Year of the Cat

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For feng shui to work, timing is everything; feng shui is doing the right thing in the right place at the right time after all. Grand Master Raymond Lo – for me the gold standard – says very clearly that no formula is as powerful as simply respecting the Flying Stars of the year. And a decade-plus of simple house visits has convinced me of the same.

We’re walking Godalming High Street over the Easter Bank Holiday Weekend. We hear Al Stewart’s Year of the Cat playing through a doorway. Sheila finds it hard to pass one particular store. I’m happy to go in because it’s warm. This early Easter has been so cold. If I were the Easter Bunny I’d wrap up tight and stay home.

Al Stewart’s not actually a big favourite of mine – that throwaway baritone always seems so impersonal, like Cat Stevens without sweetness – I don’t remember hearing this song since the year he’s referring to: the Year of the Rabbit 1975.

I was in the music business in those days and could tell my Als from my Cats. Slightly pre-punk. I expect I was playing Neil Young’s Like a Hurricane or Gene Clark’s No Other that year before the Sex Pistols change everything.

Sheila tries on some bits and pieces. The music moves on.

Rabbit? Cat? The confusion comes from Vietnam. Apparently Rabbit –muw– means something tricky in Vietnamese. So astrologers in that region of SE Asia call the Rabbit “Cat”. You may recall there was a fair bit of cultural exchange between the West and Vietnam in the years leading up to 1975; enough to make anyone stick to their own way of doing things, I would have thought.

As it happens this very early Easter also falls in the month of the Cat er..Rabbit: March. The Rabbit month is reflected in British tradition by March Hares. Hares, Rabbits, Cats, they must all be freezing right now.

Cool for Cats. 

However cold it may be, it’s spring cleaning time and the following day I’m in Birmingham bright and early. Well, early if not bright. I have two Rats to work with today: one born in the Double Water year of 1972, the year of Watergate when Nixon’s controlling need to record his version of things led to his downfall but not before escalating the killing in Vietnam in order to win re-election.

Such slips speak of too much Water. As does the sinking of the Titanic in the previous Water Rat of 1912. Too much water: too much cold, too much talk. Or too little.

The other Rat I’m seeing today is a Metal one born 1960, the year John F Kennedy defeated Nixon to become US President. These Rats tend to suffer some bitterness. They are dark chocolate as opposed to Cadburys’ Caramel.

The first I’m returning to – Farah – she’s a rather beautiful single Mother with a dreadful tale of nastiness in her upbringing which she’s keen to put behind her. To say that a woman is a Water Rat is to say that her Mother was Water and her Father a Rat. Water and the Rat are both about talk as well as secrets. Free open speech you might call yang Water, the stifling of communication you might call yin. The Rat can be either or both; this one and the family she grew up in appear more yin than yang. To the North West – the Father area – of her house is a damp neglected garage. She doesn’t want to talk about it and we don’t.

My job today is simple linear, hands-on feng shui; keeping her home in tune with the year of the Snake. All the places that offer clean helpful energy have changed since last year, the Year of the Dragon, the dark stuff has moved round too. So we light up the Tiger in the North East with a single light and make a jungle of houseplants around the Horse in the South. We load the Rat with metal in the North and we identify the Monkey in the South West for attention later.

Broadly that’s it. Most homes are feng shui neutral, equal parts supportive and disastrous and the quickest way to bring positive change is to activate the current useful stars with yang energy – that is noise, movement and sometimes light and Water – and keep the rest quiet. We move her kids’ keyboard out of the blocked South West and into the arc between North West and North East where things are lively this year. It doesn’t matter much whether we put a Metal pagoda there or a Metal panda as long as it’s Metal and there’s movement around it.

The second Rat – Maire – has reached a rare moment of peace in a life of service to children, not all her own. There’s a weariness in the 1960 Rat. The shine comes off; time for a burnish, like JFK’s reputation.

Here my task is heavy-duty ba zi. Maire’s been housebound looking after her children – all with various forms of special educational needs – for an entire generation and George Osborne’s good news for her is that her income is to go down by around £200 a month. Don’t start me talking.

But she does of course. We work from the premise that she is responsible for her life; sometimes this is hard to take on and I don’t insist anyone does, simply that she pays close attention. We work through a hair-raising narrative of unbalanced Celtic forebears: locked rooms, violence and controlling behaviour. Two sessions of an hour, punctuated by scones and tea and we’re on top of it. There’s daylight. Afterwards I walk to Blake Street station in the bitter cold and the bright low sun; four hours and home.

I’m away now somewhere warmer – writing, learning and researching for most of April – and we’ve emptied my diary but you can put yourself in it for May by contacting Sheila (at

if you feel ready to thaw out too.

And you might like to know I’m teaching a crash course in feng shui and ba zi on the North Western Seaboard the last week in May. Some knowledge of Chinese Metaphysics required. Let us know if it sounds like your sort of thing and you’re at ease with flying.

Henry Kissinger received the Nobel Peace Prize for that escalation in Vietnam by the way. That’s a bit like George Osborne getting an award for civic regeneration. Bless them both.

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