The times being what they are, the staff room pigeon holes are generally empty. There are no activities to be advertised, no school clubs looking for members, no lunchtime groups holding meetings.
A letter in an A5 envelope with my name written in the handwriting of the school secretary seemed ominous. Why should the school wish to communicate with me by letter? Communication is generally by email, it being quick and cheap, an envelope and paper must be something of import.
It was a letter about membership of the Teachers’ Pension Scheme, telling me that Gloucestershire County Council would pay contributions for employees from the age of 16 until a maximum age of 75. It advised me of my level of contributions to the teaching pension scheme for the coming year.
Perhaps my sixtieth birthday last week had triggered the letter. The teachers’ pension is calculated on the basis of one-fifty-seventh of average annual earnings for each year that is worked. People who work for thirty-eight years will accrue a pension of two-thirds of their average annual earnings. If someone has started their career at the age of twenty-one, then they should be able to retire at the age of fifty-nine.
Starting out at the age of fifty-nine, the number of fifty-sevenths that might be accumulated is limited, not that the thought of retirement is inviting.
In a religionless society, hopes of retirement have replaced hopes of heaven, people aspiring to achieve a paradise-like existence in this world rather than the next.
But what if you are not someone who is drawn by the prospect of golf or gardening or all the other activities that draw people from salary to superannuation? What if the days of Saga holidays and discount Tuesdays and bus passes and seniors’ prices seem a bleak prospect? They seem rather purposeless when compared with workaday life, no matter how wearying the workdays may be.
The poet Charlotte Mew was probably never held in high regard by theologians, but her poem Old Shepherd’s Prayer articulated a hope of heaven that might have been shared by many working people;
. . . I wud like to wake to they same green places
Where I be know’d for breakin’ dogs and follerin’ sheep.
And if I may not walk in th’ old ways and look on th’ old faces
I wud sooner sleep.
If hopes of heaven have been superseded by hopes of retirement, perhaps those hopes are to be known for continuing to do the things one has always done.