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Local News 19 Dec 2019 to 2 Jan 2020

Our round-up of local news across the area (and a bit beyond) this week including Hungerford’s video, Marlborough’s winner, Wantage’s charities, Inkpen’s elephants, Lambourn’s questionnaire, Chaddleworth’s potholes, Brightwalton’s brainteasers, Thatcham’s forum, Mortimer’s carols,  Brimpton’s bus, Newbury’s delays, Manton’s Oddfellows, Cold Ash’s results,  Swindon’s flu jabs, Aldermaston’s insurance, Bedwyn’s carol, Enborne’s DNA, Easton Royal’s election, Theale’s fire station, police and travel updates, good causes celebrated, over-representation, the upper house again, a blond bombshell, suspense accounts, foster carers, the colour blue, a case of treason, honourable mentions, the Great West Way, slipped discs, a sponsored year, postmaster hugging, Charlemagne, Richard Coles, Mezut Ozil, Maria Carey and The Pogues.

Click on any highlighted and underlined text for more information on the subject. Some will link to other pages on this site, others to pages elsewhere.

Police, transport and council contacts

Information on police, transport (including roadworks) and district councils can now be found on a separate page here.

Links to the websites for town and parish councils can still be found in the appropriate sections below.

Across the area (and further afield)

• So, that’s another election over with: probably, given the majority, the last til 2024. Congratulations to all the candidates of whatever party who were prepared to put themselves through six weeks of extra pre-Xmas stress. Particular honourable mentions go to those who stood in seats which they had no chance of willing (our electoral system doesn’t do anything with these votes); and to any Labour candidates – of which, it seemed, there were quite a few – who had to endure the surprise and humiliation of being told that life-long supporters would be putting their Xs elsewhere as they couldn’t bring themselves to vote for a party led by Jeremy Corbyn. Indeed, I can’t remember an election in which the three main parties were led by such uninspiring people, respectively mendacious, evasive and bland. At least Vince Cable had gravitas, Theresa May integrity and Ed Miliband conviction, although none of these qualities counted for enough. The only two good things I can see from it all are, first, that the nightmare of a hung parliament (which would have led to even more logjam in a political system that’s already lost about three years) is avoided; and, secondly, that the neither the SNP nor, in particular, the DUP any longer have the disproportionate power in Westminster they once enjoyed.

• However, our insane electoral system means that both these regional parties are still grossly over-represented. The SNP won a seat for every 25,882 it received and the DUP one for every 30,515. The Lib Dems, on the other hand, needed 334,125 vote for each MP and the Greens 864,743. A vote for the SNP was thus worth over 33 times a vote for the Greens. As the majority of the population are not able to vote for the SNP or the DUP, nor particularly concerned with what policies they wish to implement in Scotland or Northern Ireland, this seems like a gross distortion of democracy. The problem is that we are one country and also four countries (plus a few little islands that operate as conveniently close tax havens but which, as they aren’t part of the UK, are (equally conveniently) nothing to do with us). All these wasted votes could be used to elect the House of Lords, an organisation whose composition is beyond bizarre (see last week’s column). Odds on any meaningful reform of this weirdo-chamber happening during the current parliament? Leicester City’s 5,000/1 in 2015 springs to mind. I hope I’m just as delightfully surprised as I was at the end of that campaign.

• And speaking of football, I’m no Arsenal fan (quite the reverse). One of their players, the talented but currently slightly invisible Mezut Ozil, a German Muslim of Turkish ancestry, has currently been anything but invisible in China as a result of a social-media post he made in support of the Uighur Muslims in that country. They are, it seems, being subjected to a systemic persecution, regarding which activity the Chinese state seems to have a bit of form. I have no knowledge of this latest issue beyond what I hear on the news: my interest is in Arsenal’s reaction. It’s done its best to distance itself from the whole affair, saying that it’s apolitical and that these are the player’s own opinions. Fair enough as far as it goes. However, the signing of a player (£42.5m in this case) often results in some transfer of image rights. If he had won the World Cup (which he has) or proved himself to be a thoughtful, intelligent and compassionate person (which he also has) I’m sure the club would have been quick to associate itself with him (as I’m sure it did). As matters stand now, he’s just a private individual. I wonder if Arsenal has a lucrative pre-season tour of China under discussion for 2020.

• Just when divisive political discord seems to have put to one side in the UK, the same spectre springs up in the USA where they seem to be trying to impeach their President. I can’t see this working: after all, it’s not as if being a mendacious, blond-haired adulterer is a sufficient reason for disqualification from senior public office.

