Copyright © 2005 Martin Newell
Pepys 0.1 Blogware © Steve Dix
Much as this will make me unpopular with the caring classes, I have to say that I am pig-sick of the nutters and drunks who block my way and interfere with my life at practically every turn these days. My friend Paul, the waspish hairdresser once said, "Oh, I'm convinced that they spray something on the fields two or three times a year, Dearie, and they all go off together."
It's true, though. You do tend to get a rash of incidents all in one short space of time. My response in such times, is not to immediately write a tremulous article for The Guardian,asking " Why Is Modern Life Driving Us Mad?" No. My first instinct, having escaped yet another encounter with the mad or the drunk, is to double lock my door and keep a large stick and a bucket of cold water at the ready. When pestered by such people on a train, in the street or in a pub, I hardly ever say, "Poor fellow, he must suffer dreadfully." Instead I smack my hand on my forehead and while saying to the asssembled company. " F*** me! They must have let them all out at once!" Or if I'm not in such a compassionate mood, I merely say "Nuttoh!" and make a cocked pistol sign with my hand. Or I run. That's how much my tolerance has gone down.
I had one ring me up yesterday. She said."Hi it's ********" (name deleted on legal advice) She asked me what I was doing. I said "working." I got rid of her. She later came into the pub where I was playing. Not content with staring intently at me, she gradually moved nearer to me, moving her stool up so closely that I was having trouble manoeuvering my bass. This went on for an hour. She followed me out to the smoking room, even though she doesn't smoke. One or two of the other musicians gave me incredulous and pitying looks. "Oops.Looks like Martin's got the nutter again." I'm not sorry about writing the account like this. I'm sick of nutters forgetting to take their medication and then hitting on me. She eventually followed me and Dave at midnight, out of the boozer, right into my archway nearly to my door. I told her to go away, which she did.
On Saturday, coming out after a quiet lads-night-in, this was four or five of us round Ray's place, Dave and I were accosted by a drugged drunk in a hood. He was dribbling and blathering and using foul language in a menacing way. I was expecting a scuffle, which I didn't want. Dave and I just stormed closely past him, wishing him goodnight. This seemed to un-nerve him. Very quietly, after we'd passed, I heard him say " Well, f*** off then."
A while ago, I went with a mate to a pub, mid-evening, six o'clock, mid week. We needed to talk about a book layout. What could possibly go wrong? Some head-the-ball wanders up, sits himself down and says to me. "We've got a problem. Why don't you like me?" I said, " Aw come on Chief. We're trying to have a meeting here." We moved bars eventually, in order to get some work done. Occasionally, before Ms B left me, she used to come round and find a woman sitting on the bench outside my back door.It once caused a bit of a row between us. "Well how do you know her?" Me: "I dunno. She just turns up at gigs sometimes." That kind of thing. The woman also used to post reams of scrawled incoherent mystic poetry through my letterbox. It can be a bit scary sometimes.
Then, last week, I go into town, I'm locking up my bike and some gurgling, scabby-faced wretch who's high on god-knows-what, is hanging out of a phone box beckoning at me and slurring." Oi mate. You gotta loight?" I'm sick of it d'you hear? I don't think they need compassion and understanding. I think they need remedicating, drying out, hosing down, locked in a compound with an electric fence or just hunted down by two men in a landrover with a big searchlight like they use in Australia when they've got too many kangaroos. Whatever it takes. Talk about The Vulnerable. I mean, who's vulnerable here? Them? Or me? And yet if I were to get up a gang of blokes in a big fast motor, mask up and start beating them with pick-axe handle, guess who'd be in the wrong? Me?. That's who. It's political correctness gone mad, is what I reckon. I've got a teenage kid round here quite often. This morning she told me. "If (name deleted etc etc) comes round here before you're back from work, I'm just gonna whack her." With my blessing Darling, I said. Give the cow one from me. Make sure you put her out of business. The thing is, I shouldn't have to be dealing with this. Why of why oh why etc etc and indeed blah-de-blah..
Listen, there are far too many people out there sniffing the Devil's Dandruff, not taking enough water with their tincture, forgetting to take their medication and generally worshipping at The La La Church of St Loony Up-The-Cream-Bun & Jam as a result of it all.. And it's not my fault. It's theirs.And the bloody Guardian's, and Radio 4's for all I know, for encouraging them in the first place. I tell you, this country's going to the dogs. But in a really caring way, I suppose.
