Lena's Books 'n' Blogs

Books 'n' Blogs

Lena has been a music producer, writer and Personal Manager; a photographer and journalist and, over thirty years ago, got together with Caroline Scattergood to create the Caring & Sharing Trust to bring music, hope and love into the lives of people with learning disabilities and their families from throughout Northamptonshire.

 

        By Lena Davis 

 

Oct 11th 2018
Its not who you're watching, its why you're watching
Published in the NeneQuirer Magazine on-line in Oct 2018

 

July 21st 2018
Andrea Leadsom Interview
Published in the NeneQuirer Magazine on-line in July 2018

 

June 7th 2018
The healing power of working your brain

Published in the NeneQuirer Magazine on-line in June 2018

 

May 15th 2018
Stepping out to look back in
Published in the NeneQuirer Magazine on-line in May 2018

 

April 23rd 2018
Fixing Northamptonshire: We've got our work cut out
Published in the NeneQuirer Magazine on-line in April 2018

 

April 13th 2018
The truth about Fake News and The Mitford Murders
Published in NeneQuirer Magazine on line in April 2018

 

March 13th 2018
Born to be handled, admired and loved
Published in NeneQuirer Magazine on line in March 2018

 

February 6th 2018
Greetings and loneliness
Published in NeneQuirer Magazine on line in February 2018

 

January 31st 2018
Alexander Newley memoir is a catalogue of minor complaints 
Published in NeneQuirer Magazine January 2018 and on line

 

November 21st 2017
The fact is a book makes a great Christmas present

Published in NeneQuirer Magazine on line in November 2017

 

October 25th 2017
We Didn't Know the Rules
Published in NeneQuirer Magazine on line in October 2017

 

October 9th 2017
What does the tenth dog eat?
Published in NeneQirer Mgazine on line in October 2017

 

September 8th 2017
Get into a thriller, get over yourself and then write about it
Published in NeneQuirer Magazine on line in September 2017

 

August 14th 2017
The world shaping effect of music
Published in September 2017 issue of NeneQuirer Magazine
and on line in August

 

11th October 2018

It’s not who you’re watching, it’s why you’re watching
Published in the NeneQuirere on-line in October 2018

Please grab your £12.99 and rush out pronto to buy a copy of “Watching You” by Lisa Jewell (published by Century Press). Chances are you will soon be watching a mini-series of this great book on your telly and, much as I would like the lead to be played by Keeley Hawes, it will probably be transported to America by Reese Witherspoon.

By the way, and a propos of nothing, I would like to officially tell the grey men now running BBC TV why “The Bodyguard” was so successful. They seemed to be under the impression it was because of the wonderful script and Richard Madden’s bare bum. The truth is quite simple. We all tuned in to watch Keeley Hawes. We are happy to watch Keeley Hawes in anything at all, even her recent car commercial. When our Keeley was suddenly killed midway through the series, we all stayed watching in the mistaken belief that she would suddenly reappear.

Now, back to “Watching You”. Lisa has been writing novels since she was twenty-seven and now, fifteen best-selling years later, she is still tapping away on her laptop in her local café rather than an office. It is not only the coffee that attracts her but her love of people-watching. Well, “Watching You” is a superb thriller based virtually entirely on the characters surreptitiously watching each other.

I’ve always been a big fan of Lisa and wasn’t too keen on her joining the ever growing list of female novelists trying their hands at psychological thrillers. However, I am now completely converted. So, if this is a genre you enjoy, I suggest you trot off right now to your nearest independent book shop. Remember – I’ll be watching you!

Now, for something completely different, “China’s Oasis” is co-written by David Gotts and Richard Harris (Monarch £8.99). David has devoted most of his life to helping find love for the children with disabilities abandoned in China. He was only twenty-two when he discovered the shocking conditions at a Chinese welfare centre. China Concern was born that day and in 2007, Oasis House was opened. Of course, Chinese attitudes towards disability have changed for the better and David was instrumental and inspirational in showing the way.

Some years ago, a good friend of mine and his wife travelled to China to find, and eventually adopt, an unwanted girl baby. The Chinese Government had deemed that no family could keep more than one child and so impoverished families would often abandon girl babies in the hopes of eventually producing a boy. The powers-that-be did not have the sense to realise the eventual outcome, when later the boys grew up in communities almost devoid of girls to marry. By the way, my friends little girl has grown up into a wonderful young woman, beautiful in every way.

Now, on the other hand, wouldn’t it be equally wonderful if representatives of those countries, like China, who love and cherish the old would come over here on a rescue mission. They could return home with buses full of some of our elderly abandoned by the state and their families to the deeply dubious “care industry”.  Think how they would benefit from a culture of love and respect.

 

21st July 2018

Andrea Leadsom: I would like to see Sure Start relaunched

Published in the NeneQuirer Magazine on-line in July 2018

Having a Cuppa with the Rt Hon Andrea Leadsom MP by Lena Davis…

There are rare moments in TV history when a star is born. It happened to Keeley Hawes in “Line of Duty”; to Suranne Jones in “Doctor Foster” – and to Andrea Leadsom during BBC’s two hour TV debate on the EU Referendum. Her co-stars Gisela Stuart and Boris Johnson could certainly have been contenders for best supporting artistes, but it was Andrea’s star that shone.

Many think this was the moment that swung it for the Exit Vote. It is probably despite, rather than because, of this that Andrea was soon elevated to the Cabinet and then bestrode her current position as Leader of the House of Commons.

Thankfully, despite the present turmoil, Andrea has just kept on doing what she does best. A superb Leader of the House of Commons, whilst, at the same time, being an equally superb Constituency MP.

I’ve known Andrea for many years, even before she became an MP. As a friend, supporter and, now, Patron of the Caring & Sharing Trust we share our concerns for the welfare and support of people with learning disabilities and vulnerable people generally. It is also worth noting that she can be as silly as the rest of us and joins in enthusiastically with the singing, dancing and laughter that plays such an intrinsic part in the lives of people with learning disability at the Trust’s base in Cogenhoe.

So, yes, I know her so well. When Andrea dropped in recently for a cuppa we got chatting and…

Lena: Although we are all very proud you are Leader of the House of Commons, I’m yet to meet anyone who knows exactly what that means! Is it possible to tell me in a few words?

Andrea: It means that I’m Parliament’s representative in Government and Government Representative in Parliament. So it is a bit of a diplomatic role because I try to take into account the views of all members across the House and at the same time explain the Government’s priorities in the House. The day job is extremely varied as it is my responsibility to get all of the Government’s business through the House which can include the entire Queen’s Speech, all of the Bills, the secondary legislation, all of the debates. These are scheduled by the business managers which is the Whips Office and the Leaders Office. In addition, every Thursday, I answer questions from all members across the House on any subject under the sun. So I spend a lot of time being a bit of a geek and finding out the latest statistics, consultations, policies and all that sort of thing so I can answer questions.

