(Luke 12:7, King James version.)

You may recall that I injured my back and have since retired from view as it were. As pain levels rose from present but not really bothersome, through actually quite painful in places, to the implacable intolerably painful, continuous, and quite unbearable, I could see my own behaviour slip into patterns that I myself looked at disapprovingly as if I were the mother of a troublesome child. (Normally I identify with the mother but this time I am the roaring child.)

Try and stay calm and be pleasant, my mother self says, ineffectually, as I sob quietly (well she would probably say noisily) in my chair. “What do you know about it?” I snarl at her and she goes away, shaking her head. When someone calls, I just think, Tell them to clear off. The telephone rings and I say, before I even know who it is, I don’t want to talk to anybody. I don’t want to eat either, and I can’t sleep, and I just want to sit in a warm place, not move, or answer questions, and be left alone.

Eventually John and the physiotherapist coax (force) me to seek an appointment with the doctor. He sees me fairly promptly and John made the appointment and I wonder what he actually said. The doctor suggests some neuropathic drug to take which should ease the pain and enable the damage to heal. It’s probably rotting my brain as we speak, but it certainly relieves the pain, bringing it down to a manageable extent. Maybe I will live after all. I begin making lists of things that need doing (but not, it should be pointed out, actually doing any of them.)

Just out of interest my hair was in a dreadful state during the worst few days of that crisis. It’s another thing we should remember : to try to be grateful for gifts we take for granted. I’ve always had very undemanding hair. In my youth it was a dark brown, entirely without red in it, and I wore it shoulder length or in a ponytail. This suited me and was cheap and easy. I used to swish it over my naked babies after the bath. It had a slight kink in it that made the ends flick. From about 21 I had a small fountain of grey hairs from the middle of my forehead which I left as it was. (My hair became grey quite prematurely. I think this is an Isle of Lewis gene. My grandfather had white hair as a young man and my son has a pronounced wing of white hair.) Sometime in my 30s I decided I was too old to have long hair and had it cut short (in Aberdeen of all places.) This made it very easy to look after. For more than 30 years I’ve had it cut short. The absence of weight makes it curl; so I shower, towel dry it, put on some moose, run my fingers through it to style it, leave it for 10 minutes to dry naturally, then comb it out, a little spray, and it’s an attractive hairstyle. It’s never been permed or coloured. I doubt if it’s care costs me more than £200 a year. But last week it just sulked and whatever I did, it lay, lank and unlovely on my head. I got very exasperated with it and wondered whose horrible, lank, ugly hair I’d got and who had stolen my own desirable easy wavy hair. Wonder of wonders it has returned and when I look in the mirror it is I myself I see, still queen in my own kingdom.

My back is by no means recovered, but there is hope that it might improve.

Thanks to those who put up with me last week, especially my irritable but supportive and loving husband.





It isn’t every day you get to go out and be a hero. Assuming you wish to be one, there are many days where nothing even moderately exciting takes place at all; and on these days you have to shovel coal; peel potatoes; look after children; fix cars. Even jobs as exalted as the Queen’s must have their less than enjoyable element: being charming to tedious social climbers, for example.

But occasionally in one’s life, you sense that there are changes underway. All of a sudden the wind is from the East and the moon is full (or whatever circumstances you have chosen to herald magical events.) These are times of extraordinary activity in your life. People around you die or are born; lovers arrive or depart; in a few short weeks the circumstances of your life can change absolutely and in ways that ae totally unexpected.

At these critical times, hopefully a hunting horn sounds in the recesses of your memory to remind you that you have reached a place of judgement. Though one’s every action must be accounted for, and every words stands forever, some times seem to be especially significant. and throughout them you must behave as though your life depends on it, for on your conduct now will depend the future well being of yourself and your companions in life, though no-one but you will ever know this.

So for the duration of this period, you must do your very best; be the finest YOU there is. You must be a lady or gentleman of the highest order. You must be particularly well behaved towards your enemies and those who dislike you. Your manners must be faultless. And whatever is asked of you (that the seeker is entitled to request) you must surrender immediately and graciously and with no count of the cost. On the other hand if someone asks of you that to which they are not entitled you must firmly and promptly, but courteously refuse, regardless of the consequences of doing so. You must be kind to everyone. You must have no regard in your actions for profit or fame. Your behaviour must be as near perfect as you can get it. (And don’t make the mistake of believing that it IS perfect either, or you’ll become a pompous and insufferable bore, and not pass this test either.)

No-one will notice what a prince you’ve been. You will get no plaudits or credits. You’ll just realise one day that the ship that represented this whole experience has sailed, leaving you, exhausted and depleted on an unfamiliar shore, and that it slipped out in the darkness with no regrets, and no thank you or good-bye.

What was that all about, you’ll ask yourself? Why did I make such a huge effort? But – you passed the test. The right questions came up. You are an unsung hero, and they are secretive people. (What other kind of hero is there, apart from unsung? You are no hero if you boast about your heroism.) These times will come again, but in the meantime you have to return to ordinary life. Does everyone pass through such times? I expect so, but who knows? You’re not talking, are you?

As ever when you struggle to say something, you find Shakespeare has already said it far better.

“There is a tide in the affairs of men which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune…’

Bon voyage, unsung heroes whoever you are. May your journey through 2017 bring you whatever your heart most desires, and I hope that turns out to be all you thought it would.   I think heroes are going to be sorely needed.