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A threesome with Anne and Nick

Yes, it's that time of year. The time when you suddenly realise that consuming the equivalent of a medium-sized orange grove in vitamin C every day hasn't rendered you immune to the bug. Reluctantly you surrender and its ally - your spouse - delights in telling you the consequences of "soldiering on": medical complications and marital disaster.

So you phone in sick and reflect on things. How are you going to spend the time, for one thing? Well you certainly shouldn't occupy the time too pleasantly, should you? No, the choice essentially boils down to plundering the day-time TV schedules, listening comfortably to Radio 4 or tackling the Booker prizewinner that lies unread since your last birthday. I usually stick with Anne, Nick and their sofa.

You also have plenty of time to reflect on work. "I could go in," you muse, "if all I had to do was sit at a bloody desk all day shuffling paper and making the odd phone call. But there's no way I could teach - standing up, talking all day."

Guilt is the constant companion to the sick teacher. It lurks in the undergrowth of your consciousness; leaping out to get you just as Anne and Nick are goofing around on that sofa.

Inevitably your thoughts are drawn to the classes you're missing. The day release students who travel vast distances; the earnest mature unemployed who are looking to you to turn their lives around; and even the young full-timers who give you a hard time but don't deserve to be messed around.

And that's the bottom line - people (students, colleagues, hard-pressed secretarial staff and even managers) will be messed about by your absence. Behind the kindly telephone advice -"Now don't come back too soonlook after yourselfwe're getting by without you" - it's easy to imagine there's a harsher sub-text - "He didn't sound that bad when I spoke to himI'm sure I saw him walking his kids to schoolDoesn't he have a thing about that Anne Diamond?" So you return before it's over. Well, you can't flounce back being perfectly A1 can you? So you look a bit pathetic - body language is all - but above all you look humble. You pick up the pieces, sort through the debris on your desk, consume copious amounts of humble pie, and attempt a dignified response to the enquiries about your current state of health (are they being snide?). And you hope that at least one person will tell you that you look awful and returned to work "far too early".

I bet Anne Diamond doesn't have to go through this.

John Bateman is a business studies lecturer in Sussex

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