136. To absent friends…

She walked into the Staffing Department, looking very tanned and very relaxed. A bit desiccated perhaps – sun and cigs, I’d guess – but definitely at ease. As she made her way over to my desk, it seemed that the whole office went quiet in her wake. Out the corner of my eye, I could see a little murmuring and some scribbling but when Mrs Marbella opened her mouth, it was obvious that the entire office had tuned in.

“Do you keep the sickness and holiday records now?” she asked. Indeed I did. We’d recently swapped around duties and my group was now responsible for keeping track of absences. We did so diligently on a range of index cards, cross-referenced with personal files, tied up with yer actual red tape.

“Don’t mind if I sit down, do you? I’ve not been well.” Was that a hissed “yes” I heard from the corner of the office? “You’ll have me down as annual leave for the last two weeks. Unfortunately, I was sick for all of it.” A distant chuckle? She handed me an envelope. “Luckily, I managed to get a certificate from a local doctor. You’ll need to change the last two weeks to sick-leave. I’ll give you a call to let you know when I want my annual leave as soon as I’ve booked my next holiday.” And she was up and off.

As she swanned out of the office, I could see that I was now the focus of attention. Obviously something was expected from me at this point, but what?

Quietly, Miss Phillips from Superannuation rose from her chair, walked across the office and civilly, as befitting one of Her Majesty’s servants, held out her hand for the letter.

“May I?” I handed it over. Miss Phillips quietly walked back to her own desk, took up a letter opener and slit open the envelope. She unfolded the paper within, read it, shook her head.

“Who had Upper Respiratory Throat Infection?”

The office exploded into cheers, groans and some redistribution of wealth. Miss Fryer, blushing gently, told us that the next round of currant buns from the tea trolley were on her. From which I gleaned that this was not the first time Mrs Marbella had pulled such a trick.

Different times, different manners. Perhaps now, Mrs Marbella thinks back to those days, wracked by guilt at having been unduly absent from her allotted post; at failing to make the contribution to the National Good which came from whatever it was that she was employed to do.

Or perhaps not.

Mrs Marbella came to mind this week as I caught up with the news from Thrush Woods, where various nasty bugs are still laying waste the staff. I’ve not been able to help out because I too have spent the week sneezing and coughing. Mine is just a cold, though, and is already moving on to pastures new.

Whereas a couple of the teachers have been really and truly poorly, with severe chest and throat infections. Mrs Auld Syne has had no voice at all for some three weeks. There is no way that these ladies could or should have been teaching, yet every communication from them is wracked with Guilt at not being at work. Their colleagues, their doctors, their brains tell them that they have no choice but to stay at home until they are recovered. Their inner voices, though, will continue to ladle Guilt upon their heads until they are back in the classroom, whatever anyone says.

I wonder about this Guilt. I don’t remember seeing it in my pre-teaching jobs or, indeed, feeling it when I was off sick from said jobs. Perhaps it’s different when the work can’t just pile up until you are fit to tackle it. I’m pretty certain that Mrs Acorn is not going to return to school tomorrow to an in-tray full of four year olds, waiting to be taught. I’d be interested to hear what others think.

And what I’d really like to know, from those who have trodden this path before me, is when does it wear off, this Guilt about not being at work during term-time? And how long will it take before, knowing that others are teaching, I can read a book in day-light and feel as carefree as Mrs Marbella?


Yesterday evening, InfantPhenonemon and her lovely flatmate JohnGeorgeRIngo, ran a quiz in aid of Parkinson’s UK.   I was dead proud of them both, and proud of my kith and kin for making it such a jolly evening. Thanks.

And, in case you were wondering, the ten ways which you can be out in cricket are: caught; bowled; given leg before wicket (lbw); run out; stumped; hit wicket – when a batsman removes his or her own bails, usually accidentally; handled the ball – when he handles the ball without permission from the fielding side; hit the ball twice (also known as ‘double hit’); obstructing the field – when the batsman prevents fielders from executing a run out or a catch; and timed out, which is when a new batsman takes too long to appear on the field.

One response

  1. When my first son was born (First week of Sept 1995) I was due to take in a class of brand new Reception babies. The head rang all the parents personally and explained the situation. Apart from 3 parents who couldn’t rejig their work all the parents said they would prefer to start their children a week late rather than have an temporary teacher. My relief and lack of guiltiness made it a great paternity leave, thanks sensible parents!

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