It all started this morning, at precisely 10:34am. The sound came from the other side of the building, possibly from one of those footloose and fancy-free creative types in the Design Department, or likelier still, from the devious stock-pinching rascals in UK Sales. It wasn’t loud, but there was no mistaking its impact and the resulting shockwave that would be felt by every single joyous employee of this fine company.

It was a sneeze, and a mild sneeze at that. But this seemingly innocent shattering of the early-morning office torpor meant more than a sore throat and blocked hooter for one poor administration urchin. No, this sneeze represented doom and gloom for all of humankind for it signalled the opening of the dreaded Office Sickness Season.

All activity ceased at once as surprise, shock and fear etched their unwelcome features on the faces of office and warehouse workers alike. So it had begun.

The initial stunned silence rapidly gave way to the loud rumble of angry thunder and the building reverberated to the sound of desk drawers being violently rattled as each and every employee frantically searched for the leftovers of the previous year’s medicine supplies. ‘Nooooooo…’ howls the front desk receptionist as she realises that her last Lemsip Cold & Flu sachet has split and is now neatly layered around her box of multicoloured paper-clips.

There is no escaping the spread of the contagion either. As our antibodies prepare themselves for interdepartmental biological warfare, the hallways echo with the dulcet tones of hacking coughs, sinus-imploding catarrh inhalations and the violent trumpetings of red raw noses. Those with more robust constitutions will be ground down into sick submission by the alternating blasts of hot and cold air emanating from scalding heaters and open windows as the feverish strive to cool down and the frozen attempt to thaw out.

On this day, Tuesday October 21st, the 2008/9 Office Sickness Season has started early. There will be many casualties as strong and weak fall like toy soldiers and the surviving few struggle to breathe and function in this cursed and impure air. As in times of plague, the desks of the diseased are marked with a yellow Post-It note, their occupants dismissed as office pariahs until they have passed their ailments on to the next sufferer-in-waiting. Once the circle is complete, the merry-go-round starts anew, and a-tishoo, a-tishoo, we all fall down…

It will be a long winter.

[Author’s note, 12 years on: oh to go back in a time machine with a hamper full of face masks and hand sanitizer…]

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