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My point of view

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My personal views on life and things that make me think twice.

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West Berkshire Funding Crisis

Latest Posted on Sat, February 20, 2016 02:10PM

I think we need to be clear that the current local
government crisis is not unique to West Berks but is a challenge facing
authorities across the entire country. This was always the writing on the wall
before the electorate made its choice – and the majority in our area chose that
Tory path and should be examining their consciences at a national as well as at
a local level. What we are seeing played out now is simply the end game of a
policy that the Conservative party made abundantly clear right from the

What we face in West Berks is compounded by the perception
we have of our council. Being perceived as a body of incompetent self-servers
making knee jerk decisions, often behind closed doors, who habitually promote a
lack of transparency has not done any of them any favours now the chickens have
come home to roost. That incompetence isn’t new. Those behaviours did not
suddenly manifest themselves in 2016 but many councillors were returned with
the electorate’s mandate all the same.

What we need is for the Newbury Weekly News to serve its
community by conducting and publishing a simple interview with each elected
councillor answering two simple questions. 1) What cuts do you support? 2) What
cuts are you against? No dissembling. No Benyon-speak. Just a simple ‘I support
cuts in funding the disabled / the elderly / libraries / the arts. I am opposed
to…(the same).

That way colours are nailed to masts. If your councillor (or
mine) supports kicking the disabled, isolating the elderly, closing your
library or hammering the Arts at least you will know and be able to act

Will this happen? I fear not. Some dedicated councillors
would no doubt embrace the opportunity. Most would not as very few of the
people we elected would be prepared to stand up and be counted whilst speaking in
plain English to their constituents.

10 things you do not want to hear from your Crit Group

Latest Posted on Wed, February 17, 2016 09:26PM

10 Things No Writer Wants To Hear From Their Writer’s Critique Group


Those J K Rowling plots are so serviceable aren’t they? I felt I knew your Garry Hotter the Boy Magician so well by the end of page one.


Which part of the phrase ‘short story’ do you have a problem with?


Has anybody else BUT Ian brought along something they would like to read to us tonight? Please? Pretty please?


You know I’m not the only one that didn’t think ‘Sh*te’ was the title Edna had in mind for her collection of romantic stories.


Well there is nothing wrong with a writer breaking new ground but you know I still think most publishers still look for a capital letter after a full stop.


No please carry on reading – it’s just my cold medication making me drowsy.


I’m not the only member of the group that thinks Jane Austen fans would struggle with the concept of Mr Darcy being a transgender sex offender.


Cheer up – you’re not the first person to spend three years writing a novel to be told it actually starts on Chapter 12.


We read your, ‘Hammy the Vampire Dormouse’ to our five year old grandson and I’m not totally convinced writing for children is your forte.


For heaven’s sake no! I’m not saying you should leave the group. Of course we’d miss you. However just think what else you could do with your monthly subscription money.

Dusty Springfield – The Legacy

Music Posted on Mon, March 02, 2015 07:11PM


Perhaps having discovered that vintage 1964 Dusty album in
1979 put me in the wrong place to appreciate ‘Dusty in Memphis’. Maybe lining it up alongside the barn storming
chords of ‘I Close My Eyes And Count to Ten’ released in 1968 to a Top 4 UK
chart position isn’t the thing to do either although given that bit of
information you might have thought somebody at Atlantic Records would have paid
a little more attention to the proposed material they were shoving under her
nose in the studio.

Producer Jerry Wexler is on record as saying that Dusty
didn’t give her approval to any of the songs suggested for the album. Dusty
says she approved two, ‘Son of a Preacher Man’ and ‘Just a little Loving’ and
it shows. He also made her record the vocals to a backing track when it was
common knowledge in the industry that Dusty liked to record against music played
back so loud she couldn’t hear her own voice. Was she really the star of the
show? Or just the ‘gal’ doing the vocals?

Either way, love it, hate it or indifferent I think Dusty
would be proud to know that the record that scared her to death is now considered
one of the World’s Greatest Albums, and is probably in a capsule being sent to
the outer limits of the galaxy as I type.

But what of her legacy?

