Copyright © 2005 Martin Newell
Pepys 0.1 Blogware © Steve Dix
In the warm early spring of 1983, Martin Newell, now 30 years old, was in charge of a student boarding house in the small town of Wivenhoe. Here, in exchange for cheap rent, he acted as caretaker and rent collector for the students, artists and junior lecturers who were the house tenants. With his musical partner Lol Elliott now long decamped to the West Country, Newell, who also still had a part-time job as a kitchen porter, began work on what would eventually become In The Golden Autumn the Cleaners fourth cassette album. Late that winter he'd also bought himself a cheap drum machine, sundry percussion instruments and a spring reverb unit.
One of Newell's chief problems at this time, apart from constant money shortages, was finding musical collaborators who shared his own skewed pop vision. The absolute opposite of a musical perfectionist, the founder Cleaner believed that great pop was to be had by doing things quickly, in slapdash fashion and by 'fumbling around in the dark in search of happy accidents.' Most up and coming musicians just could not see the joke, so for the present, Martin Newell forged on alone.
He recorded at all of hours the day and the night or whenever his caretaking duties, his part-time kitchen portering or his personal life permitted.
It was all going well, if rather slowly, when a London book publisher signed him to a deal to produce a book about 4 track home-recording and music making. It was an attractive diversion but the writing of the book took up much of the summer, slowing the music down somewhat. Newell was halfway through both his book and the album when disaster struck, The publisher's cheque bounced and the publisher disappeared. In those pre e-mail days, because of a mix-up between his bank and his building society, the news took the best part of four weeks to reach him, eventually arriving by post.
With the scant savings, which he'd been living on ebbing away, he threw caution to the wind and decided to press on, in order to finish the album before the summer ended. He also finished the book in its first draft. In addition he'd only just managed to finish In The Golden Autumn and pay for its first small run of cassettes which he then hoped to begin selling.
By now almost broke, he managed to retrieve his part time job as a kitchen porter and in September of that year 1983, with a completed book but no publisher, he returned, tail-between-his- legs to the sinks. “Back to the draining board.” became his grim joke upon the subject.
Later that autumn, the publisher suddenly re-appeared, full of apologies. He offered to make up the difference which Newell had lost from his savings. He said that he was still ready to publish but would understand if The Cleaner from Venus said no. Martin Newell was in no mood to do business. Angry and hurt he said he didn't want to be published now and turned his back upon any literary ambitions which he'd harboured.. As badly-paid and ignominious as his music business career up had been up until that point it was a world which he felt at least that he knew. He threwhimself back into recording again.
He wasn't entirely alone, however. Guesting on the Golden Autumn project was a fellow kitchen porter, Martin Chapman, who wrote the tune and played the piano on Victorian Society. Chapman's other value during that disappointing year was to bolster Newell's flagging spirits. The two of them acted as a sort of comedy turn in the restaurant kitchen where they worked together. Newell said at the time that after a day shift, with Chapman, the two of them would frequently go home from a shift with their ribs hurting from constant laughter. Also on the project at that time was a young drama student who was a tenant in the house which Newell looked after. Paul Ridley Thomas was a music fan and something of an authority on early 1960s US girl groups. In the small hours, he would often play Newell old Ronettes, Orlons discs and the more obscure Shangri-las records The production values of these, the head Cleaner, even today, will claim as having been an influence.
As 1983 came to an end, the lone Cleaner busied himself with one last project. Two For The Winter was a limited 100-copy cassette made to raise some money for the Greenham Common anti-nuclear protest, which was then at its peak. Newell was sympathetic to the women protesters at that time. The cassette sold out almost immediately and even Newell didn't have a copy. This comparative rareity, which later C.f.V fans have sometimes expressed curiousity about has been included in this collection. Also included here are two tracks from that same period which have never been heard outside of his studio. It's Been So Long a 1975 George McCrae hit was an old personal favourite of Newell's from the time. When the Cleaner was improving his home studio, he needed a track to test out his newly-bought compressor and tape echo unit. In absence of a new song of his own he chose, It's Been So Long. The other song, Something In My Eye was an 'orphan track'. Too late for In The Golden Autumn and too early for Under Wartime Conditions it has lain abandoned in the vaults by its maker for almost three decades. Thus, did 1983 with its various highs and lows come to a close for the Cleaner from Venus. 1984 would prove to be rather more dramatic...
