Thirteen across wasn’t in the air last week. It was early evening, so the time was right; perhaps the location was wrong. The back bar of the Railway Bell, New Barnet, is probably not as propitious as, say, the lounge at the Athenaeum. Then again, my intuitive skills might not have been sufficiently well-tuned.
We all have them, you know – marketing men and women, as well as jobbing hacks. But do you, dear reader, use them? When did you last raid a skip and spread its contents – bent bicycle wheel, broken food blender, holed ball valve, dead cat – before you and draw from their inner essence the shape of things to come?
By now, you will probably be thinking this column – discursive and elliptical at the best of times – has finally struck the worst of times and is waiting for the ambulance. Not so. This week we have the treat of matters that are not so much cerebral – indeed, not cerebral at all – as of a dimension beyond the reach of mere reason.
I am indebted to Elle magazine for the information that deep in the further reaches of Montparnasse, Paris, there is a place throbbing with excitement. “A creative Tower of Babel, the studio is like a designer United Nations with young people from all over the world intuiting like mad over The Next Big Thing.”
This is the headquarters of the forecaster Li Edelkoort – a special kind of seer. She deals not in meetings with tall dark strangers or long sea journeys but in coming trends. She works, says Elle, with most of the top names in manufacturing (and even governments) to “bring order to the future”.
Now aged almost 50, and a striking woman with a white flash in her scraped-back hair, Edelkoort was a young girl when she discovered she could predict the future accurately. It is not, she says, a gift. “We all have intuition. But most people don’t listen to it, and they lose it. It is like a muscle in the body. If you don’t keep it active, it withers and becomes useless.”
That explains why representatives of leading companies such as Nissan, MaxMara and Marks & Spencer – men and women who in rising through their professions have allowed their intuitive parts to atrophy and droop – journey to Paris to tap into her still vibrant powers. The knowledge she imparts could be worth many hundreds of thousands – perhaps millions – of pounds. Who in this fast-moving world would not want to know what we shall be wearing next, in what colours and fabrics, and in what style and cut? Had Madame Edelkoort whispered the single word “thongs” in the right ear at the right time it would have been as valuable as a sure-fire tip for the Derby.
Intuiting, apparently, works best with a little prompting. So Edelkoort’s team of young people from all over the world have the “marvellous job” of trawling through flea markets, picking up items at jumble sales and discovering relics in skips. Her studio has trestle tables covered with items such as battered garden gnomes, sun-bleached buckets, ripped string bags and abandoned bottles. These are the equivalent of chicken entrails, and are examined with the same intensity a Roman soothsayer would have brought to the task.
“You keep yourself open to everything,” she says. “Our job is to unlock things and highlight them for our clients… Some want help in repositioning their product or re-establishing a brand. We normally talk future strategy rather than concrete ideas, and, yes, it does cost them a great deal of money.”
Well, of course. You can’t bring in young people from all over the world, have them trawl skips for ripped string bags and intuit like billy-ho all day without incurring costs.
Fortunately, the accuracy of outcome is guaranteed. “We write the scenario for your future behaviour,” she says. “The social climate you’ll be living in. How you’ll be feeling, moving, being. And we can’t be wrong. We are dealing with the inevitable.”
Which brings me back to 13 across. According to Edelkoort, her ideas are not her own – rather they are in the air. “We all exude experiences that float in the air – quite literally – for everyone to use. For example, it’s a fact that it is easier to do a crossword puzzle at night, because by then enough people have solved them and their solutions and thoughts are in the air. It’s common knowledge that we can all tap into if we’re attuned.”
Perhaps the problem with the Railway Bell at night is interference. Maybe 13 across couldn’t make itself heard through the effing and blinding that accumulated in the ether from opening time onwards and formed a dense, atmospheric haze by the time I was sucking my pencil in the evening. And what I would like to know is, when, and by what process, does the air clear itself in preparation to absorb the answers to the following day’s cryptic clues? In my experience, there’s an awful lot of clutter left hanging about, sometimes from months back. And another thing: it seems to me that not only are people’s solutions in the air but also their wrong answers, and it is those into which I intuitively tap. What I wouldn’t give for an unwithered wossname.