I knew I wanted to be a nurse from the age of four or five and would bandage up my poor cat. He was called Nicholas Thomas, after a cat in a book I'd read, and the minute my eyes strayed from him, he'd be off like a shot to escape my clutches. I even tried to bath him in the garden but luckily he lived to tell the tale after drying out in the airing cupboard. I knew I wanted to make people feel better. The first part of my life was spent in Bexhill on the south coast of Britain where mum and dad ran a guest house. I was a mischievous child. I'd play in the sand pit and wipe my hands on clothes drying on the line then blame it on my imaginary friend Rosie. We then moved to Watford, north of London, and primary school wasn't memorable because I was ill with measles and scarlet fever and missed a lot of school. By seven I was still unable to read but was sent flashcards with pictures and words and learned that way. I do remember finally being able to read and how much enjoyment it gave me. I read all the Rupert the Bear books, and Good Wives and Jo's Boys by Louisa May Alcott. I'd even read car manuals, asking my dad what a cog was and so on. Being an only child, I spent a lot of time on my own but never felt alone because I had imaginary animals and friends to boss around. It's only now that I regret not having siblings because all the responsibility for my elderly mother rests on me. That can be quite daunting especially when you find roles reverse and you end up becoming the parent and they your child. At secondary school in the 1960s, Mr Burden, the headmaster, stands out. He was an absolute poppet, fair but no pushover and the children loved him. He'd walk past my house to school and all the kids would walk with him. Overall though, I didn't pay as much attention to my studies as I should have done. I preferred drama and poetry. I went into nursing and loved it. I met people from all walks of life and different countries and that stimulated me. Ill-health forced me to change jobs, including working in customer services. When I met my husband, Steve, we moved to Saudi Arabia then Trinidad where it was difficult to find a job, so I retrained as a beauty therapist, came to Hong Kong and bought the equipment I needed. The job's about people placing their trust in you. They might want facial hair removed and you become a confidant. I did a counselling course and began to realise the best approach is to say nothing and just listen to people who feel distressed. That's how I came to the Samaritans in 1998. We're open 24 hours a day, seven days a week and someone always mans the phone. With Lunar New Year approaching there are many people who feel miserable and lonely, and need someone to talk to. The highest number of calls in any year was 29,737 and in 2005, 26,316, the latest year we have figures compiled for. That's a lot of people to talk to and we therefore always need volunteers. Our next training programme starts with an introductory evening and film on February 28. It's an informal evening and gives prospective volunteers the chance to ask questions of experienced volunteers. This is followed by Selection Day on March 3 with training proper starting on March 11. We also want to reach out to ethnic minorities including Thais, Filipinos and Indonesians and those interested can phone our hotline on 2896 0000. Being a Samaritan has made me more aware and a better listener for I've learned to read between the lines. The magic of this service is the ability to listen unconditionally and without judgment. I've kept a diary for 30 years and found it's been very useful to record my own feelings and events, and how they've affected me. With hindsight I think I was a late starter but I've scrubbed up well, as they say. Just before I turned 40 I felt confident in my skin and realised I knew the person I'd been and the one I am now. Liz Chamberlain is the director of the Samaritans in Hong Kong. She was talking to David Phair.