Local News 7-14 May 2020

Our round-up of local news across the area (and a bit beyond) this week including a briefer than usual survey of the news around the towns and parishes, Hungerford’s Zooming, Lambourn’s plan, East Garston’s news, Elton’s application, Newbury’s school, Thatcham’s tests, Marlborough’s mayor, Wantage’s Sweatbox, Swindon’s breaches, Stratfield Mortimer’s bus, asking questions, Swedish criticism, matching the figures, crafty crafts, football and racing, changing the planning committees, Lord Gnome’s bleach, footpath names, Lyme disease, sloths, home schooling, 4,000 fishing weights, parliamentary caution, fake news, VE Day, water leaks and King Harvest.

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)

• I mentioned last week about an exhortation for journalists that was doing the rounds on social media to stop asking questions and start supporting the government; and suggested some reasons why this was a dangerous course of action that I, for one, wouldn’t be following. I see now that it emanated from the blog The Daily Globe which describes itself as ‘British values, global perspective’ (whatever that means), a conservative (perhaps Conservative) website. There was I thinking that the tweet was just a heartfelt, if misguided, plea from a citizen: in fact, it was part of a mission of its own, and so open to just the charge of being a concerted campaign that it accuses the ‘negative press’ of orchestrating, albeit in the opposite direction. I don’t think I can be bothered to link to an article on the website which justifies the tweet. I’ll just leave you with its closing sentences: ‘Newspapers are going out of business. They deserve to.’ To be replaced by what, I wonder? The Daily Globe? No thanks.

• Turning to the real newspapers, The Telegraph on 7 May (subscription required) quotes the architect of Sweden’s light-touch CV-19 measures as saying that Britain’s lockdown was ‘futile’, serving only to push infection peaks into the future and doing nothing to address the problems in care homes. He also claims that the country’s R number (the rate at which one person passes the infection to others) has fallen from 1.4 to 0.85, in contrast to modelling by Professor Neil Ferguson at Imperial College which suggested it would rise to over 3. Professor Ferguson, having recently taken steps to increase his own personal  R number and being forced to step down from SAGE as a result, will now have more time to rebut this charge should he wish.

• Following the recent news that the UK seems to have the highest death rate in Europe, the government has been quick to stress that international comparisons are misleading as different countries collect and report data in different ways. This is true, but this didn’t stop the government making such comparisons in the past and, as The Guardian pointed out on 5 May, still doing so now. There is also the question of population size. The above-mentioned Telegraph article points out that the UK has had 10 times more deaths than Sweden but doesn’t add that it also have seven times the population. Even population size may not be as relevant as density: the UK’s is 259 people per sq km and Sweden’s 24, a variation even greater than that between the respective mortality rates. Italy, perviously the worst-affected country, has about 200 people per sq km but more than double that in Lombardy, the epicentre of the outbreak. China has a massive population but people probably don’t move around in it as much as they do in Belgium. The intensity and timing of the lockdown may also be influenced by each government’s assessment of the fragility of its health service, as this article in The Guardian on 5 May suggests which could also be translated as over-confidence on the part of richer countries (which also have more to lose from a recession). There is certainly a direct relation, in Europe at least, between death rates and GDPs and this seems more pronounced than that between death rates and population.

The inter-connection between all these factors may never be clear. It’s certainly true that the raw data can be used to support almost any point of view. In some cases, newspapers are less reticent about nuanced comparisons. The New York Times on 6 May (subscription required) stated that ‘by all accounts a number of other countries have responded — and fared — far better’ than the USA. This paper would therefore also doubtless be on The Daily Globe’s hiss list. 

There will come a time when useful comparisons can be drawn between the statistics across various countries but it hasn’t come yet. One set of data that scientists have been looking at concerns the effectiveness of various ‘non-pharmaceutical interventions’ (measures such as quarantine) in the then 48 US States during the Spanish Flu epidemic after WW1. Each introduced different measures at different times and, being part of the same country, were similar enough to strip away any societal (and perhaps genetic) differences such as exist between, say, South Korea and Spain. These suggest that early intervention had the best results. Whether CV-19 is similar enough to Spanish Flu is another matter, of course. 

