Frozen at the foot of the bed after love-making, I sent for Mr Proctor, the osteopath

I was going to save this information until the next significant dinner party silence but, deferred gratification never having been my strong point, I might as well lean back smugly now and announce my good news. It's odds on that I have found the osteopath of my dreams.

Like most other men over five foot three who've ever driven a Mini or practised the Canadian Air Force exercise regime, I've had back problems throughout my adult life. During my years at York University I'd entrust their cure to a Mr Proctor, who plied his trade in the bay window of a semi-detached house off the Fulford Road. It was what you might call an exposed position. Indeed, it often occurred to me as I lay white, blubbery and four-fifths naked across his drop-leaf dining room table that passing neighbours who could only see the shadows of his plunging hands through the net curtains might have assumed that he was not so much engaged in alternative medicine as carving sizeable joints from a large dead pig.

But Mr Proctor was an adaptable man. On one occasion when my back went into rictus during a bout of unconventional love-making and I was forced to remain immobile and on my knees at the bottom of the bed like a sprinter frozen in the "Get Ready" position, he was only too happy to pay a home visit and help my embarrassed partner ease my body down a narrow flight of stairs and into the back seat of his Volvo.

No one, though, could say that Mr Proctor had an interesting personality. I can't remember him talking about anything during my several dozen sessions apart from his wish to strangle the last aromatherapist with the guts of the last acupuncturist. (Alternative healers, as I've discovered in a lifetime of dabbling, can get every bit as consumed by the "narcissism of small differences" as the revolutionary left.)

But Mr Proctor certainly had the conversational edge on Dave Gittings who, despite having his practice located in the nominally sympathetic environs of Crouch End, spent any breath left over from pummelling my torso upon expounding a theory of spiritual growth of such monumental idiocy that even the grudging gasps of assent which he forced from my prostrate body felt like gross acts of intellectual betrayal. (On one occasion I found myself grunting agreement to the proposition that the spinal cord was the trunk of a tree which blossomed in the cortex in the form of ideas and imaginings. Good spinal cord - good ideas. Bad spinal cord - you've got it already.)

So, imagine the relief I felt last Thursday when I lay for the first time on the table in Mr Grossman's Goodge Street clinic and heard him ask about my views as a sociologist on the ideological distinctiveness of the Third Way. For an hour our conversation ranged over politics, art and popular culture, even though for much of this time Mr Grossman was also engaged in such traditionally dubious osteopathic practices as comparing the length of one of my legs with the other (my right is longer than my left by an osteopathic majority of one). At the end of the session I strolled out feeling that for the first time in all my years of visiting therapists of every persuasion, I'd at last found one who was an intellectual equal.

I'm looking forward greatly to next Tuesday's visit. If anything, my back's a little worse than before I surrendered it to Mr Grossman's attention. But that seems a detail. Forty pounds an hour for a good conversation in these bland pre-millennial days is still a bargain in anyone's language.

This article first appeared in the 04 December 1998 issue of the New Statesman, Just get out and have fun!