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Joz Norris

  • Tape 2: Needing Permission

Hello, and welcome back to the Fruit Salad Therapy Tapes! You’re receiving this because you signed up on my website to this living weekly sketchpad/notebook project, direct from friendly scamp/idiot/fool Joz Norris. If at any point in this project you decide you’ve had enough, you’re very welcome to unsubscribe here, and I bestow upon you nothing but the very best of my wishes! And if you’re still with me, read on for this week’s Tape!

The Valley Of 10,000 Windmills

This week Miranda has been watching Werner Herzog’s Masterclass series while working on an animation project called Nuns In Space, and showed me a bit where he talks about windmills. Herzog says that when he was a boy he was walking in Greece and stumbled upon a valley where 10,000 windmills were slowly rotating, like a field of mechanical flowers. “There must have been perhaps, I don’t know, 10,000 windmills,” he remarked. “I didn’t know it at the time, but this is a real place. They call it the, um…the valley of 10,000 windmills.” Herzog went on to include the valley as a location in his first film, Signs Of Life, in a scene where a German soldier stumbles across the windmills just as Herzog did and immediately goes insane.

In the Masterclass, Herzog explained that as soon as he saw the windmills he knew they would become the centre of something he was going to make (the guy was about 14 at the time, and I think that’s a ridiculously precocious thought for a 14-year-old, but I guess it is Herzog we’re talking about), but that the story itself came later. He just knew that when he looked at them the sensation of being insane descended upon him, and while he had no idea what the image meant yet, he would at some point wrap a story around it that made sense of it.

This really struck a chord. I’ve always built shows initially around an image which I don’t understand the meaning of – a head growing out of a flowerpot on top of a box, someone spinning a giant web around themselves, someone sticking their head through one door and it appearing out of another one on the other side of the stage, a Troll trying to dance while its hands are tied to its feet like a giant puppet. There has always been an image that jumps out at me and, despite never having the slightest clue what story that image is telling or what parts of my life I’m trying to explore through it, it always feels very clear that that’s the centre I’m going to wrap a show around, and that meaning and understanding will come later.

Needing Permission

This stuff is on my mind, I think, because at the moment I’m trying to remind myself that when you’re making stuff you don’t need to wait for permission. My radio show came out recently (you can listen to it here!) and it was the last bit of work I’ve had where I was accountable to somebody else, where the work had to happen because I was being asked to make it. With that out of the way, I find myself looking at 2021 and wondering what to fill it with, and almost holding back from letting myself be creative because I’m waiting to see “what work will come in.” I’m trying to remind myself that the best work springs uncalled-for out of unexpected moments.

I’m toying with the idea of making another film, tentatively titled Always Dancing, Never Getting Tired, similar to the one I made last year of my aborted 2020 Fringe show (you can download it here!) but written from scratch as a film, rather than being an adaptation of a live idea. I know from the stories I’m writing at the moment what sort of stuff would be in it, but am waiting for that moment where the centre of the idea suddenly reveals itself to me as an image – there’s something about a locked door that leads nowhere, and something about a canal, and something about overlapping digital echoes of a person, but none of it has yet crystallised into something simple and clear. I’m trying to remind myself to be patient, and not to force myself to make stuff if the stuff isn’t yet there to be made. How are you guys approaching 2021? Are you making concrete plans, or just letting things unfurl? I feel like Covid taught us the relative values and perils of both, and it’s tricky to find the right balance!

A Cool New Thing In Comedy – The gang at Angel Comedy, one of the most supportive and important grassroots comedy organisations in the country, have been more industrious than most during lockdown and spent the time filming an online sitcom about their efforts to keep the Bill Murray pub afloat during Covid. The regular cast includes Angel stalwarts Barry Ferns, Sunil Patel and Mark Silcox, and big-name acts like James Acaster, Adam Buxton and Nina Conti all pop up for cameos. It should be great fun and is available to everyone who supports Angel’s Patreon. You can read more about it here.

What’s Made Me Laugh The Most – It’s been doing the rounds a lot on Twitter, but this video of Emu pushing Rod Hull into a freezer is worth sharing once again, because it’s superb. Do they put silliness as good as this on TV any more? I feel like they don’t, but maybe I’m just out of the loop with where the best silliness is these days. Suggestions welcome!

Album Of The Week – Like A Virgin by Madonna. I’ve avoided listening to Madonna my whole life because the general consensus among the people I usually talk to about music seems to be that she’s shit. Somebody’s gonna have to explain to me why that’s the case, because this is great. Did she get shit later or something? Or is it like U2, where the music’s actually fine, but she’s got a bad personality? Don’t know enough about her to know for sure, but this is an excellent 80s pop album, as you’d expect from anything produced by Nile Rodgers. I like it and I don’t care who knows!