• Since I’m talking about figures, Let’s carry on for a bit. The government’s testing target of 100,000 a day was, briefly, met at the very start of the month but only, it seems, by re-defining what ‘tested’ meant. Most people might have thought this this meant ‘tested’ but it seems not as kits mailed out to people were also included. This seems to me just like looking at the performance of a company which for 11 months had been accounting on a cash basis but which, in month 12, fearful that it would otherwise need to issue a profits warning changed to doing so based on invoices raised, even though not all these will be paid.  The most recent Private Eye suggests on p7 one reason this might happen as some of the mailed-out testing kits lacked return details. Many have also argued that the figure of 100,000 is a random, though round, number in any case. Matt Hancock has suggested that the target was designed to have a ‘galvanising effect.’ It’s enough to test half of the NHS’s 1.5 million staff once a week but leaves nothing over for other key workers, those detected by contact tracing and people in care homes. This in turn poses the question of how the UK’s testing is doing compared to other countries: which, as the notes on this graph clearly show, lead immediately back to the issue of differing national methodologies. 

• Another issue is that few governments seem able to resist is the temptation to have a political angle, national or international, to their version of the truth. No one is more vehement in this than Donald Trump, whose relentless campaigns against so-called ‘fake news’ (not counting the fake medical opinions he spreads himself), the WHO and the Wuhan National Biosafety Laboratory are starting to reach epidemic proportions of their own. As a means of distracting attention from his own government’s handling of the crisis (admittedly, very difficult in a federal country where distrust of central government is effectively written into the constitution) these can perhaps not be bettered. China, Russia and Brazil are little better. All of this makes one despair of any serious hope for our species. President Obama is alleged to have observed, some years after the 2012 Sandy Hook shooting, that one might as well give up on gun control – if an outrage like that wasn’t going to get the matter through Congress then nothing would. I hope we won’t be saying the same thing about international co-operation and Covid-19 but the signs are currently not hopeful.

• Whether or not one agrees with the Swedish view that the UK lockdown was pointless, plans seem to be afoot to relax it. It might be argued that to do so would be to cause a sudden and high level of re-contact which would plunge us into phase two and that, having embarked on the plan, it should be toughed out for a bit longer.

The stresses caused by the measures are, however, becoming intense. Added to this is the uncertainty surrounding the enforcement of the regulations by the police which has been modified several times, mainly in regard to Section 6 which deals with legitimate reasons to leave home, and which has not always been enforced consistently (this is a common problem in the early days of legislation though rarely has enforcement been conducted under such a glare of scrutiny). An investigation by The Times suggested a large number of wrongful conviction and the CPS has said it will review all of them. As a result, the guidance might need to be changed again; as it will when the regulations alter.

Meanwhile, other crimes continue, some (such as motoring offences) to a lesser extent, others (like domestic violence) to a greater. This shift in priorities has to be reflected in staff deployment and also training, very different skills being needed for the two examples quoted meaning that some may be doing jobs that they’re partly unfamiliar with. Plus, at any time they might get spat at. Who’d be a copper at the moment?

• One of the most obvious ways in which some semblance of normality can return is by the return of spectator sport. Two of these are the most popular and the one I most like (football) and the one that dominates life in the Lambourn Valley (horse racing). For football, the big pressure is on getting the season finished even if behind closed doors. The leagues, the FA Cup and the two inter-European competitions have reached the frustrating point of being about 80% complete – too far round the track to make abandonment an obvious choice but still with enough outstanding to cause a real logistical headache. For Liverpool not to win the league would be a travesty (and I don’t even support them) but there are also matters of relegation and European places to resolve. To make matters more complex, 30 June – the date when a large number of players’ contracts end – is fast approaching. The clubs themselves, and some of the players, have also been complicit in a series of PR disasters about furloughing staff, behaviour and donations to the NHS.

