I BUMPED into an old friend of mine in a local shop recently. I hadn’t seen her for a while and we had a good chat about the ‘old days’.

Once upon a time, there was a group of about nine or 10 couples who used to socialise on a regular basis. We were all friends united by supporting the sports team our sons played for.

Two or three times a year, we would all go out together for a meal, a few drinks and a good chat.

As our boys grew up and moved on to pastures new, the parents remained friends and continued to socialise, but obviously the numbers started to drop off and the frequency of our visits to local restaurants decreased.

Anyway, my friend – we’ll call her Sally for want of a better name – suggested that the hard core of parents meet up again and go out for a meal.

“Good idea,” I said to Sally. “That would be lovely. When do you have in mind?”

Sally wanted to know how we were fixed for some time around Easter. This year, for the first time in living memory, we will actually be going away over the Easter weekend so I had to rule that out.

Sally then came up with a couple of dates in the middle of the week either side of the Easter weekend.

“Sorry,” I said, “That’s not really much use to me. My days of partying on a school night and getting up for work the following day are long since gone.”

Sally laughed and said of course and she would try to come up with a weekend date for us and the other parents.

There’s nothing unusual about this conversation, of course. Sally is a primary school teacher and is on holiday for a couple of weeks over the Easter period, meaning she is free to party just as hard as she wants to and have a long lie-in the next day to recover.

Us mere mortals with ‘normal’ annual leave don’t enjoy such luxuries.

Interestingly, just a couple of days after the chat with Sally, teachers found themselves making headlines again when one of the teaching unions staged a one day-strike.

I’m not going to launch into a teacher-bashing rant at this point. I fully understand that in the 21st century, very few people go on strike, even for a day, without believing their cause is just.

A quick look on the National Union of Teachers website reveals a general disquiet about the state of teaching, and frankly, I don’t know enough about it to pass comment.

However, on the day of the strike, I was listening to a radio phone-in and one of the issues raised by the aggrieved teachers was the hours they are expected to work.

Regular readers of this column may remember that I have, in the past, spent some time as a guest in a number of schools in Northwich and Winsford.

I commented at the time that what struck me as quite remarkable was the skewed school day – a longer morning session and a much, much shorter afternoon. The upshot for me was that when the school teaching day had finished, I went back to the office and did another half day’s work.

Again, I pass no comment about what the teachers do when their ‘contact time’ is over for the day.

I assume there is marking, lesson prep, admin and personal development needs to be fitted in.

But listening to some of the teachers who called the radio phone-in, one piece of information struck me as being truly remarkable.

A clearly sincere and very upset teacher stated that research (I have no way of verifying the research) shows that primary school teachers work, on average, 60 hours a week, yes 60 hours. The same teacher said that for secondary school teachers, that figure drops only marginally to 56 hours a week.

If those figures are true, surely that is not sustainable. Just what demands are being placed on our teachers? What are they being asked to do that involves regular 12-hour days?

If this is the case, no wonder they need those long school holidays.

If any teachers out there would like to let me know about their normal working week and the reasons why they have to work such excessive hours, I would be really interested to find out.