Martin Newell’s Joy of Essex: Rock’n’roll rebel on a one-way trip to hell is set to be an OAP

Martin Newell. Picture: HILLARY LAYZELL

Martin Newell. Picture: HILLARY LAYZELL - Credit: Archant

The letter arrived last week. It was from the Department of Work & Pensions. It announced that in just under four months I will be entitled to claim my pension, writes Martin Newell.

I can scarcely believe this time has already come around. Born early March 1953, I scraped in just before the bar came down. As new rulings come into effect, friends of mine only a few weeks younger than me will have to wait slightly longer for their pensions.

Like my grandfather and my father before me, I will claim my pension shortly after my 65th birthday. Amazingly, for someone who has led an “interesting” sort of life, I’ve qualified for the full amount. When I spoke by telephone to a very helpful man at the Work & Pensions Dept, he reminded me exactly how long it is that I’ve been a working lad.

I began work on 6th January 1969, aged 15 years and 10 months. I became self-employed in 1986, shortly after my 33rd birthday. This means, discounting illness, short sojourns abroad and a few periods when I made so little money I didn’t even need to pay my stamp, that I’ve clocked up almost 45 years of taxed employment.

When I was growing up, it was always my mum in charge of the household finances. Ask my dad anything about money and he’d say from behind his newspaper, “Don’t ask me. I get money. I spend it. Your mother does that stuff.” Of their three boys, I was the one who took most notice of my mother’s rudimentary lessons in personal finance for blockhead sons.

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As a rock star-in-waiting, therefore, while working as a part-time kitchen porter, I frequently notched up sufficient hours to qualify for my weekly NI stamp.

Much later, upon becoming a self-employed megastar (and part-time gardener) I continued doing as my mum had advised. I went to the Post Office and bought little stamps to stick on a card. These were my Class 2 National insurance contributions. She drummed into me how important it was that I paid them. It would ensure that I got my full pension when I was very old.

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Now, in 1974, when I was a make-up-caked rock singer, this time seemed an awfully long way off. After all, once I became famous I would have accountants to take care of such nonsense, wouldn’t I? Nonetheless, blasé as I may have seemed at the time, I took stock of what she said. I quietly kept rough records of my wealth (or lack of it). I also put bits and pieces away in a Post Office account. I called it my “Bust and Eviction money”. In the 1970s it usually amounted to about 40 quid: sufficient to pay a week’s rent on a room, or stand police bail on my own recognizance, should I fall foul of the law. In neither event did I ever need it. But it was always there. I also kept my stamps, mostly, up to date. So, for a rock’n’roll rebel on a one-way ticket to hell, underneath it all I did a pretty good impression of a speccy mummy’s boy in a beige cardy.

The result of this quiet discipline, as the Work & Pensions man now told me, is that over 44 full years of NI contributions have accrued. Next, he asked me a few questions pertaining to my employers, prior to 1986. Did I remember a Mr Adlestrop*? he asked. “Oh yes,” I said. “He was the owner of the last-ever restaurant where I washed up (1986).” My inquisitor chuckled at the end of the phone. “And before that?” I answered “Mr Candleford* for five years. And before that it was Mr and Mrs Lark-Rise*.” The recollections of my former employers came tumbling down through the decades. They went all the way back to GPO Telegrams, Farringdon Road, London, January 1969. The Work & Pensions chap stopped me. He knew I was telling the truth. I realised that, anyway, he had my entire working life – locations, dates and pay packets – laid out in front of him like an exploded diagram. There it was, in all its glory: my chequered, not particularly well-paid, career.

And how has my country rewarded me? Well, it’s pretty much let me carry on as I wished. Allowed me to behave as stupidly as I wanted to – within reason. Then, it looked after me whenever I was ill. It’s given a few of my less-motivated friends subsistence money when they couldn’t, or wouldn’t, work. My country has never questioned my political beliefs, or sent agents to break down my door during the night. Now, as I reach 65 and, frankly, feel a bit achey some mornings, it notifies me it’s about to give me a pension. Not too shoddy, is it?

*Names of former employers changed, because I liked them.

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