OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe were all set for London. Every present wrapped and labelled, clothes packed. In fact, we prided ourselves on being unusually well organised, much better than in previous years. We’d be in good time to queue for the Nine Lessons and Carols at St. Paul’s Cathedral in the heart of the city – we had just missed getting in last year. Then our daughter-in-law found she had chicken pox and we had to stay at home. I would have to cook something. No Christmas rest. More was to come.

I had already been thinking about what I would write on my birthday, 29 December. I would answer the toast for my birthday with one for the start of the earth slowly tipping towards spring in the northern hemisphere. On my birthday the midwinter solstice ends and the days start to get longer – by a few minutes only, but a little longer. I confess that I find it hard when the clocks go back at the end of October and it is dark so early in November. Lights strung across streets for Christmas enliven December right into the winter solstice. But my study faces west and I see the sun sinking at 4 in the afternoon. In dry weather, which has been most days this year, I scuttle off on to the medieval pastures, only 5 minutes away on foot, and walk as far as the black wind which has lost its sails to watch the sunset. Or I follow the children’s paths down into the ancient chalk quarries and up the other side, not running as they do. Farther out lies the ancient woodland with trees more than 400 years old.

Well, on 29 December I was looking forward to celebrating the start of longer days, later sunsets as well as my birthday when the stupidest thing happened. I bent down to pick up some towels from a shelf in the bathroom I know so well, turned to put them in the linen cupboard and whammed my head against the boards masking the pipes. I slumped on to the floor and held my hand to the right side of my face. The swelling filled my palm. My head throbbed, but didn’t exactly hurt.

I lay down. John dialled 999. In 6 minutes a paramedic arrived and did all the tests. Nothing serious was found but Cath advised me to go to Accident and Emergency. She would take me herself. So off we went to Hull Royal Infirmary 7 miles away, with John following in our car. She put my details on to the screen and assured me I would soon be seen. And so it happened. First by a nurse, then by a nurse practitioner, and finally by a doctor. I passed all the tests. I thought the doctor was taking a lot of time explaining something about calcium and distress and the symptoms I might have. I was given a card, advised to see my General Practitioner if I had any of the reactions listed on the card, and discharged, somewhat dazed. Only then I realised that they must have thought I was a victim of domestic violence! My explanation of what had actually happened must have sounded unlikely.

Three cheers for our NHS, free at the point of delivery. I willingly pay my taxes for such excellent medical care when needed.

The following day friends, who came to stay for New Year’s Eve, took us out for dinner. The bruise was under my hair and no one noticed it. The 12 guests who arrived for New Year’s Eve only noticed that the right side of my forehead was slightly yellow. New Year’s Day saw purple advancing towards my right eye. It has now attacked my nose and moved further down the cheek. I avoid the streets and only go walking in the countryside to avoid having to give one explanation after another.

The good news is that I’ve finished revising up to Chapter 8 (out of 42) and that, even though the sunset was quite a bit later than 4 o’clock today, there are still plenty of dark evenings ahead. I always do more writing in the winter months – less temptation to experiment in the garden or go out for walks. There’s good news as well about Chapter 1.