• The Queen’s Speech has just happened and, as usual, there’s a long list of proposed bills. Three that caught my eye are plans for a reform of the social-care system (the green paper on which is already 30 months overdue); the repeal of the fixed-term Parliament Act (which, like so much else, was unable to cope with the constitutional emergency caused by Brexit); and plans for a business-rate discount for small firms (which will require a re-think on how local councils will be funded as the plan was that business rates would form a major part of this).

• I mentioned last week that an acrimonious and long-running dispute between the Post Office and over 500 of its Sub-Postmistresses and Sub-Postmasters who were accused of defrauding the organisation was settled on 11 December. The headline was that the PO finally admitted that it had ‘got things wrong in (its) dealings with a number of postmasters,’ and agreed £58m in compensation: on the face of it, a huger climb-down and a huge settlement. The reality may be a bit more complex. Some of the stories I’ve since seen since paint a fairly harrowing picture of what some of the victims of this went through. This article in The Register suggests that the litigants may already have spent over £20m on legal costs and that, given the criminal records and the debts that accrued, the expected repayments of between £47,000 and £78,000 were ‘not huge figures.’ The article goes on to say that one victim ended up over £200,000 in debt; and also (rightly) points out that the timing of the announcement, a couple of weeks before Christmas and just before an election, was convenient in terms of reducing the impact, which in turn suggests that the PO doesn’t want too much scrutiny of this. Certainly, the more I read about it, the better deal for them it seems to be.

• I spoke to a Sub-Postmaser/mistress about this. It was suggested that one of the problems may have been that the victims were, when the discrepancies were first noticed, advised by the PO to place these in a suspense account. All this does is to remove the immediate issue from the balance sheet, much like not opening an envelope which contains a tax demand or a parking ticket, however unfair. I was also told that if any major balancing problems were discovered they would have closed the PO until they were sorted, which for businesses which rely heavily on PO services would, it was conceded, be very hard to do. The person I was talking to was also a qualified accountant, which would have given them a rigour in these matters that others might lack. It’s more than possible that people who were trying to run a business trusted that they would be looked after by the big organisation. If so, that’s another dent in that perception.

All in all, it seems a sorry tale in which naive expectations, inadequate training, corporate bullying, IT failures and legal procedures have contributed in roughly equal degree. All I can say is that if you or anyone you know is aware of Sub-Postmaster or Postmistress who has suffered as a result of this, give them a hug. In fact, even if they haven’t, give them a hug anyway. It must be a taxing job at this or any time of year: rather like running a petrol station, huge sums of money pass through your hands, only a small part of which you get to keep. If you step out of line just once, there’s a massive organisation employing a battalion of lawyers and accountants waiting to pounce. 

• This week’s Newbury Weekly News and Wantage and Grove Herald have a good deal of coverage of last week’s election results from their respective areas. None of the seats in this area changed colour, all remaining blue. 

• West Berkshire Council has produced a directory listing many of the Special Educational Needs and Disability (SEND) services available in the area – you can see the Autumn 2019 edition here.

• West Berkshire Council is actively encouraging more people to offer themselves as foster carers. This represents one of the most tangible and effective ways by which you can help change someone’s life, and thus the community as a whole, for the better. More information on the Council’s Fostering Service can be found here

• The Council has activated its Severe Weather Emergency Protocol (SWEP).

• West Berkshire is set to be part of a pilot scheme that would enable communities to invest in green projects in the district

• A reminder about an update regarding the new rail fares and timetable which will come into force on 15 December and will affect local GWR services. 

• Still on the trains, the dispute between the RMT and South Western Railway about staffing levels and related issues seems to have been rumbling on for ages. Passengers should brace themselves for strike action lasting well into the new year.

• I mentioned West Berkshire Council’s recent Peer Challenge Review last week. You can read the Council’s own take on the process, which includes a link to the last report, in 2014.

• The animal of the week is a blue poison dart frog, one the residents of the Living Rainforest near Hampstead Marshall. I have chosen this not because I have any particular fascination for frogs but because of its colour. There are plenty of birds and quite a few fish which are wholly or partly blue but virtually no mammals, amphibians or reptiles. There is also no blue food, apart from a few berries. Why is this?  

• The letters section of the Newbury Weekly News this week is mainly concerned with an assortment of post-election post-mortems. One, from the local Labour Party, also takes issue with a remark made my Laura Farris, Newbury’s new MP, in her acceptance speech which included a reference to Labour’s anti-semitism. This seemed like the time nor the place for such remarks: in any case, her party is skating on very thin ice with regard to its own reputation for Islamophobia. The two accusations seem rather to cancel each other out. There’s also more on the Berkshire/Berkshire debate. I imagine that similar debates rage in the local papers in Shrewsbury, Towcester and other variously-pronounced places. 

