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A Man of a Few More Words - by Swan Morrison

Signed On

‘Hello Mr Olden. What seems to be the trouble?’

‘Well, doctor, I can’t cope with work anymore. I’m worn out.’

‘I thought you retired last year?’

‘I did. That’s the problem. I started off just doing a bit of volunteer driving for Age Concern. Then I was asked to help out with door to door charity collecting. Then I got involved with arranging events for a local charity for Africa. One voluntary commitment led to another, and it’s all just spiralled out of control.’

‘I see.’

‘All the volunteering and charity work is taking up every day, seven days a week. I can’t go on.’

‘This is an increasing problem among the retired, I’m afraid. It’s good that you’ve recognised it and come for help. Many people just try to struggle on until they collapse with exhaustion.’

‘Can you help, doctor? I thought you could prescribe some amphetamines. I wouldn’t need to sleep so much then and so could fit more in.’

‘I don’t think that’s quite the right approach, Mr Olden. I think you need a complete break. I’m going to sign you on for six weeks.’

‘Sign me on?’

‘Well, yes. You’re not in paid employment, so I can’t sign you off. If you’re signed on it means that you’re not well enough to do charitable or voluntary work. You can show the certificate to the charities. You needn’t feel guilty about it because it’s doctor’s orders.’

‘Thank you, doctor, that’s just what I need. What do I do while I’m signed on?’

‘There’s a local employment centre you can attend which is specially geared to people with your needs.’

‘What happens there?’

‘Well, you turn up at 9.00 am from Monday to Friday and undertake paid employment. You needn’t work particularly hard as you’ll get paid the same whatever you do, and anyway you’ll hate the company and your boss so you won’t feel particularly motivated.’

‘Just like before I retired.’


‘Will I be able to go in late and then skive off down the pub most lunchtimes and not come back?’

‘The Centre insists upon it, although the rest of the programme will be targeted to your specific needs.’

‘In what way?’

‘You can select from options such as having an affair with a colleague, taking a sickie or being on strike. In fact, I’ve an arrangement with the Centre that I’ll sign off patients at the drop of a hat on virtually any spurious pretext of their choice.’

‘Just like a real job.’


‘If you signed me off work at the Employment Centre, does that mean I wouldn’t be signed on anymore?

‘Not exactly. You’d be signed on and signed off at the same time. Being signed on would allow a guilt free break from the voluntary work. Being signed off would allow you to avoid your employment.’

‘I don’t suppose you could give me certificates now to both sign me on and sign me off? Then I could just go home, potter round in the garden and have a nice, restful time.’

‘No problem… Here are your certificates.’

‘Thank you very much, doctor. I feel better already.

‘Excellent, Mr Olden. See you in six weeks.’