Copyright © 2005 Martin Newell
Pepys 0.1 Blogware © Steve Dix
Primary School, Cyprus,1961
was eight years old. It was near the end of lessons and time to hand
in our exercise books. This was a new method which our teacher had
devised. With our desks rearranged in squares rather than in
columns, books would now be stacked in fours from each group before
being collected up by a monitor and placed in a pile upon the
never found out why the teacher's attention had suddenly focused upon
me but here he was. He wanted to know what I didn't understand about
his new system. I said that I didn't know. The four kids on my table
now had to take back our books and begin again. He watched me as I
passed my book to the boy opposite me. “No, no, no!” he snapped.
I could feel my face reddening. I took back the book and passed it to
the person next to me. “Not him!” yelled the teacher. I began to
panic. The whole class was watching now. I took the exercise book and
passed it forlornly to the last of our quartet. Surely this must be
right? The teacher addressed the class incredulously. “ You see? He
still doesn't understand!”
passed the book diagonally across to the boy to whom I'd first passed
it. With that, the furious teacher pulled me out in front of the
class. I can't remember what he yelled but the next thing I knew,
he'd picked me up by my ribcage and was shaking me in the air. Now he
put me down again. He grabbed my exercise book and swiped me three or
four times across the face. It didn't seem particularly hard, but,
prone then to nosebleeds, I felt a thin trickle of blood from one
nostril. “Now sit down.” he said. The bell went. We all filed
out. I felt ashamed, numb and faint. I was a pariah, the class Jonah.
None of my classmates said anything to me. No one sat with me on the
bus back to the army base. I never told my parents. I thought that
they'd probably just say, “Well, perhaps you should have been
paying more attention.” That was what they did in those days. To
this day I don't understand what the teacher was trying to make me
schooldays were peppered with such events. What most led to trouble
for me at school, was not so much doing the wrong thing, as failing
to do the corrrect one. I did manage too, however, often to say the
wrong thing, having again failed to understand the general
requirements. This carried on well into early adulthood. There were
some things which I seemed to be good at, history, for instance.
Dates of battles. There was no one to touch me on them.
was good at running, especially cross-country and yet, hopeless at
all team sports. Football, for me, simply didn't compute. I was
forever being screamed at by team-mates for doing the wrong thing.
Many of these tribulations, faded after childhood, leaving only
traces of my old confusion.
driving lessons at 20 years old, however, I refused. I instinctively
knew that I could never drive a car. The prospect seemed scary and
I've never driven.
I've played music since my teens, gradually acquiring skills on a
number of stringed and keyboard instruments, it's irked me that I've
never mastered the drums. I've learned how they function. I could
even explain to you how a bossa-nova rhythm works. What I can't do,
is to play it on a kit.
partner, who for years taught children with learning difficulties
only broke it to me recently that I am dyspraxic. That wasn't all.
I'm still reluctantly acknowledging that I'm also mildly aspergic.
Reading up on the subject it's been enlightening for me to recognise
so many of my 'symptoms'. Only now, am I beginning to solve the
mysteries of decades, such as the one recounted at the beginning of
this piece. My condition, I've learned is, if not common, then not
discussed it with another musician, himself aspergic. He asked me,
“Did people get cross with you a lot, when you were younger – and
you didn't understand why.” I said yes. He nodded.
up on the subject was enlightening and at times, poignant. Aspergers
and dyspraxia may sometimes occur together. My discovery has
explained why I couldn't do certain simple things. It's explained
too, why I can skillfully recount long and complex jokes and yet take
certain others completely literally. And then there were all the
exasperated girlfriends of my younger days, who left me seemingly
inexplicably. I never understood what was required. For example, when
someone asks how you are, you shouldn't give them a fifteen-minute
run-down. You should say, “Fine, thanks,” and then ask them how
they are. It took me ages to learn that – about four ex-partners.
Nobody mentioned aspergers or dyspraxia back then. People just used
to shout at me, or hit me.
keep it in proportion,however. I seem to have fared okay. The other
morning, having reconsidered it, I asked our resident special-needs
teacher: “So, if I'm dyspraxic and aspergic, what does that
actually mean?” She replied, “It means you're a bloke.”
readers have encountered any issues within this feature, please don't
write in. I'm still trying to figure it out myself.
