Friday, 12 November 2010


I happened to be watching Gordon Ramsay's Best Restaurant (or somesuch nonsense) last night - well, it was on - and just happened to catch the end of Nigella Lawson's programme this evening, which set me wondering what are the astrological significators for this breed of TV superchef? The commercial kitchen is uncompromisingly competitive, heirarchical, pressurised and - dare I say - male (I have a sneaking suspicion this may be down to the fact that cooking has long been seen as "women's work" and there's some kind of compensation deal going on), which obviously makes me think of Mars (knives, aggression, competition). But what are the other elements of this shrine to the worship of food? An emphasis on fire for the heat of the kitchen? Venus, earth signs - particularly Taurus - for the sensual appreciation of fine cooking?

I thought I'd look at the charts of these two chefs to see if there were any themes coming up (I'm sorry, these are both flat charts - I'm afraid I don't have accurate birth times for either, and apologies for all the asteroids on Gordon's - ouch - definitely something going on with his feminine side here.


I have actually met Gordon Ramsay. I had breakfast with him once (no, it's not what you think) and I have to say, with his craggy face, his just-got-out-of-bed hair and those eyes that seem to say "I'd shag you if I had the time..." (he didn't actually say that to me, by the way - I just have rather an overactive imagination) I'm not at all surprised to see that Sun/Venus conjunction in Scorpio. It's connected by sextile to a potent Moon/Pluto conjunction (hang on - does some of that sound a bit familiar?), beseiged by Uranus and Mars. This scary stuff is all in normally peace-loving, careful Virgo, however the intensity here is immense - this heavy stellium is directly opposite Saturn; the words "control freak" for some reason spring to mind, and I'm guessing Gordon isn't an altogether easy person to live with or be around unless you're doing exactly what he wants you to do. Scorpio and Virgo can work very well together - the precision and perfectionism of Virgo channelled through the focus and intensity of Scorpio can be a very productive combination, and earth signs have an affinity with food, the earth and natural produce. Characters with a lot of outer-planet emphasis, though, can be a bit scary, and there's a huge amount of volatile intensity here.

His feminine planets, the Moon and Venus are both in trouble - Venus is detrimented in dark, spooky Scopio - masculine Mars's natural ruler by night - not really a place where nice girls go, while his Moon is surrounded by heavy outer planets as well as Mars, who has a natural antipathy to the Moon anyway, and opposed by Saturn. There's no way this bloke's every going to be seen doing anything girly - he's actually admitted the fact that despite having four children he's never changed a nappy. The fact that he managed to (a) have a nine-year affair and (b) keep it secret for so long doesn't altogether surprise me with that Sun/Venus conjunction in secretive Scorpio. There's an early Bob Dylan song with the words "I gave you my heart but you wanted my soul", which I think perfectly describes the energy of Venus in Scorpio - it's a bit vampirish. Fused with the Sun, doubly so. When the affair came to light in 2008, Uranus was transiting over his Saturn opposite his scary Virgo Moon stuff, breaking open wide the tight control-ly-stuff, at least for a while. But if anyone can handle a difficult outer-planet transit, it's an outer-planet person, and Ramsay's Moon is no stranger to ways of the big stuff. Call it Scorpio-survival instinct or whatever, true to form Gordon is back in control and on our TV screens, large as life and twice as focussed.

I reckon Gordon is predominantly a businessman - anything he puts his mind to, he focusses on totally and doesn't settle for anything less than absolute perfection. Let's face it, with all that TV work, books, merchandising, etc, how much time can he actually spend cooking these days? And the swearing? I put it down to Mercury in Sag trine his larger-than-life Leo Jupiter (it's just over a degree of orb). Fanned by the flames of Hell's Kitchen, it looks like Ramsay will be sounding off on our TV screens for some time to come.


I'm afraid I'm not altogether a fan of Nigella. It's all the simpering, the uneccessary expanse of soft, creamy decolletage and the way she licks the spoon languidly after beating the chocolate mousse ("robustly, but perhaps not too excitably," she suggests with a bit of a come-hither wink at the cameraman - just get on with it please, woman!) popping a plump strawberry between her pouting lips for good measure. That, and the drooling slack-jawed bloke on the sofa, completely ignoring me while I'm trying to do something creative with a marrow, still a bit muddy from the allotment, and some Halloumi cheese.