• A number of good causes have received valuable support recently, including The Sheldrake Wildlife Trust (thanks to Inkpen Primary School); Sue Ryder Homes (thanks to Paul Farmer); The Lambourn RDA (thanks to the Kennet Accordion Orchestra); Hope and Homes for Children (thanks to the Marlborough College Choir); Children at the Great Western Hospital (thanks to Wiltshire Police’s Operation Santa Cop); several good causes (thanks to the Sing-along in Newbury organised by Greenham Trust); the Maureen Church Fund (thanks to the regular quiz nights).  

• Finally, in order to write this column every week I dip into a large number of websites and publications and do my best to comment on, explain or sometimes flatly disagree with what they’ve said. Some of these are commercial: others are run by parish councils or voluntary groups. From among the hundreds I’ve looked at this year I’d like to make three honourable mentions. The first is to Marlborough News which does proper journalism; the second is the Cold Ash Community Bulletin, entirely run by volunteers, which produces its e-newsletter rain or shine every Thursday. Thirdly to the news section of Swindon Council’s website which, after about 18 months of total inaction, has this year burst into life with sometimes eight or ten new articles each week. Hats off also to the parish councils which constantly ask awkward questions of their district and others in authority, which is exactly what they’re meant to do: Chaddleworth and Hungerford in particular spring to mind.

Being the gloomy sort of cove I am, I must also single out two organisations which could do better. The Wantage & Grove Herald does not often live up to its name as sometimes the only mention of ‘Wantage’ in the paper is the one on the masthead (it does have regular columns, though, something the NWN might want to consider). Second, there’s whoever you are at Wiltshire Council who’s responsible for the news section on your website covering Marlborough. I hope you’re being paid by the article because otherwise the council-tax payers are being ripped off. The page has a mere eight articles on News > Marlborough over the last 24 months and most of these are either about fly tipping or the opening of a new school by the Duchess of Cornwall. Come on, guys: there must be something more you can say then that. Perhaps Marlborough is so far to the east of the country that Wilts HQ thinks it’s in West Berkshire.

If any of you reading this have anything you’d like to have covered in Penny Post in 2020 and beyond, please get in touch – you can reach me at brian@pennypost.org.uk.

Hungerford & district

• Latest news from Hungerford Town Council, Shalbourne Parish Council and Inkpen Parish Council

• There are currently three vacancies on Hungerford Town Councilsee here for the official notice

• The Hungerford Extravaganza took place last week and the NWN has a report with lots of photos on pp12-13 of this week’s edition. If you want pictures that move then it won’t surprise you to learn that Penny made a video of the event (which she was also involved in organising): you can see it here. If you have to have Christmas songs – and I don’t admit this – then Mariah Carey’s, which the choir is belting out as a backdrop the the film, is the pick of the bunch.

• Congratulations to the children at Inkpen Primary School who have raised funds to adopt two orphaned elephants, Apollo and Pika Pika, through the Sheldrake Wildlife Trust. (I think the elephants stay in Kenya, rather than moving to Inkpen: if they did they’d certainly get lost, as I do whenever I go to that village).

• Still in Inkpen (I’m still lost there), remedial work on the Gigaclear broadband network in Inkpen will not start until at least February 2020: see the Inkpen PC website for more.

• Thanks to combination of remedial work by the West Berkshire Injury Clinic and the swimming available at the Hungerford Leisure Centre, my slipped disc seems to have gone away again. I can’t recommend this combination highly enough. If, by the way, you would like to qualify as a lifeguard, the Hungerford Leisure Centre will be running a course during February half term. Places are limited. Please enquire at the Centre for details.

• The Great West Way, which passes through Hungerford, has been shortlisted for Destination Marketing Organisation of Year at the UKinbound Awards for Excellence 2019.

• The December Penny Post Hungerford was sent out on Tuesday 3 December and what a bumper issue is was. If you didn’t get you can read it here.  

• Two cases of Alabama Rot, which can be fatal to dogs, have recently been reported in Hungerford. Visit the Vets4Pets site for more information.

• There’s some further news here about the new rail fares and timetable which came into force on 15 December and affect services to and from Bedwyn, Hungerford, Kintbury and Newbury. 

