Retire? Not while I can hang on in there

22nd May 2009 at 01:00

Did you know that the average age of a teacher in FE is 127? Yes, all right, I'm exaggerating - maybe they just feel 127. But there's no getting away from it: the workforce is getting older.

To some, this is a cause for concern; for me it's entirely the opposite. I'm just glad to know that I'm not the only one. Having recently hit the landmark age of 60 and picked up what is euphemistically called - in the London area at least - my Freedom Pass, I'm trying to persuade myself that it's not really the gateway to decrepitude.

The trouble is that for the first time in your working life, there's no career path any more. Whichever way you slice it, 60 is the age that your pension is geared around - the age when it's expected you'll soon be moving on to make way for someone younger.

That's not to say that you don't have choices. It's just that they're not career choices any more. Once there was only one choice: you had a farewell party, made an embarrassing speech, gratefully accepted a carriage clock and headed off for that nice little bungalow in Frinton. (Harwich for the continent, Frinton for the incontinent.) On arrival, you took out a subscription to the Daily Telegraph, bought a labrador and were never heard of again.

Just look at the wonderful world of opportunity open to the retiree today. For a start, you are allowed to go somewhere other than Frinton. This may be Alicante, Arizona or the Algarve. Here you immerse yourself in a like- minded community of greying expats.

Throughout the winter months you send a stream of annoying emails to your erstwhile colleagues, telling them what the temperature is on the patio of your villa.

Alternatively, you may choose to go into denial. Instead of gazing at that wrinkled stranger who has appeared in your bathroom mirror of late, you look away. The bus pass is traded in for a Harley-Davidson or a natty sports car. You book yourself holidays with a company whose title you misread as Club Med 18-65.

Or maybe you decide it's better to flip the coin over. Rather than fighting your age, you embrace it. You buy yourself a hat like the one worn by Henry Fonda in On Golden Pond. Actually it's not just the hat. Your whole life becomes On Golden Pond.

From now on you will only answer to the title of Grandad. You fill your iPod with pictures of the latest grandchild and talk to anyone unfortunate enough to cross your path about the precious little one's expanding vocabulary and bowel movements.

You could always choose a little of that self-destruction you so assiduously avoided until now. Here your instruction manual will be Kingsley Amis's novel The Old Devils. In effect, your retirement becomes a long, slow, sozzled suicide note.

You start at midday, when you "take the dog for a walk", returning at 9pm in a state of confused animation. When your spouse reminds you of your previous life of industry and sobriety, you growl "FE - FU" and stomp off to bed.

Now that the Government wants everyone to work until they drop, there is also the option to dig in and stay put. If you're lucky, you can turn yourself into a sort of FE elder statesperson. When a college is failing, its governors beat a path to your door and beg you to turn it around. Or perhaps a little consultancy can be had, picking up piles of cash for telling those still in honest employment what they already know.

My chosen path is to hang on in there. As no one is going to pay me Pounds 600 a day for what I know - teaching - I have resolved to carry on. FE can't manage without me, I have decided. Or maybe it's the other way around.

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