• I know far less about horse racing but our regular columnist Pat Murphy explains here that the plan is to re-start the flat season with some outings at Lingfield and Newcastle. Here the problem is not, as with football, a pre-ordained fixture list that needs to be fulfilled but rather, as Pat describes, the rapid concoction of a race programme by the British Horseracing Authority with the aim of getting some runs in prior to Royal Ascot in June. How this is organised, and indeed whether it should be happening at all at present, has exposed some at times vitriolic rifts within the racing community.

• Does all this matter? On one level, no, not at all. On another, yes, quite a lot. Sport’s return will be a sign that life is going on. It’s also true that, as with so many other sectors, the crisis has shown some of the things that need fixing. In football, as many would agree, it’s the hyper-inflation of salaries and transfer fees which Covid-19 might make some dent in. It’s also worth remembering that most football clubs, even within the Football League (the top 92 clubs) operate an almost hand-to-mouth existence. There are the Amazons and Tescos of the Premier League who are immune from almost any shock. It’s the Swindon Towns and Hartlepool United who this might leave vulnerable, the equivalent of the small high-street independent for whom one bad month can spell disaster.

• The Oxford West MP Layla Moran, writing in the Wantage & Grove Herald this week, observes, with a level of understatement that almost achieves irony, how Parliament is ‘typically very cautious when it comes to change.’ Recent events have served to drag some of its procedures perhaps as far forward as to the late 20th century. If debates  and voting remotely can work for local councils, as Parliament has now decided they can, there’s no reason they can’t be permanently extended to Parliament itself. 

• The same paper takes as its editorial the theme of fake news (this week’s issue has, eye-catchingly a picture of Donad Trump on the cover, above a story about emails being sent to local councillors inviting them to support a website that pedals unproved international conspiracy theories). The Editor makes the valid point that ‘you don’t have to believe fake news for it to do its job’ as it gradually worms its way into our perceptions.

The column concludes that ‘the only defence against dangerous fake news is for us to use our common sense and apply our judgement.’ I disagree: these are exactly the things that are being warped by the relentless barrage of information. The only defence is to check everything – but against what? If two or more sources agree it could merely because they have copied falsehoods from each other. Some discrimination is needed to understand which outlets are likely to be biased or unreliable and this can’t be acquired overnight. This is the function that journalists fulfil (or, according to The Daily Globe, that they do not) but as the revenues of local papers in particular nosedive the temptation is to reduce their numbers. Of course, there are now countless outlets for people (such as me) to mix news and commentary on digital platforms. Whether this has led or might lead to better results is questionable. Few of us would go through the kind of rigorous verification that Washington Post Editor Bill Bradlee insisted upon in All the President’s Men. (What I’m kind of saying is that you shouldn’t trust anything I write either, if you ever did.)

The vicious cycle is fewer journalists = less checking of stories = more blurring of the difference between fact, fabrication and opinion = more room for fake news = further distrust for all media sources = further decline in newspaper sales = less revenue = fewer journalists. Newbury Weekly News is a pretty good local paper (better than the ones purportedly covering Wantage and Marlborough which are, perhaps un-coincidentally, owned by large groups) and we should support it. The same goes for the small parish magazines (many of which have suspended publication during the reign of Covid) but which provide in-depth coverage of life in their area. Put in a subscription for the NWN and your local mag if you haven’t already. And Penny Post, of course – we don’t charge for our content but we welcome as many subscribers as possible.

• A source I use a great deal is Wikipedia. Its huge advantage is that it’s mass-edited meaning that errors or loose phrasing tends to be pounced on and corrected. I’ve not found it substantially wrong on any point for which I’ve used it. An individual entry may have a bias (until it’s fixed) but the site as a whole appears to have no general bias, unlike many.

