Bad day? Blame Mercury – or check your horoscope more thoroughly in future

Why not try out the idea that the planets exert an influence on us?

Are you having a difficult time at the moment? Are you experiencing problems in your relationship? Have you recently suffered breakdowns in communication with friends and colleagues? And what about mechanical or technological failures? Have you noticed that they've been rather too frequent of late? If you've answered yes to any of these questions, I may be able to explain why.

The other day, I was telling a friend that, in certain respects, my life was out of wack at the moment. The reason, she said, was clear. Mercury is in retrograde. Now, when I hear something like that, a very loud siren goes off in my head. Crackpot alert! When someone tries to explain behavioural change through an alignment of the stars, it's time to change the subject.

As a journalist, I'm trained to be sceptical of the official version of events, so I'm hardly likely to be credulous when it comes to inter-planetary affairs. At which point, it would be churlish not to share with you my favourite (possibly apochryphal) story about astrology and newspapers. A famous ex-editor of the Sun called the paper's house astrologer into his office to dismiss her. “I'm sacking you,” he said, with brutal finality. She was utterly crestfallen. “I...I...I don't know what to say,” she replied, “I didn't see this coming at all.” “And that's the problem!” said the editor triumphantly.

It is not recorded whether this exchange took place when Mercury wais in retrograde, but – according to those who believe, and there are many more of them around than you might think – this type of dysfunctional exchange is par for the course at this point in the stellar calendar. Mercury is in retrograde between October 21 and November 10, so today we are  right in the middle of the danger period. Typically – and let's buy the idea that the planets exert an influence on us – this is a time when all sorts of personal issues, large and small, go haywire.

Astrology is based on the theory that all the planets have their own particular influence on us, and Mercury rules our minds, our memories, our intelligence. When it's in retrograde (i.e. when it starts turning in an apparent backward motion) it holds its power back, and this is thought to affect many areas of life. There are some business leaders who won't get on a plane in this period, believing that mechanical efficiency is another aspect governed by Mercury, and that breakdowns are more likely to occur at this time. For the rest of us, it's more likely to be that the missed appointments, or the things that get lost, or the haircut we hate, or that text sent (or received) that was misjudged, or the computer that keeps crashing.

Of course, these are the sort of things that happen to all of us even when Mercury isn't in retrograde, and it's perfectly reasonable to regard this whole matter as a barrel load of hokum. But I'm not so sure we can dismiss it that easily. So far today, I've mislaid my wallet and been flashed by a speed camera. Like the Sun's ex-astrologer, I should have seen it coming.