Sunday, March 15, 2015

Changes that creep up on us

Sitting in the train yesterday I was brought up short by one of those endless announcements that now annoyingly punctuate every journey.  “Customers are advised….”  Each time I hear the word “customer”, it irritates me.  Since when have passengers transformed themselves into customers?

I think of customers as people who pay for some service, passengers as people who travel in some kind of vehicle.  Is this then another sign of today’s overwhelming interest in money above all?  And what was wrong with seeing me as a passenger, as all travellers in any vehicle have always been known as?  I somehow can’t see an 18th century coach driver calling his passengers customers. What is the rationale behind this, I wonder, except perhaps to give some work to some office somewhere in British Rail charged with finding new ways of saying old things?

It intrigues me why a change such of this has been thought necessary.  And this has set me thinking about other new ways of saying old things which have puzzled me.  There is, for example, the recent replacement of the good old word “alias” by the clumsy abbreviation “aka” (“also known as”).  Again, what was wrong with “alias”?

And then, to add to the odd things I have noticed, comes the disappearance of the Request Stop for buses on London’s roads.  In the good old days there were two sorts of bus stops, the ones at which all buses stopped irrespective of whether anybody was waiting.  You simply got up from your seat in the bus and waited for the bus to stop without ringing the bell.  And if you were waiting at the bus stop you did not need to wave the bus down, but just waited for it to stop, as you knew it would.  Request Stop signs were red, unlike the main stops which were and still are white, and were the ones where you, as a passenger (not a customer!), would need to stop the bus by signalling to it.  If you were not paying much attention, and did not signal quickly enough, the bus simply sailed on by.

Then I started to notice that people were ringing the bell inside the bus at whatever stop we were coming to, Request Stop or not.  And buses no longer stopped at stops which were not Request Stops. When did they start doing this and why?  Now everybody rings the bell at every stop, and everybody puts out a hand to stop the bus they want at whatever stop.  I realise that I don’t know whether all the red Request Stop signs have been replaced, or are simply being ignored, so today I will be looking out of my bus window (my usual mode of transport wherever I go in London) to check this.

This is another sign of the fact that we are now constantly being asked to do more and more work ourselves.  Where before I could leave it to the bus driver simply to draw in at many of the stops, now I have to make sure that I take steps to stop him (or increasingly her).  And in a book I read recently, it was pointed out that the computerized world of ours, by giving us the tools to do things like booking our own travel or buying our own shopping in supermarkets, actually makes each of us individually work harder and harder doing things which in the past other people did for us, such as travel agents and shop assistants.  We simply used to ask a travel agent to book us on a flight on such and such a day for such and such a place, and then waited for the phone call telling us that they had made the booking, and the letter to arrive with the airline ticket.  Of course there weren’t all the cheap flights around, and this is what we may have to accept in return for cheaper flights.  Yet even expensive flights, like mine to China, now require that I do all the work on my computer, trying to fathom all the complex choices I am confronted with, just as it is now up to me to make sure that I stop any bus I want to get on to.







Monday, March 2, 2015

A few thoughts on astrology

My family knew a very interesting old Viennese man called Dr Oskar Adler, who has influenced me in some surprisingly different ways.  He was what we call a polymath, one of those now rare breeds of multi-disciplined people with interests and training in widely ranging areas of life.  He was a musician, a marvellous violinist who, I was told, had taught the composer Arnold Schoenberg the violin, a mathematician and – and this was where he most influenced me – a widely respected astrologer.  I have on my bookshelves a copy of his large four-volume treatise on astrology (in German).  It is beautifully written and very profound, one of those works which has given me deep insights into human behaviour.

I have a rather confused understanding of astrology.  I think I would have described myself years ago as a sceptic, and yet time has changed me.  One of the changes came about by attending a short astrology course in London years ago, when for the first time I began to appreciate that there were indeed individual human characteristics which could be symbolized by a person’s relationship to the planets in the heavens.  At first I needed a lot of convincing that this could be so, until the class was one day given the astrological chart of a famous anonymous person and was asked to try and work out who that person might be.  To my utter surprise we came up with the correct answer (it was Princess Diana, much in the news at that time).  We then compared her chart with that of Prince Charles.  This comparison clearly showed that they were set on a collision-course, aspects of the one chart clearly clashing violently with those of the other.  This was my first venture into the arcane world of astrology.  As a surprise by-product, it has added much to the understanding of human nature which my five element studies were teaching me. 