• Sticking with the NWN, this week’s issue has an interesting centre section looking back at the original VE Day and also at various stories about the area’s wartime experiences taken from its archives. This replaces in pagination, if not in revenue, the space normally occupied by the adverts from local estate agents. 

• I mentioned last week about home schooling and have since talked to three friends, all intelligent and well-educated, to ask them about their experiences. ‘Tortuous’, ‘ghastly’ and ‘frustrating’ were three of the words used. If any of you are grappling with the Kings and Queens of England, you might find my updated version of Willie, Willie, Harry, Stee useful.  

• The latest Private Eye has, on p7, a dig at President Trump which is also at least as much an explanation of one of its own punchlines. It referred to a piece, in its issue 1519 at the end of March, which suggested that breathing in hot bleach was a good cure for CV-19, before going on to contrast this with the less amusingly-presented suggestions from Prez DT. The Eye’s advice ‘was obviously a joke,’ Lord Gnome reminded us, perhaps slightly nervously. You can’t believe anything you read these days…

• This week’s Newbury Weekly News has on p4 an article describing the debate at West Berkshire Council last week about the revised arrangements for conducting planning committee meetings during the pandemic. (There’s also a long letter from a District Councillor on p16 which I’ve mentally filed under ‘methink he doth protest too much.’) I think that it is in many ways an appealing and unnecessary decision, for reasons which I explain in this article. In an associated piece in the paper, Lib Dem Councillor Tony Vickers explains how he’s worried that this might lead to a ‘Trojan horse’ aspect of the long-running Sandleford application slipping under the radar. (See the Lambourn Valley section below for another PP article about a rather complex issue in Elton which might also, under these new arrangements, not be examined in the way it merits.)

• Any organisation involved in health, well-being or social care has been issuing its own advice during the pandemic. One such is the Berkshire West Safeguarding Children partnership, whose #Coping advice can be seen here.

• Anyone who cannot leave home may be able to ask a trusted friend or volunteer to withdraw cash at any Post Office using a single-use voucher. The Post Office scheme is being extended and offered to all banks, building societies and credit unions. The Post Office has also redesigned its overnight travel money delivery service to get cash to the most vulnerable people in England.

West Berkshire, Vale of White Horse, Wiltshire and Swindon Councils have set up their own web pages relating to the outbreak. Click here as follows for the high-level links for West Berkshire, Vale of White Horse, Wiltshire and Swindon.

• West Berkshire Council set up a Community Support Hub. Like so many things in these times this is constantly evolving but its main aim at the moment is to provide support and information for people who need advice. Click here to visit the website. You can also call 01635 503 579 to speak to the the Building Communities Together team. Much of the information may be available elsewhere: this service is helping to pull this together and provide a single point of contact. The Hub has also set up two FAQ pages, for residents and for businesses. You can also click here to sign up to receive the Hub’s e-bulletins and click here to see the weekly updates. 

• West Berkshire Council is to receive additional funding following an announcement by the Secretary of State for Housing Communities and Local Government.

• In addition, a large number of volunteer organisations, are springing up to address the particular needs. See this article on the Penny Post website which provides information about local volunteer groups. If you know of any others that should be added, please let us know.

• The National Association of Local Councils has published some case studies showing how local councils at all levels have responded to the crisis.

• We also have a post about the financial support available to businesses as a result of the virus, which is amended as necessary – click here to see it. (Many thinks to Charlotte and Tim from Monty Accounting in Hungerford.)

• And click here for a post listing the various places which are offering a takeaway and/or delivery service. As with the volunteers’ post above,  if you are aware of any others, let us know.

Click here for information about refuse and recycling collections during CV-19 in West Berkshire.

• West Berkshire Council’s Executive will vote on the UK’s first Community Municipal Investment (CMI) on 30 April 2020. If approved, the council will be offering residents and community groups an opportunity to invest directly with them to help build a greener future for the district.