• The weekly Wednesday market has been extended onto the Town Hall steps and into the building itself. For more information, including how you can procure a stall, please click here. Next week’s market will be on Tuesday (but won’t have Neil’s fruit and veg stall). There’s also now a wonderful cheese stall, some of whose wares are now in our fridge, which will be returning on 22 January 2020.

Lambourn Valley

Latest news from Lambourn Parish CouncilEast Garston Parish CouncilWelford Parish Council and Great Shefford Parish Council.

• Click here for the December 2019 East Garston News.

• November’s Valley of the Racehorse was published last week and you can read it here. It includes, as ever, features, news items, events, appeals and special offers relating to the upper Lambourn Valley and surrounding area.

• A reminder of the 4LEGS Radio for its 2019 Unsung Hero award, nominations for which are now open. The award is kindly sponsored by Sovereign Housing and The Great Shefford.

• A reminder also that if you haven’t returned your questionnaire about Lambourn’s neighbourhood development plan, you need to do this by Monday 13 January 2020.

• The Friends of Lambourn Library has three vacancies on its committee and welcomes hearing from anyone, of any age, who would be happy to join what is by all measures and estimations a successful organisation. Please contact suecocker@hotmail.com.  

4 Legs Community Radio Station will on Friday have its 82nd day of broadcasting – click here for more.

Newbury & district

Latest news from Newbury Town Council, Chieveley Parish Council and Hamstead Marshall Parish Council.

• This week’s NWN has on p7 a report and photos of the Newbury Festival of Light.

• Flick over a couple of pages to p11 and you’ll find a strange story about a hate-mail trial in Enborne, where the original verdict was, despite DNA evidence linking the accused with the envelope in which the letter was sent, recently overturned on appeal. I won’t try to summarise the tale because John Garvey has set it out perfectly clearly. What it has made me do is think about how I might commit such a crime, were I so inclined (which I must stress I am not).

I’ve seen enough police procedural programmes to know the drill. I’d first need some latex gloves, which I’d buy in a busy shop while sporting a false beard. I’d then type my poison on the Mac, put the gloves on and – important tip, this – open a new pack of A4 paper to be sure the sheet wasn’t contaminated with my DNA and print the letter on that. A new pack of self-sealing envelopes and a self-adhesive stamp would also be needed: I certainly wouldn’t be foolish enough to lick either of these, as it was alleged that the accused did. Still wearing the gloves, I’d then post the letter the next time I was in a large town and return home, guilty, exhausted and clammy-handed. 

The accused claimed that the DNA samples had been stolen from his dustbin: if so, this represents a high degree of resourcefulness on the part of the real criminal. Or was it a double bluff? The possibilities are endless. As the appeal verdict has re-opened the question of who sent the letter, the community is likely to remain divided over the issue.  Hopefully everyone will, as the politicians are fond of saying, draw a line and move on. There’s enough discord in the world as it is. I wonder if the idiot who wrote a poison-pen letter to the Rev Richard Coles (of Communards and R4 fame), whose partner has also recently died, followed my precautionary advice or whether the DNA police are, even as I write, closing in on them…

• Anyone using the A4 between the Robin Hood roundabout and the Hambridge Lane junction can expect delays during the first half of 2020 due to a long-term road-widening project.

• This is the second year of Newbury’s Living Advent Calendarclick here for more details

• As mentioned recently, the Town Council is looking into the possibility of having some free car parking on market days (Thursdays). The Town Council will be considering the matter and its costs with an announcement expected early in the new year.

• Please click here for Hamstead Marshall.net, which provides an excellent round-up of what’s going on in and around the village. Here, for instance, is the What’s On page for December. It also publishes the Hamstead Hornet – if you’d like subscribe, contact Penny Stokes at admin@hamsteadmarshall.net.

• Click here for the latest news from the development of the University Centre at Newbury College.

• There’s some further news here about the new rail fares and timetable which came into force on 15 December and affect services to and from Bedwyn, Hungerford, Kintbury and Newbury. 

• Click here for the latest NTC News from Newbury Council.

• Click here for the latest information from Growing Newbury Green.

Click here for information on free English courses offered to ESOL students in Newbury (also Thatcham and Calcot) by the Berkshire School of English.

Compton & Downlands

Latest news from Hampstead Norreys Parish Council, Compton parish Council, Ashampstead Parish Council, Chaddleworth Parish Council, Brightwalton Parish Council, West Ilsley Parish Council and East Ilsley Parish Council.

• As mentioned last week, it appears that the potholes in Norris Lane in Chaddleworth are the responsibility of the landowners (including Sovereign Housing), not of the Parish or District Councils. 

