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No peace for the wicked or the sick

I wake up feeling terrible.

I'm sure I'll be fine once I get up and move around. I try, and fall over. This is awful. I assume I've caught the flu and climb back into the still warm sheets. I'll try again later, I tell my wife. She says the school can survive perfectly well without me and brings me two aspirins and a cup of tea. She fusses over me briefly ... always enjoyable ... and then hurries off to work.

I hate being ill. In 40 years I've had just 25 days off for sickness, 10 of those recovering from a minor operation. My teachers tell me the only time my voice has a slight edge to it is when they phone in sick ... which, like me, they hardly ever do. I don't expect people to be ill. And now, even though I could never make it to school, I feel guilty.

I decide to make the most of it. Since I'm always in school by 7.50am, I never hear all of Radio 4's Today programme. This morning I can. But a thumping headache makes me turn it off after a few minutes. I text my deputy and let her know I'm at death's door.

There's a thump as something lands on the bed. It's Cilla, our cat. We had no intention of having a cat, but she was young and unwanted by her owners, and she'd sit on our patio during the summer holiday when I was refitting the kitchen. She'd eye the ham in my sandwiches and purr gratefully if I shared it with her, and things kind of went from there. I peer over the bedcover. Cilla wanders right up to my face, purrs, and pats my head. It's not sympathy; my wife forgot to let her out. I stagger downstairs, sort the electronic cat flap, and crawl back to bed.

I'm woken 15 minutes later. Bob, my neighbour, isn't working today. He's a retired secondary teacher who still loves the job and works two days a week. He's warm, kind and humorous, and when he talks about school I imagine how enjoyable his lessons must be. His love of cowboy music doesn't endear me to him this morning, though. I tuck my head under the sheets to the strains of Frankie Laine rounding up the steers and Doris Day on board the Deadwood Stage.

The dustcart rumbles down the road. Dammit, I haven't put the wheelie bin out. I hunt for my dressing gown and slippers and hurry outside. I'm in time, just. It's only when I'm back under the covers that I remember I should have put the paper container out, because the recycling collection is made an hour later. Back on with gown and slippers.

The hammering starts 20 minutes later. Neighbours have had their roof replaced and the scaffolding is being removed. Poles and brackets clang noisily on the ground. There's no point in trying to sleep, so I look through my school bag and find the form for the new-style school financial audits. It's 30 pages long and might as well have been written in Sanskrit for all the sense it makes.

I put it aside ... and eventually drift off. I wake at 2pm ... and feel great. It can't be flu after all. Then I remember I'd had an allergy rash at school yesterday and thrown a handful of pills into my mouth as soon as I'd got home. I check the bottle and discover it was the wrong medicine and way above a sensible dosage.

But ... hooray ... I can go to school in the morning. And I know what I'll be reading on my weekly storytelling visit to the Nursery class. Jill Murphy's Peace at Last!

Mike Kent is headteacher at Comber Grove Primary, Camberwell, south London. Email:

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