There are 12 astrological signs and 12 officials spread between the five elements, though unfortunately we cannot equate one with the other.  If we could we would have an easy way of diagnosing an element simply by asking our patients their birth dates.  But the 12 different areas of life in both systems have certain surprising similarities.  The fact that human characteristics reveal themselves in different ways but with features that can roughly be summarized in 12 categories in both acupuncture and astrology has always added greater depth to my understanding of the elements.  In a way this is a comforting reminder that there really is nothing new under the sun.  And my deeper understanding of the psychological relevance of what a study of astrology shows us came originally from these four books of Dr Adler’s.

Of course there is also a branch of acupuncture which relies heavily upon Chinese astrology, something I know little about, but which represents another diagnostic tool used by acupuncturists.

I treasure deeply two things Dr Adler taught me.  He said that each of us owes it to the world to pass on whatever we have learnt so that we can give others the opportunity to learn from us in turn, even though we may never know where our thoughts land and whose lives they will enrich.  There is one phrase of his which has echoed for me down the years (in German, but I will translate it).  “What would have happened if Mozart had not written down his music?”  And Mozart, we must remember, died a pauper with no idea that his work would resonate for millions in future generations.  This gave me, and still gives me, the impetus, and almost the duty, to write and to continue writing, in the belief that what I write may help somebody somewhere learn in turn from what I have learnt from life.  We all owe it to others to hand down whatever thoughts we have had in whatever medium – blogs such as this one, novels, poems, paintings, music, sculpture.  Only in this way will we help preserve for future generations what is valuable in human culture.  And however insignificant we feel our contributions may be, we should still find the courage to make our thoughts public in the hope that they may contribute something to the lives of others.

The second, more esoteric, lesson I learnt was Dr Adler’s insistence that if we cannot find something we have lost, however hard we search, then that object has really disappeared and will not allow itself to be found.  We must then try to put it from our mind because it will reappear at some point in the future when the time is right and usually at quite an unexpected time and in quite an unexpected place.  I have put this to the test numerous times, and it does appear to be true.  I remember once frantically looking for something in a room where I knew I had last put it, only to find it two weeks later in a room I rarely used right at the back of a drawer I would have sworn I had never opened.  I also found my house keys at the bottom of the dustbin after losing them for a few days!  In both cases I had no recollection whatsoever of putting the things where I found them.  Now if I lose something, I just wait, and usually, but not always, it reappears in an unexpected way, long after I have given up searching for it.  Try this.  You may find that Dr Adler was right.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Are we living in an age of Metal?

I would recommend all of you to read a book by Andrew Keen, called The Internet is not the Answer (Atlantic Books 2015).  It sounds important warnings about the world we live in, and the risks we are running of remaining, not the free agents in a free world we like to see ourselves as, but ever more like slaves entrapped in a world controlled by the large corporations, such as Apple, Amazon and Google, whose power over us grows by the day.

The author points to a worrying aspect of today’s world, our current obsession with ourselves.  The rise of the mobile phone and Instagram have disturbing consequences, one of the most frightening being what he calls our “self-centric culture”, in which “if we have no thought to Tweet or photo to post, we basically cease to exist.”  And “the truth about networks like Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook is that their easy-to-use, free tools delude us into thinking we are celebrities.”

I have often thought that the electronic equipment most of us feel to be absolutely indispensable to our modern lives, and which is intended to link us ever more closely to one another, ironically leads instead to our distancing ourselves more and more from each other.  The cameras in our mobile phones are encouraging us to look at each other through a lens, rather than in the eye.  The messages we send are beginning to stop us speaking to one another, voice to voice.  We now text rather than talk.

The young woman sitting opposite me in the café (see my last blog of 24 February) made no contact with anybody during the time that I watched her, all her human interactions being through her electronic equipment.  It felt as though she lived in a bubble all on her own.  As Andrew Keen says, “The truth…is that we are mostly just talking to ourselves on these supposedly “social” networks…. (It is) an Internet in which the more social we become, the more we connect and communicate and collaborate, the lonelier we become.”