Much has been made of the twilight years in the US, the
addictions, failed love affairs, the self-harming and the downward spiral into
oblivion. Perhaps too much has been said in the mistaken belief that immense
suffering cements your ‘diva’ status in the eyes of the record buying public,
only in the case of Dusty most of that knowledge has come to us

Unlike Piaf (shoved on stage pumped full of morphine),
Callas (scraping the high notes with a voice that was ragged and torn), or Janis
Joplin (imortalised in ‘The Rose’) the tragedy that was Dusty was kept hidden
by the love of some very stalwart friends so her destruction wasn’t a spectacle
but like so much of the lady herself, a private affair. That she had those
friends says more about the person she was than any discography.

Her ‘resurrection’ working with The Pet Shop Boys’ was no
accident. Who wouldn’t want one of the greatest voices ever to come out of the
UK to sing on your track, a voice that despite everything still had that
haunting fragility even over a disco backing track? And who, whether you
remember Dusty blazing her way through the Top Twenty in the 1960’s or not,
wouldn’t listen closely and know they were hearing something special?

It’s easy as a fan to see no wrong. It’s also easy to dwell
in the past and lionize the glory days. But perhaps it’s not so easy to
remember that always under the hair and mascara was ‘Mary Bernadette O’Brien’
and that maybe as her life drew to its close Dusty and Mary finally became one,
Dusty adding the gloss and stardust to plain little Mary and Mary, in turn,
adding a humanity that saved her alter ego from becoming a monster. I don’t know. I wasn’t there.

But I was there to see her pass by one last time, along with
hundreds of others and we all wiped our eyes and talked about her as if she was
our friend. So maybe that was her legacy. Whether it’s ‘I Only Want to be with
You’ or any one of a number of cover versions Dusty somehow reached out of the
vinyl and touched people, deeply.

However I think it’s no secret that she sang ‘Quiet please!
There’s a lady on stage,
’ to such rapturous applause because that is what I
think she was, first, foremost and finally. A lady.

The Curse of the BIG Hit

Music Posted on Sun, March 01, 2015 04:01PM

Bearing in mind that Dusty Springfield notched up 13 UK Top
Twenty Hits in under five years plus two Top Ten Albums and four Top Ten EP’s
(extended play records – usually 4 tracks) the one that landed that elusive
number one spot in 1966 was the power ballad ‘You Don’t Have to Say You Love
Me’ with its signature heartbeat of hesitation between the Wagnerian introduction
and the singers plaintive ‘when I said I needed you…’

It’s still the one hit best remembered today and beloved of
Dusty Drag Queens the world over. It has horns, it has heartbreak it has
sequins sewn all over it and above all it comes with those famous Dusty Springfield
arm movements punctuating the lyrics. It’s the one that comes on the radio or
the compilation CD and makes us all just STOP!

But it isn’t fun.

Since 1964’s ‘I Just Don’t Know What to do with Myself’,
with the exception of ‘Middle of Nowhere, ‘ and ‘Little By Little’, the
rollicking early Dusty of ‘Mockingbird’ and ‘Can I Get A Witness’ was in little
evidence. Bouffant or bee-hived it seemed that the record buying public liked
her suffering and not in a soul sister way either.

People will say that music had changed but had it? A quick
look at the UK charts from 1963 to 1966 shows that only five female solo acts
scored the top slot amassing a disappointing 16 weeks of combined chart topping
out of a possible 208, seven of which belonged to Cilla Black. Sandie Shaw
matches her with two number ones leaving Jackie Trent, Dusty and Nancy Sinatra
on one a –piece. No amount of ‘Best Girl Vocalist’ three years running could
disguise the fact that there were at least two musical Dusty’s at work here.
The one that sang and the one that recorded.

Of course you can’t say they were bad songs because they
weren’t. Each one is meticulously arranged and beat-perfect. But you can see
how a singer with the musical range of Dusty Springfield found herself
shoe-horned in on misery. Was that R ‘n B / soul thing falling so flat that the
only way you could sell a record if you were a woman was to have a broken
heart? Or did we never really want a soul queen topping the charts, much
preferring a nice bit of Home Counties hanky clutching and a stiff upper lip?

I’m not saying that Dusty set out to be a feminist icon any
more than she set out to be a gay or lesbian one but perhaps the best leaders
are those that have ‘ been there done that,’ rather than the ones with the
biggest mouths who got megaphones from Santa.

