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Home > Culture and Society

Second sight

Illustration by Vincent VanoliThe nationís appetite for Guidance is such that Tony Blair may be right not to bother asking his electorate what we want; we have no idea.

Jeanette Winterson

4 December 2003

When I was a child my mother used to tear out the underwear pages of mail order catalogues so that my father and I wouldnít fall into temptation. For years I thought that my family were the only people in the world who wore vests and knickers.

When it came to astrology, my mother dubbed it demonology and conversing with spirits. Her favourite anecdote was the fate of the Witch of Endor, a star-gazing Shelley Von Strunkel, who got eaten by dogs.

Inevitable then, that in later life, I would start shopping at Agent Provocateur, and employing the services of my very own Psychic Astrologer. The mistake I seem to have made is to have written about it (the astrology, not the underwear) for both The Times and The Daily Mail. Although neither myself, nor my psychic, have as yet become a dogís dinner, we have unleashed a hunger almost as bad.

The Daily Mail told me that they hadnít had such an overwhelming response from their readers since the Cat Fur Coats expose.

Now you may say that anybody who consults a psychic astrologer is barmy, but the thing is, my psychic is not at all a Doris Stokes ectoplasm type; sheís a rather posh Oxford-educated lady, whose great-great-grandfather was Queen Victoriaís chaplain. True, her own Dad was in the Guinness Book of Records for being Britainís Most Married Man, but none of our parents is perfect, and at least Henrietta Llewelyn Davies has JM Barrie on one side of the family and Daphne Du Maurier on the other.

What I mean is Ė even if I am barmy, Henrietta isnít. Itís not her fault she was born with Second Sight Ė and believe me, this womanís predictions are extraordinary. The first time I met her she told me to give up karate Ė not that I had told her I did karate Ė and of course I took no notice, and two weeks later I dislocated my shoulder.

You can have the psychic stuff from her, but she puts great emphasis on self-help and a deepening knowledge of your own character. The astrology is a tool or a map or an outline. The rest is some very tough questioning on what makes you tick.

BUT, and it has to be in capital letters Ė while a lot of the calls and letters that followed my articles were just fine, THOUSANDS AND THOUSANDS of them, and I do not exaggerate here, were from people begging Henrietta to tell them what to do next: Money, houses, wives, sex, emigration, babies, jobs, blowjobs, (that was from a call-girl wondering how she could expand her client list, though I would have thought she was doing that anyway).

The nationís appetite for Guidance is such that Tony Blair may be right not to bother asking his electorate what we want; we have no idea.

What are we to make of all this? Nobody in Britain goes to church anymore, and most people donít believe in God and the Devil, so why do we believe in astrology and psychic powers?

One answer might be that Consumerism and late-Capitalism have so hollowed us out that we have no centre anymore. Shopping is not enough; we were told it would be, but it isnít. The Money God has demanded sacrifices from us that make Yahweh look genteel. In our brave new world, we donít put our First Born on the altar; our first-born, and all the rest that follow, lash their parents to the wheel of school fees, skiing holidays, Nike, and enough pocket money to buy a Porsche. By the time weíre sixty, weíre knackered, and Gordon Brown has spent our pensions, so yippee, early retirement has been re-styled as the Right to Work.

You donít need to put your tea cosy on your head to divine that most people are terminally fed-up and donít know where to turn. And when they do find somewhere to turn Ė guess what? It costs a fortune. Personal well-being has become a multi-billion dollar industry as we wander from guru, to diet, to therapy, to Retreats, to Empowerment courses, and slowly back to another series of Changing Rooms. None of it is going to work, because the old cliche - money canít buy happiness - is as true as that other cliche, no money canít buy anything. So what do we do?

Well, the great thing about my psychic is that she teaches balance. Modern life is a high-wire act and unless we have impressive core stability, it is impossible to stay upright. Moral compromise and bending it like Beckham jazzes with doubled-over guilt and misery. When we fall, there is no safety net. The only thing we can do is to find our own equilibrium.

Unfortunately, our money culture tells us that everything can be bought, usually cheaply, and whatever you want you can have by tomorrow morning, if you take out a personal loan.

I know that calling Henrietta Ė or anybody else Ė isnít going to solve my problems. They are my problems, as much a part of me as my happiness, and I have to solve them myself. Henrietta is like a trainer; she can help you build inner muscle, but the hard work is up to you. I thought I had made this pretty clear in my articles; what neither of us anticipated was the desperation out there.

So when we all settle down to a bit of self-congratulatory Capitalism Ė when house prices rise again, or when every shop in the land is open 24/7, or when we have the right to work till we drop dead, letís remember that something very disturbing is exploding in peopleís heads: they donít know who they are or how to find out.

No wonder they call the psychic Ė next stop, The Samaritans.

Illustration by Vincent Vanoli

Comment on this article: letters@thefridaything.co.uk

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