Film Of The Week – Woman At War. This is a really great, gentle Icelandic drama by Benedikt Erlingsson about a woman who’s trying to balance her side-hustle as an environmental terrorist with her attempt to adopt a child. There’s a recurring musical gimmick that’s the most playful and surprising approach to interpolated music I’ve ever seen. I won’t explain it because it will diminish how brilliant it is, but watch it and you’ll see what I mean.

Book Of The Week – The Meaning Of Life: A Very Short Introduction by Terry Eagleton. A friend of mine let me have a whole bunch of these Very Short Introduction books recently that he didn’t want any more, and I’ve been making my way through them. Eagleton’s one on the meaning of life is really excellent. He’s got his tongue firmly in his cheek throughout as he’s well aware how ludicrous it is to try to write an academic summing-up of such an impossible subject, but actually explores some really fascinating ideas about what the concept means from a linguistic standpoint, and how cultural shifts have caused a disintegration of meaning over the last century or so. He eventually makes his own suggestion for what the meaning of life might be, and I actually think he’s pretty on the money with it, but I’m not going to tell you what it is.

This Week’s Story

Again, a picture break before this week’s story, to give you a chance to tune out and go about your day if you’ve not got time for it! But for those in the mood for another silly story, here’s the story of how I failed to learn to drive.

Thank you again for reading, and thank you so much to those who sent responses and feedback last week. If you’re enjoying the Therapy Tapes, please share them with a friend or two, or encourage people to subscribe! I’m still figuring out how to turn this into a responsive, interactive project, so if there are any thoughts or talking points here you want to engage with, or suggestions or recommendations you may have yourself, let me hear them! Excited to keep on growing this with you all. All the best,

Joz xx

Here’s a pic from Snow Day:

Driving Instructors

If Covid has taught me one thing (it hasn’t, it’s taught me loads, obvs. What a weird way to even begin a sentence), it’s that I really messed up as a teenager when it came to learning to drive. It’s obviously been considerably harder seeing people and staying connected to my family and to my friends who are spread out across the UK this year considering I don’t know how to drive, because being overly reliant on public transport when there’s a killer virus on the loose just doesn’t feel very sensible, and I made a promise to my PE teacher in 2004 that when I grew up I would always be sensible (I cannot for the life of me remember how this promise came about. The only other things I remember about this PE teacher was that he had a scar on the side of his head which, according to legend, dated back to the time he was in the marines and accidentally parachuted into a burning car; and what he wrote in my Year 9 end-of-year report – “Josiah’s cheerful enthusiasm unfortunately cannot disguise his difficulty in acquiring, or applying, any practical skills whatsoever.”) I’ve managed to go most of my adult life without ever really feeling like I missed out on anything particularly important when I failed to learn to drive – I like trains and buses (Peter Gabriel says whenever he gets writer’s block he gets on a train, because seeing the landscape move past us activates the part of our brains that thinks we’re running away from a sabre-toothed tiger, and that makes us feel more creative. Bloody love Peter Gabriel, he’s bonkers), and it seems to save me more financially to not own a car than it costs me in convenience. And then this year, for the first time, it really hit home that I might have messed up a bit by failing so badly there. It’s caused me to cast my mind over the catalogue of failures, mistakes and embarrassments that formed my attempts to learn, and I hope you enjoy them.

I missed my first ever driving lesson because I was having a bath at the time. When I was a teenager I didn’t have many friends or, indeed, hobbies, so I would often have showers or baths at the weekend during the daytime to give myself something to do. My record is 3 baths and 2 showers in one day, and I acutely remember that day being particularly depressing on a deep, profound level that I could feel in the pit of my stomach. Other weekends, responding to my mum’s suggestion that perhaps I should try to go out into town more often, I would undertake the half-hour walk into town to buy a bottle of Fanta then turn around and walk back, which I think isn’t what she was getting at. Anyway, I was knocking around the house on a weekend trying to come up with things to do, having completely forgotten that my first ever driving lesson had been booked for the same day, and ended up running myself a bath out of sheer habit. My driving instructor was supposed to pick me up from my house, so I ended up lying in a bath at the moment when he rang the bell to collect me. It all suddenly came rushing back to me what I was supposed to be doing that day, but it all felt a bit like I’d gone past the point of no return bath-wise, and I was having a nice time anyway, so I just lay there and ignored him until he went away. When my mum and step-dad came home and asked how the lesson had been, I just told them he had never shown up. They were outraged and called him to cancel all my further lessons with him. I’m told he protested over the phone and insisted he had come and rung the bell, but I just denied this, saying I’d been waiting for him all day and he’d never appeared. I do not feel good about this. My mum and step-dad set about finding a replacement driving instructor for me.