Perhaps it was having to take that deep breath one more time
in the half beat following the brass section that finally propelled her west to
Atlantic Records and the land of Aretha. And maybe that was why, having got to
Memphis the subsequent album was a nightmare experience.

I’m not going to relive Dusty’s American twilight. That’s
not part of our relationship and besides if you want the best book read Penny Valentine and Vicki
Wickham’s ‘Dancing with Demons’, written with love, honesty and not one shred of
judgement. But I am going to wonder out loud why ‘Dusty In Memphis’ is such a
big deal and why I just don’t get it…

A Girl Called Dusty

Music Posted on Sat, February 28, 2015 06:51PM

My own relationship with Dusty Springfield tailed off a bit
in the late Sixties and early Seventies, only to be rekindled by a chance encounter
with her in a second hand shop in 1979.

The minute both of my sisters had married and left home our radio
was re-tuned to the Light Programme (as it was then) before you could say ‘Easy
Listening’. Plus the record player had gone too. Even the weekly flirtation
with the Top Twenty run down featured less and less Dusty which should have
been a clue as to where she was heading, despite having had four very
successful television series between 1966 and 1969.

Revisiting old clips, once you get past the HRH Princess
Anne empire line fashion tips, and take in the array of guests ( Tom Jones,
Jimmy Hendrix etc) that turned up just to sing with her you do wonder what evil
quirk of programming also lined Dusty up with Spike Milligan and Warren
Mitchell and a spirited rendition of ‘Cock-eyed Optimist’. Why would you do
that unless it was thought that too much soul wasn’t good for you?

I wondered that too in 1979, having come once more face to
face with Dusty after all those years. Only this time she wasn’t a panda eyed
Mod Princess. She was a tatty album titled ‘A Girl Called Dusty’ which was so
warped I had to stick coins on the business end of the record arm to stop it
bouncing. Still punk was over, Bowie had gone AWOL, Blondie had gone disco and until
that moment I thought Dusty had gone Greatest Hits on me. Yet here was track
after track of amazing covers from a singer last seen doing ‘hits from the
musicals’. Three Bacharach / David compositions and a Carole King, to name but
four and Dusty and I were bosom buddies again. Why I wondered wasn’t Dusty
Springfield buffed, cherished and loved as our very own Aretha Franklin?

The real wonder of this album (later re-mastered and
extended) is not only the breadth of music covered (‘You Don’t Own Me’ to ‘When
The Love Light Starts…
’) but that Dusty stamps an authority on each track that
in many cases puts her version beyond the reach of the originals.

Now whether Dionne Warwick really did say of ‘Anyone Who Had
a Heart,’ that, ‘the others recorded it but I sang it,’ I don’t know. However play
the two together and you’ll see the difference. Dionne sang it like it was a
hic-cup and she’d live to fight another day. Then listen to Dusty. There is a
girl who has been devastated and betrayed beyond belief.

Gene Pitney may have only been twenty four hours from Tulsa
when he lost his heart to a road-side diner floosie, but you get the impression
she had bigger breasts than the girl he was only a day away from or did
something sexual the girl back home wouldn’t do. Dusty’s voice on the other
hand echoes the full shock of her whole life being turned upside down by one
careless moment of longing. Anybody male or female hearing that voice would
have begged borrowed or stolen anything with wheels and an engine and driven
off to bring her safely home. So why didn’t we?

Click link in post to hear ‘When The Love Light Starts…’

Tomorrow – ‘The Curse of the Big Number’.

I Only Want to be with You

Music Posted on Fri, February 27, 2015 06:57PM

‘I Only Want To Be
With You’

When you’ve grown up with somebody’s music it’s hard to
separate fact from fiction and your own memories from the sound track of your
childhood. It’s also hard to divine what might be only nostalgia and what could
be real, so I’m not going to try that here. This is about Dusty and me, real or
imagined, and a relationship that has spanned half a century, from scratchy
much loved 45’s,through the CD revolution and onward through the ever expanding
frontiers of the digital age.