Nigella is the opposite end of the spectrum to Gordon - she certainly has no problem showing her feminine side - although it's not really a feminine side I feel totally comfortabe with. She hasn't got any of Gordon's drive or precision edge - she's actually a bit sloppy and haphazard with her measurements, always licking spoons and letting things dribble over the side a bit haphazardly. There's no intense focus here, just a wonderful fiery grand trine mirroring her huge enthusiasm and hinting at the possibility that there probably weren't too many obstacles in the way of her meteoric rise to culinary stardom - the Lawson family connections and the marriage to multi-millionaire Charles Saatchi can't have hampered her too much in her career (although I know she has had huge personal tragedy in her life with the death of her mother, a sister and a tragically young husband, so let's not be too hard on the girl).

She has the Sun not a million miles from Saturn in earthy Capricorn - this woman is a grafter. The irritating girliness I put down to that Venus in Sag, and the fact that it squares Pluto puts me in mind of a TV spoof of Nigella meets How Clean Is Your House where she langorously wields a loo brush (anyone see that?) - I feel her lascivious TV persona has more of the sexually-charged Pluto element than is strictly necessary before the watershed (although that's probably my Virgo Moon speaking...)

But what about the Mars stuff? With Mars in Sag conjunct a dignified Jupiter and trine Uranus in Leo, there's certainly enthusiasm in spades here, but without the focus and intensity or very much earthy affinity with food shown, I'm not sure that Nigella would quite cut it in Gordon's kitchen.

Sunday, 11 April 2010

Don't Push It!

I got together with a group of astrologers this weekend to see whether we could predict the winning horse in the Grand National. It’s been done before and plenty has been written on the subject, but tell me this – have you ever come across a wealthy astrologer? Apart from Russell Grant or Patric Walker, I mean? (And I don’t imagine either of them owes very much of their respective fortunes to revenue from horseracing.)

None of us had been following form, or had any experience of horseracing – except perhaps for Susie, who had been looking at various astrological techniques for predicting winners – we were simply going to look at the chart for the race and see whether we could tease out the name of the winning horse from the symbolism.

Susie cast a chart for the start of the race (10:04:10, 4.15pm, Aintree, UK). For some reason, she chose to use the Campanus House system - a method of dividing the horoscope’s twelve houses into equal sections of 30 degrees devised by a 13th-century astrologer which is seldom now used – it’s fine if you happen to be born close to the equator, but considered less accurate for charts based north or south of the tropics. This method was apparently used successfully by the 20th-Century astrologer John Addey. With Addey’s method apparently (and I’ll come clean now and say that it’s very possible – er, well if I’m honest, extremely likely, then – I didn’t quite get everything; a lot of the theory was very technical with various colours and virtually everything you could possibly think of assigned to a certain house, sign or planet – Mercury/Pluto, for example, represents an imbecile, although I have no idea why, or why my eye happened to alight on that particular example in the book… Actually, I do – I know someone quite well with a natal Mercury/Pluto, but I wouldn’t exactly say he was an imbecile. Not always very good at remembering to put the bin out perhaps…)

It’s all to do with the 5th House cusp. Thus far, it seems to make sense: the 5th House rules gambling, games, competitions, etc. What you have to do is look at the 5th House cusp to see the next aspect it makes as the race develops.

In this instance, the 5th cusp progresses to meet up in conjunction with Pluto – but this is where things get tricky: if the race starts seven minutes late, the 5th cusp will have already passed Pluto and be applying to a sextile with the Moon (I’ve never been great at maths, so I tend to stick to major aspects, although I understand Addey was into harmonics and midpoints and whatnot, which I’ve never been able to get my head round. I’m of the view that, if the astrology wants to communicate a message, it will do it in a language you can understand without recourse to a calculator. Quincunxes, sesquiquadrates and semisquares might be all very well for someone who doesn’t immediately get the urge to bury her head in the sand at words like “quadratic equation”, but my charts need to speak to me in plain English).

