Sunday, June 21, 2015

Julie Burchill: Beware the cat

This piece on Julie Burchill first appeared in The Astrological Journal earlier this year under the title 'Julie Burchill: the crab that roared'. It's part-astro-analysis, part mini-memoir

Julie Burchill: the crab that roared

By Victor Olliver

British writer Julie Burchill’s middle name may as well be Acrimony (making the acronym JAB). Whichever publication she writes for (it would be simpler to list the no-go titles) controversy is certain to follow. In addition to her countless print media opinion pieces and reviews, she has written books – including bestselling novel Ambition and lesbian teen romance Sugar Rush, adapted into an Emmy award-winning Channel 4 TV series. The self-described militant feminist and ‘Christian Zionist’ lives a hedonistic lifestyle by the English south coast in Hove, East Sussex. How come she seems not to be like her Crab Sun-sign but more a Lion?

Over the last four decades Julie Burchill has discharged a prose blunderbuss at assorted targets, scattering brilliant and irregular shot for the entertainment of the cross-legged or hunched: for tetchy seated people who post a lot of short messages on Facebook and Twitter. 

Her word-projectiles rip through the faux flesh of exaggerated or self-concocted or celebrity stupidity or cupidity so that we, the seated, may wallow vicariously in the tomato sauce of manufactured gore. No one really dies or suffers injury – though a hit may trigger performance rage in ‘victims’ prior to return fire in self-serving media storms comparable to a Mardi Gras. No one loses in Burchill rows, least of all Burchill herself: she lives in some comfort on England’s sunny south coast for which she gives her money’s worth. She produces all the effects of controversy without the risks of real-world fatwa or vendetta. Her genre is like a video war game such as Call of Duty through which the ambient and purposeless anger of consumer loafers can be vicariously doused. Recliningly.

God knows how many murders and random acts of violence she has headed off. Arise, Dame Jules!

Burchill’s passions may be countless and variable, long- or short-term: Israel, transsexuals, Madonna, Thatcher, ex-husbands, God or god; you name it – but each hate or love lacks nothing in authenticity. She’s even taken a pop at astrology. A visceral passion is stirred, precipitating an internal storm of memorable phrases in a chain-reaction of guided, populist irrationalism. These phrases are the building blocks of (at best) sublime comic invective (or occasional, romantic billet-doux, depending on her mood) that can be tailored to suit just about any medium’s demographic profile, whether The Sun’s or The Spectator’s or The Jewish Chronicle’s or anything in between or beyond.

Around the time of her second Jupiter-Jupiter opposition, she was plucked from nowhere at the age of 17 by a youth-slavering New Musical Express. She never really looked back and these days is still the biggest of the very, very few big freelance beasts of British journalism, the periodic newspaper star-signing and banner marketing name. She is also a notable salonnière, drawing any number of writers and others to her table – once at London’s Groucho; these days, at Brighton venues – for friendship or a cross-pollinating natter. Her manner at these leisurely craics is that of an adoring fan who seeks your instant intimacy (personal space soon narrows as she fills you in on her alcohol, drugs or literary consumption): yet, no matter the opiate of choice under which she claims to steer, the wise guest will notice how very alert she remains to her company, preternatural in her mind-reading and conversational anticipations. And she exudes a great blast of mind-altering warmth.

All this contrasts wildly with the public persona which is uncompromising, predatory, boastful, bombastic, insulting; sometimes cruel or shameless – culturally sussed and super-canny and dedicatedly notice-moi. The pose prose is crystal sharp. Humour is her weapon of choice. No vogue word or idea dodges her conscription. She is a creative, hot-desking opportunist with multiple causes, even if at this moment she calls herself “semi-retired” and is planning an autumn life of voluntary work.

The Burchill natal chart

She was born on 3 July, 1959, in Bristol, UK. Burchill told me herself that birth clock-time is unknown so I have drawn up the midday chart and we should ignore houses and angles. I’ve heard people express surprise that she is a Cancerian. Her ‘superior’, mercurial, erratic and confrontational life-approaches hardly fit the traditional profile of the conservative, supposedly risk-averse Crab. Her horoscope reveals why the apparent disconnect. She’s not labelled a ‘firebrand’ for nothing. She has four planets in fiery, proud Leo – Mercury, Venus, Mars and Uranus in a dominant stellium – and pars fortuna in Leo, an indicator of means of success. She needs others’ recognition to experience contentment, as well as ample space to demonstrate her gifts in a showy, noisy, possibly flamboyant way.