Lena: Wow! Well, what was it you did recently which made headlines when the Speaker, John Bercow, threw his toys out of the pram?

Andrea: He was very upset, as I understand it, because, the Government tabled a statement, which it does on most days, but not normally on oppositions days which fall on a Wednesday. However, this one statement was marked sensitive and therefore had to be made on that very day, so we had no choice. Nevertheless, it appears to have been extremely upsetting to the Speaker!

Lena: Most people know who you are Andrea, because they remember the brilliant way you and Labour’s Gisela Stuart handled the TV Brexit debate. Are you still in touch with Gisela?

Andrea: Of course Gisela stood down as a Labour MP before the last election but, strangely enough, I bumped into her just a couple of weeks ago. It was fantastic to catch up and I have a photo I must show you! (Andrea gets out her phone to show Lena the photograph).

Lena: That’s great. Can we copy it and use it?

Andrea: Yes, I’ll send it to your phone right now.

Lena: Most people have heard of you and yet most people haven’t heard of most politicians! Seems to me you have managed to do this by staying resolutely good humoured and with a public face.

Andrea: I’m just wanting to see a better future for our country. That’s what took me into politics. That’s what drives me on.  I always said I had my three B’s which was Brussels, Banks and Babies. Those were the three things I really wanted to sort out. Brussels, I don’t think needs any more comment. Banks – I think there’s still a huge amount of reform to be done in the financial services sector, an area I was working in for twenty-five years before being an MP.

Then babies is my real passion which is to really significantly improve the support that we provide in the earliest years. Basically from conception to age two to make sure that every baby gets the best start in life. Your emotional capacity is largely determined by the age of two and I genuinely think that a lot of the self-harming, the mental health problems, the depression and the homelessness that we see and the violence that we see stem from poor, insecure early attachment. So I believe there is a lot more that we can and should be doing to turn that around.

Lena: Do you regret the disappearance of such initiatives as Sure Start?

Andrea: I think Sure Starts were a superb idea and what I would like to see is for them to be re-launched to focus on the peri-natal period. That’s something I make no secret of and raise it at every opportunity I get within Government and within Cabinet.

Lena: You, of course, have a family yourself. Your husband, I believe, is a great support of Northampton’s Hope Centre and homelessness in general and the Hope Centre is the Mayor’s Charity this year. And your children?

Andrea: My husband is Vice-Chairman of the Hope Centre and we all as a family are so committed to really tackling, first of all why do people become homeless, which takes me back to the babies interest and then of course to helping people turn around their lives and so often once you become homeless it is so difficult to get your life back on track. So that is really important. As to my kids – I have two boys at university and one is about to graduate. My daughter will be starting the GCSE courses next year so she’s a bit younger but we’re still on that journey through the education system which is a good insight into teenagers’ lives and challenges that they have, their ambitions and the opportunities for them. So it’s a great insight actually.

Lena: How do you see the future of Northamptonshire now that the Government has brought in the Commissioners to help?

Andrea: Well, actually, I was asked this question just before coming to see you Lena. I was asked this question at Wootton Hall School by a year seven pupil. “How do you see the future for Northamptonshire?” So I kind of went sort of a bit broad and said we are the centre of all of the sorts of high tech industries. We are also always in the top ten places to live and we have uniquely low unemployment. So in that sense the future looks pretty bright for

Northamptonshire and in particular because of the way that high-tech industries – artificial intelligence, personalised medicines, the extraordinary raft of new automotive technologies and climate change focused improvements and so on and we really, in the UK, but particularly in Northamptonshire, we are at the heart of those opportunities. So, big picture, I think we’ve got a very, very bright future.

Closer to home with the County Council, I mean obviously, there’s no getting away from it, there has been a disastrous period of time for the County Council and partly down to not putting up Council Taxes. Making too much of a virtue of being one of the cheapest Counties for Council Tax, which obviously people welcomed keeping their taxes lower but in the end if you don’t pay enough money you don’t get the services.  Also, there have been problems with different areas within the County Council so I certainly welcome the support from Central Government to get things back on track. I think Matt Golby has been great the way he’s reached out to all Councillors and to the members of Parliament to try and make sure that we all know what’s going on and that we can all work together to sort this out.

For my constituents in South Northamptonshire I am really concerned about things like the threats to the libraries, the threats to the rural buses, in particular and so at individual policy level I am fighting pretty hard to make sure that we can keep those vital services because they really do matter to people.

Lena: Yes indeed.  The Leader of Northamptonshire County Council, Matthew Golby, was one of the top cricketers for my village of Cogenhoe and has run more runs that anyone else, I think, in the history of the Club! Have you got any interests quite separate that perhaps you’ve always had or developed? I don’t expect you to boast of your runs in cricket!

Andrea: Well, funnily enough, I can’t say I’ve run runs in cricket but as a kid, from a very young age, about ten, I used to make the cricket club teas for my dad with my two sisters and I always remember, we used to make four loaves of Mother’s Pride bread. One egg, one tuna and cucumber… and I can remember it now… one ham, one jam and then we used to cut up angel cake, you know that Battenberg cake and ginger cake and fruit cake and that was every Sunday –  week in, week out and we used to get fifty pence each which shows child labour in my view. My dad insisted it was a fair day’s work. For my own sports I really enjoy tennis and I’ve played tennis ever since school days when we didn’t have tennis courts but we used to practice up against the school wall, which actually quite good because it had a line painted on it so that you actually had the net height you see. I remember just spending every break time just doing that. I’m an OK tennis player. I wouldn’t say I’m at all good.

Lena: At the moment it is thought that the politics of today are too divisive. Would you like to see the Parties working together, finding a common ground? Can you see Parliament working together in that way?

Andrea: I love my job because I do, perhaps more than any other Cabinet Minister, have the chance to really reach across the Chamber. So you know I’m supporting Labour members with Private Members Bills on things like to change the law to make it a criminal offence to assault an emergency worker. As you know, in hospitals late at night someone can punch the very person who is trying to help them and that is absolutely disgraceful, let alone what happens to the police when they are trying to arrest people. So I think, for me, working across Parliament is a great thing and I have some great banter with the Scottish Nationalists, which is all light hearted and so on and so I do enjoy that more collegiate working.

On the other hand, I really do think that you need Opposition. I think that what keeps us honest in our democracy is the fact that there are deeply held opposing views and so I think it’s vital that we continue to enable people to strongly, very strongly, in the most strongly possible terms, disagree with each other on policy. Where I think we’ve gone badly wrong isn’t that we disagree on policies, it’s the way we express that disagreement. You said that I always keep a cheerful disposition and I think that is important to me. I wish that politicians would argue like anything about policy but treat each other with courtesy.

Lena: And respect?

