Memoir of a Horoscope Writer, Book 4: Cosmic Confidential: Jonathan Cainer and the Daily Mirror

When can you get here?

New York, Thursday, March 8, 2012 by Eric Francis

On a warm spring afternoon in Seattle, I was working in the office of my new apartment in Greenwood Lake. Evening was starting to settle in. My fish tanks, which I had spent the past week moving from Vashon Island, were humming quietly, and the fish seemed to be adapting to their new homes. My friend Lexi and I had moved three aquariums, with a total of 78 fish, without losing a single one on the trip or through the transition.

My business card, from my brief, one month visit to Seattle.

I watched Rex, my yellow lab cichlid, dig out a den under a rock, gathering an enormous amount of gravel into his mouth and spewing it into a little pile off to the side.

As he did this over and over, making a new home for himself, in the newly rearranged aquarium, my thoughts drifted to London — and in particular the Daily Mirror, for which I had been writing horoscopes for a year. I was doing this as a vacation stand-in for Jon Germain, one of the most successful astrologers in England.

Fortunately he liked to take a lot of vacations, and better than that, he liked my writing. Since I started working for him a year earlier, I got the gig steadily, which used to be split among five writers. I went from an audience of a few thousand to several million in one jump. Enough people found out about me that my own subscription business got a sudden lift, and I was the first American horoscope writer to get anywhere near Fleet Street in decades. Now I was swimming in that world of racy, colorful daily papers most of which were scandal sheets.

Yet one thing every London newspaper had, and there were about 10 of them, was its own horoscope writer. Many were excellent and none of them bad. Even Mystic Meg, who proper astrologers made fun of, had some apropos advice or piece of wit each day.

Soon, Jon would be switching newspapers to the Mail. The switch was supposed to happen five months earlier, but the Mirror had sued the Mail to enforce a six-month notice provision in Jon’s contract — and won. This was a coup for the Mirror, a smaller paper with roots in the Labour Party, the liberal wing of English politics.

It occurred to me that I hadn’t heard news of Jon’s replacement, when he switched papers in a month. I knew I could do the job, and I knew I wanted it. It seemed obvious — this is how it happens; this is how you get your break.

I swung around in my chair and typed a note to Nick, basically my boss at Jon’s business operation. Nick worked managing the flow of content to the different newspapers and onto the website, which had a massive global audience. He edited Jon’s horoscopes and mine when I was standing in. He was more like a confederate than a boss, and I knew he was grateful that I had my act together. My copy came in on time and in good shape. I could work on a day’s notice or less. (In fact, my commitment was that I write do a daily horoscope for them on two hours’ notice.) We had a good relationship.

I sent a one line message: “Nick, have they found a new horoscope writer at the Mirror yet?”

He was at peak work hours editing that evening’s update, moving fast as ever. A moment later I got a note back: “No, they have not. I suggest you write to Jon.”

He knew exactly what I was talking about. The conspiracy had begun. If they didn’t have someone in line, I still had a chance at the job when Jon moved newspapers, which was inevitable — he was moving onto bigger and better. He would want to choose his successor, no doubt.

I typed: “Jon, I’ve heard there’s nobody lined up at the Mirror. What do you think?”

About 10 minutes later, I got a reply: “When can you get here?”

I typed: “I can leave Sunday.” I paused for a moment, considering how that would give me three days to prepare. I knew I could do it.

I pushed send. Promise made.

Then I did a quick search for flights. Price was no object; I was going to London. One listing came back on the first page — departing 11 pm Sunday out of Sea-Tac to JFK, where I would change planes and arrive London Gatwick the next morning, flying east, into the Sun, the whole night. The price was $555, astonishingly cheap for just two days out. I purchased the ticket on my prestigious Wa Mu card. Then I typed another note.

“Jon, arrive Gatwick 10 am Monday, Virgin.”

“I’ll have a car waiting for you outside the terminal. You’ll be standing in next week though I’m not going anywhere. Nick will send schedule. Good night. – jg”

An Interesting Dream

New York, Wednesday, March 14, 2012 by Eric Francis

Several hours later when I looked on the Jon Germane website for new daily forecast, there was a chipper message in the Thought of the Day. “I’ll be taking a week off next week, though I’ll be leaving you in the able hands of Mr. Eric Francis, the eminent American astrologer.”

