Welcome back to the Fruit Salad Therapy Tapes, a weekly interactive notebook project from professional overthinker and scamp Joz Norris. You’re receiving this because you signed up via my website, but if ever you decide it’s time to jump ship on this project, you can unsubscribe – good luck in life’s choppy waters, friend! And if you’re still with me, read on for this week’s Tape.
I really loved reading through all your responses to last week’s question, it really helped me start to feel like I was getting a grip on how to make this a more interactive project, where hopefully thoughts and responses feed into one another week by week. So this week I’m going to start with another question before I tell you what I’ve ended up thinking about for Tape 4, and if anybody wants to send me their reply to it, I’d love to read them!
What one object would you rescue from your house in a fire, and where did you get it? Please don’t tell me WHY you’d save it in words, just tell me what it is and where it came from and maybe those facts can speak for themselves.
I would save my jukebox, which is a wooden box made by my friend Tanya containing songs and messages chosen by all my friends and given to me for my 30th birthday.
Some of your replies last week have led me to think about the way we connect to the world around us, and in particular to return to a frequent obsession of mine, which is our relationship with objects. This week I read A Very Short Introduction To Prehistory because, as I’ve said before, I’m working through a bunch of those Very Short Introduction books at the moment. I didn’t expect this one to hit me as hard as it did. Chris Gosden makes a fascinating point about the concept of prehistory, which is that the word can simply define any period of personal history that cannot be expressed in words. We have no linguistic written record of how prehistoric people thought and felt, we can only make guesses about what they were like based on the objects they left behind, or the remnants of their ritual behaviours. This often makes “prehistory” feel far more distant and unknowable than any other period of history that did leave behind written records, but Gosden suggests that we all have our own personal prehistories – we learn how to ride a bike not through being told but through repeated, ritualistic action, and we form the relationships with the objects around us in ways that are invisible and unsayable to other people, but that exist very strongly in our gut.
Art about our relationship with objects has always hit me very hard indeed – Geoff Sobelle’s The Object Lesson, which I saw at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2014, remains the best piece of art I’ve ever seen in my life. It was the show that caused me to stop trying to make comedy shows that were impressions of forms of comedy I’d seen elsewhere, and to listen more carefully to the feelings I wanted to explore in the things I wanted to make, and to work harder at expressing those feelings in the way that came naturally to me. There’s a full recorded performance of The Object Lesson available on Sobelle’s Vimeo for anyone with a spare two hours – here’s an extract from the show:
Daniel Kitson’s Keep, a show in which he ostensibly just reads out a list of every single object in his house off index cards, had a similar impact on me. And the less said about the moment in Pixar’s Soul when Joe improvises a piece of music on the piano about the objects he found over the course of his day and the way they connect to meaningful moments in his life the better, because I start to hyperventilate and have a breakdown every time I think about it. I think in a funny way, Gosden’s point about prehistory has crystallised for me why these pieces of art have such an impact on me, in that they’re doing on a very specific, small scale what I think all art does on a larger scale. It’s a fairly universal idea that life is divided into thought and action, into the experiences and sensations of our physical existence, and the way we use words and reason to construct those experiences into thought and narrative and a sense of self. But the simple mapping of one onto the other is always partial – things get lost in transit, and we end up with the nagging sense that there is something about our life that we struggle to put into words. Our relationships with the objects that matter to us are a tiny crystallised version of this difficulty. There’s a moment in Keep where Kitson says:
I struggle to throw things away, because every time I look at certain objects I think about the person who gave it to me, and if I throw it away, what if it means I never think about that person again?
The objects we acquire are tangible, physical, real links between thought and action, between the things we’ve done and the stories we tell ourselves about them, they’re things we can hold up and say “Look, I was here, I connected with other people, I interacted with the world around me.” This week I’ve found myself feeling weirdly moved thinking about the classic “So-and-so woz ere” graffiti trope and realising that that simple statement is actually a distillation of all the complex things that all art, on some level, is trying to do.