Andrea: And respect. That’s what I’m setting up. This Independent Complaints Procedure in Parliament, which the Prime Minister asked me to do. I’ve been working on it for several months. The whole purpose of it is to try and change the culture in Parliament so that, to really force people, because you can be complained about if you are excessively rude to somebody. To learn, if necessary, the hard way, that you do need to treat people with courtesy and respect and right across all of our public discourse now, if you were to look at my Twitter account, it’s just unbelievable. Even just things like when under this new data protection role, where we are having to write to everybody to say can I keep your details. Some of the things people have sent back, you know, four letter words. Unbelievable! Actually, on what planet are people suddenly thinking it’s fine to be so vitriolic and abusive to each other.

Lena: There is so much nasty stuff online, so much unkindness.

Andrea: There is something about manners. To me everything goes back to those earliest years and whether you are raised in love and care or whether you’re ignored or neglected or just badly raised. All of those things go right through life. If you feel nurtured and loved you know how to nurture and love and if you weren’t then you don’t. I do worry that we are seeing now, right across all of our society, the impact of the sort of problems of failure. Everybody works and people go back to work, sometimes too soon for them and it’s very, very difficult.

Lena: So how do you see your future?

Andrea: I just really want to just carry on with supporting the future that I believe the UK has ahead of us. I do feel a huge amount of responsibility for making Brexit a massive success. I see enormous opportunities from trading with the rest of the world but it’s not just about trade, it’s also about opening our doors to the culture, the ideas sharing, the joint working and so on and the shared opportunities with the rest of the world.

Because of the pressures of being part of the EU we have not been able to fully take advantage of. I just think that there are so many bright lights out there and I really want to be a part of making sure that that happens.

Lena: It has been lovely talking to you. What do you remember most about your time in Parliament?

Andrea: I’ll always remember the night of the referendum. We decided we were just going to go on the air and face whatever the results, whether good or bad. I agreed to do Dimbleby when the referendum results were basically known. It was four in the morning and I was sitting, really, really tired. I’d done loads of rounds of broadcasting and I’d been up for virtually forty-eight hours. I was sitting there waiting to be mic’d up and this very senior BBC Producer came round the back and said “I just have to tell you – watching you at Wembley persuaded me to vote leave. You won’t let me down will you?” and I said “no, I definitely won’t let you down.”

 
June 7th 2018
The healing power of working your brain
Published in the NeneQuirer Magazine on-line in June 2018

“SCAM” is a fascinating and exhaustive study of So-Called Alternative Medicine (which is where the title SCAM derives). Professor Edzard Ernst has spent many years evaluating the effectiveness of alternative therapies and all this information can be yours, via Imprint-Academic, at just £14.95. And it is worth every single penny!

Professor Ernst believes that most alternative therapies bear a close resemblance to a cult. He lists them from homeopaths to reiki to bach flower therapies, all of whom follow the received wisdom of their masters. He even lists Rudolf Steiner as a cult leader who dreamt up his mystical illusions of anthroposophic medicine.

The important thing about this book is that it is also extremely entertaining. The fact that recently GP’s have been banned from suggesting homeopathic practices on the NHS is a sure-sign that the Nation is coming to its senses.

In this often indecipherable and frightening world it is all too easy for scam artists to make money out of our bewilderment. We look for answers where there are none and so we are all too willing to believe the gurus who tell us that our lives will be transformed by such as “positive thinking”.

There are lots of books and teachers telling us that thinking positively will bring us contentment, riches and even love. Let me confess that I am probably the most positive thinker you will ever find – and I still often feel despair, particularly at proponents of so-called alternative medicine!

Please, buy this book and have responses at your fingertips when you are offered reiki, taigchi, acupuncture, aromatherapy, etc. by either well-meaning fools or avaricious charlatans.

“Taken for Granted” (Eviatar Zerubavel, Princeton University Press £14.95) is also a feast for the brain. It looks closely at the words and terms we use. For example “openly gay” which is widely used but “openly straight” is not. I must emphasise, however, that this is not a book about so-called political correctness.

He simply feels that by marking “women’s history” or “black history month” we reinforce the apparent normality of the history of white men. Really, both these books are an example of the power of exercise – not our bodies but our brains. I certainly feel invigorated that, in this age of short attention spans, two such wonderful men have found publishers ready, willing and able to give our brains this opportunity.

 

 
May 15th 2018
Stepping out to look back in
Published in the NeneQuirer Magazine on-line in May 2018

Paul O’Grady excels at so many things his talent as a writer is often overlooked. When so much of celebrity writings are obviously ghost written (thanks to the wonderful Katie Price cheerfully admitting she hadn’t got round to reading all of her own best sellers!) Paul has a real and personal aptitude that makes for wonderful reading.

I have read all four previous volumes of his autobiography but “Paul O’Grady’s County Life” (Bantam Press £20.00) is something completely different.

If you love the country and are wild about animals, gardening and even cookery then this is the book for you. It gives glimpses into Paul’s home life and a bit about his show business life – but most of all it is a personal look into the very soul of a genuinely lovely man.

The book itself is a beautiful production designed to lift your heart. Even when you have finished reading the volume it will do you good to just to flick through the pages.

“Thinking Outside the Brainbox” (Floris Books £20.00) has been translated by Philip Mees from Arie Bos’s original Dutch.

It is one of a continuous stream of attempts by neuroscientists, philosophers and even spiritual folk to understand why we human beings are so peculiar. Why do our brains send us different and confusing messages? Why, when we know our life span is so brief, do we do and say nasty things to ourselves and others? The list of questions go on and on. My question is, why do these experts believe the brain is so important when its functions are so easily altered by pain, love, desire, health, drugs, alcohol, religious fervour, etc.?

In fact, those of us who share our lives with people born with a learning disability often find our friends are considerably nicer than ourselves. Maybe when my mother used to refer to me as a “brain box” she wasn’t being as complimentary as I thought!

Arie Bos argues that we’re more than just some kind of biological computer. Who’s arguing?

One undeniable fact of life is that most of us are completely bewildered as to the whys and wherefores of our actions. Just trying to make sense of one particular action we nearly all have in common is Lee De-Wit in his book “What’s Your Bias? – The Surprising Science of Why We Vote the Way We Do” (published by Elliott & Thompson Ltd £12.99)

Lee is a psychologist and neuroscientist who has studied and worked at so many leading universities in the UK and Europe that he must undeniably know his stuff. What’s more, he also knows how to write and makes the whole subject really interesting and pertinent.

Many of us find it very difficult to have a cut-and-dried attitude to supporting one particular political party. Hence the ongoing feeling that a new political party needs to be formed. The lack of support amongst politicians for this notion is probably down to the memories regarding the rise, followed by the fall of the Liberal Democrats.

Actually, “What’s Your Bias?” makes for fascinating ideas presented by a rather good writer. The publishers claim that you should read this book if you want to know more about yourself, your friends and family or the bigger political picture. I couldn’t agree more.