If I have one criticism of the NHS hospital it's that you can't get Radio 3 on the bedside radio. This means that you've got the choice of the chirpy daytime banalities of BBC Radio 2, the overcooked news analysis of Radio 4, or the woefully underfunded Radio Local. There is also Hospital Radio, which can be pleasantly eclectic and unpredictable. For instance, I heard a long echoey prog-rock guitar solo early one morning. It was great. Exactly what I required in that semi-delirium caused by illness and lack of sleep. You'd never get that sort of thing on the tightly-laced BBC. There's also television, which nowadays comes at the end of an extendable arm above your hospital bed. It costs a mighty £10 a day, or £20 for three days. The price is good thing, I reckon, because it probably forces people back to the radio or reading books. After all, the last thing you'll need when you're ill is more brain-rot from Android Command.
After barely going near the NHS for nearly four decades, I've been doing rather a lot of business with them lately. The way that certain politicians and media wonks witter on, you'd think that we'd been busted down to two field dressing-stations, and an ambulance service consisting of two horse-drawn litters and broken sedan chair. It's nothing like that, actually.
For instance, because of a detached retina I've been attending the impressively-thorough eye clinic in Colchester's Essex County Hospital. They in turn have referred me to the Royal Free Hospital in Hampstead, London. I've seen my GP a bit, lately too. All in all I feel rather looked after, like a valued customer, in fact. In addition, a daughter of this house was in and out of hospital during last winter, because of various complications. Then, as I recounted only last week, I was recently roared into the Colchester General at great speed, because of a sudden seizure. I'm here to tell you that from where I've been sitting (or lying down) it all still seems to be working – even in the much fretted-over A & E departments. Sure, it's never going to be a hayride, being parked on a trolley for ages whilst they try to deduce what's wrong with you. But what do you expect when you're injured or ill? This is A & E, not Centreparcs. Don't worry, they always get around to you before you shuffle off the coil.
Even that old folk demon of yore, the British doctor's receptionist, remains for the most part a myth. There's a story about an old army General, who having experienced the tender mercies of such a receptionist, remarked, “If I'd had half a dozen like her , we could have brought the war to an end a year earlier.” All the receptionists with whom I've had to deal, however, have been very helpful and highly adept at juggling appointments.
Of other NHS legends, a few years ago, when a glut of hospital-acquired infections occurred, the cry went up: “Bring back the Matron!” Well, somebody must have been listening. because during my hospital stay, I actually met a matron. Vivacious, younger and cheerier than I'd been conditioned to expect, she was called Jane. Naturally, the subject of Hattie Jacques' immortal portrayal of a matron cropped up in our conversation. Jane informed me that she'd used a picture of Jacques during her successful interview presentation.
It must be said, that British hospital food remains pretty near where it's always been – somewhere in the mid 1950s. Even the great Jamie Oliver appears to have met his own culinary Stalingrad here. Yet, the food arrives, it arrives regularly and is backed up by the godsend of constant cups of tea. In this matter, the UK is not unique. I was recently told by a Belgian national, that Belgian hospital food is of a very similar standard.
What seems to generate the most anxiety about the NHS, is regular agonising about it in the more handwoven broadsheets and the mid-market dailies. This is buttressed by the frequent early morning encounter sessions – I'm sorry, that should have read 'news discussions' – which occur on national talk radio.
Interestingly, I discovered that many of my fellow patients were, like me, working class. I didn't hear any genteel middle-class accents on my ward, although I sometimes overheard the patients proclaiming how good the NHS was and how grateful they were that it still existed. Could it be that many professional types, along with a significant proportion of the middle-classes don't actually know what NHS hospitals are like? Might this be, I wondered, because although they may not like to broadcast the fact, they quietly went private some years ago, galvanised by media-paranoia?
The one thing that most people with recent experience of it will agree upon, is that whenever there's a real emergency, the NHS does its job. Given the size, diversity and unpredictability of its task, along with the speed with which it has to operate, I do not exaggerate when I describe the whole shebang as some kind of miracle. That lately it is constantly being called to account, because it isn't perfect is one thing. That it exists and functions as it does, is a human achievement far more impressive than anything which the space race or the arms industry between them, have so far produced.