So how was school today, darling? "Shit." she says. I do not want to hear that kind of language in this house, I tell her. "You use it." Ah, I say. Well I'm allowed to. Not only that but it's part of my job, as a dad--especially when studying gas bills, or if I find that the bathroom is covered in shampoo for some reason. In fact there was a bill passed through Parliament recently, dictating that dads must by law, use a certain amount of that language once their children reach a certain age.
So we get to talking about education. She doesn't want to go to university. Apparently, she says, you just get a big debt-- about 23 grand-- and then, even if you get your degree, you probably won't get a job. What will she do instead? She'll do her GCSEs and if they're okay, she'll go out to work. She wants a job. If not, she'll go to college, take another run at them and then get a job. Her best friend, another writer's daughter and a very clever girl, doesn't even want to bother with school anymore. She's out of there like a shot as soon as she can do it. She wants to go out to work. What sort of work? " Beautician or hairdresser." she replies. Might these not be bimbo jobs, I ask?
"Hairdressers are some of the happiest people in the workplace." she tells me. "Because they make other people happy." This is a chastening reply for me, as I suddenly remember my very good friend, a hairdresser, who is happy, pretty wealthy and spends much of his time having Citybreaks in Venice. Fair enough, I say. "Well you don't want me to do music, do you?"
Baby, I say,. I would love you to do music. I just don't want you to get your heart broken by it. You can work and work and work and be the most brilliant person in the world at it, but it's one of the few occupations where your work and persistence are not guaranteed to be rewarded. Trust me on this. Besides, absolutely everybody wants to do music. A man called Walter Pater (I think) once said that all art aspires to the condition of music. In other words, everybody wants to be the singer. Or karaoke nights would never have taken off. "But it's the main thing I'm interested in." she says. Do some writing as well, I tell her. Never think that because you have one talent, that there isn't a second, or even a third nestling in there somewhere. It was my own biggest mistake during my early years.
She still doesn't want to go to Uni, and neither, it seems, do many of her friends. I will support her in this. There have been two recent salient items in the news. One, is that there are far too many students who want to go to Uni when there simply aren't enough places. The second one is that employers, especially one mega supermarket, are complaining because they're now getting an intake lacking in basic numeracy, literacy and communication skills. In many instances, this includes a proportion of university graduates. I would predict that the former problem won't last too long. Because if a couple of fairly smart provincial secondary-school girls refuse to be conned by the Big Debt and No Job scam which our rulers are currently running under the flag of education, then how long before the rest of their generation, put two fingers up to it, too?
Listen, I tell her, learn how to write a letter. Learn how to answer a telephone cheerfully and clearly. Learn how to do basic end-of-evening till receipts and to add up your own wages slips.Oh and one other thing: Punctuality. If you are working for someone and they say "Get here at 9.a.m." then be there at five to. That's all it takes. And you will work. I know at least one employer, who doesn't care what qualifications you have. He just wants you to be cheerful, efficient and crucially, there.
Unfortunately, you can do none of this for another two years or so since you can't leave school until you're sixteen. "Well I know a girl who's working for her dad at fourteen and helping to run the restaurant." she says. I don't have a restaurant, I tell her...but you can make me a cup of tea if you want. She says: "Hollyoaks is on TV." Exactly, I tell her. And I go away, feeling like somebody's old dad.
Somebody's old dad, yesterday.
It's government-approved National Poetry Day. Below this rant are two pieces which I prepared earlier. I started doing poetry because all my heroes were dead and no-one modern ( with one or two noble exceptions, such as my learned colleague Johnny Clarke) was writing anything any good. Academia, especially the two big places, had hi-jacked poetry and turned it into this rather precious angst parade, where technique ruled over content. Most academics write absolutely rubbish poetry. In fact, if you want to be a decent poet, the best thing you can possibly do is stay away from Uni, because they really do know f*** all about it. TS Eliot has just been voted best poet. I don't know who counted the votes, probably that fat drunk bird on a unicycle who I'm always going on about.. It's true that he was pretty good. But then he wrote The Wasteland. This was the literary equivalent of notching up a great score in a game of bar billiards, then blowing your entire tally by knocking the big mushroom down with the red ball. The Wasteland really is a dreadful piece of work. It's not helped by the fact that the execrable Ezra Pound got his clammy little hands on it, either.
