. I suddenly felt that I’d been born to be an agony aunt: at last I’d found my true niche. It was like a revelation to me—a Damascene flash—as though I’d heard a voice. ‘Rose! Rose!’ it boomed. ‘This is Thy God. Thou Shalt Dispense ADVICE!’

I’ve been screwed up anddiscarded. You might find that weird, but after what’s happened to me I see rejection in everything.So to keep negative thoughts at bay I started doing the crossword, as usual tackling the anagrams first. The skill with these is not in rearranging the letters—that’s easy—but in spotting them: you have to know the code. ‘Messy’ for example, usually indicates an anagram, as do ‘disorder’, and ‘disarray. ‘Mixed up’ is a good anagram clue as well; as is ‘confused’ and also ‘upset’.Doing anagrams makes me feel oddly happy: I often anagrammatise words in my head, just for fun. Perhaps because I was an only child I’ve always been able to amuse myself. I particularly enjoy it when I can make both ends of the anagram work. ‘Angered’ and ‘Enraged’ for example; ‘slanderous’ and ‘done as slur’; ‘discover’ and ‘divorces’ is a good one, as is ‘tantrums’ and ‘must rant’. ‘Marital’, rather appropriately, turns to ‘martial’; ‘male’ very neatly becomes ‘lame’, and ‘masculine’—I like this—becomes ‘calumnies’, and ‘Rose’, well, that’s obvious. ‘Sore’.

Looking back, the only thing that gives me any solace is the knowledge that I retained my dignity. It’s only in my dreams that I throw things at him, and swear, and rage and hit. In real life I was as cool as a frozen penguin, which might surprise people who know me well. I’m supposed to be ‘difficult’ you see— a bit ‘complicated’. A rather ‘thorny’ Rose—ho ho ho! And of course my red hair is a guaranteed sign of a crazy streak and a wicked tongue. So the fact that I didn’t erupt like Mount Etna in this moment of crisis would almost certainly confound my friends. But I felt oddly detached from what was going on. I was numb.

Serena, let me tell you, inhabits Cliche City: she could win the Palmed’Or for her platitudes. She’s one of these people who are perennially perky; in fact she’s so chirpy I suspect she’s insane. Especially as she invariably has some dreadful domestic crisis going on. She’s late thirties and mousy with three kids and a dull husband called Rob (anagram, ‘Bor’).

My practised eye had already identified from the writing the likely dilemmas within. Here were the large, childish loops of repression, and the backwards slope of the chronically depressed. There the green-inked scorings of schizophrenia and the cramped hand of the introvert. While Serena logged and dated each letter for reference, I sorted out my huge index file. In this I keep all the information sheets which I send out with my replies.

At parties people often ask me what other qualities are required. Curiosity for starters—I’ve got that in spades. I’ve always loved sitting on trains, staring dreamily out of the window into the backs of people’s houses, and wondering about their lives. You have to be compassionate too—but not wet—your reply should have a strong spine. There’s no point just offering sympathy, or even worse, pity, like that dreadful Citronella Pratt. What the reader needs is practical advice. So that means having information at the ready: information and kindness—that’s what it’s about. Having said which I’m not a ‘cuddly’, ‘mumsy’ agony aunt—if need be I’ll take a tough tone. But the truth is that my readers invariably know what to do, I simply help them find the answer by themselves.

‘Of course it is, ‘ he guffawed, ‘that’s exactly what it is: other people’s problems give us all a lovely warm glow. ‘ I suppressed the urge to club him to death with Secrets of Anger Control.

‘Goodbye, Ed, ‘ I said firmly. ‘I am ex-iting from you; I am ex-pelling you; I am ex-cising you. You are ex-traneous, ‘ I added firmly. ‘You are ex-cess. I am making an ex-ample of you, because I do not want you any more. I do not want you any more.

I enclose my Confidence leaflet and the number for your local community college,and I wish you really good luck. I felt so sorry for him that, on the spur of the moment I added: PS. If you feel you’d like to, do let me know how you get on. But as I sealed the envelope I realised that this was unlikely, and that’s the weird thing about what I do. Every month over a thousand total strangers tell me about their problems and their intimate affairs. I give them the very best advice I can, but I rarely, if ever, hear back. My replies go out into the void like meteorites hurtling through space. Did what I write help them, I sometimes wonder? Are things going better for them now?