• West Berkshire Council has suspended parking charges ‘until further notice.’

• West Berkshire Council is working to reopen its recycling centres ‘as soon as arrangements can be made to do so safely.’ It also seems likely that, when they do re-open, the hours of operation will be extended. See here for more.

• This week’s Newbury Weekly News reports on p7 of the problems facing those who have dental problems at the moment, dentists for some reason not being seen as an essential service. I remember having a tooth abscess about 10 years ago and can honestly say it was the most painful thing I’ve ever experienced excepting a couple of sessions in Moorfields Eye Hospital. We have some advice here from Lambourn Dental: I’ve been following the cheese-wax solution for a month now and all is going well.

• The same paper also warns that this is the season for the tick-borne Lyme disease, another condition, like CV-19, to be given a very wide berth. We have some advice on the subject here.

• The animal of the week is the Cinnamon the sloth at The Living Rainforest, who can also be seen hanging upside-down from p28 of this week’s NWN..

• The letters section of the Newbury Weekly News this week covers a request for material to make scrubs, more on the closure of car parks, a call to ban the illegal wildlife trade, some more Brexonomics and a picture of a cat lying on its back.

• A number of good causes have received valuable support. Yet again we’re not going to single anyone out – there are too many to name at present – but, once again, instead just give a general shout-out for all the volunteer groups in the area which have sprung up like the daffodils to provide assistance to those in most need of it. We’ve listed some of these here. This also seems like a good place to mention Greenham Trust which has set up a Coronavirus Emergency Fund for donations to local groups with full 1:1 match funding for all sums received.

Hungerford & district

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

• This being the start of the month, Penny Post Hungerford has once again been published: if you didn’t get it you can click here to see it. As well as the usual news from the Town Council, the Town and Manor, the High Street shops and Barr’s Yard, there are reports from the Nursery School, John O’Gaunt School (where the Tech Departments has been making visors and scrubs) and from the Chamber of Commerce about a support fund for local businesses. We also have a Travel Quiz from Fare Wise, reading recommendations from the Bookshop, Pat Murphy’s racing column, an article about the Penny Black from the Coin and Stamp Centre, an update on local cricketer Lauren Bell’s sporting career, a short story from me, a video of a single-handed May Day dance and a guide to the May night sky. 

• If I could pick out one of these in particular, click here to read the April/May update from Hungerford Town Council, including coverage of its first-ever virtual meeting.

• Hungerford Town Council is gathering a list of people who would be willing to offer their services in any future emergency, whatever form it might take  If you live in or near the town and would like to put yourself forward as a volunteer in such a situation, please email please email townclerk@hungerford-tc.gov.uk with your contact details and any information about any special skills, experience or equipment you have.

• Hungerford Town Council, and doubtless other councils, are encouraging everyone to undertake the ‘Nation’s Toast to the Heroes of WW2‘ at 3pm on Friday 8 May, from the safety of their own home, by standing up and raise a glass of refreshment of their choice and undertake the following Toast – ‘To those who gave so much, we thank you.’ You could take part in celebrations safely from home by joining your BBC Local Radio station initiative in making your own VE Day Great British Bunting. Download everything you need from The BBC site here. The fact that this 75th VE Day co-incides with a national challenge unmatched since the war the VE Day ended is perhaps appropriate. All of us are currently experiencing curtailments of our freedoms; some things cannot be procured; we need to ask ourselves if our journey is really necessary; we are separated from our friends and family; people are suffering and dying. It’s often hard during an end-of-war anniversary to get anywhere close to imagining what life must have then been like. This year, less imagination will be required. 

• I was back as usual at the Wednesday market in Hungerford yesterday under glorious sunny skies. Fruit, veg, bread, cakes, meat (including a new goats’ meat stall), cheese, olives and (until noon) fish are all available, the market being open from 8am until about 1pm. Be prepared for a short queue and please follow the one-way system that’s been set up. 