When you are in an NHS hospital nearly all of the nurses will call you 'Darling'. They call everybody 'Darling'. It's nice because it is comforting – comforting in the same way it was when as a child, you were ill and your mum or your gran called you 'Darling'. Within our National Health Service, the strange linguistic reductionism which we call political correctness, has not quite wiped out such small kindnesses. This is good.
Now, provided that NBM ( Nil By Mouth) isn't written in marker pen on the board above your bed, somebody will probably wake you up to offer you a cup of tea. This happens very regularly. At frequent intervals, too, a nurse will come round to take your blood pressure, or sometimes, just your blood or “your bloods.” The saline drip, and later, in my case, the phosphate drip is pumped into one arm, whilst blood-samples are taken from the other. If you don't keep your arm straight, the drip tube gets blocked and then the machine bleeps loudly and they have to set it all up again
On a nearby cabinet sits the heart monitor which is wired to several sensors, adhering to your chest. If, like me, you have what is sometimes called an 'athlete's pulse'; that is, one which regularly averages between 47 and 52 bpm, the older heart monitors will tend to bleep at readings below 47. Sometimes, the two machines bleep in synchrony. At other times they are out of sync. If you press the button to call the nurse, that too will bleep distantly. When this is added up, it amounts to quite a lot of bleeping. Hospital wards are noisy places. Sometimes, they are noisy in a way that fans of the composer Stockhausen might recognise.
I came to be in this hospital because earlier on, apparently, I had bunjy-jumped over eternity. Round about 7 a.m on a quiet Monday morning whilst lying in bed for an extra few minutes, I experienced a delicious yet indescribable wave of sensation in my head. It was as if I had just begun the Best Fairground Ride Ever. Suddenly I found myself looking at the shocked face of Her Outdoors: “I thought you'd died.” she said tremulously. My eyes had rolled and then shut, my back had arched and my arms had gone rigidly up, like a boxer's guard, in front of me. There followed what she described as a death rattle. Then silence. Until my eyes suddenly flickered open again. I collapsed.
The ambulance arrived in under 5 minutes. The two crewmen and their entire rescue routine are simply too exemplary to describe in one passage. Despite, anything which you may hear about the emergency services, in North Essex, we are all, let me assure you, in the best possible hands.
The neurologist who saw me on the third day of my hospital stay, was a complete enthusiast for his job. He seemed fascinated by me and the speed with which I'd come back from the seizure. He explained to me that my brain had momentarily shut itself and, by default, me down.
“Like with a pinball machine, when you rock it and it rings up TILT, stopping the game?” I asked . “Exactly!” he exclaimed. It was my very creative mind, he said which had probably helped me. He told me that such resilience and speed of recovery from an attack, was unusual, and generally only to be observed in creative types, artists, writers etc. He didn't know who I was or even much about what I did. Whatever it was, however, must have showed up on my scan, which, he told me, was very good. From a purely neurological point of view, I now felt something of a prized specimen.
Nonetheless, it seems that I had undergone a non-epileptic brain seizure. So it was time to listen very carefully to this specialist, whom the consultant had earlier assured me, was in love with his job and whom I was very fortunate to be seeing. He was a nice man too. The good news? I would recover. My fitness levels were good. But I would need to cut my wine intake substantially. From now on, too, I would need regularly to get upwards of 7 hours sleep. The bad news? I would also have to learn that 60 is not the new 30, not even the new 40, just the old 60 years of age. All gigs, therefore are now cancelled for a while.
The after-effects of such a seizure he cautioned, included tiredness, a temporary diminuition of creative powers and perhaps an occurrence of something which he called 'emotional incontinence'. He prescribed me some strong thiamine for the next 3 months. This would help my bruised brain to repair itself. I had received a warning, said the neurologist. By my own interpretation, the Great Gatekeeper had given me a passing kick in the rear, whilst ushering me through into the Third Age – a posterior struck by lightning, if we must.
By coincidence, during my first two days in hospital, whilst I had drifted in and out of sleep, there'd been a constant burble from BBC Radio 4. News analyses was replete with bad stuff about the state of the NHS and in particular, A&E services. What our NHS does, considering the Augean Stables of a task confronting it, is nothing short of a miracle.
part 2 to follow soon.