Ten years. That is how long it has been since I left my job as Head of English and Assistant Headteacher in the tough Sheffield secondary school where I worked for twenty two years.
I think that if I had stayed much longer the job would have killed me so I got out when I could, securing a decent early retirement package. Perhaps I was lucky to be able to escape just before my fifty sixth birthday but I had been involved with teaching from the age of eighteen - thirty eight years in total.
Some of the residue of those final years still remains with me like scum on the side of a bathtub. I just cannot wash it away. The thing about teaching in a school like that is that you give so much of yourself, you give so much and yet it's all about developing the pupils in front of you. It's never about personal enrichment or self-development. You give, give, give and then the system wants more. Squeezing the very air you breathe.
Two years after retiring, a former colleague and friend named Jon got me out to Bangkok, Thailand to fill a vacant teaching post. I was there for six months and returned in 2013 for a further six months. From a teaching point of view that experience was both healing and uplifting. It reminded that I was always a damned good teacher. It was in my blood. Working there was a lovely way to truly finish my career.
Ten years. How the time has flown and I have to admit that I have squandered a lot of it. I could have done more. More reading, more writing, more playing my guitar, more song-writing, more home improvements - but I shouldn't beat myself up too much.
I've been to Easter Island, New Zealand, The Pacific North West, various European destinations and several previously unvisited places in The British Isles like The Isle of Man, Anglesey and The Mull of Galloway. And of course I have walked and walked, taking photographs along the way. Countless miles have I walked, seeing new things, learning new things. It has been such a joy. And then there has been Oxfam, the geograph website and this blog too - a creative outlet, a window on the world, a special link with other people - all accidentally encountered, all different from each other.
Will there be another ten years? Who knows? Sometimes I think that I am already living on borrowed time. My lovely father Philip died soon after his sixty fifth birthday and my amazing brother Paul died just before his sixty third birthday. I am a long way past them now and though my health is robust - no pills or other medication and no significant "conditions" - I know that The Grim Reaper could strike me down at any time - like a sheep in a riverside pasture.
I do not regret taking early retirement for a single moment. Looking back now, I am certain that it was the right thing to do though back then - in the summer of 2009 - it seemed like a skydive. Happily the parachute opened immediately and I am still floating down, enjoying the view.