Never sleep with your feet to the door: Susan de Muth in bed with Derek Walters

On the eve of the Chinese New Year, Derek Walters, one of the West's leading Chinese astrologers and an expert in Feng Shui, describes his nocturnal habits. Mr Walters lives in Manchester with Leo, a ginger tom.

I was born in 1936, which makes me a Rat. Rats in Chinese astrology are characterised by their high level of nocturnal activity. I tend to come alive around midnight, which is when I do my most inspired work, either writing or devising astrological computer programs.

My computer is in front of a large window and I can see the stars as I work. I have an ancient Chinese astronomical map which I refer to and it's marvellous to see the same things in the sky that were recorded 2,000 years ago. As I look up into the night sky I am often struck by the awesome thought that there is nothing much between me and the edge of the universe.

Chinese astronomy identifies different groupings from those we are familiar with: Orion, for example, is seen as two distinct constellations. And in astrological terms, every star in the universe has significance. The Pole Star is the emperor, and the stars around it are his court. The smallest, furthest, dimmest stars represent people like you and me.

I usually have a break from work at about 1am and take Leo for a walk. People don't realise that cats have a lot of affection and want to relate to you: they love going for walks just like dogs. Generally, lo and behold, at least half a dozen other cats will join the procession, taking their own ways - under cars and through bushes. I talk to them as we go, and they sometimes reply. What do they say? 'Miaow,' of course.

Leo responds to music. Every night before I start work I play the piano, which I experience as a kind of meditation. The cat sits on top of the telephone, closes his eyes, and listens to a Bach fugue with great pleasure.

I love cats. Before I had Leo I had cat substitutes, and these now inhabit my bedroom. I've got about 50 ornamental cats, as well as two beautiful Chinese silk embroideries of cats on the wall. On my bed is an old tartan travelling rug which I took with me on my many voyages during the Fifties and Sixties.

My most enduring nocturnal memories are from those times. I went all over the Balkans and took the Orient Express to Moscow. There is nothing quite like standing on a dark platform in Transylvania waiting for a steam train, or pulling into Istanbul at dawn. I always travelled at night and went sightseeing in the daytime.

I don't particularly remember sleeping during those journeys. I'd always find my fellow passengers, often from five or six different countries, too interesting. However, I recall that I once made myself a little bed and slept up a tree on an island off the coast of what was then Yugoslavia. I went to a lot of places that aren't on the map any more.

Those journeys I made in my twenties are still the most constant theme of my dreams, even though I have travelled to many more exotic and faraway places since then. I don't feel any regret for those times. They're just memories. It's like looking at old photographs. I find it interesting to fall asleep wondering where I'll go back to this time.

I like to get my sleep these days - put my batteries on charge for a good eight hours. I've found the best way to go off is to do the Times crossword in bed. I have carefully planned my bedroom according to Feng Shui principles.

Feng Shui is the ancient Chinese art of arranging things for maximum peace, harmony and good fortune. I would never sleep under beams, for example - they give you pains where they cross your body. Nor would I place my bed with the feet pointing to the door - that makes you liable to nightmares and ill health: the Chinese take out their dead feet first]

The direction your bedroom faces is very important. As a child, an eastern prospect will give you the energy of sunrise; as an old person, facing west will give you the tranquillity of the setting sun. My bedroom faces north, which is perfect for a middle-aged Rat still set on following his life direction.

Derek Walters will be offering personal astrological consultations for the Year of the Dog from 10-13 February at Neal Street East, 5 Neal Street, London WC2. Details: 071-240 0135.

(Photograph omitted)

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