 
April 23rd 2018
Fixing Northamptonshire: We've got our work cut out
Published in the NeneQuirer Magazine on-line in April 2018

New County Council leader Cllr Matthew Golby and finance portfolio holder Cllr Michael Clarke are charged with getting Northamptonshire back on an even keel. Lena Davis sat them down with a cup of tea to hear what their plans are…



When you have seen Northamptonshire County Council splattered all over the news recently, I expect you have one big question – Why on earth do people become Councillors in the first place? I’ve met many over the years and, whatever their political leanings, most of them share the desire to help the rest of us get the best out of our community. Do they succeed? Well, that is certainly the question of the moment!

First, Northampton Borough Council took to the national stage with the missing millions from the Cobblers loan. Then the County Council launched a bid for stardom by their doughty new leader (now ex-Leader) Cllr Heather Smith. Heather briefly hogged the media headlines and TV screens from her swish new lair at the Angel Square offices, wagging an angry finger at one and all as the Council almost collapsed around her.

Do I understand the whys and wherefores of what happened? No. Can I criticise the County Councillors  and  paid  officials  involved?  No.  Perhaps  one  should  even  give praise  to  the business acumen of those members of the hired help who left with large payoffs during the mess, only to quickly return as “Advisors” at large daily sums of up to £1000.00 per day!

To find out what is ahead I met for a chat with two of the brave band of County Councillors who, together with Central Government officials, now hope to lead us back to the peaceful, competent and financially viable Council we’ve all grown to depend upon.

Firstly, I must confess, indeed boast, that that the County Councillor stepping up to the Cabinet role on Finance is my friend Michael Clarke. He has often spoken admiringly to me of the qualities of Cllr Matthew Golby and is delighted that Matthew is the new County Council Leader. So it came about that they recently dropped by my old homestead for a cuppa and a chat.

There are some politicians, both on the national and local stages with whom we feel safe. You know instinctively they act as our representatives and not our bosses. They know they are using our money and not their own. They speak with honesty and not rhetoric. Cllr Michael Clarke and Cllr Matthew Golby are two such men and they are now part of a Cabinet heading a County Council full of people who want to roll up their sleeves and get together with Government Representatives to make Northamptonshire what it always was – lovely!

Lena: So Matthew, what’s your background?

Matthew: My family created Golby’s Garden Centre in Duston in 1923 and I’m happy to say it is still being enjoyed by its customers up to this very day. I’ve also been involved in another business  based  in  Northampton  as  a  Brand and  Marketing Manager.  So  I’ve  got  small  and medium sized business experience if you like.

Lena: I know you’re a dad to a five year old and a three year old but do you still have time for hobbies?

Matthew: I love cricket and I played for Cogenhoe for many years.

Lena: Everyone tells me that you have raised an extraordinary amount of runs for Cogenhoe! How many was that?

Matthew: Over three thousand. It sounds a lot but it’s not really. If you play long enough you’ll score. I scored a couple of centuries and all that sort of stuff. I love playing cricket.

Lena: Although you are now Leader of Northamptonshire County Council, what were your previous Cabinet positions?

Matthew:  I was  Cabinet  Member for Education  and  then  I took on some more roles with Children’s Services and I became the Statutory Lead Member for Children’s Services in 2016. Then last year I became the Deputy Leader after the election in May and now I find myself being the Leader. It is quite incredible really and challenging but hope that I will do well. Obviously, I’ve been put in that position by my colleagues’ votes so I would like to think they have confidence in me. I’m determined to do the best job I can.

Lena: Have you thought of going into national politics in the future?

Matthew: Maybe, maybe. Yes, we’ll see how it goes. One thing at a time.

Lena: Now Michael Clarke. I know that you hail from the heyday, like myself and ex-councillor Michael Hill, of Mrs Thatcher’s stronghold in North London. How long have you been in Northamptonshire now?

Michael:  We  arrived in  1979  and  have  been here ever since. Initially  over at  Badby near Daventry when my work was in Northampton at Brackmills. It was a bit of a long drive so we looked for somewhere that was a bit closer. My wife found this house in Denton and told me we were buying it! We have lived here happily ever since.

Lena: What was it, in the first place, that made you decide to become a County Councillor Michael?

Michael: Well, I’ve spent the best part of my career working in businesses and I wanted to use some of the skills I’ve acquired to help deliver County Council services in the most efficient way possible. As well as representing local people (Hackleton and Grange Park Division) I also wanted to try to apply my skills to the betterment of the County as a whole.

Lena:  Now  Michael,  of  course,  you  have  been  in  the  Cabinet  before  and  you  left rather suddenly. What actually happened?

Michael: Well, the previous Leader, who had just taken over, decided she could dispense with my services! That was, of course, her decision to make. I’m delighted that the new Leader, Matthew, has confidence in me and has given me the Finance portfolio.

Lena: As a business man, I know it is your habit whenever anyone comes to you with ideas to say “show me the figures”.

Michael: Absolutely.

Matthew: And that’s exactly what we are now looking at – the figures.

Michael: In addition to getting everything back on an equitable footing, we will be charting a new course. In two years’ time we will be part of two Unitary Councils, one in the north and one in the south.

Lena:  Is that a definite decision or something yet to decide?

Matthew:  It’s  not  one  hundred  percent  definite  but  there  has  been  a  very  clear steer  from Government and our MP’s that Northamptonshire needs to be split into two Unitary Councils. So that basically means abolishing the current eight local authorities and forming two. One for the North for East Northants, Kettering, Wellingborough and Corby and then one for the south  which will be Northampton, South Northamptonshire and Daventry. This involves a hell of a lot of work. Anybody that’s been involved in Local Government knows that the unitary debate in question can be one of the most divisive issues that you’d have in local Government. So we’ve got our work cut out.

Lena: I know. Although, I’ve seen that Milton Keynes Unitary Council works extremely well.

Matthew: Yes and I’ve been with some other leaders recently at a meeting and was having a chat with the leader of Central Bedfordshire which is a Unitary. He was telling me about some of the pitfalls they went through in setting that up. But, on the whole, it works more efficiently than things work round here.

Lena: So how are things going at present?

Matthew: To me it is very clear. We needed to make two or three quite sharpish and bold moves and they seemed to resonate well with the likes of the Counties MP’s. One of the very first things I did was pick up the phone to all the MP’s and say “Hello, we acknowledge what’s gone wrong in the past but we are really committed to working together with you, working with the Government and working with the District and Borough Councils, to put things right.” It was almost like I’ve turned a page.

Lena: How did they reply?

Matthew: Every single one of them said “we’re here to help and we’re here to support you.” Twenty-four hours before they were saying something completely different to the media so, to me, what we’ve already done has been very simple and effective. It is also quite clear what needs to happen. We have just got to do it the right way and get the right people, like Michael and other colleagues from all  political parties, to  work together on behalf of the whole  of Northamptonshire.