A Cool New Thing In Comedy – The Leicester Comedy Festival is always one of the highlights of the comedy calendar, being the second-largest festival for comedy in the country after the Edinburgh Fringe. This year it’s moved entirely online, and is offering a huge number of fantastic streaming shows – have a browse here. In particular, I recommend this show from Weirdos Comedy, in which Adam Larter is restaging a Leicester-centric retelling of Charlie And The Chocolate Factory that he first staged in 2015, which this time stars yours truly as little Gary Lineker.
What’s Made Me Laugh The Most – This dance craze invented by absurdist genius Michael Brunstrom.
Album Of The Week – Braver Than We Are by Meat Loaf. And this is a good opportunity to clarify a ground-rule for these “so-and-so of the week” segments. It won’t always necessarily be the best album I’ve heard that week, just the one I want to talk about. Braver Than We Are is absolutely shocking. I’m a massive Meat Loaf fan, I adore him, but I’ve only just listened to his final album, which was a reunion with longtime songwriter and collaborator Jim Steinman after years of suing each other. The two of them are kind of fascinating, really. They had a huge hit with Bat Out Of Hell, dropped the ball with the follow-ups because they weren’t getting on, did a belated smash-hit sequel with Bat Out Of Hell II in the 90s, started suing each other constantly, completely fluffed Bat Out Of Hell III, which Meat Loaf did quite badly without Steinman, then finally put their differences aside to record one final album, and it’s dreadful. Meat Loaf can’t sing any more and Steinman’s songs are rubbish. Their on-and-off partnership represents one of the great what-could-have-beens in music history, I think.
Film Of The Week – Being John Malkovich. Last year I watched Synecdoche New York (messy but has some fantastic ideas) and I’m Thinking Of Ending Things (absolutely dreadful) and thought I should go back and watch everything Charlie Kaufman’s done, because his work has the same repeated obsession with setting things inside people’s heads, and with the concept of your sense of self being a kind of performance, as I keep seeming to come back to in my own writing. I’ve now got round to Being John Malkovich, and it’s up there with Eternal Sunshine – less profound, for sure, but more weird and silly, maybe. I think Kaufman collaborating with a director is one of the greatest writers of all time, and Kaufman directing his own stuff is frustratingly, sometimes tantalisingly bad.
Book Of The Week – Prehistory: A Very Short Introduction by Chris Gosden. I’ve talked about this enough above to not need to say any more about it, but it’s certainly been the book that’s most informed my thinking this week.
This Week’s Story
As usual, a picture break before this week’s story so you can go about your day if you have time for it – thanks for reading! This week’s story is a silly one about my bum, for all the people who signed up to this newsletter expecting it to be funny who need their fix of bum-related comedy.
Thanks so much for reading, and for your ongoing support, feedback and insights, they’re a real joy to read and respond to! If you’re enjoying the Therapy Tapes, please feel free to recommend it to a friend, or to encourage people to subscribe. See you all next week, and all the best in the meantime,
Joz xx Here’s a picture of my jukebox:
I broke down crying in a Wetherspoons in Glasgow and told my girlfriend I had bowel cancer. Little did I know at the time that I did not have bowel cancer. Actually, now I come to think about it, I wonder whether “little did I know” is the right phrase to use here. Let me clarify – I had no reasons to not believe I had bowel cancer, in that at this point no medical professional had given me their certified opinion that I did not have bowel cancer. So cause for histrionics, perhaps. On the other hand, I can now say with the distance provided by time, that I didn’t really have all that many reasons to believe that I did have bowel cancer either, but I’d just done quite a bad gig and was having a wobble.
I’ll explain – my girlfriend at the time and I were in Glasgow to perform our shows. Due to the types of career we had carved out for ourselves (independent alternative DIY comedians following our own true artistic paths) we were performing these shows not in a real indoor venue but on the top deck of a bus parked outside a wine bar about half an hour’s walk from the centre of Glasgow. My show had been a bit of a damp squib – I think about 8 people showed up, including a woman I had had a fling with at the Fringe five years before who had subsequently married a doctor (after watching the show she reminded me that one of the “dates” I had arranged for us to go on way back when involved the two of us going to my friend’s house an hour before a party was supposed to start, watching the first hour of the 2011 Muppets film with said friend, then leaving when the first guests arrived. I can still only barely remember this happening and cannot for the life of me remember why I decided that was a good idea for a date). The response from the audience had been supportive and encouraging but not, I think it’s fair to say, particularly good. I walked away from that gig nursing the peculiar sadness you carry around in the pit of your stomach when you’ve been allowed to do something attention-seeking that you chose to do and that nobody else asked you to do and it hasn’t gone very well.
