In a moment of weakness this morning I picked up the Metro free-sheet newspaper from Whitton railway station, enticed perhaps by the large picture of a renascent Amy Winehouse emblazoned across its cover.
Metro is a paper born of distribution nous and efficient execution but we all know that its contents are merely the rubbish-heap of yesterday's fly-tipped news with associated smell of decomposing cabbage, urine and general staleness. However, however...
After admiring Amy's resurgent health, the splash story caught my eye with its quite clever headline 'Britain is sickie man of Europe'. (I can only assume, by the way, that the headline writer was in his or her 40s or older, as the head doffs its cap to the Heath and Wilson governments of the 1970s when it was often said that Britain's knackered economy and debt made it 'the sick man of Europe'.)
But I digress. Metro's story focused on that ancient appeal to the bile and fretting of the Daily Mail parsing classes by suggesting that Britain is top of the class in Europe when it comes to taking sick days: one in five confessed their last sick day taken actually saw them in robust health. Frankly, I'm highly suspicious of survey stories: journalists tolerate them because they can start writing them at noon and still be in the pub for an early lunchtime livener. Then they can spend a half-cut afternoon writing nonsense for columns, leaders and suchlike beomoaning 'Broken Britain' and wondering rehetorically what happened to the old Blighty spunk and spirit. Art editors like them because they can come up with a graphic. PRs love them because they're easy to place with a complaisant press.
The story would not be complete of course without some business body - in this case the CBI - adding a factoid: this time the suggestion that sick days 'cost the economy' Â£2.5bn a year. With all of these other stories about World Cup viewing in the office and so on you might think it's a wonder there's any economy left at all.
It's a scare story, right? But it did raise one point in my head: we all work too bloody hard in this country and when we're at work we treat the Working Time Directive as a joke document dreamed up by Pierre, Helmut and Juan. Twenty-five days is simply not enough for us to recover the physical strength and mental stamina to complete life's course of 45 years on the hamster wheel. Not unless we are very blessed with our families, commutes and occupations at least. We've gome from 'real men don't eat quiche' to 'lunch is for losers'. It's a macho thing and it's usually a rank bad idea to work all the hours the boss sends. In almost all of the rest of Europe holidays easily trump the weedy British strain and in many of those countries they have a reliable supply of sun to make those holidays count.
Sick days don't 'cost' us anything like Â£2.5bn because presentee-ism only delivers staff who are unmotivated, cynical and generally unlikely to provide a day's useful graft. The old clichÃ© of recharging your batteries has surivived because it is apposite. Like many of you reading this I dare say, there are days away from work when one can feel very like a mobile phone having its bars of live-giving energy restored. I just wish I had more of them.
So what can we do about it? The 25 days band isn't going to go away anytime soon but I like employers who promise longer breaks for loyal servants. I also think the American model of providing unpaid time off when business is slack has legs so long as the offer is optional. But most of all companies need to bend to offer staff flexible working hours because for many of us, as my exasperated mother used to exclaim, there simply aren't enough hours in the day.
And as for Amy, she's doing fine, thank god. But then she's had a good rest, hasn't she?