At the same time, my dad started giving me weekly driving practice, where I would drive around Wiltshire and Hampshire with him while he gave me advice and suggestions. All credit to him, he must have been aware that learning to drive with tutelage from a parent can be a stressful, high-pressure environment, so he made a conscious effort to be very calm and quiet when making suggestions to make things as light and easy as possible. Unfortunately, my dad is a naturally loud and ebullient person who tends to greet people by shouting “Alright then!” at the top of his voice and then slapping them on the back with enough force to knock them over, and this was the general energy level I’d become accustomed to when spending time with him. He has the mind of Mr Toad in the body of Moley. As such, sitting next to him and trying to drive while he sat there preternaturally calm and almost silent, was one of the most stressful experiences of my life. At one point I accidentally reversed into a van while trying to do a parallel park and he very calmly and quietly said “You have crashed the car” like the final entry in a choose-your-own-adventure book.

Meanwhile, my mum and step-dad had found a replacement driving instructor for me. By this point I’d done a few practice sessions with my dad, so in my first lesson with this new guy he asked me what type of car I’d been learning in. I didn’t really care very much about cars, and to be honest was finding all the pressure and hassle around the concept of learning to drive one a bit frustrating, and had absolutely no idea what model of car my dad drove, so I just said “An ordinary grey car.” This new instructor laughed in disbelief and said “A 17-year-old boy who doesn’t know anything about cars??” as though it was the most ludicrous thing he’d ever heard. I didn’t know the term at the time, but I could feel in my bones that this guy’s attitude stunk of what I now know is called toxic masculinity, so I sacked him off and got rid of him immediately after this lesson, and asked for a new instructor. My next instructor had one eye, and I’m ashamed to say this, but it made me feel on-edge for the entire lesson. I now know that monocular vision has no effect on one’s driving, and that driving with one eye is entirely legal. I think I even knew it at the time, but I was uncomfortable with the logic of that legality. I knew about the concept of depth perception, and knew that having one eye would have a punitive effect on it. I knew absolutely nothing about driving, but I couldn’t imagine a world in which having no depth perception didn’t have some impact on one’s driving – what if a car was coming right towards you, but you couldn’t tell how far away it was? Surely you’d crash? Look, I don’t know, I’m just prevaricating because I feel bad about the fact that, as a teenager, I felt uncomfortable having a one-eyed driving instructor and thought it would cause me to end up crashing the car, and I ended up arranging to have a different one. I have just donated £10 to the RNIB because I felt horrible as I typed out this memory.

My next driving instructor, true to the formula I had established, lasted all of one lesson because he asked me to drive around Salisbury on the ring-road and then fell asleep. Every time I completed a loop of the city I would glance over to him to see if he might wake up and give me some new instructions, but he never did, so I just drove around Salisbury on the ring-road again. I forget how many times I did this, possibly four or five? I remember going into a bit of a panic at the forty-minute mark, because I had no idea exactly how this lesson was going to end – I didn’t know where he would want me to stop, and couldn’t foresee a way to bring things to a conclusion without him telling me that it was time to end the lesson. It became clear that the only way to end the lesson was to wake him up, so I started driving more recklessly in the hope that it would jerk him awake. I didn’t go crazy, I just started taking corners more abruptly and suddenly in the hope that the random swerving and jerking of the car might shake him awake. None of it did, so at the hour mark I just pulled up at the side of the road I happened to be on at the time and he groggily came round. He then had the nerve to say “You’ll notice I just sort of let you take control of the lesson today, to get a sense of what level you’re at.” I thought that was a bit rich, so I got rid of him.