Lena: I can see that you have a lot of hard work ahead of you. Would you like to sum up?

Matthew: There are three very simple things. It is relationships, trust and confidence in the people we work with, the people we represent, our big partners like the other Councils and Government as well. If you look back over the last five, ten years or whatever, the relationships had got to a very bad state. None more so than those with the MP’s and that’s manifested itself in all the stuff that was said in the media publicly, which wasn’t very good at all. A big part of it is relationships. Relationships are key to my role and I thinks that’s what I’ve brought – a fresh approach.

Lena: Are you thinking of bringing any fresh faces to the Cabinet?

Matthew: We’ve done that. The Deputy Leader is Cecile Irving-Swift. Then there is Victoria Perry who’s dealing with Children’s Services and  Lizzie Bowen who is dealing with Adult Social Care. Of course, Michael Clarke is handling Finance and Cecile, as Deputy Leader, is dealing with Public Health. We’ve added a gentleman called Andy Mercer who is handling what we’ve labelled as a sort of Local Government Transformation and Performance man to get into the nitty gritty of the runnings of the Council. Then there is Ian Morris who is dealing with all the Highways, Transportation and Fire Service. Plus, of course, Cllr Suresh Patel who is the Whip.

Lena: Thank you both and good luck to you all, not just from myself and not just from the NeneQuirer but, I am sure, from everyone in Northamptonshire.

 

 
April 13th 2018
The truth about Fake News and The Mitford Murders
Published in NeneQuirer Magazine on line in April 2018

If you were a Downton Abbey fan then you probably love to wallow in the comings and goings of the upper classes. Of course, you would also have to swallow whole the idea that the lower classes just loved to devote their lives to thanking the rich man for their very existence.

If so, The Mitford Murders (published by Sphere at £12.99) is just the book for you. The author is Jessica Fellowes whose uncle Julian Fellowes created Downton Abbey.

This is a murder mystery loosely based on facts about the six Mitford sisters. Jessica’s love for this period, at the end of the First World War, shines in her heartfelt admiration of the six darling girls and their darling parents. Of course, in real life, at least one of the little darling girls grew up to adore Adolf Hitler.

Down below stairs the peasants toil away, happy to breathe the same air as the gentry who they wait on hand and foot. In fact, the happy ending is that the nursery maid who helps to solve the murder is rewarded by being allowed back below stairs to carry on with her menial work. Needless to say, she is over the moon about this opportunity!

Basically, this is not a book at all but a submission for a television series. And a great one it will make. It will be just like Downton Abbey and Victoria which have helped to re-invent history, showing just how lovely the rich and powerful were to the humble, grateful poor.

Jessica has already announced that this book is the first of a series. As she has previously written five books hanging on the coat tails of uncle’s Downton Abbey, she must know there is a market for this tosh.

If you think I am being a bit heavy on a delightful piece of literary froth – this could be because Jessica is very proud that she has toured America from coast to coast giving this her sanitized views of the social history of those days.

The truth is that most people “below stairs” were treated abominably by their masters above. It is hard to distinguish between the then behaviour of those with inherited wealth and those who had become rich, often through the spoils of the war effort.

But who knows – maybe they were the good old days. Let’s face it, they had never heard of zero hours contracts or worked for British Home Stores!

Now seems the right time for Prion, a part of the Carlton Publishing Group, to have a quick re-issue of their absolutely fabulous “Fake News” (£9.99 hardback).

Even the authors have fake names and I have absolutely no idea who the geniuses actually are. It really doesn’t matter because it is a book like no other. At the same time as it makes you laugh aloud it also makes you angry as hell.

As the authors point out, fake news is not a new fashion but has been around, probably, since the world began. In fact, if you are at all sceptical about religion, this book will stamp its seal of approval all over your disbeliefs.

Laughter on one side, problems with modern day fakery is that it is just one of the many factors that have joined together to suck the love out of our world. So, by the end of the book, you may have laughed a lot but, in contemplation of its musings, it will also make you cry in despair.

So, folks, it’s up to us to search for what is real – and that certainly ain’t easy!

By Lena Davis

 
 
March 13th 2018
Born to be handled, admired and loved
Published in NeneQuirer Magazine on line in March 2018

With the sales of books rising and new book shops opening it is great for the likes of you and me to know that we are not alone. Some books are just born to be handled, admired and loved – so how do Carlton Books and their Imprints manage to keep producing them at such low prices?

For example – “What Would She Do?” by Kay Woodward (published by Carlton Books) not only contains real-life stories of twenty-five rebel women who changed the world, it is also a heart-stopping piece of artwork illustrated by a team of eight geniuses who have come together from all over the world. And the cost? Just £9.99!

True, it is aimed at readers younger than us – but so what? Don’t we all need to enjoy the exquisite packaging illustrating the stories of such a varied group of heroines including Cleopatra, Rosa Parks and even Emma Watson?

Now, for those of us who haven’t quite got the hang of being a grown-up – help is at hand. “GET SH*T DONE” by Caro Handley (published by Carlton Books) is a hefty volume to guide you step-by-step to the highest level of “empowerment” and all for just £14.99!

Once again, a beautifully presented volume but this time the aim is, put simply, to motivate us to become the best we can possibly be. If only a book had this power! Still at only £14.99 it’s worth a try.
 

Now, the big question. How many of us feel that we are growing generations of children who simply do not read books? Of course, there are the big successes like the output from David Walliams and whoever writes books on behalf of Katie Price. (By the way, this is not me criticising Katie as she is the first to admit to hiring people to write her many books on her behalf. What’s more, I consider her wonderful and probably the best Personal Manager in the business.)

However the big question is – as lots and lots of children’s books are bought as presents so – do the children actually read them?

A good way of encouraging children has always been reading to them from babyhood. If you are looking for support to your night-time storytelling look no further than “An A – Z Collection of Behaviour Tales” by Susan Perrow (Hawthorn Press £19.99).

Susan runs Therapeutic Story/Writing seminars all over the world and I can do no better than to quote her when she says “Stories may not be magic pills that have powers to fix or heal all difficulties.

However, they can be a wonderful alternative to nagging and lecturing. And sometimes ‘magic’ does happen and a story does make a difference!”.

Hawthorn Press produces splendid children’s books and I sometimes daydream about running away to their office in Gloucestershire which must be a wonderful place to work – and read.

By Lena Davis

 
 
February 6th 2018
Greetings and Loneliness
Published in NeneQuirer Magazine on line February 2018

Loneliness is now being treated seriously as a basis for ill-health and unhappiness and even suicide.

So Kate Leaver’s “The Friendship Cure” (Duckworth Overlook hardback £16.99) is all the more welcome and interesting. Virtually every aspect of friendship is investigated from the thoroughly healthy to the thoroughly toxic.

