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Joz Norris

  • Tape 131: My Osteopath

I’ve started seeing an osteopath, because my neck and shoulder have been hurting for about a year and I’m worried if I don’t do something about it now I’ll end up as one of those old souls who can’t raise his head above the level of his navel who you see feeding pigeons. It’d be a fine life in many ways, I’m sure, but one where it’s virtually impossible to lift your head enough to see the screens when you go bowling. A life where it’s not possible to keep track of my splits and spares and watch all those funny animations of skittles getting into scrapes is no future I want for myself, so now once a week I go and pay people to beat me up until my bones crack and then wave me off, promising me that this is making me better.

Full disclosure – I can’t really afford to see an osteopath on the regs, so I do what I did back when I managed to access discount therapy a few years ago. I go to visit students. I pay them a discount rate and they practice on me. Practically, the experience is no different, I don’t think – my osteopath seems immensely capable, as after three sessions I’m already feeling better than I have in a year. All it means is that partway through each session we’ll be joined by her supervisor, who will then tell me what all my muscles are called.

“This next exercise is gonna focus on the muscles that connect your neck to your head,” my osteopath will explain, and then her supervisor will roll her eyes and say “Well it’s a bit more technical than that,” and then tell me their Latin names before marching out, at which point my osteopath will say “But they’re basically the muscles that connect your neck to your head.”

In just three sessions, I believe the supervisor has taken a strong dislike to me. When I did my initial assessment I explained that the initial injury that prompted my pain may have been the result of an Edinburgh Fringe show in which I threw myself around the stage a lot. “Kind of a clowning show?” my osteopath asked, and I nodded. When the supervisor later came in to read the notes, she shot me a fierce glare and said “What’s this about you being a clown? Says here you’re a clown.”

“Well, kind of,” I offered.

“You’re no clown. You’ve got no make-up. Or a red nose.” I considered explaining to her that many clowns don’t wear make-up or red noses, and that even those who do probably wouldn’t wear them to an appointment with their osteopath, but before I could she asked “Have you won the Perrier Award?”

“Huh?” I replied. “Err, no?” She sniffed decisively.

“That’s a shame,” she said. “All the best comedians have won the Perrier Award.” I considered explaining to her that actually it’s not called that any more, and actually I was longlisted for it in 2019, but no, you can’t google it because they don’t actually publish the longlists so there’s no proof anywhere, but that I had it on good authority from someone who was on the panel that year that I was on the longlist, but the more I thought about it the more I felt it would be hard to explain all that in a way that felt like a victory.

“Well, see you next week, George,” she said before marching out. I’ve now left it too late to explain to her that my name isn’t George as I neglected to correct her on either of my first sessions, which means now when she sees “Josiah” printed on my paperwork she wrinkles up her nose in confusion and says “Why’s it say Josiah here? Your name’s George,” and I just affect bafflement and say “Oh, how weird, it must be a typo.” My osteopath, who knows my name isn’t George, sits silently watching my spinelessness, before grabbing my spine with her fist and giving it a yank until it goes pop, and saying “Ahh yes, that’s it, doesn’t that feel good?”

In that most recent session, while I was undressing, the supervisor suddenly said “Don’t tell him your name, Pike!”, a propos of nothing.

“What?” I said, tugging off my trousers.

Dad’s Army,” she replied. “The best joke of all time.”

“That’s actually a misquotation,” I said, but she had buried her head in her notes and was scribbling furiously. I kept talking just to fill the silence. “The exchange is actually “What’s your name?” “Don’t tell him, Pike,” but it’s often misquoted, and in my opinion the misquote actually robs the exchange of some of its rhythm.” Nobody spoke. There was no sound but the scratching of her pen. “He just died,” I said. She stared at me, hawklike.

“Who did?”

“Ian Lavender.”

“Who’s that?”

“Played Pike in Dad’s Army.

“What’s that got to do with anything?” I shrugged.

“You brought it up,” I said. She looked back at her notes again, kept scribbling.

“They don’t make comedies like that any more,” she said. I recommended she watch Stath Lets Flats, saying it was my favourite recent comedy. She looked at me like I’d just stamped on a dog. “Staf Laf Flap?” she said.

“No, that’s not what I said,” I replied, but then she finished her scribbling and told me to start marching on the spot, and the small talk was over.

Anyway, look, what they do in these sessions is they make you strip to your underwear and then they ask you to march on the spot while they stand behind you and study your back and make notes about it and whisper to each other. “Look at that,” my osteopath would say as I raised my left foot. “Fascinating,” her supervisor would reply as I lowered my right foot. “Just walk normally,” they would say, so I would keep on marching, trying to remember how to walk, wondering what sort of stories my back was telling about me that I could neither interpret nor even see.

Eventually they would scurry round to the front of me and ask me to turn my head this way and that. “Look look look,” my osteopath would whisper, pointing urgently with her pen like she’d just seen an interesting bird. “Remarkable,” the supervisor would reply, before making a final note and scurrying out of the room. “See you next week, George,” she trilled before she disappeared.

“How come you can see this stuff?” I asked.

“It happens to you about halfway through your third year,” she said. “You spend two years hearing people talk about it and you struggle to make it happen, then one day it just clicks and suddenly when you look at people you don’t really see them any more, you just see which muscles they’re using and where their bones land. They stop looking like people, they start looking like patterns. These days I look at my friends and I don’t even see them, I just see their muscles and their bones.”