The Wivenhoe Forum -- My Part in its Sadness
By now, eagle-eared viewers will have learned that I have been banned from my
'hyperlocal' internet forum. The
Wivenhoe Forum (established circa 2011) nicknamed by myself and
others, The Borum had
previously been without any input from me for a couple of years or
so. My early forays on it uncovered a certain amount of anger,
pedantry and the type of minor neuroses which I've learned are the
province of people who only ever read The Guardian
or listen to BBC Radio 4: the passive and chiefly middle-class
English bien pensant, in
other words. It's kind of difficult to get a joke across to such
people, because they are often so worried about the state of the
world, that they cannot see anything to laugh about.
prior to Christmas, I asked the Forum's founder to give me a pass
back onto it, so that I could play the class clown over the festive
season. What did I do? I posted up satire, fantasy, running gags, the
odd link to nice music and little film clips. In other words, I did
what I usually do, instigated the type of chaos found on my own
message board, here.
function? Entertainment, pure and simple. It is, after all, what I
do. Some people liked this. Others didn't. I think it especially
rattled few of the more educated types, that my articulacy and
knockabout humour may have seemed rather unassailable at times. I
couldn't be brought down with small rebukes because, I have the hide
of a rhino, I can be quite rude and I am actually a professional.
It's my job to do this stuff and to do it well.
would have quit the Forum after Christmas, as planned. Perhaps I
should have done but some people seemed amused, I still had a little spare time...and
so I hung on.
became apparent to me after a while that this had been a mistake. One or
two people cited 'the rules' . I was 'off topic' Warned by forum
moderators that I was on a 'three strikes and yer out' edict, you may
imagine how I reacted. Soon enough I was banned. I warned them
beforehand that it would be their mistake. They removed me, along with all my
posts about three weeks ago. I became an un-person and happily
returned to my work, making records and writing. I thought that
maybe there'd be a few veiled references from a few supporters and
that the fuss would die down after a few days. It hasn't done.
weeks on, the original thread which led to my banning has had almost
6.5k views and people, some of whom I don't know are now openly protesting my removal. I
apparently had a following outside this small hyperlocality. I've
heard that one or two of the moderators have been rattled by this.
The Forum's founder, a decent enough chap, if rather a
straight-from-Central Casting, New Labour-style policy wonk, is
unlikely to budge. “My forum, my rules.” he was alleged once to
have said of an earlier confrontation with another now banned member.
I cannot begrudge him this, since I'd probably say exactly the same
if I were in his shoes.
adventures on the Wivenhoe Forum have illustrated to me the rather
poignant truth that many people who gravitate towards that type of millieu do
tend towards the depressive the over-serious, the self-righteous and
which is actually an expensive commodity in real life, is regarded as
almost valueless in this earnest and rather grey world. They would
prefer rather to dwell on the perceived evils and petty complacencies
of local politicians, than to be seen laughing at a joke. Their first
reaction, in fact, upon being presented with humour, is usually to
perform a forensic analysis on the text, to ensure that no
disadvantaged minorities have been impuned or attacked.
it highly unlikely that I will return to the Wivenhoe Forum. This is
not so much because the Forum's founder is intractable as because it
takes time, my energy, my creativity and a certain amount of talent
to do what I have done on forum postings this past few weeks. I
normally get paid for such things. Why therefore, offer to do it for nothing,
when a proportion of the membership is angrily grinding their teeth
and looking for faults in every syllable? Surely I owe it to the
people on my own site to use my spare time here? Even now, if you
visit the Wivenhoe Forum, you will still see the petty bickering,
point scoring and Pooteresque-to-crucifyingly-boring worthiness of a
type of self-appointed anti-elite. It's the sort of New Labour / Sea of Faith Alliance
which fills me with ennui. There is no room for humour, wit or
buffoonery, nor any political ideas which may deviate from what is, in essence a
surprisingly starchy and musty green, demi-socialism. It's sad and
colourless. Essentially, I need to return to the real world, where
discussing an old High Llamas b-side is more important than mithering
about an imaginary new doctors' surgery and where, as a friend of my
brother's once memorably said: “In this job (he meant working on
the dustcarts) **** is a term of endearment.” I hope this clears
things up. I don't give a **** if it doesn't. My blog space, my lack
of any kind of rules.
*expletives deleted out of consideration for our more genteel US cousins.