The writing has a lightness of touch you would expect from Kate who was previously Features Editor for Cosmopolitan magazine in Australia and is now a journalist for such as The Guardian, Glamour, Red, etc.I thoroughly recommend this book to Tracey Crouch MP, the first ever Government Minister for Loneliness.

In fact I recommend it, not only to sociologists (who will certainly find it fascinating) but also to those of us whose friendships have come and gone and, thanks to the internet, sometimes come flying back again into our all too open arms! The same publisher continues in a similar vein with “One Kiss or Two?” by Andy Scott (Duckworth Overlook hardback £16.99).

This is not solely aimed at those of us who have been greeted by what we thought was a kiss on one cheek, or both cheeks and then finding we were going to be kissed on a return visit to the first cheek!

This is really a study of how we have greeted each other through the ages and various civilisations etc for many thousands of years.

But, take my word for it, it is immensely interesting and entertaining and Andy Scott is certainly the perfect man to take us on what the publisher calls “a captivating journey through a subject far richer than we might have expected”.

In fact Andy Scott himself has a fascinating background.

With a PhD in History from Cambridge under his belt, he joined the Cabinet Office in 2009 and has since served as a British Diplomat in Libya and Sudan and been a consultant to the UN.

At this very moment he is a “Conflict and Stabilisation Adviser” to the Government.

Just the man you need when your next family wedding is getting a bit out of hand! Of course, how we greet each other in future might be even more computerised than it is today.

However, even those of you who only encounter prospective “friends” by swiping right or left will eventually have to face the first of your many conundrums on actually meeting – if is it going to be “One Kiss or Two?” will probably be the least of your problems!

 

For those of you who love a good mystery novel with wonderful characters, a good story and a desire to search the authors back catalogue for even more – I can highly recommend “Beau Death” by Peter Lovesey (Sphere hardback £19.99).

I love this genre of good old fashioned crime detection and Peter is still at the top of his game after writing best sellers for years plus winning every accolade going.

Just why television hasn’t snapped up a series starring Bath Police Detective Peter Diamond is quite beyond me.

Perhaps there just isn’t an actor quite butch enough!

By Lena Davis

 
 
January 31st 2018
Alexander Newley memoir is a catalogue of minor complaints 
Published in NeneQuirer Magazine January 2018 and on line

Do you remember the genius that was Anthony Newley? You certainly know the ever wonderful Joan Collins. However, it is extremely unlikely you have heard of their son, Alexander Newley, an emotionally stunted child of fifty-two.

Young Alexander, who prefers to be known as Sacha, has decided to cash in on his parents fame by trashing them in his book “Unaccompanied Minor”. Yes, this is another “poor me” memoir – however, this time it is really hard to find just what he is complaining about other than the fact that his parents were so successful that they failed to give him their undivided attention.

I would urge you, not only to not buy this book but also, if you should see it in a book shop, hide it somewhere behind the shelves.

Of course, to appreciate Tony Newley you will have had to have, figuratively speaking, been there. His film “Idol on Parade” was a low-budget success which also produced his first self-written hit record “Do You Mind”. He soon went off to Stuttgart in Germany and teamed up with dancer and choreographer John Cranko and jazz singer Annie Ross to form the extensionalist “Cranks”.

Fortunately, a lot of their stuff was filmed and eventually seen on British television but, for those of us who remember, they were the greatest musical act on earth. Tony went on to write songs and musicals including the great West End and Broadway hit “Stop the World I Want to Get Off” featuring an incredible score including “What Kind of Fool Am I”. He co-wrote the theme song for James Bond and then went to Hollywood. His great chum, Sammy Davis Jr, described Tony as the greatest talent he had ever known.

Tony was brought up alone by his working class mum who went out cleaning to support him through stage school until his triumph, at fourteen years old, as the Artful Dodger in David Lean’s masterpiece “Oliver Twist”. Unlike Alexander he achieved all he did by his own genius instead of hanging on to the coat tails of successful parents who he so despises. Possibly those parents spoilt him to the extent of feeding his delusions that he was an artist.

So there you go Alexander and I haven’t even begun the story of your mum, National Treasure Joan Collins, whose father Joe Collins was a famous agent and whose grandfather Will Collins created Collins Musical Hall etc. And that’s without mentioning her sister Jackie Collins who, you might have heard, wrote a series of quite successful books! What a gene pool our Sacha has squandered.

In this dreadful book Alexander feels hard done by because his mum and dad got divorced and dad always had a penchant for falling in love with young ladies, some of which were only seventeen years old. Mum seemed to spoil her copybook, in Alexander’s eyes, by marrying a famous record producer, Ron Cass, and trying everything to make her son happy culminating in taking him to a child psychiatrist where he refused to speak. To make it worse, much as he disliked London, this little gem disliked Los Angeles even more and this was despite meeting lots of incredible people and even being taken for a motorbike ride by Steve McQueen.

Alexander (or Sacha) seems to feel that he is a leading and successful artist. Having seen pictures of his own paintings in the book I would say that I must disagree. Because other than needing to make a buck or two, I can see no other conceivable reason why he should write this contemptible book.

Now, for a completely different “poor me” memoir! Tracy Tynan is now sixty-
five years of age but takes us back to the Fifties and Sixties with much humour and more than a little pathos. As the only child of British theatre critic Kenneth Tynan and the American author Elaine Dundy, she uses clothes and fashion as her starting point for each chapter. This is because Tracy did become an extremely successful costume designer for Hollywood films whilst living in Los Angeles and settled into a happy marriage to the American film director Jim McBride.

“Wear and Tear – The Threads of My Life” by Tracy Tynan (Duckworth Overlook £18.99) is a terrific read. It tells a story of long ago glamour which simply doesn’t exist anymore in this world of swift and forgettable fame, thousands of bloggers and reality personages. Then the glamour came from such as Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh. My only complaint is that Tracy tells us much about her mum Elaine Dundy and her volatile behaviour but little about the fact that she was a great writer. A young Elaine wrote “The Dud Avocado” which was truly a sensation in the Fifties. A very young me learnt more about life from this book than my parents ever taught me!

By Lena Davis

 
 
November 21st 2017
The fact is a book makes a great Christmas present

Published in NeneQuirer Magazine on line in November 2017

Thinking  of  buying  books  as  Christmas  presents  for  kiddies?  Well,  tread carefully. Most children from the age of four onwards are only torn away from their phones by very personal favourites but these have probably already been ordered from Santa Claus via their nearest and dearest.

Tiny children might well appreciate an introduction to literature by enjoying the wonderful illustrations in much of the output of publishers Childs Play. Their series of board books (as there is the possibility that the delighted recipient might tear them up if made of paper) are beautiful introductions to shapes, numbers, etc.

