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A Spitfire Pilot Remembers: Retirement?

The word "retirement'' has never appealed to former Spitfire pilot John M Davis. In his senior years he has been far busier than most men in their 20s.

The word has never appealed to me and so I do not regard myself in this category. The University of the Third Age uses most of Monday and includes me teaching Spanish for beginners. I have played a worthwhile part in three different centres for the homeless. The users often needed something rather different from food and warmth.

A good deal of my time is taken up as the uncrowned King of Litter for the Garden Suburb. Litter has always offended, and with 120 individuals picking up litter within the Suburb we have earned the position of role Model for the Keep Britain Tidy Movement. The Barnet Council cooperate well because we are saving them from clearing the Suburb litter. Occasionally we put on a special project to clear problem areas.

The Cordent Trust has had some vigorous involvement from me since I left the Davis Group. The political change in South Africa seemed to me to be the most exciting world event of the century, and they certainly needed assistance to help make things happen.

Some useful introductions enabled us to raise £7,000 to start the financing of English language training for tribal African girls who were to be trained to be dental hygienists to bring dental care to remote African villages. There were no possibilities to train these girls in the many tribal languages.

In the end the operation was not as successful as it should have been, since the contact person in South Africa lost his job and left the country. Also I was unsuccessful in obtaining funding from the British Overseas Development Agency.

The Cordent Trust Committee of Management has always comprised some wonderful leaders of the profession, who have been most supportive. They encouraged me to proceed with assistance to South Africa. This time it was to be for the South African Transnet Railway Health Train, known as Phelophepa.

This train, that had grown to six carriages, travelled during nine months of the year round various isolated villages bringing medical, dental, eye and X-ray facilities to villages that lacked everything in the health care field. Even more important was the training they provided within the local school during the five days they spent in a village. They had become so well known that a queue formed some hours before the train arrived, and there was still a queue when the train moved off five days later.

The Cordent job was to obtain some £80,000 of dental equipment and materials to keep Phelophepa going for six months. Due to the generosity of the UK dental trade, this was achieved at a cost to Cordent of £5,000.

J & S Davis and the free airfreight by South African Airways undertook the storage of everything. A very worthwhile operation that kept me in touch with the trade. Since Cordent Trust does not stay with any one project for too long, Phelophepa is today supported by the Canon Collins Educational trust for South Africa.

Finally, after 28 years as Cordent Hon Sec, I handed over the function to another. Unfortunately there were two quick changes due to job change and then a pregnancy. However a fine lady dentist has taken on the job with great vigour. An experienced secretary attends to the administrative side of Cordent with care and skill. Cordent Trust is probably in better hands now than it has ever been.

Being Librarian at our local Synagogue, taking slow readers at a local school, on the Committee of the Local Council of Christians and Jews, and the Committee of Hampstead Garden Suburb Fellowship (the Centre providing facilities for the elderly) are some of my activities.

Three elderly friends in care homes receive visits from me most weeks. One of them I took on from Fellowship House. She has deteriorated so much that I have had to become her Power of Attorney. This I have done for several years and am puzzled that no one has ever wanted to check that I am not embezzling her money. As I have had reasonable success with her investments and take care that I never take any money from the account without a proper petty cash slip, I would still be happier to know that someone was checking this type of situation. The lady does not even remember that I look after her money.

For a long while I was a volunteer at the Kings Cross Furniture Project. Indeed I was the first volunteer when it was a tiny activity providing second-hand furniture to those being housed but who had no money to furnish their accommodation. Today it is an important charity that has moved several times to ever-bigger premises.

9,000 items of furniture are recycled each year (2001 figures) with 1,200 needy families containing 2,500 individuals benefiting. We used to have one borrowed van for one day a week. Today they have three full-time vans with seven part-time staff and 20 volunteers. It has been wonderful to see the way this valuable charity has grown.

I moved to the Furniture Project from the Homeless Action in Barnet operation. It is a centre where the homeless come for food, a shower, clothing, laundry, advice and medical/dental care. Very worthwhile, but they do also attract the scroungers who donít want to work but do like the company, warmth and a good meal. I still support them but felt that the Furniture Project was a more satisfying activity.

Gardening, rambling (my walking speed and range are decreasing), bridge, singing with Hilde and Daniel in the Finchley Choral Society, four wonderful grandchildren and their parents make life very exciting, and it leaves time for bowls. It used to be tennis until medically advised to stop. Hilde still manages a good two or three sets of tennis every week.

The short summer sees me in Highgate Pond for a before-breakfast swim. Highgate has two Hampstead Heath ponds, one for the ladies and one for the men. As a schoolboy at Highgate we were always excited by the stories told of topless women to be seen behind the trees at the ladiesí pond.

A couple of years back the menís pond was closed because of algae on the water. Generously, the ladiesí pond allowed us in between 7 and 10am At last my boyhood ambition was fulfilled - although it was not as exciting as we were told. A lady I know was swimming one morning and was unaware that men were allowed in. When she suddenly saw me, she nearly drowned from shock.

Hilde uses the ladiesí pond, but around 5pm is her preferred time. I introduced grandson David to the menís pond, but he has now reached the age/stage that he prefers to go there with his mates. When Oliver reaches eight, I shall look forward to taking him. Hilde has already introduced both our granddaughters.

Grandchildren are great fun, although it is clear that the period when they can share activities with their grandparents is comparatively short. During their early years they are too young, and then all of a sudden they are too old to wish to go around with grandparents.

David and I went cycling over the Heath together when he was 14. By 16 he felt already too old. Compared to my parents, both of whom died in their mid-60ís and were thus unable to enjoy their grandchildren growing up, we are very fortunate.


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