Normally, when looking at a chart, the first thing you look at is the sign on the Ascendant (in this case Virgo) and its ruler (Mercury) – incidentally, because the Grand National is always run during the first two weeks of April, and always kicks off at the same time (4.15pm), the Ascendant will always be Virgo and the ruler will always be Mercury. Sadly, too, the Sun will always be in the 8th House – house of death – echoing the race’s grim history of death and injury to both riders and runners. I’m assured that this is now not such an issue; in more recent years following pressure from animal rights activists and the huge public outcry after graphic news coverage of the fall of the horse Dark Ivy in 1987 – a huge amount has been invested in on-course veterinary care: there’s more brush in the fences and the number of runners has been reduced to forty (which is still a heckuvalotof horses galloping full-tilt towards a five-foot fence). Eighty horses have ‘officially’ lost their lives during the history of the race – the actual total is almost certainly more. The largest number of horses to finish – out of 40 starters – is 23; the fewest is two. Yes, that's right: 2. I know.

* * * *

Anyway, back to the chart. The 5th House Pluto in Capricorn forms a Yod or ‘Finger of Fate’ – two Quincunxes (150 degrees) joined by a Sextile – with the Moon and Mars (coincidentally conjunct the Part of Fortune in the 11th) – an aspect pattern quite striking in itself without the business of the 5th House cusp. One of the runners was Black Apalachi – a reference to a now extinct Native American tribe; Both Pluto and Mars are associated with the colour black, and Pluto is extinction. Capricorn is also associated with mountains (although I’m really not sure whether the Apalachi tribe actually had anything to do with the Appalacian mountains – direct associations don’t always matter in astrology since symbols can relate to any number of things).

The second horse I picked was Don’t Push It. There are a number of suggestions in the chart that point to this: Obdurate Saturn in close opposition to unpredictable Uranus right across the horizon of the chart seem to be saying don’t push it… to one another; chart ruler Mercury digging its heels in to sticky Taurus (normally associated with speed, Mercury is slowing down towards its station when it goes retrograde next week); even the dark Pluto in the 5th holding pushy Mars in Leo in a sinister quincunx seems to be echoing don’t push it…

Of course there were others. A not-quite angular Moon in dreamy Pisces applying to a sextile of the Taurus Mercury hinted at Dream Alliance; The Package suggested Mercury the messenger, as well as mysterious Pluto in the 5th (although not sufficiently strongly for me, I have to say); Comply or Die – a strong favourite – could well have been compulsive Pluto and deathly Mars; Backstage – Pluto, with his helmet of invisibility in the theatrical 5th House; Nozic was in there, too – a right-wing economic philosopher who espoused the supremacy of market forces, who could easily have been Mars/Pluto. One of the astrologers liked Mr Pointment (sluggish Mercury in Taurus), but it turned out he wasn’t running (still somewhere on the road to Aintree, probably).

* * * *

In the event, the race started three minutes late – the 5th House cusp was closing in rapidly on Pluto as Black Apalachi established an early lead... As the race developed, they were all mentioned as contenders – Dream Alliance, Comply or Die, Nozic, Backstage – as well as Big Fella Thanks, who would have been Jupiter, which frankly – apart from being vaguely close to the Descendant – wasn’t doing much in the chart, but I guess you can’t expect to see everything in astrology.

As they neared the finish – and the all-important 5th-House cusp moved on through and past Pluto – Don’t Push It, whose name had been written all over the chart moved through the pack of dark horses carrying Tony McCoy to victory.

* * * *

Yes, it was all there in the stars, but even before we put our bets on, it did make me wonder, is this what astrology is for? To my mind, astrology is a gift from beyond, something spiritual, something that offers insight, a brief glimpse of the unknowable, and perhaps a way forward – it’s not about making money. As I saw the phrase Don’t Push It again and again in the chart, I wondered whether the astrology was really saying to us, “Yes, I’ll show you it can work for this, but this isn’t what astrology’s really about. Don’t push it…

* * * *

We’ve decided to donate our winnings to a charity for retired racehorses.

If you didn’t catch the race on Saturday or you want to see it again, here you go.