One by one, they sit down, wide-eyed and trusting. I flip into "come to Momma" mode, patting seats and looking wise. And bit by bit, I discover the secret of the arcane arts.

Robert calls on Wednesday. "Darling," he says, "We need some entertainment at our office party". "Oh, goody," I say, "Do you want me to get drunk and sing `Diamonds are a Girl's Best Friend?'" "Urr, no," he says, "Everyone's seen that. I was thinking about tarot readings, actually." Gulp.

"I've never done a stranger before." "Well, now's your chance," says Robert. Oh, yes, well, that's all very well for you, but there's a world of difference between doing your love-obsessive friends and laying out Death, the Devil, the Tower and the six of swords in a row for some mild chap who's hoping that things will to improve in '98. "Well, I can't promise I'll be much good," I say feebly, and Robert, reassuringly, says "I don't suppose that'll matter" and hangs up.

So I find myself in Islington wearing bright -red lipstick. I cover a little table with a black cloth, and read Simon, whom I know a bit, first ("Your partner is about to open a dress shop in Docklands"). It turns out that his urge to credulity is so powerful that he forgets everything he's ever told me, accepts that it all comes from the cards. By the time I've finished there's a queue 20 deep lined up on a bench.

One by one, they sit down, wide-eyed and trusting. I flip into "come to Momma" mode, patting seats and looking wise. And bit by bit, I discover the secret of the arcane arts. Like therapy, only less hard work, they provide people with an opportunity to talk about themselves without feeling guilty. And that, in these days of couple-sharing, is not something to be sneezed at. Everyone needs a bit of emotional massage.

And the weird thing is, the cards are really working. Three readings in, I'm saying things like "You're a Piscean, aren't you?" and "You've had a crush on someone for ages and you're beginning to realise that it's pointless" and people are going "yes, well, my ex. I still feel that he's the right person ..." and their eyes are welling. People spill details about their childhoods that they would never tell their friends. And somehow, everyone takes it completely for granted that I actually am a tarot reader rather than a gossipy hack in a pair of dangly earrings.

The bar staff kick everyone out at one. I have a quick drink and a fag while they sweep up. One of Robert's colleagues comes over to say thanks. "Everyone's talking about you. They think it's wonderful" Then she adds the unexpected: "There's a cheque for pounds 150 in the post". I glance down at my cards and see a whole new career opportunity open up before me.

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