• The December issue of Chaddleworth News has just been published and will appear on this page of the Parish Council’s website in due course. Matters covered include speeding, sloe gin, the Ibex, the village hall, a summary of the last parish Council minutes and news from various village organisations and societies. There will be no January issue so the next one will be in February. If you want to subscribe or contribute, contact chaddnews@gmail.com.

• A date for the diary for you quiz fans: Friday 24 Jan at Brightwalton Village Hall will be the time and the place for a selection of hand-picked brain teasers to help raise money for the local Aspire project. To reserve your place (£10 a head) and for more information, email Gill on dgmsjudge@gmail.com.

• If you fancy becoming a Compton Parish Councillor, now’s your chance…

• The December issue of West Ilsley Parish News can be found here.

• The November issue of Brickleton News (covering Brightwalton) can be found here.

• Please click here for dates and venues for the PCSO Have your Say meetings in the Thacham, Theale and Compton & Downlands areas.

Thatcham and district

Latest news from Thatcham Town Council, Cold Ash Parish Council, Bucklebury Parish Council, Brimpton Parish Council and Woolhampton Parish Council.

• Please click here for details of Thatcham’s civic events in 2019.

• This week’s NWN reports on p21 that the Thatcham Community Forum is going through the process of setting out its priorities for 2020, with speeding and anti-social behaviour already confirmed as two of these. You can keep up to date with its work and activities through its Facebook page. (One priority might be to do something about the header images which have been horizontally stretched to an extent which makes my eyes hurt.)

• 12 December also saw another poll take place, a by-election for the vacancy on Thatcham Town Council. After having been ousted in May, the Conservative Richard Crumly regained his seat.

• There’s a 16-seater bus that goes from Brimpton to the Kennet School every day and at present there are several spaces available on it. Click here for more information

NWN and Thatcham Town Council are asking you to judge which is the best Christmas window display in the town.

Refill Thatcham is a free campaign to reduce the amount of plastic waste in the town. More details here.

• The Nature Discovery Centre is looking for volunteers to work with the Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire Wildlife Trust to provide a series on nature therapy sessions at the Centre. Click here for more information.

• Please click here for dates and venues for the PCSO Have your Say meetings in the Thatcham, Theale and Compton & Downlands areas.

• The December Parishes Magazine covering Aldermaston, Beenham, Brimpton, Midgham, Wasing and Woolhampton: click here to see it. This covers secular as well as religious matters.

• There’s some further news here about the new rail fares and timetable which came into force on 15 December and affect services to and from Bedwyn, Hungerford, Kintbury and Newbury. 

Click here for the latest news about Cold Ash’s neighbourhood development plan, including the results of the recent survey.

• Click here to see the latest Cold Ash Community Bulletin. 

Theale and district

Latest news from Theale Parish Council, Aldermaston Parish Council, Stratfield Mortimer Parish Council, Englefield Parish Council and Burghfield Parish Council.

• Much of the discussion at the Aldermaston Parish Council meeting on 12 December was concerned with the diversion round The Loosey which is leading to delays and road damage.Progress is in the hands of the insurance company for the damaged building: as anyone who has ever dealt with an insurance company knows, they operate at their own pace. The Parish Council has written to the owners to explain the problems the hold-up is causing in the hope that they can expedite matters but, beyond that, there is nothing further it can do. The council also reported that West Berkshire had reached a planning decision on four applications, all of which matched the recommendations made by the parish.

• The developers of the new Primary School in Theale have finally issued another update on the work, dated November 2019. Click here to read it.

• As mentioned last week, Theale’s village’s Christmas Fair was to have taken place on Saturday 14 December but, ‘due  to unforeseen circumstances and legalities beyond (the Parish Council’s) control’ is has had to be cancelled. The Council ‘has every intention of returning this event to the High Street in 2020’ and hopes to publicise the date for this early in the New Year.

• Something that will be happening in Theale is the construction of a new tri-service fire station after plans were approved by members of the Royal Berkshire Fire Authority’s (RBFA) Management Committee.

• The world seems to be divided into two groups: those who think that The Pogue’s Fairytale of New York is a wonderful song; and me. if you want to hear a different version of it, try this one recorded by West Yorkshire Fire and Rescue and which I came across on the Burghfield Community FB page, which is why it’s in this section

• Click here for details of forthcoming events in Burghfield.

Click here and here for the latest updates from Highways England about the progress of the work to turn the M4 from J3 to J12 into a smart motorway. (It was announced in October that theses were being reviewed, though whether this will continue now we have a new government remains to be seen.)

