Martin Newell’s Joy of Essex: The pressure is on to embark on healthier lifestyle

Blood pressure

Blood pressure - Credit: PA

THE indignity of it. Writer-musician, late fifties. Height 5’ 9”, weight 164 pounds – and high blood pressure: 168 over 112. So, a few days later I was in the pub, having a quiet pre-Christmas drink with two mates – one a London policeman, the other an RAF medic – and they asked me once again about the circumstances immediately before the blood-pressure test at my general health MOT the previous week.

At first, I wasn’t actually running late, I told them, although I was cutting it fine. It’s about three quarters of a mile up the road to the surgery, so I’d set off at my usual march. It occurred to me to buy a newspaper, just in case there was a wait. So I popped into the Co-op. There was a bit of kerfuffle with a till. Sod’s law. So with three minutes to go now, I really did have to get a shift on.

It was after 5pm and dark. I was already in a ratchety mood when I met the two teenagers. They were probably returning from school or college. I had a feeling that something odd was about to happen. It did. The shorter of the two leapt at me, his face level with mine, and shouted “Raaaargh!” Before he’d even got the sound out of his throat, I’d opened my mouth like a wild animal and screamed “Raaaaaaarghh!” straight back at him – only much louder.

I marched briskly on. It must have shocked him a bit because he didn’t follow it up. I suppose that if you jump out of the darkness in order to scare some old buzzard, the last thing you expect is for him to leap back at you, making even more noise. They didn’t take it any further. There was only the receding sound of expletives and threats behind me. No-one followed.

Within five minutes of the incident I was having my blood pressure taken by the nurse. “It’s rather high,” she told me. I mentioned the earlier incident. She said: “You should be careful. These days he might have been carrying a knife.” The thought just made me even angrier.

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Before I’d finished relating this story, my two friends were already laughing. “Did she take your blood pressure again?” asks the medic. “Yes,” I tell him. “About 15 minutes later – after prolonged questioning about my family’s medical history and my drinking habits. The reading was still high, though.”

He informed me that of course it would have been high after such an incident. I explained that the nurse wanted to see me again. “Take a bus up there next time,” advised the policeman, grinning.

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When I returned to the surgery shortly before Christmas, however, potential teenage assailants or not, the reading was still unacceptably high. “We’ll make you a routine appointment to see the doctor,” said the nurse. I said I’d rather die in a ditch than start taking statins and stuff.

Because I hate the whole ghastly carousel. The patient is ailing, so the pharmaceutical firms suggest the smarties – which the busy doctor then prescribes. The smarties then produce unwanted side effects. The patient is prescribed more smarties – different ones this time – in order to counteract side effects of the first ones. And so on. Then you end up with a sideboard full of side effects – like half of the population.

“That’s no bloody good, is it?” I rage at my tamer over dinner that evening.

Later, I calm down and do a little stock-take. Most of our health professionals really do the best they can for us. I am here to tell you, based on my own and other people’s experiences, that our health service may not be perfect, but, all things considered, it’s pretty damned good. And it’s still free.

Whose fault is it that I have high blood pressure? Hmm . . . Lemme see: might it be mine? Might it be a mixture of late nights, no holidays, never relaxing, caning the rotgut every night?

Could it be anything to do with locking myself in and recording music all summer, instead of cycling around in the fresh air? Is it anything to do with hunching over a keyboard every day and then being volunteer Saturday breakfast-show jock for Radio Wivenhoe for nearly a whole year, with hardly a week off?

Didn’t I gradually erode a once-immaculate diet because I’d become simply too busy to fiddle around cooking each and every night?

All of the above, M’Lud.

It’s been about four weeks, now. Christmas was “interesting”, mind you. Excess salt is out. Beetroot juice and buckwheat are in. Cycling and walking have increased to former levels. I now drink camomile tea late at night instead of coffee. I try and hit the sack before 11.30. Then I go to bed straight afterwards.

Radio Wivenhoe’s seven listeners will just have to learn to live without me for the time being. For the next month I’m writing only two pieces a week, including this column. Well I can’t do nothing, can I?

No live performances for the next six weeks. I’m finally reading all those books piled up beside my bed. I’m watching only feelgood films. I’m working on the drinking – honest.

Oh and I’ve borrowed a blood-pressure machine. The score’s going down: 147 over 92 yesterday. Bit better, isn’t it?

Let’s be careful out there.

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