My next driving instructor was my final instructor, and to be completely honest with you, he was fine. I stuck with him for a little while, actually, maybe a few weeks, but eventually my enthusiasm petered out and I just never got round to taking the test. The most noteworthy thing about my final instructor was a lesson when we ended up driving around an industrial estate in Devizes to practice manoeuvres. We drove past a particular warehouse that had a stack of 20 crates of protein shakes outside, along with a large hand-written sign that said “FREE.” My instructor was excited about this, saying he used protein shakes all the time and usually had to spend a lot of money on them, and insisted we stop the car and load all the crates into his boot. This took up a good seven minutes of the lesson, I think, and I wasn’t offered a discount at the end. Towards the end of the lesson, as we were driving home, he said “How many of those crates do you want, by the way? Because I only want about five.” You might have hoped that, if he’d known he only wanted about five crates of protein shakes, then he might have only helped himself to five crates of protein shakes rather than recruiting the help of his seventeen-year-old pupil in loading four times that amount into the boot of quite a small car on the assumption that this child would just take the others home himself. In the end that’s exactly what I did, and I had to ask my step-dad to help me unload fifteen crates of protein shakes from the boot of my driving instructor’s car and stack them up in the utility room while I worked out what to do with them. I can’t remember whether this was my last lesson with him or not. Certainly I think this incident may have had an impact on my mum and step-dad’s continuing confidence in this guy’s ability to help me learn to drive.

My step-dad, understandably, was keen for me to come up with a concrete plan of what to do with these protein shakes as soon as possible to get them out of the house. Initially, I was pretty confident I could get through them all myself. I’d always been very averse to exercise, and now I’d acquired a huge supply of something that could help me lead a more active lifestyle. I was a pretty lonely teenager, and hatched a plan to use these protein shakes to get ripped and get a girlfriend. Unfortunately, I quickly learned they tasted disgusting, and managed to drink about two sips of one before pouring the rest of it down the sink and really beginning to realise what I’d gotten myself into. I had nearly 200 bottles of a drink I considered disgusting, and I was under pressure to get rid of them as quickly as possible. I also soon learned that you can’t put on muscle simply by drinking protein shakes, you have to use them in conjunction with an intensive workout regime, and I couldn’t be bothered with that.

My backup plan was to use these 200 bottles of protein shake to launch a small business empire. I may not have been the most active teenager, but a lot of the kids in school were keen on sport and exercise, so perhaps these crates could still find a home. I decided I would sell them all to more active kids and make a bit of money. I think my plan was to just keep this money for myself, though in hindsight maybe it would’ve been nicer to suggest that any money I raised could go to my mum and step-dad to compensate them for all the money they’d wasted on driving lessons. Unfortunately, as I said, I wasn’t the most popular of teenagers, so hardly had a ready-made list of good friends who would be willing to help me out and take this stuff off my hands. The friends I did have were insecure nerds like me, and if I was ever to tap into the sort of market that might have any interest whatsoever in this stuff, it would involve my trying to establish a foothold in a very different social circle to the one I usually moved in. I ended up having to wander around the sixth form common room approaching the kids I considered more sporty, cool and popular than me and asking them if they wanted to buy a crate of protein shakes I had found with my driving instructor on an industrial estate. I was fairly confident going into this. All I needed was to find ten kids willing to take advantage of this great deal and they were already nearly all gone, for goodness’ sake! For reasons I still cannot understand, very few people were willing to take me up on this offer. In fact, I only sold one crate, to a girl called Iona for £5. Iona was one of the most popular and cool girls in school, and I was pretty flabbergasted that she wanted to do business with me, and for a short time thought this transaction might be the start of a friendship that would last a lifetime. I last saw Iona at a school reunion eight years ago where I told her I was really getting into spirulina and energy channelling, because I happened to be in love with a witch at the time. Nobody else bought any of them, and over the subsequent months I kept approaching Iona to ask how things had worked out with those protein shakes, and whether she’d like to buy any more. She never bought any more. I should also point out that in sixth form I often wore a long tan mac like Columbo, so I did look like what you’re picturing.

After about six months, my step-dad gave me an ultimatum – I had to get rid of the remaining crates of protein shakes within three days, or he was driving them all to the tip. Reader, they went to the tip. I would like to take the opportunity of going back over this catalogue of failures to extend a sincere apology to my parents for the time, effort and money they put into trying to help me learn to drive, and the extent to which I threw it all back in their faces. I never cared about cars, and simply couldn’t find it in myself to summon up enthusiasm to treat their support with the respect it deserved, and to look at learning to drive as an important life-skill I should pursue with diligence in order to have at least achieved what they wanted me to achieve. I still think we put a lot of pressure on young boys to care about cars and driving and the other trappings of traditional masculinity, and sometimes that pressure and the assumption that every kid is going to look at it as the most important thing can be really alienating, and just push them away from the very thing they ought to be pursuing. But I think I was ultimately pretty self-obsessed, dismissive and ungrateful when it came to those driving lessons, and this year I’ve paid the price by not really being able to see the important people in my life very much. So I’m sorry to my parents for messing that up. You live, you learn, you make mistakes, you fall down, you get better. It’s the way.

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