I myself, rarely attend poetry events, unless I'm actually performing, because they're usually so boring, embarrassing and badly performed. Poetry, which I love and still read an awful lot of, is an open forum for tossers, nutters, chancers and people who should really be re-training as TV repairmen or bookshop assistants. Most of them can't even manage a simple 4/4 quatrain with a snappy payoff. Their metaphors and similes are so overworked that they disappear into the ether. Inexplicably, there seems to be a universal fear of rhyming, almost as if it's regarded as cheating.. Most of the public haven't got a clue what poetry's about, they stampede like wildebeeste whenever they hear the word 'poetry' mentioned. Quite understandably, when they're actually consulted, the public will vote Kipling's 100 year old poem "If" as being better than anything that may have come since. This infuriates the concerned classes, who simply won't comprehend, that their fellow countrymen can be so wilfully philistine. The situation hasn't changed in the whole 20 years that I've been writing and performing poetry.
How did I make a living doing this? Easy. Hardly anyone else wants to rhyme, scan or say anything lucid. The day I set up my shop with the words above the door saying, M. Newell -- Wordsmith, I was in business. If a customer comes along, I say. " A poem? Yes sir / madam. How long would you like it? What sort of atmosphere should it have? When would you like it to stop.? Shall I make it rhyme? What time would you like it by? " This is a service industry. I'm still in business. It's an honour to be able to have such a great occupation. It never occurred to me to go to the Arts Council. The last thing you want is people with a 2.2 in Televisual Studies from Gala Pie (used to be a shit Poly) Pretend University judging whether your 'work' is fit for a bit of wonga, so that it can eventually lie dying in the dullest corners of the dullest bookshops. You don't want the laurels, do you? You wanna get paid. You don't want some crummy publishing deal from Fabber with 7 to 10 percent of zilcho sales and a few quails eggs at a literary lunch. You wanna run round after the gig shouting "Albatross!" sign all the books, get in the motor and bugger off home, don't you? Here. I'll tell you who I had in the back of my cabriolet the other day. Only that bleedin' Arthur Rimbaud, that's who . Couldn't make head nor tail of his work. Became a gun-runner in the end, I'm told. Har har, well bloody crucial. Now read on.
In Praise of Poetry
Poetry is no less than this:
An unexpected workplace kiss
The brandy in the spirit cage
A salve upon our wounded age
That lustful swell, the secret damp
The yellow of the attic lamp
The drifting, smoky, hazel haze
Of wooded hills on autumn days
Between the thoughts of summer lost
And anvil of the winter frost
The horse returning to the door
Of empty stables after war
Riderless, uncertain now
Past the harrow and its plough
Plodding up the pitted track
Battered saddle on his back
Poetry: Rentboy of the arts
Loitering with the other tarts
Knowing far more than it should
Much too much for its own good
Bitching, blurting, doing deals
Selling out for drinks and meals
Jumping on the latest trends
Disappointing loyal friends
Eye on clock and thumb on scales
Marrying for cash and sales
You wouldn't trust him in your car
And definitely not, a bar.
The poet though, is alchemist
A snake-oil salesman, pharmacist
A mojo merchant trawling town
The painter put his dust-sheet down
In case your old horizons run
Before he touches up the sun
Recalling feelings you may not
Evoking those that you forgot
Giving voice to words unsaid
The godless freefall in your head
The things you never knew, yet miss.
Poetry is no less than this.
The State Of Poetry
Poets? Find me one of those.
Not some mush with a blocked-up nose
Boring us with chopped-up prose
That's not even lucid
Lion and Uni fighting for renown
Page v Stage in a one-course town
Naked emperor, paper crown
State of poetry? Luvly
Is it relevant or fair
Who's appointed Poetry Chair?
Locked in the Bodleian Library there
Do we care? Not really.
Here's your ranter in his rags
Foul of mouth on beer and fags
"Where's my dosh, you Oxbridge slags?"
Poetry? Ah yes, poetry.
Scansion though? All too much fuss
You wait two hours for an iambus
Five arrive once. Discuss.
"O Captain − my Captain!"
Po-faced poets in Clark Kent glasses
Sixteen questions right −no passes.
Hooray for the oil-drizzling classes!
Poets win prizes. Stupid bastards.
Brought the art form to its knees
Chips on shoulders? Ooh, yes please
Can I have that twice − with peas?
When I've signed with Faber?
Arts Board sat like a mean old aunt
Pile of forms for a piddling grant
Write you may, but rhyme you can't
Going to the ball, doll? You shan't.
A member of the public enjoying poetry, recently.