• There’s still time to apply for Newbury Building Society community grants in the society’s branch towns, which include Hungerford: the deadline is Sunday 3 May. Applications are welcome from charities andorganisations that may be helping vulnerable people who are self-isolating, supplying items for foodbanks, or alleviating the impact of children no longer receiving free school meals due to school closures – full details here

• There are currently three vacancies on Hungerford Town Councilsee here for the official notice. However, these will not be filled until it’s possible to hold public meetings again.

Lambourn Valley

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

• Last week, I contacted the Environment Agency to see where we were with the investigation into the unauthorised dredging in the River Lambourn in East Garston in November and December 2018. The response I’ve received is that the investigations are still ongoing and are ‘progressing well.’ This seems a strange phrase given the seeming simplicity of a case which had only one suspect and which took place nearly 18 months ago. Start to finish, the Domesday Book only took about 16 months. I’ll be writing to them again at the end of the month.

• Still on the banks of the Lambourn but a few miles downstream at Elton, the story of the septic tanks has surfaced again in a slightly strange form and is due to come before the Western Area Planning Committee in the next month or so. See this article in which I explain the background and look forward to what might happen next.

• The rains have eased off bur the sewage problems in and around Lambourn continue. The Thames Water tankers are everywhere here but, as discussed in this post (see also a letter in this week’s NWN) this only provides a temporary solution. The effect of this are still be felt in Wantage (see Wantage Area section below).

• A reminder that we’ve recently published, on behalf of the Parish Council, East Garston’s 2020 Annual Parish Newsletter which has information about all the village’s groups and societies. Copies have been delivered to every household in the village. You can also click here to see it.

• The latest edition of East Garston News has just arrived – click here to read it. It includes details of the stay-at-home VE Day celebrations in the village on Friday 8 May.

• A  reminder that Lambourn Parish Council is seeking input from residents about its neighbourhood development plan. For more information on how you can participate in this once-in-a-generation exercise, please click here.

Click here for the latest news from Lambourn Surgery

4 Legs Community Radio Station will on continue broadcasting during the CV crisis – click here for more

Newbury & district

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

• This week’s NWN reports that the contractors are back at work at Highwood Copse School. Work on the development, which halted for the first time when the original contractor went bust last year, were halted again as a result of the pandemic. It’s set yo open at the start of the 2021-22 academic year, three years later than originally planned.

• The Crafty Craft Race has long been a regular annual feature of local life on May Day but, of course, this year it isn’t. The best I can offer is a trip down memory lane which can be accessed via p23 of this week’s NWN. How did some of those boats stay afloat? Of course, a lot of them didn’t.

• The virus has not prevented Newbury Town Council from announcing the winners of its Unsung Heroes awards – you can see the citations here.

• Meanwhile, tutors at Newbury College describe how they have converted many of their courses from physical to online ones.

Newbury Town Council has allocated £8,000 from its grant fund to assist projects and proposals helping the elderly, vulnerable and at-risk communities in Newbury in response to Covid-19.

• Newbury Building Society has made emergency donations of around £30,000 to support its many recipients.

•  A reminder that Newbury’s Mayor, Elizabeth O’Keefe, is making herself available to chat to local residents who are self-isolating. Click here for more information.

• Please click here for Hamstead Marshall.net, which provides an excellent round-up of what’s going on in and around the villag (including recently-updated information about the village’s new volunteer group). It also publishes the quarterly Hamstead Hornet – if you’d like subscribe (which is free), contact Penny Stokes at admin@hamsteadmarshall.net

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

Thatcham and district

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

• A Coronavirus mobile testing site will be running from the Henwick Worthy Sports Ground in Thatcham for up to three days this week, starting on Friday 8 May. These are not drop-in but need to be booked in advance. Also, note that only certain people are eligible for a test – click here for details.

