Heaven will have to wait

Three of us - fortysomethings, trapped in an FE college sliding down the slippery slope of financial doom - were chatting over coffee the other day. Inevitably the conversation turned to pensions (just as house prices were our mutual obsession in the 1980s).

We wallowed in self-pity. We are, we agreed, the "trapped tranche": too old for promotion, too young for retirement and (given the prospect of new teachers' pensions regulations) unable to follow most of our fiftysomething colleagues who've recently escaped. The escape door - early retirement with enhancement - has become a drawbridge that's been lifted.

So the ghastly, frightening reality hit us: this is it. Another "x" years to do, without the possibility of parole. Even the Great Train Robbers got that.

Of course there's always "the sick". We've seen them go that way: quick shot in the foot, cursory medical. (My fantasy: Doctor: "Not up to it any more, then?" Lecturer: "Spot on, Doc." Doctor: "I'm afraid it's sick retirement for you, old boy." Lecturer, barely concealing a smirk: "I'm gutted.") You bump into these casualties in the town. They always look 15 years younger. They've usually got suntans. They feel sorry for you. Well, it's a way out. But not (new regs again) any longer.

So why not be honest? Just leave. Resign, with honour. Build a new life: you're always banging on about how talented you are and how undervalued. Test the market you coward.

But, of course, most of us are totally unemployable outside the classroom. We're set in our ways. We've honed our particular packages of skills to the point where they are so specific that many of us are not much more than a set of occupationally conditioned reflexes. And we are actually quite good at our jobs.

Which doesn't leave much room for hope. No real point moving within the profession either: why swap your chair in one staff room for a less comfy one in another?

The prospect, then, is a bit grim. We'll "dig in" and "dog it out". We'll become more and more resistant to change - miserable old buggers, locked in a time warp, with silly rituals and private codes: the last of the Summer Whiners, without the laughs.

The writer lives in West Sussex

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