Finally, to add to these rather depressing thoughts, a little comment by the writer, Robert Macfarlane, whose lovely books about walking in nature and in the wild all of us should also read.  In an article of his in the Guardian, I read that the new edition of the Oxford Junior Dictionary now includes words like “chatroom” and “broadband”, but not “bluebell” or “kingfisher”.  I also read that they are now discussing whether children should continue to be taught handwriting in school, presumably because it is assumed that they will no longer be using pen and paper but tapping away on their keypads to communicate.  All these different developments underline the seismic changes going on around us.  No doubt many of these may herald exciting new departures which we should welcome.  Others, though, represent losses.  I am sad that children’s vocabularies may no longer include bluebells or kingfishers.

Are we perhaps starting to live in an age of Metal, that element which mourns the loss of what is valuable, and in its imbalance may cut us off increasingly from each other and from the world around us?






Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Being an unashamed Luddite*

The world gets more and more bizarre to me, and more and more in thrall to all the computerized gadgets being invented by the day to satisfy some never-satisfied appetite for the new.  I live near an Apple store and have seen the queues building up outside its doors on the days some new gadget is put on sale.  Presumably each of these must incorporate some additional feature considered essential by its buyers, a symbol of conspicuous consumption if there ever was one.

I am at the opposite end of this spectrum of a desire for new computer gadgets, having been lent an iPhone a short while ago only to hand it back when I could never learn its uses, and retreated back to a mobile phone apparently so outdated as to be out of the dark ages, - and only used by me for emergences.  And then only reluctantly because I need to put on my spectacles to see what I am doing, which means ferreting around in a bag, and then, because of my bad hearing, being unable to hear the person I am trying to contact because of all the traffic noise. 

Admittedly I am not a neutral observer of the computer scene, particularly, as happened recently, when I am sitting close to somebody in a coffee shop who is engaged in simultaneous computer-driven activities.  For there I am enjoying my morning coffee with my book open in front of me when a young woman rushes into the café, plonks herself down opposite me (and the tables are quite narrow and intended for groups of people sitting closely with each other), talking all the while on her phone.  With one hand she holds the phone against her ear, with the other she fusses around in her bag to get out her iPad.  Talking all the while and passing the phone from ear to ear as she tries to open her computer, at the same time somehow she manages to interrupt herself for long enough to place her order with the waitress.  The she starts tapping the keys on her computer rather frantically, whilst taking off her coat.  By now I am watching fascinated by her ability to multitask – to talk and to type and to take off her coat, but then comes the coup de theatre.  Her coffee and a plate of toast arrives, and somehow to my amazement, by dint of moving the phone to which she is still taking from hand to hand, or holding it by her shoulder against her ear she manages to release one hand enough to pick up a knife and butter her toast, admittedly rather clumsily, but still sufficiently to be able to snatch at it, interspersed by gups of coffee, all the while still talking on the phone and tapping on the computer.

By now I am so jittery myself from all these frantic movements opposite me that I decide I have had enough and leave. I saw her again a few days later, still frantically engaged in all the same activities. Not once has she even exchanged a glance with me or the waitress serving her.  She is in a networking bubble all on her own.

I wonder what this is doing to her Earth element, as it tries to take in and process the information pouring in to her through phone and computer, as well as the food and drink which is there to nourish her.  I can visualize this poor element desperately trying to carry out its work, but not sure what to do first.  It certainly didn’t help my own Earth element, which couldn’t process what I was watching and had to leave.

 * A person opposed to new technology



Sunday, February 22, 2015

The joy of being with other five element acupuncturists

After depressing myself by writing the last blog, I am relieved to turn to a much happier subject for this blog, which is about another heart-warming seminar Guy Caplan and I gave yesterday at our clinic in Harley Street.  I love the word “heart-warming”, a word close indeed to every Fire person’s heart, such as mine, because it does feel as if my heart this morning is indeed warmer after a day spent in the presence of a group of dedicated five element practitioners and students.

We look at patients together, observe their treatments, include some practical work helping participants feel more confident about their clinical skills, and, most importantly of all, mull over together the problems we confront as practitioners.  Mostly, though, we concentrate simply on making participants feel more confident in what they are doing, and helping them by making them aware that they are part of a family of five element acupuncturists.  The main thing which I like to emphasize and which I hope they all take away with them are my two mantras, “The simpler the better”, and “Points are messengers of the elements, not the message itself”.