• An extraordinary story on p43 of this week’s NWN, about a local metal detector (I’m not sure if the word for the person doing this is a ‘detector’ or a ‘detectorist’ but I’ll follow the paper’s style on this) who found over 4,000 lead fishing weights over just half a mile of coast in just one month. Many still had barbs and line attached which, as he explained, pose significant threats to wildlife. If, like me, you have never seen a photo of 4,000 lead fishing wights spread out on a sheet in a garden fofore, now’s your chance. 

• There’s still time to apply for Newbury Building Society community grants in the society’s branch towns, which include Thatcham: the deadline is Sunday 3 May. Applications are welcome from charities andorganisations that may be helping vulnerable people who are self-isolating, supplying items for foodbanks, or alleviating the impact of children no longer receiving free school meals due to school closures – full details here

• In common with many other councils, including Hungerford, Thatcham Town Council has decided to extend the Mayor’s and Deputy Mayor’s terms of office by a year: this is no time to be taking over a new job.

• Thatcham Town Council is looking for ambassadors, aged 16 and above, to help in a number of ways, promoting events, assisting with welcoming artists, suppliers and audiences and assisting with stewarding. Click here for details.

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.

• It would be easy to believe that there is only one thing going on in the world and that all day-to-day activities, including municipal ones have been suspended. These three items from District Councillor Graham Bridgman’s latest newsletter prove that this is not the case. Each in their own way a reminder that, even in the worst of times, it’s still necessary to keep life’s garden weeded if we’re not to be faced with a jungle of matters clamouring for attention when normal-ish life returns.

• If anyone has put signage up on footpaths BEEC 5/1 and 5/2 (such evocative names, don’t you think?) in Beech Hill then you can expect a latter from West Berkshire Council telling you to take them down.

• There is a safety issue with the siting of a kerb and a wooden barrier in Burghfield which is being investigated by West Berkshire Council.

• The Ward members for Stratfield Mortimer have been consulted by West Berkshire Council’s Transport team regarding the possible cessession of the Lime 2 bus service between St Mary’s and the station during the current emergency.

Marlborough & district

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

• Some towns, such as Hungerford and Thatcham, have decided to continue with their current Mayors for another year. Marlborough has, however, decided to go for a new one, Mark Cooper. This article in Marlborough News gives some background about him and explains that he will be formally sworn in on 11 May in a ‘streamlined virtual mayor-making ceremony’, which is not a phrase I have ever read before.

• The same source reports that Marlborough’s Jubilee Centre is looking for more customers for its home delivered £8 lunchtime meal.

• Click here for information, again from Marlborough News, about the town’s stay-at-home VE Day celebrations on Friday 8 May.

• Meanwhile The Gazette steps back 75 years to rekindle some memories of the first VE Day of all.

• None of us knows what the new normal is going to be but Marlborough News has already identified a few words and phrases which the current circumstances demand. So, for more on Le Creuset wrist, Foulough Merlot, the elephant in the Zoom and Coronacoaster, click here

• With the VE Day celebrations planning from Friday 8 May on hold, here’s a chance to look back at how Marlborough celebrated the real thing back in ’45.

• Click here for a statement from Wiltshire Council about financial grant support for small businesses as a result of Coronavirus.

• A reminder that Marlborough LitFest’s Love Books Competition has now been extended to July 17. Click here for details.

Click here for a list of current consultations being run by Wiltshire Council. 

Homestart Kennet is looking for volunteers to help with its projects in the area – click here for more information.


Wantage & district

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

• Despite the fact that the letters page of the Herald requests that letters be no more than 300 words there’s one that seems about half as long again from one of the South Oxfordshire councillors berating the Lib Dem/Green coalition for considering that the Local Plan should be reviewed after the elections last May. The letter is a piece of gratuitous political polemic. As those parties had been voted in on the basis of their opposition to the nearly-finalised version of the plan created by the previous administration, it’s impossible to see what else they could have done. 

