"I had an operation (which seemed to cure the paralysis) and went in to post-operative shock. I was very close to dying. It was traumatic. In convalescing I really looked at myself. I got through it on faith, not so much religious, but a personal relationship with the lord. I talk to him like I do any of my other mates. It was a time of real reflection. It opened me up to the inner-man. Nine years later it happened again. Why me? What have I done wrong? When adversity strikes like that you find out just what you are made of. I found out that I wasn't as strong in spirit and faith as I thought I was. It was a real character builder."

What energizes Dennis? "I like meeting people. I enjoy the Prince Albert Hotel. A couple of pints of Guinness does me the world of good. I like jazz. I enjoy music. I guess I'm also determined. Chris, my dear wife, says I can be quite stubborn at times."

When Dennis retired from his window cleaning business he decided to keep on cycling. He still rides 20k or more at least 5 days a week. He also took up wood turning. "It is so therapeutic. But it annoyed all my relations. I had given and given them bowls. My sister-in-law finally said she had no more room and told me to go to the Nelson market and sell them. I did so six or seven years ago and I have been there ever since."

Dennis says the market is like Coronation Street. "The stall holders are wonderful. We have good fun. They look after me. For example, I got 5 cards for Father' Day from young ladies who are stall holders!"

Dennis doesn't reflect about ageing. "I think that sometime I'll have to grow up, but life is pretty good. It's just a process of discovery and relationships. I love life. My philosophy is, just smile. It affects people and I see their reaction. And, did you know that it takes 22 muscles to frown but only 12 to smile? Learn to let go and forgive, smile, be active. Be natural. Be yourself.

"I also think you've got to learn every day. Even with wood turning, after all this time there is still something each day I can learn about technique. I say to Chris, wood is just like women, you just never know. Seriously, she reminds me to find something new each day, and says 'there is no use in growing old unless you grow wise.' I believe that with all my heart."

Note: This article was published in The Leader, Nelson, NZ. It summarizes an interview aired on Nelson’s Fresh FM that was conducted by Annie Henry for the Conscious Ageing Network (CAN), which is sponsored by Age Concern, Nelson. If you want to share your thoughts with CAN or wish to know when interviews will be aired, send an email to