I am constantly bewildered by the emphasis so many people now seem to put on points and point selection.  When I trained all those years ago, we never seemed to worry about which points to select because the whole emphasis of training was on trying to find a patient’s element. Once found, or at least once we had made our first decision about which element to address, we carried out the simplest of treatments:  first, of course, A E drain, then source (yuan) points, tonification points, horary points, AEPs (back shu points), interspersed, obviously, by clearing any blocks, such as pPssession, Husband/Wife or Entry/Exit blocks.  I don’t remember us ever worrying about point selection, unlike present generations of practitioners who seem to spend an inordinate amount of time mulling over the actions of different points and when to use them, and disproportionately less time learning to look carefully at the elements of which these points are just the servants.

Another mantra of mine could be “Find the element and the points look after themselves”.  And if they don’t yet look after themselves, because you are new to the world of five element acupuncture, then look at a copy of the new edition of my Handbook of Five Element Practice, published by Singing Dragon Press, which lists in careful detail the points on each element to be used at different stages of treatment.

So a day spent with my group of five element practitioners and students, all speaking the same language of the elements, is confirmation that at least in this corner of London the spirit of five element acupuncture in its purest form continues to flourish.  This confirmation has been given an additional boost by an email from one of the participants which I received at the end of the day, telling me how grateful he and other members of the group were to see “how you simplify 5E acupuncture in a way that we can all get a real grasp of the elements”.  Thank you, Dom, for those kind words.


An important book

I have just read an important book all should read.  It is The Internet is not the Answer by Andrew Keen.  As readers of my blog know, I am increasingly disturbed by the impact of what I call the electronic world upon us all.  We are enveloped (literally) in it.  Anything I do, where I do it, when I do it and what I do with it, can be tracked, as my life is monitored from minute to minute, my shopping preferences noted, my reading choices logged, my finances closely scrutinized and my telephone calls snooped on.

I am always surprised at the welcome given to all new inventions emerging almost daily from this electronic world, apparently with little thought given to any possible downside to them.  The latest evidence for this is the attention the fashion world is now paying to designing clothes with inbuilt pockets for mobile phones and all the other computer equipment people now carry with them, and with a self-charging capacity so that as we walk along we can charge this equipment up without the need to find a socket somewhere to plug it in.  We will in effect be plugged into ourselves. I had to look at my diary to check whether I had skipped a few months and this was April Fool’s Day!

Andrew Keen’s book points to the many pitfalls of this electronic world, not only ahead of us, but, dismayingly, already all too evident here and now.  The large all-powerful, all-devouring companies of Amazon, Google and the like already hold so much of our lives in thrall that it feels as though there is little any of us can do to counter their power except increasingly protest at this power and make, as I do, our own small gestures of protest.  These include doing things like buying my books at a small local bookshop rather than through Amazon, and buying my newspaper from my small local newsagent rather than at Tesco’s, so much more conveniently closer to hand.

So books like this one by Andrew Keen, based on very detailed, insider evidence of the terrifying consequences of all these huge monoliths gradually taking over ever larger slices of our life, are essential reading, particularly for those, such as politicians, wielding more power than I can ever do.  They do have the chance to halt the progression of these juggernauts over the land.  But at least people are now increasingly awake to the injustice of their hiding away their huge profits in secret tax havens in such a way as to avoid paying taxes on them, and are demanding action on this.  A small but, I hope, significant step. 

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Book Launch for On Being a Five Element Acupuncturist

We had a lovely evening last week at the book launch we organized at our clinic in Harley Street.  Many people from all the different aspects of my life came:  family, friends, acupuncturists and patients. 
And here you can see me reading a few extracts from book, and its lovely cover.
The book, like all my other books, is now available from Singing Dragon at //