In retrospect you only have to listen now to the voice soaring
above the melody of the refrain on ‘Island of Dreams’ to know that at some
point in the not too distant future Fate, Talent, Ambition or a destructive
combination of all three would see ‘Mary O’Brien’ abandoning the towering
beehive hair-do and become that unassailable musical icon, Dusty Springfield,
in her own right. No brother, no ‘Wimoweh’ and certainly no maracas.

It’s also easy to forget that by 1963 when she stepped out
of those folksy dirndls of her ‘Springfield’ trio persona and into the
trademark pencil skirt and blouse of a ‘Mod Princess’ Dusty had already notched
up seven years of live performance, perfecting the harmonies and phrasing that would
let her take a song from nowhere and copyright it with a style that could never
be imitated. This was no ‘made for TV star’ rising to fame on the back of
capricious downloads. This was the real deal. And if we needed proof, there it
was before our very eyes on the television set under the doily in the corner of
the front room.

In November 1963 I was five, Johnny Franz produced what is
arguably one of the best, if not the first, examples of the British ‘wall of
sound’ and Dusty Springfield’s voice powered ‘I Only Want To Be With You’ out of
our TV and up to number 4 in the British Hit Parade, scoring 10 weeks in the
Billboard Top 100, where it peaked at number 12 long before The Beatles landed
and took America by storm. Let’s not overlook the small fact that she also sold
one million copies along the way.

So who was this new woman who looked like everybody’s
sister? Where was the faux Nashville twang of ‘Tell Them I’ll Be There’? ‘Dear
God’, said my mother who had quite liked ‘Silver Threads and Golden Needles’. Was
Dusty just jumping ship and grabbing hold of the coat tails of a new musical
generation, taking a chance on the slippery slope that was already seeing off
the likes of Alma Cogan and the Big Sellers of the Fifties?

No I don’t think so.

What we didn’t know then was that under the peroxide and
mascara Dusty had a rich and varied musical heritage thanks to her father that
spanned the classics to jazz. She also had an ear to match. There is the often
told story how her father would tap out tunes on the back of her hand and how
the young Mary would know exactly what he was tapping just from the beat. What
I didn’t know then was that during her tours of the US that same heritage had
drawn her to a sound rarely heard in the sound proofed booths of British record
shops. Dusty had discovered soul music and with the strains of the ‘Exciters’
big hit ‘Tell Him’ nagging away in her head she was going to take British pop music
in a new direction.

Tomorrow, if you’re still with me, I’ll be looking at what
is still one of my favourite albums, ‘A Girl Called Dusty’. If not take a look
at this link. It might just change your mind. ‘I only want to be with you’

A little bit of America in the Thames Valley

Memories Posted on Sun, February 15, 2015 10:16AM

Dad’s Ford Anglia 1200 Super wasn’t just a car, it was our
family’s entry into the space age long before the Weasley’s got theirs to fly
in the Harry Potter films. After several, in my eight year old opinion,
abortive attempts to join the ranks of the modern motorist, via the dreaded
Triumph Mayflower and the evil-smelling Austin A30, we had finally arrived in
something that was two toned, had chrome plating, and more importantly possessed
fins. Ok they were English fins and nothing like the elegant excess of those on
a Corgi model of the Chevrolet Impala but then we did live in a council house
at a time when ‘coffee’ was considered a reckless shade of ‘beige’ so anything
too extreme would have provoked comment, caused curtains to twitch and rumours
to start that one if not both of my parents were heading down the slippery
slope of debauchery.

What was there not to love about this car? Inside you had
colour-coded upholstery and rear side widows that could be opened with a
reassuring click to allow 2 inches of fresh air into the cabin plus an actual
stalk that flicked up and down to control the indicators. No more trafficators
for us! The nifty angle of the rear window meant acres of headroom so even with
a full load of four claustrophobia was going to be the least of your worries. Set
in a brushed steel panel was a state of the art speedometer that didn’t look
like granny’s mantle clock and all four forward gears had the luxury of
synchromesh which made a huge difference to my Dad’s inability to accurately
judge the impact of inclines on our journey. If things got too much in second
gear you could change down into first without all the bother of a hill start
and, with Dad’s variable skills in clutch control, all the heart stopping panic
that entailed. There was even an ashtray that wouldn’t have looked out of place
in one of those new-fangled Apollo things the Americans were regularly sending
up to orbit the moon.

