BBC Radio 4 http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b0076n97 (until June 27, 2015)
Let me say straight away that I never malinger. It’s just that the thought of work makes me ill. The very notion of physical work, such as helping my wife in the garden, brings on excruciating knee pains that go back to the damage that my knees suffered during my days as a runner, while the prospect of vacuuming the house induces such an attack of hay fever that I would be foolish to expose myself to the dust that the vacuum cleaner stirs up.
I am not the only person to suffer in this unfortunate way. The Victorian writer Jerome K. Jerome was convinced that he suffered from liver disease, because he had discovered that one of its major symptoms was “a general disinclination to work of any kind”, a problem to which he claimed to have been a martyr since infancy. Many of my friends, especially the male ones, suffer from a similar complaint, which manifests itself most strongly on Mondays.
The problem of feeling ill on Mondays, after a weekend where the sufferer appears to have been in the rudest of health, is so prevalent that it has its own special name – “Mondayitis”. Ignorant people put the condition down to malingering, but to workers in the American textile industry last century it was a real, and even life-threatening, condition, technically called byssinosis, which produced headaches and severe breathing difficulties in the unfortunate sufferers. The problem was that they had become allergic to the textile fibres that they breathed in as they worked. Weekends gave them a respite, but the sensitization meant that the symptoms came on with renewed severity (as is often the case with allergic reactions) when they returned to work on Mondays.
Even people who don’t suffer from byssinosis can experience real physical illness on Mondays. Middle-aged men, for example, die more frequently from strokes and heart attacks on Mondays than on any other day of the week. This sad statistic is reflected in the behaviour of their cars, which break down most frequently on Mondays. So do computers. Even the stock market appears to regard Monday as a day that we would be better off without, and stocks and shares world-wide consistently perform worse on Mondays than on any other day of the week. You can hardly put these problems down to malingering. No, you can say what you like, but Mondayitis is real, for machines and institutions as well as for people, and I intend to advance its reality as evidence in my defence when I suddenly feel ill the next time my wife asks me to do the vacuuming or help in the garden. After all, I couldn’t possibly be malingering – could I?