I've got my old git's rail pass. Now what do I do?

5th May 2006 at 01:00
So here it is. The Holy Grail. Journey's end. The walk into the sunset. No more thinking about Ofsted; getting in the queue to microwave my Pot Noodles at lunchtime; sitting in a traffic jam on the bypass on a Friday night.

The "leaving do" - whispered about for weeks before the event - is now as much a faded memory as the cloud of cigarette smoke swirling round Chantelle and her friends at the end of the dining hall. The speeches from long-lost colleagues gratefully forgotten. The promises to keep in touch as empty as my email inbox.

I'm now officially old. I've got my old git's rail pass. I received my first winter fuel supplement. I went for my first free eye test, and my pills from the doctor are free too. But, having finished full-time work, what happens now? What do I do with the hours that have, until now, been spent teaching, preparing for teaching or recovering from a day's teaching? Must I spend my life wandering the aisles at Tesco's or dozing in front of the television watching repeats of The Two Ronnies?

I've had advice from all the experts, the people who are looking forward to retirement but have no idea what it foretells. I've given away the resources I built up over 40 years. I've sold a wardrobe full of suits, several shirts and a mile of ties.

And, for the first time in my 60-year life, I went on holiday in term time.

I can understand now why families drag their offspring away during school weeks. To start with, it's cheaper. And the crowds are smaller. There are also no (or very few) kids and even fewer teachers. Not that I dislike my ex-colleagues, but when you're trying to relax before the new school year starts, someone pontificating about their disastrous last Ofsted does not help your blood pressure.

On this holiday my wife and I just relaxed. We met people who did strange things such as fly helicopters, do landscape gardening, own a sweet factory. The novelty of our having just retired was enough for them not to ask what we used to do; the conversation was about that day's outing or last night's meal or the quality of the sunset.

But that was just 10 days. Now that we're back, the reality of retirement looms.

Once upon a time, the community education team I was part of ran pre-retirement courses for local firms. We'd round up local experts to talk about finance and health and allow the participants to consider how they'd spend their time. It seems ironic that these courses were managed by the local education authority for outside organisations, but that they didn't run them for their own staff.

For some reason, they must believe that we have it all organised. Perhaps they think that if you can manage on a teacher's salary, you can manage on a pension. That because you've been teaching skills to kids, you'll want to continue doing whatever it was you taught. That having had to invent nice things to say in the end-of-year report about the Year 11 irk who gave you the verbals every day, you'll have a vivid imagination and be able to knock out a few novels.

It's sad that I'm facing retirement with such dread. While we're working we talk of it with such enthusiasm. When someone else retires we envy them and say we can't wait to join them. I'm sure I will enjoy it soon, but it's this period of waiting that is spoiling things. Perhaps Ruth Kelly should think beyond the mass-produced letter I've had from her today, telling me she didn't want "to let the occasion of your retirement pass without thanking you for the contribution that you have made to education throughout your career". Instead of just wishing me a "long and happy retirement" she should think about how she can help me enjoy it, perhaps by providing me with the time to prepare for it, as they do in the rest of the world of work.

David Watson

David Watson, now 60 and a half, is about to start pottering about in south-west France

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