Self-expression is integral to her primal nature to a highly advanced extent.

Horoscopically, she’s one of nature’s show-offs, a conclusion any astrologer would reach even if s/he did not know the chart in question was Julie Burchill’s. An added power bonus to this stellium is out-of-sign Pluto, just seven degrees off in Virgo; the sign of its putative fall (unlikely to be of discernible relevance in my view in a personal chart). Here is the execution through the rigour of self-control. This underlines, among other things, her prose punch and analytical/critical bent, the withdrawal into the solo world of the mind and keyboard where her power is sourced (Mercury ruler and Pluto).

So, in many respects, Burchill is leonine: the socially adventurous queen bee (to mix species), generous and loyal – and capable of amazing generosity (Venus); bold, passionate and courageous, and an excellent organiser (she does not miss deadlines) – but inclined to pushiness, impulsiveness and boastfulness (Mars); an expressive and versatile ‘dramatist’ in speech and writing (Mercury); and abundant with creative energy, hugely self-confident but probably highly stubborn and bossy and certainly inclined to perversity or surprise perspectives (Uranus).

Though Leo is traditionally a warming sign, Uranus masks calculation and perhaps signals a blowy hot-cold sort of person: this, with social Venus close by in the blending stellium, suggests an individual who can adeptly and quickly turn on the charm but often for specific ulterior purposes. Leo Venus ramps up the showiness and likelihood of good earnings and a dynamic social life. Note, also, that her Venus is exactly conjunct pars fortuna, often denoting exceptional charm, striking good looks and the role of ‘partnership’ (business or personal) as integral to progress. Uranus here draws her into unconventional relationships and friendships: even if I didn’t know her personal history I would have to say that private life is likely to be turbulent and prone to sudden partings (she is twice divorced). Saturn trine Venus can denote major difficulties and duplicities in close bonds, but also growing happiness in partnership with maturity.

Uranus however assures a break from the norm in domestic set-up. She says she now lives with husband Daniel (who otherwise occupies a place in another part of town), but who knows? Few outside their long union are certain. Does she still talk to his sister Charlotte Raven, her former lover? She has been very rude about ex-husband Cosmo Landesman yet last December the pair made an appearance together at a public reading, recalling affectionately their first-ever meeting (lots of hot sex and cold vodka).

The Leo archetype blazes in an unhindered natal chart – as in the case of Burchill – displaying an almost regal sense of entitlement to life’s gifts and perquisites. If her Cancer Sun inclines her, perhaps surprisingly, to the personal security and cosiness of family – and/or to the adopted ‘family’ of her social coterie – then Leo makes her their uncompromising defender. She will be ferocious in seeing off attackers, though the large-heartedness of Leo may allow forgiveness even if Cancer clings quietly to the hurt. When the newspaper columnist Suzanne Moore was accused of transphobia in 2013, close pal Burchill valiantly counter-attacked critics as self-appointed champion and drew a lot of flak. Burchill’s personal needs are expressed overtly. The home theatre seeks a drama.

(Fans of Black Moon Lilith [i.e. not a planet but a geometrical point - Moon’s farthest point from Earth] – defined by some as an emerging feminine power archetype in the horoscope – may note that it is square the Leo stellium via Mars and Venus, indicative of power-related conflicts in the life and, at the very least, turbulent associations.)

