Charity begins

15th April 2005 at 01:00
Orlando Jones is not the retiring kind. Which is just as well

A new website has taken the staffroom by storm. Medical self-help sites, horoscopes and porn are yesterday's fads. Now everyone is into something called deathclock.com ("The internet's friendly reminder that life is slipping away"). This charming resource works by asking you some basic questions about your lifestyle and then calculating how long you've got to live. Apparently I'm going to die on August 12, 2049. Which means, given the changes to the pension scheme, that my retirement will last roughly two-and-a-half years.

It's a sobering thought for which there is only one remedy: drink. In the 13 Horseshoes, Orlando Jones, wizened lothario of the drama department, is cradling a bottle of Hungarian red. "Oh look, it's Chastity Casement, our teenage head of department! How many years to go, Chaz? Thirty? Forty? By the time you retire, sister, they'll be paying sixth-formers more EMA money to drag their arses out of bed than you'll be drawing from the Post Office."

And then the thought hits me: one day I'll be Orlando's age, whatever that is. Suddenly I feel very depressed. John Baller, the union rep, gives my arm a paternalistic tap and speaks as though addressing a Year 7 girl who's lost her teddy. "Don't worry, Charity. We're going to fight this one all the way. We'll not leave you young 'uns on the coal face till you're 65." I can't help feeling that John is not being entirely altruistic. He and his wife Pauline own a BB in Truro which they spend most of the holidays decorating in anticipation of his retirement. Now the Government wants to condemn him to another five years in his West Norwood semi.

And he's not the only one. Orlando regularly regales us with his plans to move to Marrakesh and "get into the import-export business" with an ex-girlfriend. As I stare at his deeply ridged face, each groove telling its own sordid tale, I feel mean. "By the time you make it to Morocco, Orlando, you'll be lucky to pull a camel." He scowls.

One glance around the staffroom the following morning confirms that, apart from Angel Montague, our cherubic NQT, I am the only person under 45. We have what the head, Alastair Scarlett, has started referring to as a demographic time bomb. Our ageing staff seems to have concentrated his mind. The likes of Les Twigg and Judith Crock, in the past routinely disparaged as dead wood awaiting the bonfire, have been rehabilitated as "senior practitioners" with precious skills and experiences. In the morning staff meeting, John Baller puts the union's response to the pension proposals: "So the pit ponies won't be sent off to the knacker's yard just yet then, Dr Scarlett? And is there a carrot involved or do you intend to flog us all to death?"

Scarlett mutters something about a cryogenics programme being researched at the University of the Third Age, and then the deputy head, Nigel Horsmel, steps in. "The carrot, as you say Mr Baller, will be financial necessity and the stick, well, the LEA's legal people are looking into your contracts. There'll be incentives for all those who opt out of the death-in-service clause, and penalties for the health-negligent." In the corner, Orlando Jones shakes his head as his African dream disappears before his eyes.

Charity Casement is the alter ego of a north London teacher. Next week: Ofsted!

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