“Like the third act of the Rock DJ music video,” I said.

“Yeah, but I think it’s a bit generous to project a three-act structure onto that video,” she replied. I suppose this is fair – I’ve personally always enjoyed the storytelling in that music video, but I guess it’s not in the same league as Rebecca, say.

“It reminds me of this talk I saw by Professor Ruth Chang at a philosophy festival a couple of years ago,” I said. “She said that there’s no such thing as a wrong decision, other than the decision not to make a decision, because any decision you make, if you make it with conviction, changes your reality so that you start to only notice the things that endorse the reality you chose, and the things that don’t factor into your choice just become invisible to you.” My osteopath nodded.

“Sounds about right,” she said. “I used to be an actor myself, but then I chose something different and now I only see bones.” She continued writing for a moment.

“So what am I doing that’s weird?” I asked, as my osteopath made notes of her own.

“You use completely different muscles to look left from the ones you use to look right,” she said without looking up. “When you look right, your entire shoulder gets involved for some reason.”

“That’s interesting you say that, because my girlfriend tells me that I’ve got a grumpy shoulder. When I get cross or stressed or annoyed, my right shoulder starts swinging around,” I said. She looked up, confused.


“Well yeah, I don’t really know what she means, but apparently when I’m stressed, I just…my shoulder goes crazy.” I said. “Like this,” I added, before whirling my shoulder backwards and forwards like mad.

“Don’t do that,” she said, then went back to her note-making.

“So what does it mean that I use different muscles?” I asked.

“Nothing,” she replied. “Everybody does it. You’re just a confluence of complaints and compromises. Something will happen that causes you some sort of mild discomfort in the moment, so you’ll compromise or compensate in some way that gives short-term relief. But those things will compound and accumulate over time, until eventually they’ve changed the shape of you, and the way in which you move through the world. And every now and again, you have to do something that just brings those compromises into your awareness, and forces you to confront them in a way that might be uncomfortable at first but will ultimately make you feel good enough to keep going.” I nodded.

“That pretty much sums it up,” I said.

“And that’s what we’re here for,” she said, finally looking up and smiling.

And then after the pleasantries are out of the way, the supervisor comes back in and together they’ll grab my head and try to rip it off its stalk until I’m conscious of having lost a memory, and then I have to yelp “Mercy!” until they stop. Or they’ll make me lie down and then both lie bodily on top of me and rock back and forth, pressing me into the couch until two marbles pop out of my nostrils, and then they cackle with glee and eat the marbles like Maltesers and somehow it makes them appear more solid, more real, like they’re trying to break through from some other universe into our own and the marbles they’re harvesting from me are making them more powerful. And then I pay them £20 and say thanks and go on my way, and I’ve gotta say, my shoulder’s feeling great.

A Cool New Thing In Comedy – The second series of Our Flag Means Deathwhich is a really silly and touching and lovely show, has just landed in iPlayer (although I think it broadcast internationally last year). I’m loving it so far, Con O’Neill is an icon.

What’s Made Me Laugh The Most – My friend Grace told me that on Pancake Day she eats pancakes for every meal and I asked her if she made the batter in advance, meaning did she make a big batch in the morning or make it fresh for each mealtime, but she looked at me like I was the stupidest person in the world and said “Do I make the batter in advance of eating the pancakes?” and it really tickled me.

Book Of The Week – My Lady Parts: A Life Fighting Stereotypes by Doon Mackichan. Doon is another icon, and this memoir is brilliant, inspiring and enraging in equal measure. The endless string of anecdotes about male producers and writers treating women on their shows with absolute contempt becomes pretty exhausting after a while. I think people in showbiz are very keen to pat themselves on the back and go “Oh, but things are much better than they were,” but books like this are an important reminder that they can always keep improving.

Album Of The Week – Mekanik Destruktiw Kommandoh by Magma. Thanks to Alan Larter for suggesting I get into Magma – they remind me a lot of Focus, one of my favourite prog bands, so to a certain extent it feels like I’ve discovered an entire discography’s worth of Focus albums I’d never heard. Hand on heart, jury’s out on this one so far. It’s definitely a lot of fun – they invented a new genre called “zeuhl” which is basically progressive jazz fusion sung by a full choir in a fictional language called Kobaian. I’ll need to give it a few more listens before I can decide if I really get it, but I’m enjoying the process a lot.

Film Of The Week – Frances Ha, which I think is the first collaboration between Noah Baumbach and Greta Gerwig. Gerwig plays an aspiring dancer who keeps floating between different friendship groups as she tries to get a creative career off the ground and gradually loses touch with her best friend who decides to organise her life around different values. It’s great, and is much more warm and hopeful and feelgood than I was worried it might be from that description.

That’s all for this week! As ever, if you enjoyed the newsletter enough to recommend it to a friend or encourage others to subscribe, I’d hugely appreciate it. Take care of yourselves until next time,

Joz xx

PS I’m never going to actually charge for this newsletter or put it behind a paywall, but I do write it for free and the comedy and media industries are in a perilous state right now, especially for freelancers. If you value the Therapy Tapes and enjoy what they give to you, and want to support my work and enable me to keep writing and creating, you can make a one-off donation to my Ko-Fi account, and it’s very gratefully appreciated.

PPS I keep forgetting to take photos while I’m out and about, so here’s another from my ever-expanding archive of “Disappearing Buildings,” this one a personal favourite from Cardiff:

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