When I met Burchill

I had some small experience of Burchill’s leonine nature a few years back, for good or not. The summons arrived by email one day: my then Madame Arcati media blog pleased her and she invited me to join her and others for lunch at the Hotel du Vin, Brighton. The moment we met she soaked me in charm, affection and admiration, as if we were old friends. Venus-pars fortuna could not be bettered in display. I was responsive: her Venus conjoins my Pluto (opposition Lilith); so that’s another story of complicated mutual attraction and power triggers. How we all purred. I wondered whether we’d rubbed noses before. At table she seated me between herself and her local vicar. When in later conversation the man-in-frock asked me what was the point of my Madame Arcati website, she suddenly turned from mid-bantering with someone to her left and replied for me – “to tell the truth”. I was impressed by that. Not just by the answer (judged correct if not flattering) but by her perceptual multi-tasking and feline sharp ears. Afterwards, she invited some of us back to her apartment in Hove. There she said to me, “I read your blog - and I never read blogs.” It was meant as a compliment but it was also another way of saying that big is looking down on small. I thought it mean-spirited of me to interpret her otherwise big heart in this way, especially after she spontaneously took down an Italian ceramic wall tile (featuring a pussy cat with the words “Attenti al Gatto” – beware the cat) and gifted it to me on my way out.

The next day she emailed me an invitation to join her and another at very short notice on a 5-star overseas holiday at her expense – yet another example of extraordinary Leo-Venus liberality. I refused of course. Friends thought I was mad not to say Yes to a freebie with (omigod!) Julie Burchill. But experience has taught me to beware idiosyncratic charm offences. It had struck me as odd, for instance, that she had asked me no questions about my personal life situation at the lunch or her flat – she never did. Later, she wrote of our “bromance” in an email. And she sent me a truly excellent lyric poem she’d penned for a pop star. Leo was in full gush; Leo-Venus at her most Santa-esque.

But the truth in my mean suspicion was proved to me at a subsequent get-together in London. She’d invited a few friends to join her and husband Daniel at a drinks in One Aldwych’s Lobby Bar – she was celebrating a Sunday Times Magazine deal or something – I think she’d sold them a short story. One well-known female tabloid hack was off her head on booze and gazed at me with undisguised dismissiveness as she draped herself over a sofa and chirruped at Julie. A small-time radio jock treated me to his absolute certainty that there’s no such thing as an afterlife and that all psychics are frauds. No research was mentioned. I prepared to get away sooner than planned. Perhaps Julie sensed an attitude in me – I was now in an offish mood -  but at some point she leaned over and muttered in a pissed, whispery snarl, “Just remember, I’m the star here”, before quickly moving on and talking sweetly about something else.

The distant roar of the lioness had just been heard in this boutique hotel jungle. Attenti al gatto? I had been put me in my place. It was a mark of her journalistic royalty that she had not even bothered to discover what my place might be.

Burchill and Israel – a love story

Returning to Burchill’s horoscope: Cancer Sun usually bestows a maternal air, moodiness and/or fluctuating interests (likely more so in Burchill’s case with Moon in capricious but ever-curious and clever Gemini). In person the Crab tends to gentleness and accommodation as a rule, resorting to sidling ways if confounded.

The combination of Cancer-Leo upholds fidelity and self-responsibility. Leo’s wild, creative exuberance is restrained by the Sun-Saturn opposition – this is an individual who does not in general forget her responsibilities, but she tends to clash with authority. An uneasy alliance exists between others’ power and her ego.

What else? As I just mentioned, her Moon (emotional nature – and ruler of her Sun-sign) is in Gemini (the communicator/writer, ruled by Mercury in Leo): this tells me that she is a dominant presence, and comfortable in media settings. She will like the company of fellow communicators, writers, speakers and teachers. Her responses are sharp and direct. She won’t be slow in repartee or reply to emails or texts. The instinct to speak up and out will be irresistible; nervous strain sometimes palpable. She has a need for much surface stimuli; is easily bored. Moon’s trine to North Node in Libra speaks of excitability and a pronounced admiration for courage and achievement; but also of a less obvious quest for serenity and/or soul connection – through partnership, or relationship with a god or God or Life. Her growing interest in volunteering may apply here.

Astrologically, the life challenge is to view all sides of an argument (see the nodal Aries-Libra axis). Given the tyrannous Leo richness of the chart this may appear to be a tall order. Nonetheless, the lesson is indicated – beneath the posing, posturing, blather and noise, the soul yearns for synthesis or harmony even if the ‘professional’ in her seeks this through vain, one-sided victory. Perhaps her sense of kinship with Israel is part of this.

