Martin Newell’s Joy of Essex: So many memories here, but oh-so-much sheer clutter too

Clutter, clutter, clutter: Martin is tackling his document 'mountain'.

Clutter, clutter, clutter: Martin is tackling his document 'mountain'. - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Decluttering, I believe, is the word for it nowadays. I call it ‘having a clear out’, writes Martin Newell.

There are two places in the house: The Cupboard of Broken Dreams is in my living room. A built-in Victorian cupboard with Tardis-like qualities, it holds files, folders and recent-ish financial accounts.

The Loft of Lost Lyrics, however is rather more daunting. Accessible only by a short perilous climb, it is a fastness, known only to the spiders and a few intinerant mice. It contains dead or wounded stereos, ancient financial accounts, along with files and folders of 35 years of my written work. Since the surgeons restored much of my sight three months ago I have gained a new energy. Now in my sixties I have no intention of becoming the kind of batty old geek who suddenly pops his clogs leaving hapless relatives with an Augean stablesworth of papers and ledgers to contend with.

To begin at the beginning: as a musician, especially as a recording musician, I’ve always been quite good about keeping the decks clear.

I regularly chucked out dustbin liners of demos, knackered instrument cables, old cassettes and unlabelled burns of CDs.

I concede that I may have lost one or two treasures during such turnouts, but mostly I’ve gained space and peace of mind. However, as a writer of poems, features, lyrics, books et al, till now I’ve been an utter slattern. The task which I’ve given myself is immense.

Since the early 1980s I have written tracts for fanzines and other small music mags.

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It was the mid 1980s when I began to write pieces for bigger publications. By the early 1990s I was a poet-in-residence with weekly contributions for a national newspaper. For three of the thirteen years I was with them I penned three pieces a week.

When this job ceased, I went over to their Sunday edition where for two years I wrote weekly poems as well as occasional features and page-length poems. In addition, as of this November I will have been Saturday columnist with the East Anglian for ten years.

For the past twelve years I’ve also been a resident poet for another national Sunday newspaper. Add to this work to numerous outboard commissions, two operas, a musical, sixteen books and hundreds of song lyrics, it’s a lot of writing.

Much of these scribblings and clippings are housed in carrier bags, box-files, folders and gaffered-up cardboard boxes. That’s 35 years worth of accumulated paper and card much of which will now be recycled.

My mission, Jim - and I do wish to accept it - is to sift ruthlessly through it, keeping only that which is not either stored on electronic media or archived by its publishers in some other way.

A cautionary word here for my fellow ‘old timers’ about electronic storage. A young computer geek once advised me: “Make three copies of everything you do. If you don’t have three copies, you don’t own it.”

Not only are single safety copies of work easily misplaced but those little memory sticks that you buy aren’t always to be trusted either. They can be lost, stepped on or worse. I had one of mine suddenly scramble itself one day and I lost about 4GB of cherished info. Be warned. Buy at least two of those 500GB spare hard drives and keep one in a safe place.

Meanwhile, back at the Cupboard of Broken Dreams and the Loft of Lost Lyrics, the first recycling sack soon filled rapidly with hastily-skimmed copies of work done decades ago.

I cannot afford to linger long on the contents of work other than to ascertain their currency as information or their historic / artistic value.

Nor can I afford to be ambushed by cheap sentiment. I came across a draft of long Christmas commission, for instance, a parody of Gawain and The Green Knight.

I do remember, somewhere in the middle of six days writing it, having to take my four year-old daughter on a bus ride, on a beautiful clear, cold day. I also remember sitting up in bed later with a cold trying to understand the story in its original Middle English.

This whole decluttering procedure is a nostalgia minefield, reminding me of many long-passed seasons. Other pieces which I discovered, I had almost no recollection of writing. But in those far-off days, when I was trying to reduce the amount of gigs I’d been doing taking more writing work, each page represented a mortgage payment, a gas bill, a shopping trip or even Christmas itself. The whole experience of decluttering and archiving decades of work is now a mystical pursuit. I refuse to call it ‘a journey’. I am, after all, only clearing out one built-in cupboard and a small cramped attic. But I’ve got my back into it now and whether by accident or default, the job has become a mission. It’s a book which I don’t really want to come to an end. Onwards... and sideways.

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