We went for dinner and for some reason chose a Wetherspoons. I went to the toilet for a bit because, to my eternal embarrassment and discomfort, I once again needed a poo, an embarrassment that had become a routine occurrence and, if I’m honest, nuisance in my life. The moment of solitude as I did a poo in a Wetherspoons in Glasgow gave me time to purge the post-gig clouds of sadness and self-pity that were beginning to gather, but then when I went to (I’m so sorry about the coarse material here) wipe my bum, I was horrified to see flecks of blood on the toilet paper. This wasn’t the first time I had noticed flecks of blood on the toilet paper, but it was the first time I had seen them while feeling emotionally precarious, and I immediately ran through a mental checklist of the other times this had happened and immediately leapt to the conclusion that the fact that this had happened more than once meant I must surely have bowel cancer. I went back out to the Wetherspoons, where my steak and chips had been delivered, and started trying to eat it, but immediately burst into tears and said I was worried I might have bowel cancer. She quite reasonably said that the only thing to be done was to book a doctor’s appointment and go and talk to them about it and find out what the matter was, and do whatever needed to be done after that. I certainly couldn’t argue with that logic, and we managed to salvage a happy weekend out of what was left of our time in Glasgow as I pushed memories of the bad gig and worries about my health to the back of my bonce. When we got back to London, I booked an appointment at my GP.
I’ve never made any secret of the fact that I’m a tremendous prude. I am very rarely naked because it makes me acutely aware of the ridiculousness of my physical self and the boundlessness of my desire to exist as a sort of glowing will-o-the-wisp or sprite instead, in an ideal world. For years I very, very rarely went to the doctor because of a latent concern that any problem I went to a doctor with might result in my having to take all my clothes off and parade my willy and bum around in front of a dignified professional who would no doubt find my nudity utterly ridiculous, and tell me off in a bold, stentorian voice as they instructed me to put my willy and bum away and never darken the door of their surgery again. But bowel cancer was bowel cancer (or, in this case, wasn’t), and it was finally time for me to get over my long-standing fear of my own body.
I remember investing an enormous amount of mental energy into wrestling with the problem of what word to use when referring to my own bum, even though in general day-to-day life I’m more than comfortable simply using the word “bum” (and be warned, it’s used a lot in this story going forwards). Somehow it didn’t seem appropriate when discussing medical complaints with someone who spent upwards of seven years learning the correct words for things. I wondered if I should revert to the more formal “bottom.” Two adults sitting in the doctor’s office talking about blood coming out of their bottoms like it was the most natural thing in the world. Maybe I would even wear a suit and tie! I considered other alternatives that didn’t reduce my poor bum to a comical object of ridicule – “buttocks,” perhaps, until I realised that my worries around finding blood on the toilet paper had little to nothing to do with my buttocks. “I’m worried that there may be blood coming from the place between my buttocks” sounded absolutely stupid. “Arse” and “arsehole” were right out. No way was I going to sit in front of a serious doctor and talk about my bleeding arsehole. I have a degree in English Literature, for goodness’ sake! A high 2:1 from the University of East Anglia (this close to a first!) What was the point in all that work studying words if, as a grown adult, I was just going to swan into every doctor’s office in the land and start whinging about my arsehole? I deliberately decided to avoid using the word “anus,” as this felt like straying into the doctor’s own linguistic territory. “Anus” is a medical word, a doctor’s word. It’s the role of the layman to go in outlining their complaint in simple language, and the role of the doctor to offer their diagnosis in the language of the medical professional. “There’s blood coming out of my bottom!” I would squeal like a little piggy. “Sounds to me like you’ve got a bleeding anus,” the doctor would reply, sucking on the biggest pipe you’ve ever seen, and I’d grovel in gratitude and cartwheel all the way home a happy boy. Ultimately, I decided to focus on the toilet paper itself as the source of my complaint, reasoning that “toilet paper” was a phrase that was neither embarrassingly comic nor presumptuously technical, so I went in with the air of someone who wanted his toilet paper looked at rather than his own bum.