On this last point, astrologers may like to note that modern Israel – which Burchill strongly identifies with - has (like Burchill) four planets in Leo (including Mars, widely conjunct Burchill’s Mars) and that Israel’s Mercury is one degree short of exact Burchill’s Moon in Gemini, suggesting that the nation’s extremely bold and courageous or ruthless qualities resonate sympathetically with her internal need to live life through passion, demonstration and certainty. Her heart is drawn to the country’s spirit and turbulent narrative, quite aside from other considerations.

Typical Cancerians are already sensitive to mood. In Burchill, both Jupiter and Neptune are found in delving, sensitising Scorpio. Neptune here especially intensifies peripheral awareness, bolstering capability for picking up on all sorts of subtle cues (social, psychic, etc – think about the way she followed my conversation at the Hotel du Vin with her vicar while she spoke with someone else) and using this data both for insight and assault. Her claim to be indifferent to criticism is not really borne out by her Neptune (or Moon) – quite the reverse in fact. This blustery hubris is her Leo stellium talking, a proud beast that rarely admits a bleed. Neptune trine Sun, sextile Pluto (which co-rules Scorpio) - artistic talent and psychological insight are formidable. Square the Leo stellium, Neptune’s love of dreams and glamour can get the better of Burchill – her celebration of a hedonistic lifestyle being but one expression of this escapist trait. Jupiter square Leo stellium points to huge creative energies but also to larger-than-life characteristics, a tendency to exaggerate, dramatise, over-spend or distort. These are not inevitable features, simply potential.

The chart shape of Burchill’s chart is called a Locomotive because the principal planets fill about two-thirds of the wheel, leaving about one-third unoccupied: the planetary arrangement resembles a train and is often associated with people who leave their stamp on all that they do. The primary ‘engine’ of this pattern is the Gemini Moon. If I did not know this was Burchill’s chart I would say: “At a glance this tells me of highly emotive judgements, excitability, volubility, endless curiosity about people and powerful reaction to opposition or disapproval. At best, intellect and intuition form a powerful duo for analysis and expression. This person knows how to hit a nerve. In some with this combination, distrust of the so-called irrational way of life sits uncomfortably with a highly subjective life perspective.”

With a beneficial sextile between Moon and the Leo stellium planets, media accomplishment is directly linked to contentious, mischievous and lion-hearted performance. It would be entirely fair to say that Burchill is making the most of her natal gifts – and you don’t have to be an astrologer to see that.

PS: This piece, but for a few amendments, appears in my book Lifesurfing: Your Horoscope Forecast Guide 2015. At the time of release, I was no longer in touch with Julie – partly because of the goings-on at One Aldwych (as described above), partly because I didn’t like her public comments on transsexuals following the Suzanne Moore social media eruption; and generally because as much as I admire the Beast That Is Burchill I did not feel any sense of personal communication between us: we were just semaphoring at each other in a one-sided opiate haze.

One Monday morning in February 2015 there was a warm surprise message for me on my Facebook page – from Julie. This is what she wrote: “I'm reading your book LIFESURFING, with me in it! The Israel stuff is UNCANNY! It's SO good! - JB XX PS Sorry if I was a pain, I was in my Neely O'Hara years. Failure has made me FAR nicer”. How could I not be moved by such an outrageous play to my ego, leaving aside the hearty compliment?

What impressed me most was her failure to be predictable. She could have said, “How dare you write about a private occasion and not seek my permission first! How you’re going to suffer!” A surprise can cause me to warm to just about anyone, provided it’s not a kick in the butt. But then her Mercury conjoins my Uranus, making a mutual friend of impulse and open communication.

If I know JB at all it’s largely thanks to her horoscope. And she has not challenged anything in this piece (yet).

Julie Burchill’s latest book is Unchosen: The Memoirs of a Philo-Semite

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Shena Mackay is back - thanks to Virago!

