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The First Seventy Years: Chapter 64 - Early Retirement

Eric Biddulph decides to take early retirement from his job as a college lecturer.

In the summer of 1991 I went off cycling in Pakistan and China. The story of the holiday features in a later chapter. Anyway I could not get back to work as required owing to flight problems in the Middle East. I needed an 'alibi' to justify my non appearance. Christine Clarke, after speaking to Mary, raised the issue of'recurrent trauma' arising from my accident.

It seemed to do the trick. Thanks to Christine I returned late to College without too many questions being asked. Throughout the 1970s and 80s I had maintained regular contact with our friends from our Malawi days; Moira and David Gray and Vic Newcombe. We visited Moira and David at their Newcastle home at least once a year. This was usually during the month of October. The Gray's had discovered the Scott motor cycle trial taking place around Reeth in the Yorkshire Dales National Park. I would drive up early on the Saturday morning and spend the day with them watching the competitors tackling many of the trial 'sections'; a test of great skill in riding over some unimaginable terrain. We would then proceed the relatively short distance to their home to spend the remainder of the weekend with them.

There were other occasions when Vic would drive up from London, stay the night with us before continuing to Newcastle. From time to time all of us would gather at the Gray's house. These occasions were always enjoyable and gave me a great deal of pleasure. We went down to the Cotswolds to stay with Vic in the mid-90s. He had moved out of London into a lovely cottage attached to the village post office in the village of Poulton. It was owned by an old colleague from Vic's days at Mombasa (Polytechnic. As befitted Vic, he was still very active and we made some interesting day trips around the region as well as making a visit to Hay-on-Wye to see his son Simon and family. This was a fascinating experience being a provider of third world artefacts, the contracts being directly negotiated by Simon during his frequent visits to see his supplier in different parts of the world.

Those few days spent in Vic's company was an experience to be savoured. We were never to see Vic again. Some months after our visit he collapsed and died from a heart attack whilst out with the local rambling group. He went just as he would have wanted; active; alert and for ever aware of world events. I had known him for over a quarter of a century; first, as our mentor on our arrival in Malawi; as a fellow business studies teacher at the Polytechnic; as a fellow member of the Olympic and Commonwealth Games Committee of Malawi and in latter years just a good friend. I did not attend his funeral which was a quiet family affair but did respond to an invitation to travel down to the Cotswolds for a memorial gathering of his family and friends.

In 1992 Calderdale College was given its 'independence'. In reality it was taken out of local authority control and given a degree of self-government but overseen by the newly created Further Education Funding Council which now had its hands on the money supply. The principal now re-designated as 'Chief Executive' addressed the staff to inform them that under EU law we would merely be transferred to our new employer's staff' without any change to conditions and terms of employment'.

I remained sceptical of the real direction events were likely to follow. Sure enough, within a few months the college management began referring to 'new contracts of employment' which it would like us to sign. It was not radically different to our existing contracts we were told. A closer examination of the wording however, told a different story. Increased teaching hours; minimum number of hours to remain on college premises; reduced holidays. It was inevitable that many staff would refuse to sign the new contract. I was one of them.

There was a standoff between the trade union NATFHE and management. During 1993 talk of possible redundancies began to circulate for the first time. By 1994 the offer terms for redundancy had been put on the table although from a legal perspective this was not possible because student numbers were increasing. Only a few lecturers put themselves forward. A second, improved offer was made in early 1995. Again, there was only a very limited takeup. This, coupled with the continued refusal of members of staff to sign the new contract posed acute difficulties for the college. Its funding would be reduced by the FEFC based upon an assumption that all members of staff were on the new contract.

This was, of course, not the case and the college found itself in something of a financial quandary. I sensed that another, somewhat improved offer would be made. Management had stated that the second offer was final but the general perception amongst the staff was that this was bluff. Sure enough, a third offer was put on the table accompanied by a statement indicating that this really was going to be the final offer. The persuasive element was the reference to compulsory redundancies.

Although it would have been difficult for the college to follow this course of action I concluded that the time had come to 'get out'. I had had enough and was ready to 'throw the towel in' after more than two years of bitterness exacerbated by my dispute over another matter. I, along with forty four other members of the full-time teaching staff, took up the offer put on the table. It contained a single tax free payment of around ten months salary, In addition, I received a lump sum of around nine months salary as part of my pension and a monthly pension of 26% of my final salary. It was not a brilliant payoff but with the inflation linking it was acceptable. I decided to 'bite the bullet' and take early retirement. It is a decision I have never had cause to regret.

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