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School's out for ever

As many teachers prepare to retire, Richard Ross has some advice for those who want to swap the classroom for a place in the sun

Retirement is an enticing prospect but often seems a very distant one until the day actually dawns. I retired at the age of 63, later than many.

Because I had worked abroad for a number of years, I wanted to make better provision for my pension and I also wished to gain maximum advantage from the McCrone settlement. Both decisions were the right ones for me.

Like many others, I had a list of things to do in and around the house and garden, apart from wishing to spend more time hill-walking, reading, travelling and pursuing new hobbies such as painting. Life would go on much as before, except that the sound of insistent bells calling to heaven or to hell would be mercifully absent.

However, the most important decision was to buy a property abroad and experience a different way of life, a different culture and some better weather if possible. My wife and I were both in agreement about this. I also wanted to do something with my lump sum other than just fritter it away - too hard earned.

Since I had been a teacher of French, it was convenient to choose France, which we knew well anyway as a result of many family holidays. Deciding on the exact location was not so easy, since we tended to think about places we had seen while on holiday: Dordogne - beautiful, but not so accessible from the north of Scotland; Auvergne - equally beautiful, but pretty harsh winters. There are also many attractive places on the west and north coasts of France, but which are deserted in the winter and, although milder perhaps, no less rainy than the Moray coast.

We had to think about the kind of people we are. We wanted somewhere that would be accessible from Scotland, with a chance of some sunshine in the winter, good public transport (because we did not want to run a car), a range of cultural activities and good health services (an important consideration at our age). We wanted to be able to explore other places easily by bus or by train.

We finally settled on Nice, but the prospect of looking for a suitable property was daunting, even with the help of the internet. While we had set aside a whole fortnight, we had taken the precaution of contacting somebody whose business it was to seek out suitable properties in advance. He turned out to be a godsend and became a friend as well.

We were taken to view properties that met our budget, and preferences in terms of size, location and amenities. This saved a tremendous amount of time and effort and, incredibly enough, there was no cost to the buyer.

The actual process is much more straightforward than in Scotland or England: no blind bidding, no chains. Prices are fixed and determined by what the market dictates. It is possible to bargain below the fixed price if the seller needs an early settlement, for example, but basically the first person to accept the asking value obtains the property.

The legal process is also straightforward and has far more safeguards for the buyer than we are used to in Britain.

So now we travel about the area with our French senior railcards and with the local buses, which are efficient and cheap. I have joined the Third Age University with its programme of lectures and clubs on all sorts of things from astronomy to Zen Buddhism. I am doing a course in Italian, which is very useful; Italy (with a huge market at Ventimiglia) is only half an hour away by train.

We go to the Anglo-American library as well as to the excellent city library. There are concerts, theatres for every taste as well as cinemas with the latest films in English and other languages. We have gone on the ferry to Corsica and plan to visit Sardinia.

I do some tutoring in French - which sounds like coals to Newcastle, but there are many foreigners here who do not speak French well enough to get by. English is, widely understood in hotels, cafes and restaurants, but not necessarily by the man who comes to fix your washing machine or do some electrical work in your house.

At the start, it seemed a huge gamble and even mad but, in fact, it has been a life-enhancing experience. Retirement is definitely la dolce vita.

Richard Ross was principal teacher of modern languages at Forres Academy.

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