I looked at the page a little cross-eyed. Really, that’s what I am? I thought to myself. I laughed out loud and thought: okay then!

The idea of working as the horoscope writer for the Daily Mirror was beyond amazing. I knew that it was a rare, if not once in a lifetime, experience to have this chance, which is why I acted so decisively.

It was now about 8 pm on Thursday night. I stepped away from my desk and out into the living room of my new apartment, where I had lived for just two weeks. The space still felt new and unfamiliar, almost like it was not mine. I looked around at my furniture, which had just arrived a few days earlier.

Nearly everything around me was new: the apartment itself, and its view of the lake, and the neighborhood, and being in Seattle. For four years I had lived on an island without a bridge to the main land — Maury Island, on Puget Sound — a place with minimal population. I had last lived in a part of the island called Gold Beach, which was always swallowed by silence.

Now I was in the city, not quite accustomed to it, and that feeling fused with the adventure I had just initiated.

My fish tanks were familiar, as were the creatures placidly swimming around in them. On the walls were many framed magazine covers from various career achievements, as well as my first horoscope in the Mirror from two years earlier. Still, I had this feeling of being somewhere besides my own life. The truth of that moment was, I had just moved off of the island and made an investment in a new place, but Seattle just seemed strange.

After a week I had decided it was like living in a world where everyone but me was on Prozac. They were all in their strange, low-voltage trance, and I was buzzing around in another reality. Then for a moment I visualized London, packed with energy, people, activity and writing for the Mirror. Apparently I would be there while I was writing the horoscope the following week, something I hadn’t experienced before.

I was restless, so I put on a jacket and stepped outside: past my office, out the door to the corridor, and down the stairs. It was like I was the only person alive in the whole building. There were 14 apartments and not a sound. I walked through the lobby out to Greenwood Ave. and turned toward North 74th Street. The streets were empty; there wasn’t even car traffic. It kind of reminded me of Gold Beach, which was so quiet it was truly strange — but that, at least, made sense for a development on the odd corner of an island without a bridge.

I turned right on 74th and headed over to the park. I felt like I was dreaming, and it would have felt normal to wake up as if I had been. I reached the park and walked along the lake, finally seeing another person. The air was warm and the lake was flat, without a ripple. I looped around to 65th Street, back to Greenwood Ave. and headed toward home.

When I got in, I checked my email. Nick had written: “So we’ll be seeing you Monday!” he said.

“That’s the plan,” I replied. Then a moment later he sent my writing schedule for the week. “We have this Saturday covered but Jon also wants you to write next Saturday, so that’s six columns between now and Thursday noon, London time. The first two were due on Sunday evening shortly before my flight. I could do those Friday and then have enough time for the rest of the preparations.

I pulled my ephemeris off the shelf and started looking for interesting aspects over the next 10 days. An ephemeris is the basic tool of an astrologer. No matter how good online tools may be, there is nothing quite like it; it’s an ancient tool, dating to the 2nd century BCE, and there’s nothing quite like using one in book format. I had two types: the commercially available kind, and the ones that referred to newly-discovered planets, many of which had not been named.

I selected some aspects and began casting the charts that I would use for my columns that week. Writing a good daily horoscope takes a lot of ideas. It’s necessary to have something meaningful to say to each of the 12 signs, and for each, something different than what I said for any of the other 11. It’s dreadfully easy to become repetitive, and you see it often in lower quality horoscopes.

Finally, I gave my fish their night feeding: bloodworms tonight, their favorite — and headed to bed. I must have burned a lot of energy that day because I don’t even remember falling asleep, but I do remember waking up.

I was dreaming that I was in the newsroom of the Daily Mirror. I was being shown around by someone I did not recognize. The enormous room was full of those iMacs where the screen was on an arm that bent like a lampshade.

There was a whiteboard on the wall, and he pointed out that the Daily Mirror was the top story in the Daily Mirror that day.