Joy of Essex (382)
Colchester's Firstsite Gallery is in bother. My late mum
used to have an expression for this particular type of bother: “Give
a dog a bad name and hang it.” she'd say. From the outset,
Colchester did not want its Visual Arts Facility, the V.A F. as it
was then called. Most people were vehemently opposed to the very
idea of it and said so.
A few kept on saying so. At the time, I compared the
situation, rather harshly I confess, to a horde of hooded peasants,
standing outside a castle shaking their fists and holding burning
Colchester MP, Sir Bob Russell, now himself an East
Anglian Saturday regular, was a little cross with me at the time and
expressed as much. How dare I call his constituents peasants, he
said. He added that the beleagured gallery would be an expensive
white elephant which only a certain elite would appreciate, all at
the expense of a majority who didn't like it. It pains me to say
that he was absolutely right.
hated it before they even saw it. They hated it during its long,
botched and very expensive construction process. They hated it when
it was finished. Most people refused to go to see anything which was
exhibited there. Of those who did visit, many neither understood nor
liked what they found. Even the distant London press sneered. How
long, asked one broadsheet arts correspondent, would
it be before those angled white walls were grubby with children's
Colchester had finally got its much-vaunted arts facility. Poor old
Colchester, always last in the queue when the culture bus rolls in –
still marvelling at its prawn cocktails long after everyone else had
defected to sun-dried tomatoes.
Before Firstsite had even opened its doors, a weekly
torrent of angry letters appeared in the local papers. The chatter,
even in nearby artistic circles was disapproving, asking how anything
could be hung sensibly on those sloping walls? The brickbats kept
coming. Druggy kids were hanging around outside the building,
skateboarders were making a clatter and the place was deserted at
night etcetera. With even mored more grist to their mill, the
gallery's opponents said that there was no proper bus-park and poor
bus users now had to wait at a tiny weather-blasted halt with no
Well done, Colchester. They gave the dog its bad name
and got busy hanging it. Now what? Firstsites's enemies, and they
are many, are relishing the fact that the gallery's funding is
currently under threat. Its embattled director Matthew Rowe is
pledging to do better. What else can the poor bloke do?
Me? I'm ashamed to be Colcestrian at times like this,
as I imagine their hateful voices muttering, “Wun't come ter no
good, willut?” I sometimes see their point of view, mind. Nobody
dislikes bad modern art more than I do. And yet, somehow, the
wilful ignorance and negativity currently ranged against Firstsite
seems even worse. Colchester is a conservative place at best and
always has been. The gallery might have made it easier on itself, by
appeasing the traditionalists and commissioning a perfectly good
local architect. Dedham's Quinlan Terry submitted a superb design for
the place but was passed over for a modernist.
As for Firstsite's art: we might have prevailed upon a
few of our regional luminaries for exhibits: Guy Taplin, James Dodds,
Maggie Hambling, Grayson Perry and others. There are all sorts of
things which we might have done, rather than having lumps of pipe,
old jet turbines and terrible Xerox machines cluttering the joint up.
But some people like that sort of thing, so you've got to have a
bit, they'll tell us.
I blame the Arts Council. I'm aware that they're the
ones in charge of the moolah, but most of them know nearly nothing
about what we, the punters consider to be art. Laugh if you wish,
but a few of us around here still like our home-boys, Constable and
Whatever has happened, however, has happened. It is up
to us all now to rescue Firstsite. Shoulders to the wheel and all
that. We should have a say in what we see. We should also demand
that the metropolitan arts chumps stop foisting their pretentious and
bonkers rubbish upon us. Firstsite, even though it wouldn't
necessarily have been my first choice of architect, is actually a
great space, inside and out. It's in a wonderful location. The
coming of Firstsite also opened up a grand aspect of Colchester,
restoring to the town in the process views not seen for many
generations. It's only a couple of clicks away, in fact, from being
rather lovely. We should recognise this. If it's not doing well, it
should be supported, not sneered at. Do its critics really think
that if it fails and closes, they're going to come out of this
looking good? Will Firstsite's opponents think they've won?
Because they won't have won. International exhibitions
and major travelling cultural events will forever avoid Colchester
like the plague. Everyone else marooned here will simply shrug and
slope off to see the events elsewhere In the future therefore, if
you ever get to wondering why your oafish town keeps being rejected
in its bids for City status, keep those brickbats coming. Who knows,
we might even get our nice eastern bloc-style bus park back. But
first let's erect signs on the town's entrance roads reading:
“Welcome to Colchester – Duuh!”