• Click here for information about Burghfield’s plans to create a community hub.

• There will be community carols in the fairground at Stratfield Mortimer from 5pm on Saturday 21 December

Click here for the October/November 2019 Parish Magazine from Englefield Parish Council.

• Please click here for dates and venues for the PCSO Have your Say meetings in the Thacham, Theale and Compton & Downlands areas.

• The November Parishes Magazine covering Aldermaston, Beenham, Brimpton, Midgham, Wasing and Woolhampton: click here to see it. This covers secular as well as religious matters.

Marlborough & district

Latest news from Marlborough Town CouncilAldbourne Parish Council and Great Bedwyn Parish Council.

• To the surprise of nobody at all, the Conservative candidate, Danny Kruger, won the Devizes seat at the election last week, and with an increased majority. You can read Marlborough News‘ brief summary of the local result, and a message from the new MP, here.

Marlborough News reports that the final decision regarding design and layout of the upgraded play area in Manton’s Jubilee Field will be made by the Town Council next month.

• And still with Marlborough News, it appears that the long-awaited opening of Marlborough’s cinema will be been delayed for about nine months

• The Devizes and District Foodbank, part of the Trussell Trust network, is asking the Marlborough community to help support people in crisis this Christmas by donating to the UK’s largest food collection. Marlborough News has more here.

• The Oddfellows pub in Manton re-opened on 17 December, run by the team which owns and operates The Bull in Theale and The Craven Arms in Enbourne. . Regulars might know it as the Outside Chance by which it was known until it closed in August: The Oddfellows was its original name. I caught up with the Manager, Anne Bucknell, on the phone on Thursday who said that the opening had gone well – all the usual last minute panics, of course, but all successfully overcome. It’s great to see a pub re-opening rather than, as is often the case, going the other way. The Oddfellows will be open every day over the festive period except for Christmas Day. 

• Christmas isn’t Christmas without some performance of Dickens’ classic A Christmas Carol. This year, Great Bedwyn School put on a show based on this and Marlborough News handed over the office quill to let the children tell their own story of the production.

• The same source reports that pupils at Easton Royal Academy held their own general election on Thursday to vote for their new school council.

• Information here from Aldbourne Parish Council about what to do in case of flooding.

• The Marlborough Area Neighbourhood Plan Consultation results have been released – click here for details.

• There’s some further news here about the new rail fares and timetable which came into force on 15 December and affect services to and from Bedwyn, Hungerford, Kintbury and Newbury. 

Click here for information about the Bedwyn Cinema’s screening on 19 December (tonight if you’re reading this on the 19th: if not, you’ve missed it).

• If you’re in Great Bedwyn, keep your eye on the Village Hall Facebook page here for details of what’s going on there, including films (featuring new state-of-the-art equipment).

• And in the same village, click here to keep up to date with what’s going on at the Youth Club.

Wantage & district

Latest news from Wantage Town Council, Grove Parish Council and Letcombe Regis Parish Council.

• People have been warned to be on the lookout Nottingham knockers – door-to-door traders selling cheap goods who often claim to be part of a rehabilitation programme – Wantage is the latest town where residents have been warned to be on the lookout. The Thames Valley Police has confirmed that no such programme exists, certainly not in its area.

• The Leader of the Vale Council, Emily Smith, issued her Leader’s Report on 18 December, which you can read here

• The South and Vale Business Support team at South Oxfordshire and Vale of White Horse District Councils is celebrating after winning the Institute of Economic Development’s 2019 Greatest Economic Impact Award.

• Five Oxfordshire councils have been awarded more than £92,000 in government funding to support homeless people this winter.

• The Vale and South Oxfordshire Councils are debating whether they would like to see the voting system changed to PR and the voting age reduced to 16. Neither of these are matters either council can decide for itself but, like the climate emergencies, any support would send a message to the government and parliament. A change to the former arrangement seems, sadly, unlikely: almost as remote is the possibility of this government getting to grips with the matter of the bizarre composition and partisan appointment system for the House of Lords. As the editorial in the Herald points out, reducing the voting age would probably make little difference as there’s evidence to suggest that a disproportionate number of younger people do not vote as it is. Whether 16- and 17-year-olds – in so far as you can generalise about them – are better qualified to make democratic decisions is another matter. 

• The Grove Volunteer Litter-picking Group meets on the second Friday of every month.

• Congrats to pupils at Wantage Primary School who raised £440 for Children in Need last month through their Strictly-inspired dance competition.

