The Joy of Setts.
September, the month of the Earth Rooster in the year of Sudden Change, the Water Dragon, 2012; feelgood Britain is flush with pride following the bread and circuses of the Olympics as libraries and public toilets close and badgers barricade themselves into their homes. I’ve just returned from a brief walkround survey of the most expensive property I have ever entered: perfectly positioned in SW1 but decorated in suede and metal better suited to a pub snug than a home.
I remember back in the 90’s, Lillian Too telling me that if your own feng shui is sound, then so will your advice be. She went on to give me advice that allowed me to make a killing on HSBC shares but that’s another story.
“If he’s been divorced and bankrupt half a dozen times, he’s probably not a great feng shui man,” I remember her saying.
Around her house outside Kuala Lumpur, there’s more “sentimental” (ie gently flowing) water packed into one place than I have ever seen this side of Niagara. Draw your own conclusions. She was then and remains a brilliant and benevolent woman too with a serious and not widely known altruistic agenda.
That advice – and the investment tip for that matter– made a great deal of difference to me and I have always aimed to honour it. Which finds me writing about two subjects today: my children and Jon Sandifer who died last week.
I’m writing in the restaurant where my eldest son Jaime, now holder of three degrees, waits tables while contemplating his options. The restaurant claims to offer free wi-fi but this has turned out to be the Cloud which hijacks my connection and then like a plumber on a Sunday, constantly claims to be on its way. So Jaime finagles me into the wi-fi proper and here I am.
The music system is playing quite-but-not-very-obscure hits of the 21st century ranging from a welcome selection of Sheryl Crow to one of the Iglesias’ doing sincere. Would I lie to you? I rather think so.
I didn’t know Jon Sandifer that well. We studied with Master Chan Kun Wah together and we shared coffee breaks, taxi rides, and a study session or two. That was enough for me to know that he was a good and deeply spiritual man who valued family above all. If he was about anything he was about children of whom, like me he had more than his fair share. He talked of them with enormous fondness, respect and trust. It was clear he’d do anything for them and vice-versa. As Lawrence Fishburne remarks in Boyz n The Hood, any male can sire children but it takes a man to be a father.
Jon was one of the reasons the Feng Shui Society has survived and when I had differences with the Society myself, he was remarkably supportive. He was also of course the author of several very influential books about Nine Star Ki and a teacher who straddled the line between authentic and new age teachings with deftness and integrity. The world is poorer for his loss.
Jon’s approach to feng shui was from the direction of other Eastern studies. He was, as well as a Feng Shui Master, expert in macrobiotic theory and much else. An assiduous student of the Book of Changes which he referred to as “the book,” he had undergone arduous transformational work with a series of Masters in such disciplines as Sa Zen which is essentially sitting for hours at a time while a Master hits you with a bamboo stick if your attention wavers. Sometimes the line between enlightenment and S&M is a blurred one.
During one taxi ride I remember telling him about a volatile Master I worked with myself for several years in the 1980’s who could be so confrontational that one look from him was said to make people throw up with fear. Not such a negotiable skill.
One weekend this Master was holding an “aggression workshop”. These weekends consisted in the main of people who knew each other well, shouting at each other. Sometimes for hours on end. Often the matched pairs were close colleagues, even married couples. One protagonist abused another freeform while the other listened. Those were the rules. When the vocal one had emptied the bile ducts, they had the right to call up someone else they felt needed a going over. It could be anyone. No one knew for sure when they would be next. If things got out of control – threatening fisticuffs say – the Master would weigh in, spreading opprobrium left and right, a truly intimidating experience. In time this practice was, I think, largely responsible for his organisation being led to disaster by those who had the thickest skins and the loudest voices, but the opportunity to share in safety the inevitable aggression that builds up between people working closely together could be extraordinarily liberating. Aggression, from the Latin “aggredior,” after all simply means “stepping forward”. Fighting as Chuck Spezzano is fond of saying, is just foreplay.
Meanwhile however, in mid-session the atmosphere could be extremely taut. There were strict ground rules – not calling out from the audience was one – which were enforced mercilessly. If his look did not shake the unwary, the Master’s frank and undivided attention would. The things we put ourselves through. Still that was then and this is now.
During each session there was absolute silence other than the single raised voice of the current protagonist. Sometimes it was like being in the kitchen during a particularly vicious “domestic”. Afterwards there was calm(ish) discussion chaired by the Master but you (that is I) never knew when the spotlight would fall on you (that is me), triggering a welter of calumny.
As I write, Guns and Roses are playing. I’m reminded of their fatuously pugnacious “Get in the Ring” which could be the soundtrack to what I’m describing.
On the occasion I was telling Jon about (he had been part of groups doing similar stuff) there was a particularly inexperienced and naïve participant involved who had come up from Bristol for the weekend and either did not know the rules or had not experienced the full emetic power of the Master.
It was one pm: time for lunch. A particularly gruelling face-off had just completed. Exhausted and sweaty, the combatants took their seats once more: brothers who had been sharing an office, as I recall. The Master unsmiling, himself as far as anyone could tell about to launch into attack, took a deep breath.
“Well,” he said and looked impassively around him.
The room was silent.
At this point a chirpy West Country voice piped up from the back of the room.
“Oi warnt moi dinner,” it said.
If anything a deeper silence. Everyone inhaled. Some winced. Many lowered their heads defensively, holding their ears like Rugby forwards entering a scrum.
The Master exhaled deeply and looked around the room once more, his eyes dead calm.
“Me too,” he said. “I want my dinner.”
Having done similar work, Jon appeared to find this as funny a story as I did. Perhaps you had to be there.
My own daughters Jess and Hen are in Hollywood this week attending wall-to-wall meetings. They write together and this year several of their screenplays have attracted interest. So now in addition to their high-powered British agent they have one in LA. They’re five foot-nothing identical twins who look far younger than their twenty four years: pocket sized and cute as a button.
They’ve grown up around feng shui and New Age thought. They tolerated being advised to love rather than retaliate when school got difficult. They’re used to having to manoeuvre around water fountains that have suddenly sprouted around the house or being told the day air tickets are cheapest is not the right time to travel. From the age of nine they’ve been home-educated campus style. So they’ve grown used to my political rants and my skewed take on world history. They’re both straight A-students by the way and Jessie is qualified in ba zi. And obviously they have been the subjects of my mumbo jumbo.
How’s this of use to you? One: both are Rabbit/Dragon cusp babies who have grown up knowing they have choice. If you follow my ramblings you’ll know that the Dragon suffers this year what is known as the Four Earths. In short this means they are presented with more plates to spin than they have limbs to spin them. The instructions on the packet btw are to keep saying “Yes.” This pattern applies in a Dragon year to (at least) Dogs, Oxen and Sheep too. Hence the Year of Sudden Change. “Yes” is the right answer to most questions actually.
Second: they know that there has never been anything more important in either Sheila’s or my own lives than our children. They know also that slavery is no example.
My other kids btw have all done me as proud: from the proper academic via the successful salesman who is my second son to the other boys, the musicians, who have just signed to a US label so cool there’s no point telling you about it.
Clearly, the universe being what it is, children choose parents just as profoundly as parents choose children. Which at the risk of myself being emetic, means that I’m a lucky man, Lillian Too was right and Jon Sandifer’s children must be very special. Call it good fortune, call it feng shui, call it karma, call it the Tao, call it blind luck but bless that Jon Sandifer wherever he may be.
© Richard Ashworth 2012.