Salad days after the crunch of retirement

3rd October 2003 at 01:00
It's the first day of real retirement - not the phony retirement of the summer holidays, when I'm still being paid and on duty to check the post, sign cheques, chivvy builders and analyse "my" last set of exam results.

No, this is the real first day. Tradition has it that I should be on a cruise or an adventure trip to the upper Amazon. But today my daughter starts her induction into the sixth form and my partner is on Inset. And so I shall go up the lane to collect blackberries; we'll mark this day with a blackberry and apple pie.

But before that, I have an outing. My route takes me past my old school's entrance; the new headteacher's name is painted on the sign outside.

Strange that it goes about its business without me. The school and I are on different orbits now. My time is past. But it's only in the previous 10 days or so that I've begun to get into this retirement thing. I realise that, at last, my mind does not turn invariably to school matters.

I have no deadlines, no papers to write, I can enjoy the colours of the eucalyptus bark, peeling in pewter and ivory and charred bacon. I enjoy playing the word-hoard, the image-pit. Which word describes accurately the very slight movement of the leaves: tremble? Shiver? Loll? Quiver? Stir? You can see I have time again.

And so I drive past school. At 61, attrition got to me at last. I had become like those lettuces we had before cos and iceberg arrived: flat, dull and accompanied by soft tomatoes. The new headteacher, whom I know and like, will be crisp and fresh with the sharper edge of chopped green peppers. And the school needs refreshing at the top.

As I drive on, I notice the rush of people. I see the driven nature of people's expressions as they aim for their next appointments. I draw in for a coffee-stop. There are only a few people there: term has started, of course. There are no children. Everyone has grey hair. The men are casually smart, with ironed slacks and ties. The women have perms and wear pale lilac cardigans. But they wield their cake forks with vigour. This is my new group now. I am in a different layer of society. Performance pay and the workload agreement? Were they hallucinations?

I drive on to my talk on "overwintering pelargoniums". Away with VAT reclaims, curfews for naughty pupils, accelerated learning schemes and advanced skills teachers. I have passed on the baton, handed over the torch. It is time for pelargoniums. Hey! Is this school again? Learning how to try to nurture plants instead of students and teachers? No bad thing.

I've loved it all, from teaching to headteaching.

John Roberts was head of Oakbank school in Keighley, West Yorkshire. He retired at the end of last term after 18 years at the school

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