Monday, February 2, 2015


I have just held a very heart-warming book launch for my new book On being a Five Element Acupuncturist, which has just been published.
My lovely new publisher, Jessica Kingsley, of Singing Dragon Press, was there to wish my book well on its way.  She has just emailed me to tell me how surprised she was that there were so many people at the launch involved in some way with music, and wondered why I had not mentioned music once in all the blogs included in my new book.  This in turn surprised me, because I had never realised that I had not written about music at all, and it made me think why this might be so.
I have come up with two reasons, one more profound than the other.  The simpler reason is because my hearing has got progressively and unfortunately rather rapidly worse, so that I am now finding it increasingly difficult to listen to music both live in the concert hall and on the radio.  I noticed this most acutely recently when I went to a concert in my beloved Wigmore Hall at which a Haydn quartet I know well from first to last note was being played, and I could not recognize it at all to start with, as though I were listening to some discordant music.  Gradually my hearing, magnified by my hearing aids, attuned itself better to the music so that after a good few minutes I began to appreciate that what I was hearing were indeed familiar sounds.  But, oh the sadness of being brought up so cruelly short by my body’s increasing frailty.
Interestingly, though, I can still play the piano, or occasionally now my cello, presumably for the same reasons that a totally deaf percussionist, Evelyn Glennie, can “hear” what she is playing because, as she says, she “taught herself to hear with parts of her body”.  And also because I hear the piano’s tones and the cello’s vibrations much closer to my ears than in the concert hall or on the radio.
The deeper reason is that I can write about what I read, as I often do, because I am using my own words to describe the words of others, but I do not possess a language which can describe music.  It has its own language of sound which I don’t have the understanding or knowledge to translate into words.
So these, Jessica, are two of the reasons why music is absent from my blogs, though so integral a part of my life since the days when as a young child I squatted on the floor listening to my grandmother and her quartet playing through the chamber music repertoire.  Apart now, of course, from this blog.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

A beautiful poem

I am not a natural reader of poems.  I have always found that I need to hear somebody reading them to me before I really understand their rhythm.  But I have just been introduced by a poetry-writing friend to a poem by John Clare (1793-1864), one line of which has haunted me ever since.  It is the third line of the poem, and I have decided that it will be good to exercise my brain by trying to learn the whole, quite short poem.

The line is from a poem called simply “I am”, and here are its first three lines, written down, to my delight already, from memory:

I am, yet what I am none cares or knows;
My friends forsake me like a memory lost:
I am the self-consumer of my woes"

(I got a few words wrong!)

I don’t know why these lines swirl away in my mind as much as they do.  I suppose that this is one of the secrets of good poetry.  Its rhythms and its juxtapositions of oddly-assorted words lead us away from the everyday into some distant realm of the spirit. "I am the self-consumer of my woes" speaks to me in a way I don’t really understand, but simply feel.

He was completely self-taught, working as a labourer in the fields to support his family, and then unhappily spent the last years of his life consigned to an asylum.  I have just discovered that “I am” was the last poem he wrote.  He must indeed have felt that his friends had forsaken him “like a memory lost”, so that he had to become “the self-consumer of his woes”. 

Reading about his life, and its unhappy ending, I can at last begin to understand the meaning of these lines

Monday, January 26, 2015

Beckham's beard

I find it fascinating to observe the influence certain famous people can have upon a whole generation.  This is so in the case of David Beckham and his beard.  I remember a time, now shrouded in the mists of quite a few years, when only a dedicated few wore beards, and certainly not footballers.  And then along comes David Beckham, a style icon if ever there was one, sporting one kind of beard after another, first just a discreet growth on the chin, followed by other kinds of adornments, and finally a thick bushy beard which certainly did him no favours.  This has now been trimmed back to the kind of beard everybody is now wearing, in mimicry of him.

Once Beckham was seen with a beard I noticed that they gradually started to sprout everywhere, until, now, particularly among footballers, it is almost odd to see a beardless face.  And not just in this country, but throughout the world.

I wonder how far each bearded person thinks his type of beard suits him.  To my eyes some definitely do whilst others definitely do not.  I think here of Gary Lineker on BBC TV, whose face appears to have shrunk behind his rather wispy beard, whilst others’ beards suit them better.

I wonder, too, how far the women in these bearded men’s lives like this new fashion.   I know of one young man whose relationship has foundered on his girlfriend’s insistence that he shave off his beard, and a wife who hated her husband’s.  They are, after all, really prickly!

And there is also the case of Beckham's tattoos, another fashion many footballers have followed!

I am now waiting for Beckham to shave off his beard to see whether the fashion will change again.  I think the tattoos are here to stay.