“I’ve noticed some blood on my toilet paper,” I said, shoulders tensed as I waited for the inevitable diagnosis of bowel cancer. The doctor, a middle-aged Spanish lady, sighed, presumably adjusting her mindset to the one she periodically had to adopt on the semi-regular instances when she had to peer into the anal cavity of a stranger.
“Lie down on the bed over there and we’ll take a look,” she said. I had anticipated that this visit would require me to finally get over my fear of my own nudity and allow another human being to see my bum, but I hadn’t expected it to happen like this. Effectively, I was required to lie on my side and partially lower my trousers to expose my bum, and nothing but my bum, to the doctor so she could pull my bum-cheeks apart and stare up me. In a way, this was an improvement over what I was imagining – it meant I could limit the amount of silly nudity I had to descend to to the minimum necessary, preserving the modesty of my poor little willy and balls and upper thighs. On the other hand, exposing my bumhole and nothing but my bumhole seemed to highlight it with an almost absurd degree of specificity, like when people dress up their dogs in little outfits that cover almost every inch of them except for a carefully-arranged hole directly over their bumholes. It’s an image that has always made me feel uncomfortable, and no longer able to appreciate a dog as a creature appearing as nature intended it. Instead, whenever I see a dog dressed like that I can’t shake a low-level discomfort around the fact that its bumhole is sticking out. Anyway, I felt similarly when I slid my trousers to just past the bottom of my bum and a middle-aged Spanish lady pulled my bum-cheeks apart and stared into the abyss, which, I’m sure, stared back at her.
“Do you walk a lot?” she said.
“Yes,” I said, “I love walking.” This seemed like an unnecessary detail, but I was nervous.
“You’ve walked too much and it’s chafed you a bit and given you a sore bum,” she said, getting up and walking away dismissively. I felt a wave of relief matched only by the wave of embarrassment that crashed over me at the same time. I had broken down in tears in a Wetherspoons because of a sore bum! I had made a poor woman whose job was to save people’s lives stare at my bum because it was sore! I had ended my life-long aversion to showing other people my naked flesh in order to be told I had a sore bum! She had used the word “bum,” to add insult to injury! Where was the formal professionalism I had been expecting? She pulled a curtain around the bed I was lying on to give me some privacy as I did up my trousers, and gave me a little more information through the curtain about what circumstances might be cause for concern, and what circumstances were perfectly ordinary, and asked me to head out when I was decent so her next patient could come in. I heard her begin to wash her hands on the other side of the curtain, and did up my trousers and belt. I then reached for the end of the curtain nearest the door and tried to pull it back so that I could quietly slip out, but found to my alarm that it wouldn’t pull back – it seemed to have got caught on something, and I was now effectively trapped in the corner of the doctor’s surgery, behind this curtain. I tried to keep my cool, and to slowly feel my way along the entire length of the curtain until I found another gap in it somewhere through which I could slip, forgetting that it had been manifestly apparent when she had drawn the curtain that it was one long strip of material, with no gaps in it halfway or anything like that. Undeterred, I fluttered my hands over the surface of the fabric and slowly crab-walked my way along the entire length of the curtain before finally getting to the other end of it and popping my head out right next to where the doctor was sat at her desk. I’m delighted to say that this made her jump.
“What are you doing here?” said the woman who had looked into my bum and then told me to get out thirty seconds ago.
“Sorry, I got stuck behind the curtain,” she said. She waved her hands frantically, ushering me out of her surgery with urgency.
“I have another patient coming in,” she said. She didn’t actually say “Get out,” but it’s certainly the closest I’ve ever come to being told to get out by a medical professional. I cartwheeled all the way home.