Although I'm a recent yoga convert and like to light a few posh joss sticks before dinner, downward dogging and lavender incense is about as deep into new age palaver as I go. A couple of weeks ago, however, I did a very embarrassing thing. Something that makes me squirm slightly every time I think about it.
Yep, in spite of my aversion to horoscopes, Ouija boards and even the faintest whiff of snake oil, I paid good money to consult a psychic.
Sadly, there was no alcohol involved. In my defence, I've got to say I only did it because so many of my coolest friends have been raving about their recent experiences in this area and I am terribly afflicted with FOMO (a very modern condition, the acronym stands for Fear Of Missing Out). Once all the DJs and stylists and famous novelists start banging on about a thing it becomes truly hard to resist and, lemming-like, I couldn't make my own appointment fast enough.
I drove to a suburban street in North Finchley, parked up outside an unassuming terraced house, went inside and happily handed over 30 quid to sit in a small, smoke-filled kitchen opposite a sparky blonde lady with long purple finger nails, shuffle a pack of picture cards and be told - well, sort of, we'll come back to that - my fortune. Furthermore, my fortune was to be told to me by this middle-aged woman in a tight, glittery cardigan via the happy medium of my dead relatives. And I'm not going to lie to you: I didn't go in aimless. Oh no, I had a long list of questions about my future that I thought would be most convenient to have answered, psychic-style, from beyond the grave. Plus I'm in the midst of a real sticky patch with my latest book and if this Jacqui - who came so highly recommended by my nearest and dearest - had any thoughts about where I might like to go with it then I would, obvs, have been delighted to hear them. Although, to be honest, it's been so frustrating I think I'd listen to my dog if he put forth any ideas.
Everyone remembers Whoopi Goldberg playing Oda Mae Brown, a con-artist posing as a medium, in Ghost - the rom-not-so-com 1990 film that also starred Patrick Swayze and Demi Moore as deeply devoted boyfriend and girlfriend. After Swayze's character is murdered he famously attempts to communicate with his girlfriend through Oda Mae - a hilarious phony who's been faking her psychic abilities for years - to warn her of the danger she now faces. In Noel Coward's 1941 comic play Blithe Spirit, Madame Arcati is another hapless medium who unwittingly summons the furious spirit of Charles Condomine's dead first wife. She begins to haunt him with a vengeance, killing his second in the process, and the two spirits prove almost impossible to get rid of.
Neither of these fictional psychics are presented as portraits of what you might call competence. Professionally they're laughable and if they are shown to have any talent it's not something they're capable of manipulating themselves. They're funny sure, but definitely set in the 'laughing at' mould rather than the 'laughing with'. After all, if your common or garden psychic really is capable of what they claim to be, then what the hell are most of them doing sitting in the front rooms of ordinary houses like my very own Jacqui, dishing out reading after reading at relatively tiny sums per the hour? Why aren't they banking millions from the lottery and the Grand National, unleashing torrents of hell upon sickos of all stripes, pin-pointing buried treasure and missing children all over the globe, making a fortune off the bookies or at the very least having a lovely time chatting away to Jesus, Elvis and Princess Di?
It seems obvious to me - and probably to anyone with a modicum of intelligence - that the average suburban psychic in 2011 is nothing like Nostradamus from the French Renaissance, say, or the Delphic Oracle so beloved by the Ancient Greeks. Does anyone take Derek Acorah or Yvette Fielding, surely our modern day equivalents, seriously? I don't know anyone that does - that pair have zero pizzazz. So what's the sudden surge in popularity all about? Why are all the hipsters hustling down these garden paths, past the gnomes and herbaceous borders like their lives depend upon it?
I'm not exaggerating when I say that half my pals (that is, the female half) have now paid their own visits. I had a meeting with a commissioning editor at a national newspaper last week, a very cool chick who didn't bat an eyelid when I let slip I'd seen one. Indeed, she admitted she herself had just been as had most of her friends. An author whose debut novel is at the top of the best seller lists and I discussed our visits at a party last week. This is fast becoming a super trend: everyone who's anyone is at it.
The most common denominators are the questions that people want fast answers to. Relationships loom large, as do troublesome creative projects or issues at work. I found it very easy to see the attraction - if, for less than the price of a Top Shop top, those innermost thoughts, desires and queries could be laid bare, examined and resolved, what's not to like? It seemed like a therapy session but cheaper and with hard facts and figures about what to do next. In reality, of course, it wasn't that simple.
As soon as I sat down and was offered the first of many B&H golds I began to feel, there's no other word for it, shady. After an hour of fluff, vaguery and downright nonsense I felt decidedly unclean - though that might have been the cigarettes. Either way, I couldn't get out of there fast enough. The world according to Jacqui is annoyingly unclear, random and contains many variations, not to mention the endless repetition of names that mean nothing to me. Apparently I will meet someone called Michael, or Mark, or Marvin (WTF?) in the next couple of weeks, or months, or years. Amanda - or it could be Anna not to mention Amelia, but it's an A name for sure - will be instrumental in my career. I may already know her or I may not, but I will do at some point.
The rest of it was too banal, ridiculous and crazy to repeat. Let's just say that everyone knows someone called John and someone called David. Pretty much everyone's lost at least one grandparent and most people visiting a psychic will go in there with relationship or work questions.
The next time I want to know something about my future I think I'll pay a visit to The Happy Phuk, my local Chinese takeaway, and crack open a fortune cookie. It's bound to be just as accurate, a hell of a lot less cringe-making and much cheaper to boot. I don't care what the fash pack are doing, I'm done with these charlatans.