• The front page of the paper, meanwhile, features PotUS himself, doing that strange thing he does with his eyes when he’s coming to something he doesn’t really believe (Penny says I do the same thing, which is alarming). This is because South Oxfordshire’s councillors have all received emails from an organisation called Epoch Times which, it seems, is a virulent spreader of fake news of the kind that the Editor warns about in the editorial (see Across the Area, above).

• The same paper reports on p9 of a local student who has developed an app called Crowdless which uses atomised data to predict how long supermarket queues are likely to be.

Four messages from the the Vale Council here concerning government help, waste-collection changes over the bank holiday weekend, extra garden-waste collections in the week commencing 11 May and information about VE FDay celebrations at ho

Sweatbox Youth Club in Wantage is still operating (virtually) offering online activities such as quizzes as well as support for those suffering mental-health problems – click here to visit its FB page.

• General information here from the Vale Council here about waste collection services in the area.

Click here for information about online entertainment available from Cornerstone and The Beacon. 

• Businesses across Oxfordshire (including those which already receive 100 per cent rate relief) that are yet to submit their details for grant support in response to CV-19 should do so as soon as possible.

• Julie Mabberley’s regular column on p8 of the Wantage & Grove Herald considers the long-term solutions to problems of Thames Water leaks, 25% of the water that it currently pipes being lost in this way.

• A further reminder that Wantage and Grove Campaign Group’s public meeting with David Johnston MP, Yvonne Constance, and Emily Smith which was planned for 22 May has been cancelled: however, the group has added a discussion forum to its website so that it can discuss the issuesand then send our questions to these people. Anyone registered to receive the W&GCG’s emails should be able to join in – click here to sign up for these.

• All charges are suspended in the District Council car parks at The Beacon and on Limborough Road until 1 June and during this time you do not have to display a ticket. Any outstanding car park permits, recently expired or due to expire, will also be honoured until that date – permit holders therefore do not need to take any action before then. 

Click here for other news from the Wantage and Grove Campaign Group

• 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.

Swindon & district

Latest news from Swindon Borough Council.

• The Swindon Advertiser reports that there have been 41 reports of businesses allegedly breaking the national lockdown restrictions introduced at the end of March.

• Information here from Swindon Council about celebrating VE Day at home.

Parking season tickets which were due to expire during the coronavirus lockdown period will be automatically extended free of charge by Swindon Borough Council

• Swindon Borough Council has written to more than 5,000 residents who have been identified by the NHS as being at high risk from coronavirus.

• Swindon Museum and Art Gallery has launched a new digital project to bring its collection of modern art to people’s living rooms.

• The Council is urging local businesses and organisations which might be eligible for government grants to apply if they are yet to do so.

• In common with our councils and fire services, Swindon Council and the Wiltshire and Dorset Fire Service are urging residents not to light bonfires during the pandemic.

Click here for information from Swindon Council about how Coronavirus is affecting its services as well as other useful information. 

• Swindon Borough Council will prioritise certain waste collections over the coming months amid the continuing Coronavirus crisis.

• Bus-pass restrictions have been lifted for older and disabled people in Swindon.

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

The song and the quiz

• The Song of the Week Returns to Levon Helm of the The Band and one of the world’s great singing drummers. The Band had three top-notch warblers (Helm, bassist Rick Danko and pianist Richard Manuel) and were, despite their rubbish name, utterly brilliant. Here’s one of my faves, featuring two of these singers performing King Harvest (Has Surely Come) in 1970.

• And so we come to the Quiz Question of the Week. This week’s question has already been answered elsewhere in this post and is: Roughly what percentage of the water in Thames Water’s pipes is lost though leaks? Last week’s question was: Roughly how long did it take Europe’s population level to recover from the Black Death in the late 1340s? Estimates obviously vary but many experts estimate that it was between 80 and 150 years. About 70% of the population died in England alone. (This is intended to make you feel a little bit better about what’s going on at the moment.)

Brian Quinn

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