Tim Key: ‘I don’t know if you’ve ever caved your back in, but I couldn’t recommend it’

The bottom line is that this wizard is curing my back

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Every fortnight, give or take, I find myself laying prone, wearing only my underpants, on a Frenchman’s table. I remain there for 40 minutes, give or take, my eyes closed, as hands are applied to my skin as if I were mere dough. And then I hand over 50 quid, bid au revoir to my Frenchman, and spring off into the night.

The Frenchman, you may have guessed, is my osteopath. And I, in fact, have a bad back. If these two things weren’t the case I would struggle to justify the above, and might even stop the sessions.

However, to label my Frenchman merely an ‘osteopath’ would be to do him a massive disservice. The guy is, in actual fact, a bloody wizard. I don’t take my trousers off lightly, really I don’t. They only come off when they’re ordered off by someone who’s got tricks up their sleeve and this guy’s sleeves are bulging like mailsacks. I’ve been to a few backwhackers over the past 18 months, men who’ve squeezed me, folded me, clicked me and one who even pierced me with needles. But this man, this Frenchman, is the first one to apply sorcery to my injuries. And he’s getting results.

I did my back in in 2012, stamping on a dress in Leeds. Something slipped out or mushroomed up or went pop at the base of my back and soon I was a wretched, stooped mess, drooling with the pain and the injustice of it all. I don’t know if you’ve ever caved your back in, but I honestly couldn’t recommend it. I spent some weeks in tears, only able to walk with the aid of walls, lamp posts or by hooking my arm into the arms of friends. And ever since those paracetamol-filled days, I have been courting osteopaths on and off. But this, I think, is my first serious relationship. It’s only been three months, but I think, sometimes, you just know.

The first thing my Frenchman does is sit me down on a seat in his medical boudoir. The sound of pan-pipes slides about the room and my progress is assessed. My Frenchman is so quietly spoken I sometimes wonder whether he is speaking at all and often, when I look at his lips, I realise he isn’t. But when he needs to, he does. And when he’s done with speaking, he stands up and undresses me with his eyes – well he watches me undress – then he has a good old grope and scratches his chin and orders me on to the slab.

Once I’m horizontal I tend not to open my eyes again. I don’t want to go into his methods in any great detail, because I get the feeling they might be a secret and I don’t imagine he’s very proud of them. Suffice to say, his hands are upon me, but no force is applied, and the time flies. In our first session together he held my feet for about 10 minutes and I thought it was a pisstake. But somehow this drains the pain from my back, so I’m loath to call him on it. I just stay still. He grips me. Occasionally he sighs.

Sometimes I become aware that he is convulsing as he hangs from my flanks. It is as if he is channelling something. A god? Some indefinable energy? A better osteopath? Tiny convulsions. I don’t want to open my eyes for fear of what I might see. I worry I’ll see my Frenchman in a terrifying, rabid trance, like the little boy in The Shining. More likely I would encounter a French medical professional, looking sadly down at the dove-white body of an overweight columnist, reflecting on the life choices he’s made that have brought him to this.

The bottom line is that this wizard is curing my back. And anyone who’s ever had a back complaint will know, that’s the key. If I found an osteopath who flung shit at my face for 40 minutes each fortnight I’d still pay up if I felt it was strengthening my back. So I’m happy to fork out for my Frenchman’s curious mixture of spiritualism and stroking.

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