In October 2017 (just before I wrote this piece), Janie went to have a tarot reading. This reminded me that I used to read tarot cards for people at Keele, quite regularly.
I cannot remember who gave me my deck back in the student days, but possibly it was Lisa O’Connor, although I have sneaking suspicion I had the deck before I met her. Really I’m not sure.
I never mastered the full deck, but I did familiarise myself with the major cards and their meanings both ways up. Indeed, if you look at my deck, you can see some signs of wear about the 22 major cards (and the instruction booklet) but not much of that about the 56 minor cards.I also familiarised myself with one or two questioning patterns.
Those who know me to be sceptical about all matters non-scientific might find it a little odd that I read the tarot at all. Let me try to explain.
People would come to me with a question or problem in mind. I wouldn’t ask them what the question/problem was; I even recommended that they keep it to themselves. I wouldn’t even try to use the cards to ascertain what the questioner’s question/problem was. I would simply get the questioner to shuffle and chose cards for each position, then I would explain what each card meant in the position it landed on the table.
My sceptical take on it was simply this. If people were struggling with a question or problem, hearing my generic explanation of what the tarot cards mean in the respective positions enabled the questioner to interpret the cards as they saw fit.
That interpretation was the questioners’ brains coming to terms with their own issues and in a sense resolving or deciding the matters through their own interpretation of what the tarot reading was indicating. I was merely explaining what tarot cards in various positions might mean.
In short, people were making their own decisions or solving their own problems through the mechanism of the tarot cards helping them to think about their choices or issues differently.
Anyway, loads of people liked what I did with tarot. There weren’t quite queues out of the flat and into the corridor. I wasn’t earning huge fortunes (or indeed any money) from tarot. But I did get bought plenty of drinks and was cooked plenty of good meals in return for my tarot readings.
One particularly good source of “business” was the Malay community in the Barnes flats. I had a Malay flatmate in the form of Ahmed Mohd Isa in Barnes M65 for two terms in the first half of 1982. He was supposed to be my continuing flatmate when we were relocated to Barnes L54 (due to M Block’s demolition) but Ahmed’s academic career didn’t survive his Part One finals. I did share L54 with Hamzah Shawal, (from Brunei) who was scheduled to join us for the 1982/83 academic year and who, like Ahmed, was good friends with the main Malay pack who lived in Barnes Q92 and with whom I had already become friendly during Ahmed’s time.
Although quite strict Muslims, those Barnes Q92 guys were interested in mysticism (Malay style Islam has/had some interesting mystical legends which the guys used to share with me) and liked my tarot readings. Not least, I think, because I specifically rejected any religious, quasi-religious or pagan interpretation on it which might otherwise have made tarot seem haram to them.
More importantly, in the matter of fair exchange between honourable students, those Malay guys could really cook. I absolutely loved their Malay-style curries, often prepared with flavoursome mutton or goat from one of the Halal butchers in Stoke, where a substantial Muslim community had started to take form by the early 1980s. I had acquired a taste for Malaysian food as early as 1978 when I worked with several Malaysian folks at Newman Harris in the school holidays – another story for another Ogblog piece.
The matter of my tarot readings was so much part of what I did in those days, it doesn’t seem to get mentioned in the diaries at all – or if it does I couldn’t find a reference easily. It would have been part of, “I visited so-and-so” or “so-and-so visited us”, in much the same way as the diary doesn’t mention what we ate, what we drank or what we talked about either.
I have picked out two diary examples which I think almost certainly will have involved tarot readings:
15 April 1983…played tennis with Hamzah, Yazzid & Bai in afternoon – stayed in eve…
I’ll cover the tennis aspect of this April 1983 period in a separate piece, as reading that page has brought back some long forgotten aspects of my rehabilitation from glandular fever in part through playing tennis.
But almost without question those guys will have hung around after tennis, Hamzah would have cooked one of his curries (which also weren’t bad, but not quite up to the Q92 cookery standard) and I’d have done some tarot readings.
8 April 1984 – worked on project today after late start. Visited Q92 etc. Went to Union for last orders.
The “project” will have been my economics dissertation on the pharmaceutical industry. More peripheral stories around that project will follow elsewhere.
“Q92 etc.” will undoubtedly have been one of those excellent meals and me reading the tarot.
“Union for last orders” will undoubtedly have meant me parting company with Yazzid, Bai and the others; those Q92 guys didn’t grace the union at night.
It is amazing what a simple conversation with Janie about tarot, 30+ years later, can trigger off in the memory.
Now Janie is nagging me to mug up on my tarot and give her a reading. I feel a sense of great trepidation about that.
But, oh boy, Janie can cook too…and once she’s read this piece…I suspect that my grub rations will be at risk unless I do as she asks.
Meanwhile, if anyone out there remembers how I got started with tarot or remembers being on the other side of one of my readings, I’d love to hear your recollections.