The North West Frontier

Solar fortnight beginning:

Tuesday September 23rd 2009 05.59

Month:                                 quai yuw        the water Rooster

Solar Fortnight:               bak low           White Dew

The North West Frontier

On the train home I listen to Buffy St Marie’s Universal Soldier which does me in every time. Full blood Cree Indian, late 60’s, 1st in Oriental philosophy, sexy as hell. What an extraordinary woman. For your information, her ba zi makes her a Metal Snake with yang water day stem and what is called a triple fire combination. In English that means unstoppable. She was married to Jack Nietzsche who worked with Phil Spector and Neil Young: as complex a man as those associations suggest. And she wrote the cheesy feelgood anthem “Up Where We Belong.” Go figure.

Moving from Cree Indian to Liver Bird, I’m on my way back from Warrington. Until now I only knew it for vodka and Rugby League.

I’m concerned about Karl. He’s been unhappy with his business partners as long as I‘ve known him which is several years. Last week he asked me whether he should move on.

“I don’t give nuts and bolts advice,” I told him. Then I asked a series of questions to help him get clear. He wanted to be fair to everyone concerned which was of course commendable. All the clients would follow him and he wasn’t sure that was ethical.

Ethical (as opposed to moral) is simply what works. Yukio Mishima said that ethics and beauty were the same thing.

“Do what feels right for you. There are no absolutes. Whoever said all’s fair in love and war was probably at war more than he was in love but you have to look after yourself. Just don’t bend yourself out of shape. Your natural integrity will guide you.”

Then a week later he texted to ask me when would be a good time to give his notice.

“Today’s the day,” I replied knowing the power of that particular day in the Chinese calendar: Dong Gong Five Star which I know sounds more like a restaurant than an auspicious date. I could almost see the gulp in his next text. He texted several more times that afternoon then gave his notice. As I said, I don’t give nuts and bolts advice and he is responsible for his own life but I have been kind of holding my breath anyhow.

I look at two houses in Warrington in as many days with a stopover at the Ramraider, Haydock where they serve a fine scrambled egg.

Christine has asked me to look at her son Tom’s house and then hers. She’s 50-something and looks great on it. She was concerned, she told me, not to interfere in her son’s life.

“A girl’s got to do what a girl’s got to do,” I told her.

They pick me up from the station. Tom’s driving: a newish BMW with a personalised plate. A wave of distress hits me.

“Nausea, dizziness,” I say. It’s not mine.

“What do you mean?” he asks, puzzled.

“I don’t know yet.”

This stuff usually means something. Perhaps not today. He’s facing redundancy with a pregnant wife. Perhaps the nausea is hers. Perhaps it’s his. I felt it in the train on the way up but then it was a Virgin Pendolino, the grown-up’s roller coaster.

They banter. It’s a nice relationship. Christine’s constantly not being the bull in the China Shop she knows herself to be. He rearranges the china with good humour anyway. And she’s a very warm bull.

It will turn out that both houses are on the same orientation. On the face of it Tom’s is very different. It’s a town house on a smart new estate. Christine’s is a nice but boxy 60’s semi. His is trying to face North West which speaks of Father trouble. Hers clearly backs onto the North West. But the fact is they’re facing the same way. The North West is about authority and getting things done as well as the literal father. So this is what to look out for. We drive to Tom’s first. It is built on top of an old US Airforce Base.

I walk around the outside. Very respectable, very flat. Inside it’s on three floors and spectacularly neat. Sometimes people tidy ahead of me: like cleaning before the help arrives. Not Tom and Shampa. Both work in healthcare. She is a highly qualified consultant. He is qualified too but he sells pharmaceuticals.

“It’s always like this,” he says.

Tom has sent a challenging letter to his employers who appear to have got the procedure all wrong. I think he’d prefer his job back. He’s hurting but I don’t think he knows it. He’s a very bright man determined to be open minded; at one point the sheer strain of this sends him to sleep on the couch while I draw up the chi map. To be fair, drafting’s not much of a spectator sport.

There are a number of ways of deciding which way a house faces. Principally the side that is higher is the back and the side that faces the most lively direction is the front. If these two aspects are in agreement then it’s straightforward. This by the way has little to do with where whatever they may call the front door is. Christine’s will turn out to be higher at the back and easier to read. Tom’s is level but the symbols with which my Chinese compass measures this stuff say the garden is the facing direction and the symbols or kuas get the casting vote.

There is an aquarium mounted on the wall in the front room: North West. Two demerit points:

1. Major no-no to place water in the North West. North West is metal and water weakens metal. The North West, as I said represents the powers-that-be and it may well be that redundancy is their way of expressing upset. And Fathers.

2. The aquarium is full of water but there are no fish in it. Not that fish are important in feng shui – they’re just one way of keeping water alive – but it’s a neglected sort of aquarium that hasn’t got any.