And it wasn’t just me that loved it either. Between 1959 and
67 1,004,737 of the 105E rolled off the production lines and on to the nation’s
driveways to be joined on the roads by another 79,223 of the 1200E variant. I
think everybody also loved the fact that this was the first Anglia with an
electric motor driving the windscreen wipers, previous models having relied on
a vacuum arrangement that meant frantic sweepings at low speed and next to
little movement beyond 40 mph, which is a bit disconcerting in a sudden English
down pour.

Back then this Ford Anglia looked American enough to a boy
raised on ‘I Love Lucy’, ‘Bewitched’ and the ‘Dick Van Dyke Show’ to be living
the dream where food shot out of holes in the wall and everybody had a
refrigerator the size of a British wardrobe. In fact if you closed your eyes
that could be Mary Tyler Moore sat in the front passenger seat couldn’t it?

Well maybe not. No amount of chrome detailing and
colour-coded PVC upholstery could alter the fact that the minute we headed
beyond the town boundary my dad would invariably get lost and that even with a
mouth full of barley sugar sweets my mother was still able to make enough loud very
un-MTM sounding noises to signal her disapproval.

However in the micro-world of an eight year old child,
two-toned paint work, chrome stripes and knowing that your indicators were set
in an elegant upright arrangement rather than being orange blobs bolted on as an
afterthought were all enough to make you wonder if Las Vegas wasn’t just
lurking on the other side of the Thames Valley. So perhaps getting lost wouldn’t
be such a bad thing after all.

The Austin A30

Memories Posted on Sun, February 08, 2015 10:25AM

I’ll admit to having a guilt trip about this one. My dad
loved her. I just thought she was old and smelly. There was something about the
PVC upholstery that gave the car a very distinct chemical smell. So much so that
my mother was convinced we were leaking fuel. But looking back our old Austin
gave sterling service and later went on to be the family car for my sister and
her new family until 1968.

And they must have been good little motors (223,264 produced
in between 1951 – 1956) because despite my mother gripping the seat in fear of
being blown to kingdom come ours never broke down, blew up or otherwise
protested at my dad’s erratic driving. Somehow he never mastered the art of
navigating, steering and changing gear but the Austin A30 was a very forgiving
car. Which was more than his wife was when we got lost – yet again.

So what was there to be eight years old and embarrassed
about? Apart from Uncle Ron’s brand spanking new Mark I Ford Cortina and Monica
Moss’s gleaming black Austin Cambridge you mean? Probably it’s lack of speed because
with three forward gears and a 0 – 60 time of 42.3 seconds she was never going
to stun other drivers by skimming along the fast lane unless the road was empty
and Dad had steered her into it by accident, the Austin I mean, not Monica.

Hills were a bit of a problem too. I remember one outside
Hurstbourne Tarrant that nearly proved her undoing. That gradient was never
going to be conquered in top (third), or by the time Dad had got the hang of
it, second either. So up we crawled in first much to the distress of the people
in the rear view mirror and the twenty odd bewildered drivers behind them. Was
there a cow in the road they wondered? No just a man with no synchromesh on
first gear, an angry wife sucking furiously on a Barley Sugar sweet and a son
hiding in the back seat under his anorak.

Luckily a previous owner had modernised the car and fitted
proper indicators and unlike the base model version ours had two wipers, two
sun visors and a heater. She still smelled funny though, and continued to do so
to the end of her life, a smell so strong that even the combined delights of my
two nephews with full nappies and occasional projectile vomiting never managed
to overcome it.

But hey! The Austin A30 had a floor mounted gear change, which
should have made Dad’s job easier and a dash mounted indicator switch loud
enough to hear at low speeds but over 40 mph often meant the car following
wondered when and if we were ever going to turn left.

So why the guilt trip after all these years? Well, there’s
something cosy about the fact that the A30 looks like it’s been designed by
drawing round various sized jelly moulds and it’s cheeky little face always
looks as if it’s enjoying itself. You don’t see that many now (somebody will
correct me) which is a shame because in its day, at £507 it was £62 less than
its Morris Minor rival. The van variant, boosted into A35 format, went on being
produced until 1968. So where did they all go?

All articles ©Ian
Ashley 2015

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