Shhhh! Don’t tell anyone, but right now, at this very moment, I am not at work! I got up this morning, overdosed on coffee, powered through the usual school-and-nursery nightmare run, arrived at the office, parked my car …. and scarpered off into town, fully intending to remain there until home time. Right now I’m in a café, with a peppermint tea and chunky chocolate biscuits. The music they’re playing is rubbish, but who cares? I’m not at work! And what’s more, nobody knows this but me!
Actually, that’s not strictly true. My boss knows this. Today has been officially signed off as annual leave (believe it or not, my idiocy does have some limits; skiving off work and then blogging about it is where I draw the lime). My partner and kids don’t know about it, though. As far as they’re concerned, Mummy’s in the office doing whatever it is Mummy does in there (my four-year-old once did an impression of me at work, which involved him waving his arms around to type and saying “I read email! Everyone annoying! I go home now!” The accuracy was astounding). This is not the first time I have taken a day off without telling my nearest and dearest. To be honest, I do it as often as possible, three or four times a year. I reckon everyone should, if they can. After all, what is a day off if everyone knows about it? They’ll just ask you to do stuff and the whole point of a day off is not doing anything.
In case you have never tried this before, there are certain rules you have to follow. As an experienced secret day-offer, I’ve decided to present them to you below (don’t thank me – you mustn’t do anything that risks giving the game away):
1. Follow the usual morning routine as though nothing is different
Do not, for instance, trot downstairs wearing your “I’m brilliant, everyone else is an arse” T-shirt. This might be how you feel when you’re in the office, but everyone knows that on workdays, we keep these thoughts strictly in our heads. It helps if you pretend to be a bit stressed: “Hurry up! Mummy/Daddy really can’t afford to be late today!” Don’t overplay it, though, with some imaginary mega-important meeting. You might forget about it, or use up your sympathy cards for next time you actually have such a meeting booked. Just make sure you’re in fake “going to work” mode at all times (it makes the knowledge that in fact you’re not all the sweeter).
2. Make sure you have everyone else’s movements tracked
It’s important to ensure you don’t accidentally bump into anyone who isn’t in the know. You could pretend to have a secret twin, just in case, but if it’s your partner you’ve just met, this could be hard to sustain for the rest of your lives together (but potentially fun if you can manage it). If not, you need to have a good back story: “Oh, why aren’t I in the office? Emergency stationary rush. How come I’m in Monsoon, trying on dresses? Well, you’ve gotta look your best for buying Post-Its”.
3. Don’t go home
It is important NOT to go home on a day like this. If the only other times you spend at home involve being in the company of small children, it is likely that your home is a total tip. Should you find yourself all alone in said total tip, you will be overcome by the urge to clean and tidy. THAT IS NOT WHAT HAVING A DAY OFF IS ABOUT. You’ll spend the day up to your elbows in grime, then your partner will arrive back and be all “wow! How did the house get so clean? And are the worktops really that colour after all?” And you’ll be all “surprise! I took the day off to make it all clean for us!” And he/she will be grateful, but not sodding grateful enough. You’ll still resent it six months down the line; trust me, I know.
4. Be flexible, but also stick to your guns
Say you’ve booked a secret day off and suddenly your mum wants to come to visit. But you don’t want to spend the day with your mum; she’s nice and all, but this is your day. What you have to do is find a workaround. For instance, I once met my mum for lunch outside my office. We went upstairs in Debenhams and I chatted vaguely about what a busy morning I’d had. Then I gave her my house key and said I’d see her later. She insisted on walking me back to work whereupon I trotted back into the office, straight to the lift, down to the underground carpark and straight off to an out-of-town shopping centre. My mum did this whole “oh, it’s terrible how hard you have to work” spiel and I did a suitably sad face as I waved her off. And obviously I felt bad. But not that bad. After all, this was my day.
5. Try not to reveal how many days of holiday you actually have
My partner and I never book proper week-long holidays. This is either because we can’t afford it (the self-pitying version) or we’re incapable of budgeting for it (the possibly more true version). On the plus side, this means that my actual holiday allowance is rarely discussed and remains something of a mystery to those closest to me. If you’re ever asked about days remaining try not to give an actual figure. “Oh, I have a few days left. I’ll probably use them at Christmas or something. But not like last Christmas, when I took a day off and did all the cleaning before the family came, all by myself, without any help. Do you remember that? Do you? Do you?”
The small print
Of course, all of this only works if you’re in paid employment with a set annual leave allocation. It’s different if you’re a stay-at-home carer. Children don’t come with annual leave cards. With paid work, either someone covers your shift or it’s accepted that for the time being, that project ain’t going anywhere. With childcare, the equivalent of having someone cover your shift means calling on favours from other people, and that’s not very secret. And as for the project not going anywhere, well, you can’t exactly switch your children off for the day. The closest equivalent I’ve ever found is plonking them in front of CBeebies for the day with a grab bag of Monster Munch while you “take the time to focus on you”. But again, you’re at home while you’re doing this, so what actually happens is that you find yourself loading the washing machine and grumbling about how everyone takes you for granted and how you fucking hate those mummies who are sitting around right now with their children “doing crafts”.
Anyhow, I’m not going to think about that for now, because right now this is me-time. Mega top secret doing-sod-all me-time. I think I will now head to WH Smiths and purchase some totally tragic reading material. This will probably annoy me so much I’ll want to go home, and then I’ll end up loading the dishwasher and moaning …. But no. I will try not to let that happen. For now I’m holding on to the dream.