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The nose knows

Taking a career break has left Sue Rulli re footloose and sweat-free

I have stopped using deodorant. In fact, I haven't worn any for six months now, except on special occasions. It's not that I wish to keep people at arm's length, or that I'm researching the effects of soap and water. It's simply that I've stopped teaching. No teaching equals no stress, and no stress equals no odour - or so I've discovered.

It was my husband's change of job that brought us to Scotland and gave me the excuse for a career break. Initially, I suffered withdrawal symptoms. When my husband, also a teacher, started at his new school, I was restless. I itched to make lesson plans, put up posters, write names in my mark book, plough through memos - all things I used to dread, things which haunted my dreams in August every year. Things which, when contemplated from some sunny gite in France, gave me a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach. Yet when he had his first staff meeting - ouch! The pain of being left out, of not being needed.

A period of adjustment followed. I had a brief but close relationship with daytime TV, liaising guiltily with Trisha and Esther and Richard and Judy. Maybe I'd gone into sick-leave mode, when you lie on the sofa in your dressing gown watching TV and dreading the marking piling up on your desk. Or maybe it was just something I had to get out of my system.

Then came a period of action. Painting the bathroom, gardening, contacting old friends, trying out new recipes - a surge of energy fuelled by a need to justify my jobless state.

Six months on, I'm in a period of acceptance. My life has settled into a new routine. I write. I read the paper. I take long walks. I make scones for tea. And, best f all, I go to the loo when I want to, not on the ring of a bell. Small things, like hair-washing and plant-watering, have become leisurely, indulgent affairs. When shopping, I ponder at length the many varieties of yogurt and toothpaste. I have a pot of tea in the morning, not just a bag in a mug. It surprises me how quickly the days pass, and it amazes me that I ever found time to work.

Old habits die hard. I still make lists. I'll even add something to a list after I've done it, for the satisfaction of ticking it off. I also recently found myself ticking off some kids in Tesco. "You shouldn't be running in here," barked the all-too-familiar teacher's voice. It made me cringe and I made a premature beeline for the checkout.

Generally, though, I'm calmer than before. When friends who are teachers moan, I can sympathise without getting wound up myself. I've had less indigestion and no sore throats. And I sleep better.

Of course, I'm in a privileged position. I have savings, no dependants and a bill-paying husband. But unless my yet-to-be-published (well, yet-to-be-written) novel becomes a best-seller, I'll soon have to start job-hunting. I want - and need - to earn money. Besides,I miss being part of acommunity and I need a more clearly defined purpose to my life.

Will it be teaching? Probably. It's not easy to change career without retraining - something I can't face. I'm used to the holidays. And yes, I miss the children, even though being away from them right now is bliss. I must just remember to buy some deodorant before I venture back into the classroom. For everyone's sake.

Sue Rulliere taught French and English at a Cambridge school for 16 years. She now lives outside Edinburgh

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