Shena Mackay - where's her damehood?!
I'm sooo delighted to learn that one of my favourite authors, Shena Mackay, is making a comeback! Virago has bought up her entire back catalogue and will start reissuing from November 2015 under its Virago Modern Classics imprint. The titles alone make me moist: Dreams of Dead Women's Handbags, The Atmospheric Railway, Babies in Rhinestones & Other Stories. I could go on. She's one of the few authors to have been shortlisted for the Booker, Orange and Whitbread.

She hit the literary world when she was just 20 - half a century ago - with her baroque, sly humour and lyrical prose, often touching on the seemingly silly or humdrum and turning living room dandruff into balletic gold sunbeam dance. If anyone has a brain, a memory chip of her work should be put into a rocket time capsule and fired into space so that one day, billions of years after we've choked to death on fracked gas, the Borg may discover her and be saved from soulless literalism. Gosh, anyone would think I was a writer myself, bitches.

She's also been commissioned to write her memoir to be published in 2016, with an especial focus on her fascinating life in the Sixties.I shall examine this book most carefully.

Oh, a few more details of the comeback launch book - it's called Dancing On the Outskirts, out Nov 5 this year. Here's a preview which I have lifted - so sue moi!:

"A wonderful collection of short stories by the doyenne of the form, a writer known for `the Mackay vision, suburban - as kitsch, as unexceptional, and yet as rich in history and wonder as a plain Victorian terrace house, its threshold radiant with tiling and stained-glass birds of paradise encased in leaded lights'- Guardian.

"Shena Mackay came to fame aged 20 when she published her first book, written in her teens, with Andre Deutsch. At times darkly surreal and funny, always deft, and highly memorable, her fiction has attracted a legion of fierce admirers ranging from Iris Murdoch to Julie Burchill, Ian Hamilton to Rachel Cooke.

"She was born in Edinburgh but her family moved often and were living in Blackheath, South East London, when Shena left school at 16. Winning a £25 poetry prize in the (prestigious) Daily Mirror Children's Literary Competition marked the beginning of her writing life. Part of her teens - she got married when she was 20 - were spent in Earls Court and the seedy Soho of the 1960s, and she was privileged to meet many artists, visiting Henry Moore at Much Hadham and drinking whisky from bone china tea cups with David Hockney in Powis Square. In the early 1970s she moved to the country with her husband and three children, and re-emerged as a writer in the 80s with a collection of stories, followed by more works including the Booker Shortlisted The Orchard on Fire."

Tuesday, June 02, 2015

Are Anna Wintour and Bill Nighy having sexual intercourse?

I have absolutely no idea. In fact I can say hand on cold heart that I could not care less. I am just hoping they don't cycle on pavements together. In Lycra. That would be too much.

Because most blogs are dreary in the extreme

Because most blogs are dreary in the extreme or just hack columns stuck on a space called blog I thought I'd return for a little while to show you how it's done.

The first thing to do as a blogger is to write as you would to a friend or foe. You can drop all those airs and graces.

Most people don't read closely but just skim before they skip off to do something probably not legal. They're in a hurry though they usually can't tell you why. It may be that something's cooking in the microwave or there's a screaming brat to play up to, but in most cases, hurrying is in itself the reason for hurrying. So I adopt a hurried style to match the hurried reading, with hurried reasoning. That way the hurried don't feel you're trying to button-hole them with wordy wankery and in consequence they feel in tune with the rush.

Hurrying is essentially pomposity about one's time and importance. The act of applying oneself to another person's energy emission is ever-so slightly humbling and so ought not to be protracted for fear of giving power away. And that ought not to be encouraged.

It goes without saying that anything read in a rush will be quickly forgotten because there's so much more to read in a hurry. No wonder people say time flies. No wonder people flee to the death camp Dignitas at the age of 54.

The new Madame Arcati has no fiances or fiancees, and admires no one in particular (though special projects or events may detain me). When I am in thoughtful mode, I shall continue to hurry but will adopt a cryptic way of writing in order to cause consternation or dredge-up deeply buried memories.

You can go now.

Monday, June 01, 2015

Most Haunted - by Madame Arcati

Hello dearies. Before Yvette Fielding came along with Most Haunted, there was moi - yes, Madame Arcati. You don't believe me? Well watch this. Part 2 can be watched on YouTube.