(Wild! Concepts series by Courtney  Dicmas.  Published by Childs  Play  £4.99 each). For those who are non-tearers I can recommend “The Very Long Sleep”  by Polly Noakes which is a lovely little story and visually stunning (Published by Childs Play £5.99).

For  older,  intelligent  children  of  all  ages  (including  you  and  me)  I  heartily recommend something really different. “Myth-Busting Your Body” by Dr Sarah Schenker  (Published  by  Andre  Deutsch  £16.99)  is  full  of  intriguing  facts presented in a truly beautiful format. In the same series they have “Unbelievable Science Stuff That Will Blow Your Mind” by Colin Barras (Published by Andre Deutsch £20.00). This is full of really fascinating questions and answers. For instance, could a parasite be manipulating you right now? Did the atom bomb help save the elephant? Have we found the secret to eternal youth? These two books are only heavy in the undeniable fact that they would cost a fortune to send through the post! I am sure Andre Deutsch have good reason for clothing the innards in such weighty outers. Perhaps they could do a book about the reasons.

I noticed that both books are printed in Dubai although I cannot think of any reason  whatsoever  why  Dubai  would  have such large quantities of  board  to dispose of in Great Britain.

Now, for people of all ages who might be difficult to buy for – may I introduce Fox Chapel Publishers  who have the  most  exquisite range of adult  colouring books.  In  front  of  me  is  “Beautiful  Dreamer”  drawn  by  the  talented  Krisa Bousquet (Design Originals £5.99). In fact, I would suggest that you buy this or one of the other books in this series for yourself and settle down peacefully with some coloured pencils and a glass of wine.

Finally,  before  I  head  off  to  start  work  on  my  Christmas  pudding,  let  me recommend “What the Luck?” (Duckworth-Publishers £16.99) by Gary Smith. If you like books such as “Freakonomics” and “Thinking, Fast and Slow” then you will really enjoy “What the Luck?” Gary Smith explains how luck has a direct bearing on everything from medicine to business, politics, sport and education.

Yet we constantly underestimate its importance. An insufficient appreciation of chance  can  wreak  all  kinds  of  mischief. Just look around the world today  at politics onwards from the false assumptions on which we base our everyday lives from choosing a soul mate to just what can happen on electing a President!

Hopefully, as you close the volume on its last page you will thank the lucky moment you read this review! Have a happy Christmas and may Santa bring you all you desire!

 

By Lena Davis

 

 

October 25th 2017
We Didn't Know the Rules
Publshed in NeneQuirer Magazine on line in October 2017

David Bowie Made Me Gay
By Darryl W. Bullock
Gerald Duckworth & Co Ltd - 7 Sept. 2017
The Late Show
By Miccael Connelly
Orion - 11 July 2017

David Bowie Made Me Gay by Darryl W Bullock (Published by Duckworth Overlook £18.99) has the subtitle “100 Years of LGBT Music”. And that is the true description of this interesting volume. Darryl is also the author of “Florence Foster Jenkins” which was fairly recently made into a film starring Meryl Streep and Hugh Grant.

His latest book is very is very different in respect that it is a highly researched piece of scholarship which might well be the study book for degrees in LGBT studies of the future. As Darryl has to rely a tremendous amount on the printed word (there are pages and pages of end notes listing the various newspapers and magazines which are quoted as fact) this creates a problem of its own. Having been both a Journalist and Publicist in the music business for many years I have to confess that not everything that ends up in print is true – to say the least!

To get the truth you really need to have been there and we can’t expect Darryl to have “been there” for the 100 years the volume covers. However, I was there from the Sixties onwards and, we simply made it up as we went along. What we had in common in the Sixties was that most of us were very young and we didn’t set out to break the rules – we simply didn’t know what they were!

Everyone mixed together be you gay, straight, black, white, or, like some, a mixture of the lot. Nowadays being gay, like being anything else you might fancy, is less of a problem than ever. The problem today is probably lack of freedom of speech and expression. As John Cleese says, there would have been no Monty Python today when comedy is not allowed to make fun of each and every one of us oddballs called the human race.

Everyone who loves American crime novels already lauds the name of Michael Connelly. His latest is “The Late Show” (Orion Books £19.99). Michael is a former police reporter for the Los Angeles Times and really knows what he is talking about regarding procedure. His Harry Bosch thrillers are currently being dramatized in the “Bosch” series on Amazon Prime which is now in its third season.

In “The Late Show” we meet his newest detective, a young woman called Renee Ballard who is a fascinating creation. I loved this book and am already a fan of Detective Ballard.

 

 

October 9th 2017
What does the tenth dog eat?
Published in NeneQirer Mgazine on line in October 2017

Now, think about this carefully before you answer. How often have you been asked officially which programme you have just watched on television? As the evening is drawing to a close have you ever had a knock at the door, a tap at the window, a telephone call or an email from an official asking just what programme it was you watched at a certain time? No?

It seems that the brief return of “Blue Peter” had no viewers at all. Does this mean that even the people who made it and those who appeared on it didn’t bother to look in?

Or does the counting only start with a certain amount of hundreds, thousands or millions? In the old days I am sure they could have at least counted on Sheep the dog’s loyalty.

If the skills exists for this kind of technology what else do “they” know about our peccadilloes? How do they rate those times when the television is on and no-one is either looking or listening? For instance during the Queen’s Christmas speech. Do they know when we nip off for a toilet break and decide to make a quick cup of tea and bolt down a packet of crisps before our return? Do they know when we are texting and not looking? Do they know about the times we nod off, particularly during Swedish dramas?

Does this get you thinking about all the other “facts” we swallow so trustingly?

Who are the nine out of ten dentists who want us to shell out for an electric toothbrush? And, if they exist, what avenues are open to the one in ten dentists to express their views?

Who are the thousands of viewers who phone in to anoint the winner of TV’s “The Voice”? And, more importantly, where are all the winners hidden? Aren’t the Police worried that some years have now passed and not one of the winners have ever been heard of again?

Many years ago I used to work in partnership with Karl Dallas, not only in writing songs, but also providing photographs and articles for many magazines. Karl was a fascinating man whose many talents included being Folk Music Editor of “The Melody Maker”, Jazz Critic for The Times and, most bizarrely, the actual editor on the monthly clothing trade magazine “Tailor & Cutter”. One evening, after many glasses of wine, we decided to provide the readers with not only a “Best Dressed Man List” but also, for the very first time, a “Worst Dressed Man List”.

We came up with the name of Prince Charles and the magazine went to press. What we did not expect was the interest this provoked throughout the National and International press. This increased even more when Prince Charles attended an important occasion impeccably dressed in a tuxedo but with his old shooting jacket, complete with holes in the sleeves, on top. From then on both Karl and I were looked upon by the media as an important part of the Royal Circle! The point I am making is that at no time did anyone, including Prince Charles (who we had never met), ask us how we came to make the list, what right we had to make this list and who we had consulted.