• Still just time to take advantage of the service provided by local scout groups which are offering Christmas card delivery services in December: Wantage and Grove Scouts will deliver the festive greetings by hand to residents in the areas (for 30p each).

• A scheme to give vulnerable people a place to go for help in the Vale of the White Horse has been launched.

• There will be free parking in the run up to Christmas in Wantage and Faringdon on Saturday 21 December. Click here for more information.

• The 2020 Wantage calendars produced by the Ray Collins Charitable Trust are now on sale (if, indeed, they haven’t already sold out). These help raise money for the numerous good works which the organisation does in and round the town.

• The Wantage and Grove Foodbank is a practical, community based project, organised by local churches, which provides food parcels to those in the immediate area who find themselves temporarily in difficult circumstances. It is dependentpon donations of food and is staffed by volunteers. For more information, click here.

Click here for the latest from the Wantage and Grove Campaign Group

• Organisers of community events in the Vale are invited to apply for some of the £10,000 worth of festival and events grants on offer from Vale of White Horse District Council. You have until February 2020 to apply.

• Click here for information the Didcot, Abingdon and Wantage Talking Newspaper (DAWN) for the blind and partially sighted. The organisers are currently appealing for help to keep the service going – click here for details.

• Click here for information on the location of defibrillators in and around Wantage.

• Julie Mabberley’s regular column on p8 of the Wantage & Grove Herald looks at some local charities which would benefit from help and support over Christmas and, indeed, at most times of the year.

• Click here for details of some forthcoming events in Wantage.

Swindon & district

Latest news from Swindon Borough Council.

• First City Nursing & Care and Friends of First City have been laying on a series of free festive lunches this month for local people in a bid to raise awareness of the issue of social isolation.

• The annual search for Swindon’s unsung heroes has begun following the launch of the latest Pride of Swindon Awards. Nominations close on 24 January 2020.

• Public Health officials are urging parents to take up the free child flu vaccine in Swindon as data shows take-up across the town is low.

• With the festive season now right on top of us, many people will be preparing for nights out celebrating their office Christmas parties or with family and friends. Swindon town centre is geared up with the night-time economy putting on plenty of events with special offers to make it a night to remember. This article from Swindon Link has some information and suggestions as to how people can stay safe at this time.

• The Library Shop at Central Library in Regent Circus is selling locally-produced gifts from a range of artists and authors.

• Swindon Museum and Art Gallery has successfully acquired its first work through the Arts Council England’s Acceptance in Lieu scheme. The scheme enables taxpayers to transfer important works of art and heritage objects into public ownership and applies to work that has important cultural and historical connections. Swindon Link takes up the story from here.

• An important consultation into Swindon’s updated local plan which will shape and guide future housebuilding and development in Swindon over the next 20 years has just opened and will remain so until the end of January.

• Click here for details of the many volunteering opportunities at Great Western Hospital.

The song and the quiz

• I mentioned two Christmas songs elsewhere in the post but neither of those are going to be my Song of the Week. This honour goes instead to probably the best song by one of the best bands, Kid Charlemagne by Steely Dan. Few songwriters crafter the telling of a story better than Becker and Fagen: Elvis Costello, Al Stewart, Chris Difford, Morrisey and numerous others come close but these two seem to hit the nail bang on every time. Not that you can always understand what the story is first time round, mind: like their music, their lyrics are often layered and ambiguous; sometimes obscure; occasionally unsettling. To me, there’s no point in writing a song unless you have something to say and preferably not in an obvious way. They certainly did. The song also has one of the great guitar solos ever, no question.

• Which leads, as night follows day, to the Quiz Question of the Week. This week’s question is one I may have asked before, but I’ll ask it again: What is the only English adjective (and I’ve used it in this week’s column, so that narrows the field a bit) to change its spelling depending on whether it’s masculine or feminine? Last week’s question was as follows: Until 2014 what was the only circumstance, apart from death, that could result in a life peer being no longer entitled to sit in the House of Lords? The answer was not murder, or arson, nor even terrorism but a conviction for the crime of treason.

That’s me done for 2019. We’ll be back in 2020, or T20 as it will be known – the first year to have been sponsored by an international cricket competition. This may mean that politicians will need to wear brightly coloured pyjamas to work and that there’ll be a limit to the number of PMQs that can be bowled down the leg side before lunch. Don’t laugh: in these cash-strapped and marketing-obsessed times, anything is possible.

