A long, fulfilling career in the NHS can prepare you for things you never thought possible, as one former manager explains

I still have vivid memories of studying the cigarette ends piled in the central reservation on the M62 as I sat in three lanes of static traffic trying to get to work. Now my journey to work takes five minutes through glorious fields of sunflowers with views of the Pyrenees as a backdrop. And believe it or not, the choice was hard to make.

What started as a distant dream to retire to France, mortgage free, became a frighteningly possible reality when, following another reorganisation in the NHS, my job disappeared. After 25 years of happy, challenging work in the Department of Health and NHS, I got the chance to realise my dream.

Selling our house was hard, and persuading two teenage boys that moving from the UK to France was a good idea was even harder. But despite protests and after many bribes, my partner and I managed to get two children, three dogs, two cats, and several tonnes of furniture installed in south west France during the hottest summer on record.

And so I began my "retirement" - improving my tan, pottering in the garden and swimming before breakfast. In fact, doing all the things I had always dreamt of. And I must say I loved it, every bit of it.

New directions

But somehow living the dream was not exactly what I expected. I lasted 18 months before I found myself dusting a light bulb one day (and believe me housework is not a passion of mine) and suddenly realising that if I did not get out and do something I would turn into a cabbage. Thus began the next stage of my life after the health service.

My grasp of French, never brilliant, was not improving and by now the daily ribbing from the children about my pathetic accent was becoming boring, so I decided to start work as a volunteer. It was great fun, but my French remained the same and everyone I worked with improved their English no end.

Then I got the opportunity to work as an estate agent and I realised that the health service did prepare you for another career. After all, if you can persuade a clinician to meet a new target, selling a house should be a breeze. And so it began again, but this time working on my own terms, in my own business.

Lifestyle changes

Two-hour lunches are the norm here - in fact, the French are constantly checking that I am going home to eat and rest. I think they have heard that all English people eat sandwiches at their desk. And in addition to helping other English people move to this beautiful part of France, I have also found the time to cycle for charity in India and help set up the Cancer Support France group in Gascony.

From breeding alpacas to selling Indian food, I have come to appreciate the enterprising nature and sometimes downright wackiness of my new fellow countrymen, who are game to try anything. That is another thing that working in the health service equips you for - a willingness to try anything.