Sick Day

Yesterday, I was off sick. Or rather, I was off sick on behalf of my son, who couldn’t go to school. As is the way with extreme youth, all it took to steady his ship was to bring up his breakfast and doze for an hour.

Day Off – Fra Angelico

Day Off – Fra Angelico

And then, by force of circumstances, we both had a day off. There is a rather banal thought experiment where you are invited to imagine that you had an extra hour each week, and then to imagine what you would do with that hour (it must be something for yourself only, no administration, no chores, no real work); and finally you are expected to examine your actual week and figure out where you could insert that ‘magic hour’. Because, the logic goes, we all have enough slack in an average week to find an hour or two to do something for ourselves alone.

All very lovely. But there are complications. I’m not sure an hour a week is enough to do anything worthwhile on a regular basis. I suppose you could go for a run (once a week? doesn’t seem like enough); or you could bake yourself a cake; or have a long bath (I get bored after five minutes). But an hour is such a short slice of time you would spend the entire week worrying that you weren’t going to maximise your time, and then you would go at whatever it was you had in mind like a panicky steam-hammer.

You really need an hour a day. But the average brain takes half an hour to work up to speed at any given thing, it seems to me. And if you only have half an hour to, for example, write your symphony, or learn Esperanto, or restore your antique desk, then you are not really going to bother.

You need two hours a day. Two hours a day might do it. So now you need a magic fourteen hours a week, not a magic hour, and I challenge anyone to find fourteen hours a week down the back of the sofa.

A serendipitous day, however, a day when you are not sick but cannot by force of circumstance go anywhere or do anything, when you are forced to confront a small but substantial vacuum of time, that is different. Things can get done. My son chose to spend his day playing Fifa ’15 and reading in bed; I also taught him how to play poker; what I chose to do (apart from the poker) is neither here nor there. But while the world ground round on its usual axis, we were off at a tangent for a little while.

And since that is the experience, come to think of it, of many of my students, perhaps I should get back to work and see how they are doing.