I thought at first, this is a metaphor for mirror. Yet the dream felt vividly real; I felt like I had just been there. I scribbled the dream in my dream notebook, and put the notebook back in my night table drawer. It was a little past 6 am and a sunny day in Seattle. I was up quickly, showered and began a day of preparing to travel.

Saturn in the Ascendant

New York, Monday, April 2, 2012 by Eric Francis

Jet air travel isn’t appreciated for what it is. It’s always like that with the most exciting developments in history — people like to take them as routine conveniences, then they become annoyances. It’s true that in 2004 the world was still at the height of paranoia after the Sept. 11 incident less than three years earlier, and airports were well on the way to becoming a total hassle. Still, being shot across the atmosphere at just under the speed of sound is too amazing to take for granted. That is what I was about to do. In light of this I was adjusting my mind to the fact that I would soon be in London.

Air travel requires light packing, and that means thought. Saturday I spent the day taking care of a few errands and putting together my portfolio. I also wrote the first of the daily columns that were due the next day. Sunday I wrote the second column, which I filed with Nick a few hours early. The rest of the day I spent arranging my belongings into four bags — a suitcase, a garment bag for the suits I would invariably need for my meeting or meetings with the Daily Mirror, my laptop case and a carry-on bag. I had no idea how long I would be gone for; I had a three week ticket, but I’d burned enough return tickets by that time to know that I might be changing my plans.

My flight was for 7 that evening, which meant that I had to leave my apartment by 5. I had already arranged for a car to pick me up at 4:55, in the spirit of running a little bit ahead of time.

My carry-on bag required the most careful packing — it was my tech bag, where I carried backup disk drives, cables and anything I might need to run my website, which was fast growing in visibility. I packed what I knew I absolutely needed, and then collected bunch of other stuff from my desk and closed the case.

Next, I printed out the charts I would need to write horoscopes for the next few weeks, as well as any other materials I would need, without access to a printer. Then I went through my file cabinet and grabbed a few essentials: by birth certificate, my resume and some random newspaper and magazine clippings from different high points in my writing career, just in case I needed them.

I arranged my bags neatly by the door, and sat down on my couch and watched my Rift Lake cichlids in their never-ending process of moving gravel around their tank. For some reason I thought about my astrology as I watched them: Saturn was currently crossing my ascendant. That’s something that happens once ever 28 years or so. This hadn’t happened in my chart since 1974, when I was 10 years old — a time of big changes. My parents were getting divorced and we were about to move to a new neighborhood.

To someone not familiar with astrology, one event sounds like another, but they are not equal. The ascendant, or the rising sign, is the easternmost angle of the chart. Just as the day begins at sunrise, the ascendant is a beginning point of one’s chart.

Saturn is one of the most revered planets, and was the supreme ruler of astrology until the ‘modern planets’ began to be discovered with Uranus in 1781. That began a whole new volume in astrology. Yet another began two centuries later in 1977, with the discovery of Chiron, an era in which my true specialty is grounded; I will have more to say about that later.

Saturn is about structure and the movement of time. This includes maturity and the process that gets someone there. It has many connections to professional affairs. Saturn going over one’s ascendant hints at the total restructuring of one’s life, a shift in identity, and some encounter with a much larger world. It is about growing up. Saturn demands discipline, integrity and most of all, a sense of humor.

Most astrologers mistakenly assume that the theme of Saturn being stuck within a structure. What I’ve seen over and over again is that Saturn is one of the most dependable harbingers of change that there is. The thing about structure is that it has to be adaptable to survive on Earth, and Saturn makes sure of that even if you do not.

Initially I thought that the results of my Saturn transit involved moving off of Vashon Island, where I had lived for the past three and a half years. In that time I had started a new phase of my life — met my business partner and incorporated by business, settled into a life on the West Coast, began training as a therapist and many other developments. Yet suddenly I needed a new environment, and a larger one, than an island without a bridge, that seemed to be trapped in the early 1960s.

So I moved to Seattle. Now, just one moth later, I was about to head to England. it was 4:50 and my car was about to arrive. I put on my leather jacket, carried my stuff out to the hall, and before closing the door, I told my fish to stay in their tanks. I pulled the door shut, not realizing I would never see the place again.