So, to this day, it seems anyone can fling statistics about with abandon. I even saw an advert that said nine out of ten dogs preferred a certain dog food! Who are those dogs and, once again, shouldn’t we know which dog food the tenth dog is enjoying?

By Lena Davis

 

 

September 8th 2017
Get into a thriller, get over yourself and then write about it
Published in NeneQuirer Magazine on line in September 2017
Then She was Gone
by Lisa Jewell
Century - 27th July 2017
Image result for Get Over Yourself: Nietzsche for Our Times (Societas) Get Over Yourself
by Patrick West
Societas 1st August 2017
Write From the Start
by Caroline Foster
Bennion Kearny 21st July 2017

Since “Gone Girl” and “Girl on a Train” there have been a constant flow of similar psychological thrillers. Some have been very good indeed, like Fiona Barton’s “The Widow” and now “The Child”. Some, not to put too finer point on it, have pursued an increasingly thread bare formula that has become trite.

So I implore you, buy yourself a present of “Then She Was Gone” (Century £12.99) because the wonderful Lisa Jewell has reinvented and embellished the formula with a story that goes well beyond a missing girl mystery. By the end of this lovely book we finally find the fate of a long missing fifteen year old and although it is finger nail bitingly good, it is also so much more. The characters not only jump off the pages but most of them will live on in your hearts.

Lisa Jewell says she planned that her very first novel the highly successful “Ralph’s Party” would be a thriller. However, she changed her mind midway through as she so liked the characters she created. We Lisa Jewell fans have had to wait until now, twelve novels later, for what will possibly be the best thriller of the year. The wait, you will find, was really worthwhile.

Now, talking about psychological thrillers, what can be more thrilling than our own psyche? “Get Over Yourself” by journalist Patrick West (Imprint Academic £9.99) asks a fascinating question – what would nineteenth-century philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche make of the world we live in today? The thrilling element is that the combination of Nietzsche and Patrick West makes you look deep into your own psyche and makes sure that you really have no place to hide!

Patrick West is a terrific writer and he guides us through the journey of looking at identity politics, therapy culture, religious fundamentalism, displays of emotion, dumbing down and digital addiction. Most of all he makes us examine ourselves, our contradictions, our self-love and self-hate and just about every part of what it is that goes to make each one of us.

If you are sick and tired of the constant industry of self-help books. Patrick and Friedrich combine to illuminate our dark corners. And then, as the books title says “Get Over Yourself”. This is the first book I have read by Patrick West and I now intend to read through everything he has written before and I will keep my eyes open for his byline in the Times, New Statesman, Spectator, etc, etc, etc.

Talking about great writers – how would you like to become one? Caroline Foster has just had “Write from the Start” published by Bennion Kearny (£12.99). The subtitle is “The Beginner’s Guide to Writing Professional Non-fiction” and, as a journalist, I generally view such books with suspicion. They often write about how things should be and not as they are. Caroline Foster has converted me with this great book which is full of lots and lots of information for those of you who would like to become a money earning writer. And, just to show the way, it is incredibly readable. It covers how to do it, how to sell it and how you can make a living (good luck with that one!). Enjoy!

By Lena Davis

 

 

August 14th 2017
The world shaping effect of music
Published in September 2017 issue of NeneQuirer Magazine
and on line in August
Sound System - the Political Power of Music
by Dave Randall
Pluto Press - 20th March 2017
Breaking Down the Walls of Heartache
by Martin Aston
Constable - 13th March 2017
The sentiments set out in “Sound System – The Political Power of Music” (by Dave Randall, published by Pluto Press £11.50) are that music is important to the very structure of our being. Well, obviously, this is partially true. How else would we get our toes tapping, our hips waggling and our fingers snapping? Without music there would be no dancing, singing or people banging on the walls beseeching us to “keep that racket down!” 

Just imagine, if you can through the tears, how bleak a world would be without the opportunity for Simon Cowell to set out each year on his endless and doomed quest to find a lasting star. There would be little chance for such luminaries as Justin Bieber and Michael Jackson to make friends with reluctant primates. There would be no soundtrack to the Nazi’s strutting and the rest of us would be left silently – left leg in and right leg out.

Now Dave is not the only author to trumpet (ha ha!) the importance of music. My pal Martin Aston recently published his huge volume “Breaking Down the Walls of Heartache – How Music Came Out” (publisher Constable £25.00). Whilst Dave Randall often likes to look at music from the viewpoint of left-wing politics, Martin’s whole volume looks at music from a Gay point of view.

Now, as one of my ancestors might have put it “music shmusic”. In other words, what’s all the fuss about? Well, from a strictly philosophy point of view, absolutely nothing should be concluded from just one point of view. Not even this last sentence!

  

Speaking personally, music has charted the course of my life. It couldn’t have been more important. From my very earliest days, when I was knee-high to a very short grasshopper, I was asked to represent a Skiffle group called “The Worried Men”. The lead singer went on to become Adam Faith. My next protégé went to number one with “Tell Laura I Love Her” and my future was sealed. After years of producing, writing and touring with every form of music and many stars I eventually used music to enliven the days of people with learning disabilities. So music has certainly been good to me. Hopefully I’ve returned the favour.

 

However, I make no inflated claims on behalf of music regarding politics or the freedom to be gay. Music and, indeed, the arts in general are an important part of our lives – even if some of us do not always recognise the impact. Even if we never enter an art gallery we remember the images from advertising, our childhood book illustrations, and virtually every aspect of photography. And this is without even touching on the cinema and its impact. Then there is poetry which touches us from long remembered Kipling, through all kinds of birthday and other cards to our own shy attempts. Then comes the enormous impact of theatre even if it’s limited to the grand old English art of pantomime. We could go on and on but possibly the biggest impact is architecture. The buildings from our own history right up to today plus the mythical buildings of soap operas etc. 

So, do I recommend you go out and spend your hard earned money on these books? Yes, I do. Dave Randall is passionate about politics and also a superb writer. Read it and then use your own set of beliefs to come to your own conclusions. Martin Aston is also passionate about the impact of the gay culture and gay people on music. Once again, this is a great read and I am quite proud that Martin has mentioned me once or twice. 

Throughout history gay people have had an incredible impact on all forms of the arts. However, non-gay people can match them for impact. From reading both these books I have been struck by one amazing fact. The impact Jewish people have had on music. Of course, I already knew that most of the writers of musicals were Jews and that popular music from the outset and right through Rock and Roll was also Jewish led. However, I only realised from Dave Randall that Billie Holiday’s marvellous “Strange Fruit” was also written by a Jew. Perhaps there is a book to be written on this subject. If I turn out to be the one to produce this volume I shall welcome the opinions of both Dave and Martin!

By Lena Davis