End of term at last, and for me it has been one of the most stressful terms I have had. But, since I decided to retire, the stress has been very much less. As we are bombarded by workload allocation models, performance targets, REF dry run feedback, and so on, I can simply give a shrug and ignore it all. I feel sorry for causing several of my colleagues to be jealous; but nobody has suggested that I haven’t done the right thing.
I have made very few career decisions in my life. Almost always, the next stage was obvious, and I just took the opportunity that came along. Really there was only one decision that cost me any thought. When I was a post-doc in Oxford, I turned down my first offer of a permanent job. It was late winter or early spring, just as this year. Here is something I wrote at the time.
On the first warm day
I walked humbly under the basking
old wall of the cathedral
I watched the ghosts’ futile races
along the iron fences in the meadow
I heard a lazy clarinet scarce deigning
to slide from one note to another
under the horse chestnut in the college
I heard the corkscrew songs of birds
chase me past whitewash and late daffodils.
Suddenly aware of happiness
I knew my decision was right.
Not the finest writing ever, but I think that, despite the minimalist punctuation, it is clear (apart possibly from the word “ghosts”, which refers to moiré patterns – I didn’t know the word then, but I think the metaphor is OK), and to me it speaks very accurately of how I know that a decision is right. The words of the poem bring back the images of that day more than forty years ago remarkably clearly.
There are some differences this time: I still have daffodils, though no cathedrals or whitewash; and, more important, the realisation has not been sudden, but gradual (though no less compelling). Maybe my mind moves more slowly now.
As a postscript, after my run-in with Health and Safety over the state of my office, a very important envelope went missing; I apologise sincerely to colleagues who were seriously inconvenienced by this. On the other hand, my study at home is in a similar state, but I just walked in and put my hand on the folder containing the forty-year-old piece of paper with the words I have just quoted.