I potter round and find things to work with. Tom’s desk backs onto the window of his little office and he can’t see the door from there. The metaphor is that things happen behind his back. Sudden redundancy might be one. Worse, this room with its nasty flying stars is a very poor choice for his office. I direct him to the other end of the house where the stars are nicer and turn him around to face the door.

Shampa comes home. She has been nauseous again although she’s in the third trimester. She is worried about her father and both of her (female) neighbours. Hmmmm. I get a feeling of a real closeness with them.

Christine evicted Tom’s father when Tom was little. He and Tom have recently started speaking again. Hmmm. Shampa is at pains to emphasise that she has no issue with her own father but she’s worried about him. What an eloquent aquarium this is proving to be.

“We’re a very sporty family. We do lots of stuff together; tennis, badminton, gymnastics. Now he can’t play.”

Her girl friends on either side both have life-threatening illnesses and both have been suffering nausea. Aha. Nausea. The 7th month of pregnancy is no time to be fretting about your support system.

“I worry about my Dad. I guess I know a little too much. Probably a trapped nerve.”

I recommend they place water outside in the South East and something heavy, a statue say, in the North West. This turns the front into the back and vice-versa.

One of the ailing neighbours has just split with her husband.

“A woman marries her father or she doesn’t,” I say gnomically.

“And I know she had a terrible time with her father,” Shampa tells me.

If I’m right, turning the house around allows the father to embrace and support. Tom may prefer that to trading pedantic letters. What he needs is to take a risk. His ba zi suggests success coming up but he’s going to have to stick his neck out or he could waste it. He is prone to justifying himself which will tend to keep him stuck. We are all 100% right in the privacy of our own heads.

Christine’s house is a breeze by comparison. One way of looking at a house is to simply see it as the body. I can’t count the number of times I’ve seen back pain go as soon as a sagging rear fence post has been replaced. Christine has a prosthetic knee. Precisely where the left knee should be if her head were at the apex of the roof, is an ugly overhang between the attached garage and the kitchen which breaks up the outline of the house. The overhang is at the East which often represents bones and joints as well as the eldest son. In effect the eldest son is missing. Tom is not the eldest son. That would be Terry who has been in France for a decade. Interessant.

“Extend out here,” I suggest.

We look at the North where the attached garage juts out.

“I don’t think it’s part of the house. If it were it would signify 2nd son sticking his neck out which is exactly what we want.”

“What do we do?” Christine asks.

“Bring it into the house. Turn the whole garage into a room so it’s included and extend beyond the overhang.” A big picture window will bring in that fabulous eastern light. And the existing kitchen door becomes the connection between new room and house.

What really agitates Christine who has spent all this money on me largely for her son’s welfare, is that her partner of 20 years still lives elsewhere.

“Is there anything you can do?”

“I expect so.”

As we talk I notice that she has a quite prominent vaccination scar. Her ba zi suggests care with metal.

“How are you with acupuncture?” I ask.

“Gives me the creeps,” says this very wise woman.

“And vaccinations?”

She puts her whole hand round the upper arm where the mark is.

 “Don’t start. It was a nightmare.”

The outline of the house is missing a chunk of North West and the trees here at the back have been drastically cut back. North West, father and the place where things get rubber stamped: exposed and vulnerable. She talks of her own father and cries softly. North West means all mature men. So that includes her boyfriend.

“Feels odd calling a man of 58 my boyfriend.”

We replace the North West with a statue. Like the related operation at Tom’s house this affects the doors. External water and statues affect what is called the chi form. Reversing Tom’s house has attracted metal chi form which is competitive and acquisitive, the sort of thing he wants. But clearly a woman who shies from needles has different needs. I place water for her in the East where it will receive gentler chi. This is what is called yang wood form. Yang wood thrusts upward and is shaped like a cylinder, a pillar, Cleopatra’s needle. You get the picture: like those old movies when you know the hero and heroine are getting up close because the screen is filled with towers going up and tides going out. It feels like the house wants this.

“How long before we see a difference?” Tom asks.

“Some immediate, some a little longer. I’ve concentrated on success and Dads which are pretty much the same thing.”

As I turn my phone on at the station I see that Karl has reported back.

“All my clients are staying with me and I’ve got a whole load of new work in Germany. More than I can handle.”

“You’re exceptionally good at what you do,” I text back. And breathe again. I don’t want to be plausible, I want to be right. 

Richard will be teaching ba zi in 2009 : the four weekends start in February. The Early Bird offer is still open.

Stop Press: Book of Changes Day 28th November. A One-day Opening of the Book of Changes.
Contact Sheila:
Richard Ashworth © 2009

Names have been changed to protect..uh…me.

My (still) super-duper (still) revamped website is at and my book The Feng Shui Diaries is available now from:




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