In 1978, back in Britain for a few months, we rented a gloomy old vicarage just outside Oxford. This was our sixth move in nine years. Uprooting small children and raising them in other people's homes quadruples the strains of parenting. I was shattered. I was miserable.
One afternoon, I was stripping down the double bed, barely listening to whatever was on the radio. Then, suddenly, out of it came the sound of dripping rain so real I stopped flapping sheets around and lay flat on my back staring up at the ceiling.
Drip. Drip. Drip.
Silence downstairs. (One was asleep under the piano she'd been banging for hours, the other deep in a book). And for a few moments I was truly there, in that dripping radio forest, with wet bracken and soft soil under my feet.
And then I heard: "Simplify, simplify." I realise now it must have been a reading from Thoreau's Walden. But then I didn't know and didn't care. I just got up and switched off the radio. It really did work like the voice of God. From that day on, my life changed. I know what I care about. Everything else - I let slip. I barely shop, except for food and necessities. I have fewer possessions - and am happier - than almost anyone I know.
Years later, in a Chinese restaurant called Blue Sky, I read the mesage in my fortune cookie. "You can have what you want most in the world, but to pay for it you must give up what you wanted second and third." Everyone else round the table looked glum when I read it. But I just thought, I know. I was so glad I'd learned the lessons all those years before. Otherwise, I'd have wasted so much of my life.
Anne Fine to Annie Taylor