Brian Quinn

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Jan
27
Mon
2020
9:30 am Monkey Mayhem @ The Beacon
Monkey Mayhem @ The Beacon
Jan 27 @ 9:30 am – 11:30 am
Monkey Mayhem @ The Beacon | England | United Kingdom
Pre-school stay and play session with bouncy castle and ball pit. Buy tickets on the door – no booking required.   Dates Every Monday &
10:00 am Monday Rhymetime @ Thatcham Library @ Thatcham Library
Monday Rhymetime @ Thatcham Library @ Thatcham Library
Jan 27 @ 10:00 am – 10:30 am
Monday Rhymetime @ Thatcham Library @ Thatcham Library | England | United Kingdom
Monday Rhymetime at Thatcham Library Rhymetime for under 3’s at Thatcham Library. Every Monday in term time, 10.00-10.20am. For more information, please contact the library. Twitter:
Jan
28
Tue
2020
11:00 am Rhymetime @ Newbury Library @ Newbury Library
Rhymetime @ Newbury Library @ Newbury Library
Jan 28 @ 11:00 am – 11:30 am
Rhymetime @ Newbury Library @ Newbury Library | England | United Kingdom
Rhymetime for under 3 years Every Tuesday and Wednesday, 11.00-11.20am at Newbury Library. For more information, please contact the library. Twitter: https://twitter.com/WBerksLibraries Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/newburylibrary/ http://info.westberks.gov.uk/article/30251
2:00 pm Art Group @ Hungerford Library @ Hungerford Library
Art Group @ Hungerford Library @ Hungerford Library
Jan 28 @ 2:00 pm – 4:00 pm
Art Group @ Hungerford Library @ Hungerford Library | England | United Kingdom
Art Group Every Tuesday, 2.00-4.00pm at Hungerford Library. Bring your paints, pastels or pencils. Please contact the library for more information: Twitter: https://twitter.com/WBerksLibraries Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/newburylibrary/
2:00 pm Knit and Natter @ Lambourn Library
Knit and Natter @ Lambourn Library
Jan 28 @ 2:00 pm – 4:00 pm
Knit and Natter @ Lambourn Library | Lambourn | England | United Kingdom
Knit and Natter Every Tuesday, 2.00-4.00pm at Lambourn Library. Drop in and bring your knitting with you. For more information, please contact the library. Twitter:
7:00 pm Adult Evening Class: The Toga wa... @ West Berkshire Museum
Adult Evening Class: The Toga wa... @ West Berkshire Museum
Jan 28 @ 7:00 pm – 9:00 pm
Adult Evening Class: The Toga was Everywhere @ West Berkshire Museum | England | United Kingdom
Adult Evening Class The Toga was Everywhere: the Newbury area in the Roman period The course will look at Roman villas, bath-houses, roads and cemeteries
7:00 pm Geology Evening Classes @ St Bartholemew's School Newbury
Geology Evening Classes @ St Bartholemew's School Newbury
Jan 28 @ 7:00 pm – 9:00 pm
Geology Evening Classes @ St Bartholemew's School Newbury
Newbury Geological Study Group propose to run a 6 weekly classes starting Tuesday 28th January. A variety of topics will be covered including: Structural geology
7:30 pm Alpha Course at Saint Lawrence, ... @ St Lawrence's Church Vicarage
Alpha Course at Saint Lawrence, ... @ St Lawrence's Church Vicarage
Jan 28 @ 7:30 pm – 9:30 pm
Alpha Course at Saint Lawrence, Hungerford @ St Lawrence's Church Vicarage | England | United Kingdom
St Lawrence’s Church Parsonage Lane, Hungerford, RG17 OJB http://www.stlawrenceshungerford.org.uk Administrator: 07548 678234
Jan
29
Wed
2020
7:00 am Hungerford Wednesday Market @ Hungerford High Street
Hungerford Wednesday Market @ Hungerford High Street
Jan 29 @ 7:00 am – 2:30 pm
Hungerford Wednesday Market @ Hungerford High Street | England | United Kingdom
Wednesday is market day in Hungerford, when cars give way to shoppers, traders and stalls filled with fresh fruit, vegetable, fish, meat, flowers, plants, clothes,
10:00 am Art Group @ Lambourn Library
Art Group @ Lambourn Library
Jan 29 @ 10:00 am – 12:00 pm
Art Group @ Lambourn Library | Lambourn | England | United Kingdom
Art Group Every Wednesday, 10.00am-12.00pm at Lambourn Library. Bring your paints, pastels or pencils. For more information, please contact the library. Twitter: https://twitter.com/WBerksLibraries Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/newburylibrary/

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