This is my 400th column in Weekend magazine. That's seven and three-quarter years and half a million words spent baring my soul every Saturday. I know this because I'm a nerd, so I keep everything I've ever published in order of date on my computer hard-drive and it takes up so much memory that the index alone looks like the digital Dead Sea Scrolls.
What keeps me going is the feedback which I get - and always appreciate - from readers who email me with comments, questions, suggestions or (occasionally) corrections and almost invariably begin with "Dear Frances, I read your column with great interest every week..." So, to celebrate this mini-milestone, I thought it would be fun to give all you regulars a writing task of your own. A comprehension test, if you will, to see how much attention you really have been paying to my weekly musings. So I'm composing a list of questions relating to my column, going back to the beginning. Treat it like a pub quiz if you like, except without the drinks, or the prizes. The answers can be found at the bottom of the page but NO CHEATING!
1. When I was a kid, what did I want to be when I grew up? a) professional poker player? b) astronaut c) bounty hunter or d) a nun?
2. When I was a kid who did I want to marry when I grew up? a) Captain Scarlet b) Virgil Tracy c) Yul Brynner d) Sean Connery?
3. What am I describing: "Like a black hole in outer space, its very existence is shrouded in mystery. I know it's there but I don't know exactly where so I can't prove it, look at it or even show it to anyone"
4. What did I believe was the 11th Commandment?
5. There are two fridge magnets in my kitchen. What do they say?
6. What happened after my suitcase went missing en route to a family holiday in Portugal?
7. How does my dog Bailey know when we're expecting visitors and what does he do?
8. What TV programme from the 70s am I describing? "This one changed TV drama forever, adding the terms "adult themes" and "scenes of a sexual nature" to the announcer's repertoire and giving a whole new meaning to the phrase "How's yer father" and "slap'n'tickle" "
9. What New Years Resolutions were a success? 10. What New Years Resolutions were a failure?
11. What outfit am I describing: "it consisted of a floor-length maxi skirt, which I'd ripped into shreds so it looked like something a post-apocalyptic bag-lady might wear; tights with multiple holes ripped in them like I'd been in a fight with a giant ferret; a blood red blouse, also shredded, with a once-fashionably frilly jabot on the bodice which I'd torn strategically so it resembled entrails spilling from my chest and a cardigan with the sleeves hanging off, frayed and torn at the seams."
12. What poem did my dad read out to the guests at his 80th birthday party?
13. What did my son tell his P1 teacher was his favourite song?
14. How many disastrous dates have I been on?
15. How long have I been writing for the Tele?
Answers: 1. All four; 2. All four; 3. The mysterious place where all the lost socks go; 4. Thou shalt not eat thine Easter Eggs before Easter Sunday, nor even peel away the foil and lick the chocolate; 5. "Don't you just hate housework? You spend all day cleaning & tidying and then twelve months later you have to do it all again" and "I bury most of my ironing in the back yard"; 6. I had to wear my dad's Y fronts for the first week; 7. When I use the vacuum cleaner and/or I put biscuits on a plate and then he runs to the window to see who's coming; 8. A Bouquet of Barbed Wire; 9. To become a charity volunteer, to learn a new craft and to start an online blog; 10. To give up alcohol; to give up smoking; to marry an octogenarian billionaire; 11. My outfit for the Zombie Sponsored Walk; 12. "They f**k you up, Your mum and dad" by Philip Larkin; 13. Killing in the name of by Rage Against the Machine ; 14. Completely lost count, 15) Ten years