Retired again, un-hired again: I won’t ever feel quite so tired again.

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Retired again, un-hired again: I won’t ever feel quite so tired again.

Bemused, bothered and bewildered am I!

Hum to yourself that modified text of one of my favourite jazz standards (hearing in the back of your mind the classic 1950s Ella Fitzgerald recording) while I explain.

I have retired for the second time (or will do so on 31st August, to be more precise). Since January Mrs Trafford and I have had the extraordinary experience of living in and running a specialist music school. Close to our hearts, and harking back to original training, the work touched our hearts as well as calling on our professional experience (while I was Interim Head, she was volunteering in Learning Support, her speciality for some 20 years). Much as we’ve enjoyed it, we’re  also delighted to have completed the task set  and are looking forward to returning to retirement.

But no one believes us!  This week we headed to what was our stamping ground until a decade ago, Wolverhampton, to celebrate the retirement of two long-standing colleagues and good friends. There was much leg-pulling about our “failure” to retire first time round: but also a measure of disbelief at our repeated assertion that this retirement is permanent.

I’ve been puzzling the possible reasons for this. I suppose the fact that I have been recalled to service once, following many years of headship before that, makes people think I can’t do without it. The reverse is true. I firmly believe that people should know when it’s time to go: but I can see why people don’t believe that we’re serious – or don’t want to believe it.

I often quote Lewis Carroll’s Red Queen, who advises Alice to believe as many as six impossible things before breakfast. That’s not a national characteristics of us Brits. Stereotypically, perhaps, we tend to lack imagination, and don’t dream much: we’re generally a prosaic nation.

But not recently. In the World Cup, as England progressed relatively smoothly to the semi-final, we began to believe that we could be World Champions. The hopes were ultimately dashed: yet a buoyancy and sense of belief in future success somehow remain. Has something changed in the national psyche?

Our local Oxford water meadow, a lake in March, is now dry and parched.

Our natural pessimism about the weather has evaporated. This long, gloriously hot spell (glorious, I guess, unless you have to work all the way through it) has changed even that attitude. Our local Oxford water meadow, a lake in March, is now dry and parched. The water-level in a nearby drainage channel, dangerously high back then, is at a lazy low.

The water-level in a nearby drainage channel, dangerously high back then, is at a lazy low.

We now trust the weather to stay dry all day, all week: we neglect to pack raincoats, and recklessly plan barbecues. Indeed, when a thunderstorm interrupted that Wolverhampton retirement party, our reaction was one of disbelief. It couldn’t be happening – could it?

Small wonder, then, that other previously impossible things are happening. Serena Williams loses the Wimbledon final, while Rafa and The Fed don’t make it that far.

Donald Trump tears into NATO, then declares it hunky-dory. He lambasts the UK and its hapless Prime Minister, then declares her a “terrific woman”,  denouncing a faithfully recorded (if over-enthusiastically reported) interview with The Sun as fake news. Finally he announces that he’s heading out of the UK to visit Scotland, his Tweet swiftly taken down by White House staff – but (fortunately) not quickly enough for it to go viral.

The impossible keeps happening. Forsaking our usual Brit code of hospitality and awkwardness at disagreement, we incomprehensibly create an enormous inflatable depiction of Trump as a baby: almost as improbably, it fails to give offence beyond a mention to The Sun.

Does this give us grounds for hope? As we stumble in hopeless disorganisation towards Brexit, dare we hope that it might be done effectively after all?  Will we see some leadership from government, let alone from the opposition? Might we reach sensible agreements with the EU and the rest of the world? Or even (though sadly I can’t believe this one) that Brexit won’t happen?

It seems anything is possible. But I’ll tell you one thing. This time the Traffords stay retired! In a week or two we’ll head north towards what Voice of the North editor and father-figure David Banks calls Godzone. We’ll divide our time between there and Oxford, sing and play music and, in my case, finally find quality time for writing.

Amid so much change and unpredictability, that, at least, is a promise. So sing along with me:

Retired again, un-hired again: I won’t ever feel quite so tired again.

Bemused, bothered and bewildered am I!

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