Sorry, Gwyneth - I was cupped five years ago

I felt fine for as long as it took me to find my purse, hand over the money and make my way to the Tube
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The Independent Online

With respect to Gwyneth Paltrow, whose recent foray into alternative medicine is causing such a stir, I was cupped five years ago in a basement in Tufnell Park, which, apart from sounding extremely rude, was a total waste of time. And money.

With respect to Gwyneth Paltrow, whose recent foray into alternative medicine is causing such a stir, I was cupped five years ago in a basement in Tufnell Park, which, apart from sounding extremely rude, was a total waste of time. And money.

For those who have not been following the exciting story of Ms Paltrow's toxic tissue and headache cure, cupping is an ancient Chinese practice not unlike acupuncture. It involves placing the heated rims of small cups upside down on the various pressure points of your body to create suction, thereby relieving your system from the build-up of toxic waste as well as your wallet from a fairly substantial quantity of cash. Cupping isn't cheap. I've no idea what New York cuppers charge - Ms Paltrow apparently went to a practitioner on the Upper East Side - but, five years ago, Dr Feng, in Ormond Road, charged me £100 for an hour's session that included both acupuncture and cups.

He put heated needles in my arms and heated cups on the small of my back, after which, he assured me, all my aches and pains would disappear and I would be a new woman. His confidence was infectious. When, after half an hour, he had removed all the crockery and hardware from my arthritis-racked body, I did feel strangely healed. The needles came out easily enough but the cups, as he lifted each one off, made the same hollow, squelching noise you get when you squeeze the dregs of the washing-up liquid into the kitchen sink.

"Huh, how you feel, Madam Sue, better, huh?" inquired Dr Feng, pinching my limbs quite roughly like a farrier sounding a horse for a sprain. "Fine," I said, and it was true for as long as it took me to find my purse, hand over the money and make my way to the Tube, soon after which all my usual aches and pains returned and I limped home, sadder, wiser and ready for another dose of steroids.

Most of my friends are alternative medicine anoraks. I know people who boil up evil-smelling Chinese herbs as a cure for laryngitis, chew ginseng roots for palpitations and smear tea-tree oil on aching limbs in the same way that motorists squirt WD40 into the moving parts of their engines. At the back of the bathroom cupboard, I have 36 small brown glass vials with rubber stoppers containing all 36 of Dr Bach's flower remedies, which I bought on impulse some years ago, having read somewhere that Rudolf Steiner swore by them. At the time, I was going through a Rudolf-Steiner-is-the-best-thing-since-sliced-bread phase, which wore off when I found out that he recommended small boys to take up knitting and small girls only to play with dolls without faces - spooky or what?

There was something called Bach's Rescue Remedy, a mixture of five different flower essences whose names, apart from Star of Bethlehem, I forget, which you were recommended to take in emergencies. What sort of emergency, I asked the Austrian friend who introduced me to both Rudolf Steiner and Dr Bach. She believes so implicitly in the alternative way of life that she will not file her nails before consulting her astrological chart to see if the moon is waxing or waning. Hair and nail cutting is compatible only with a waning moon. By my friend's reckoning, anything that upsets one's spiritual or physical metabolism is an emergency and treatable with Rescue Remedy - divorce, mislaying the car keys, falling under a bus. She gets through a couple of pints a week.

I also have friends who sneer at health shops and say unkind things about alternative obsessives, including Prince Charles. If he is the best advertisement there is, they say, they'd rather join the NHS waiting list. My husband is something of a medical misfit, dismissing alternative medicine as cranky but at the same time refusing to wait even 10 minutes to see the doctor. He's more what you would call a DIY patient, preferring to wander into Waterstone's and look up whatever complaint he happens to be suffering from in the medical equivalent of the Reader's Digest Home Repairs Manual. He came in the other day and asked casually if I was still taking sulfasalazine for arthritis. Yes, I said. Could he have some? It was listed as one of the cures for a condition that I would rather not go into here. Sure, I said, but how much. Whatever I could spare, he said, and took four tablets a day for a week, after which he pronounced himself fit as a flea. Men are stranger than I thought. Everyone knows how stubborn they are when it comes to asking for directions but this self-diagnosis is something else. I wonder which he needs, Rescue Remedy or a nice hot cuppa.

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