Weekly News with Brian 6-13 May 2021

This Week with Brian

Pre-unlockdown lassitude, India, religious examples, in-person meetings, gunboat diplomacy for the tax haven, a trip to Istanbul, a lost stopcock, Covid stats, shuffling the pack, community grants, a brokedown palace, a wedding planner and a prize quiz.

Click on the appropriate buttons to the right for the local news from your area, all updated on Thursday 6 May.

Matters covered include ReadiBus, Sandleford, Thatcham Library’s blue-sky thinking, Hungerford’s newsletter, recent parish council meetings, Newbury’s Eagle Quarter, Thatcham’s 2,500 new homes, water theft in Oxfordshire, CIL payments, Lambourn’s Market Cross and some good news for Upper Lambourn’s broadband users.

If there’s anything you’d like to see covered for your area or anything that you’d like to add to something that we’ve covered already, drop me a line at brian@pennypost.org.uk

Further afield

• The main thing that has caught my eye this week has been…well, nothing very much. I know you might find it surprising that I’m not fulminating about half a dozen things but the UK seems to be in a bit of a lull right now. The current gradual downgrading of lockdown, the next two steps of which are set to be 17 May and 21 June, have put us all in a state of normal-yet-not-normal; that sense of nervous anticipation that you have when you’re waiting for an email or letter that you think will confirm good news but you know that it could yet all go horribly wrong. [more below>]

The cases in the UK seems to be wobbling around the 2,000 a day mark: probably statistically insignificant, given that April and May seem to be almost entirely composed of weekends and bank holidays which lead to reporting lags. Most people agree that there’ll be a surge later in the summer. Depending on how well vaccinated we are as a population (the stuff seems to work) this may not matter too much. A third jab will be offered to over 50s in the autumn. Assuming no massive mutations which evade the quite canny way the vaccines appear to have been built, that might be that. For the UK, at least. Other countries are faring a lot worse..

India, for example. The BMJ reports that on 26 April, the country reported over 360,000 cases. The article suggests that, as well as a certain complacency after the 2020 wave seemed to pass it by, the causes appear to include political rallies and religious festivals, both of which India tends to go for on a pretty large scale. Both also tend to distance you from your current problems: indeed, that’s the point of them. Then again, it perhaps all comes down to the investment you make in your healthcare systems. According to the World Bank, India spends about 3.5% of its GDP on healthcare, compared to 10% in the UK. Our facilities came quite close to being overwhelmed a few months ago: India’s seem to be being so now. Then again, Vietnam (where one of my sons has been holed up since last February and which has only reported 35 deaths) spends only about 6% of its GDP on healthcare. Clearly, it’s not what you have but what you do with it: also how many people listen. An efficient command economy that is used to dealing with existential threats will be far better placed than a liberal democracy in which a large part of the population will distrust any message simply because of who delivers it.

• Most would agree that, for good or for ill, social media and the internet have enabled people with any view on any subject to find those who share these and form a community which strengthened by repeated interaction. This becomes particularly powerful if – again for good or for ill – the resulting community feel that it has no stake in, or particular faith in, the state. In the case of vaccine scepticism, American atheists are twice as likely as white evangelicals to get jabbed and a fairly similar picture can be seen with some BAME communities in the UK. This article in The Conversation adds that over a third of French people (as of 1 March) were unwilling to be vaccinated. This tells us a lot about what these three groups think about the government of their countries. As this video demonstrates, any message which comes from a religious leader at a time when he (for it is almost always a he) feels his authority to be challenged can create a number of short-cuts past logic and science that – now as ever – are very hard to counter except by sinking to the same frenetic demagoguery in which they’re usually couched. At least it isn’t any longer a burnable offence to disagree with these people: at least not in the UK.

• Evidence continues to pile up about about the problems caused by the government’s decision to insist that local councils conduct their meetings person after 7 May, despite social-distancing regulations being in force until at least 21 June that will prevent many of them being able to do so. A Conservative West Berkshire Council member described the situation this week as “a nightmare”. I know I’ve banged about this before and I know that many of you have never attended a local council meeting and are possibly quite hazy about what they do or how they work. That’s fine. Most of us also don’t know what our liver or the strong nuclear force or the Gulf Stream do or how they work, yet we all depend on these every day and would be in deep trouble if they packed up. This isn’t anything as a dramatic but is still a patronising and domineering put-down for the thousands of local organisations that acquitted themselves superbly during the darkest days of the pandemic (often, such as with test and trace, being given their powers too late) and have now been told that they aren’t competent to run their own affairs. Suddenly I’m starting to understand what the anti-state vaccine deniers I mentioned above are on about.

• The papers are full of “Boris sending the gunboats” in order to protect one of the European tax havens that lie just off the French coast from a dispute with Paris about fishing rights. I don’t know anything of our PM’s financial arrangements but suspect that many would be worried if the lights were turned out there, as it seems France might have the power to do. The Channel Islands were part of the Duchy of Normandy, whose Duke conquered England in 1066. When the French King Philip II repaid the favour by conquering Normandy in 1204, these islands were overlooked and not absorbed into France. They have retained a relationship with the British state, via the crown, ever since. They are not part of the UK but retain close links with it, particularly in the area of financial services. In 2019, the Tax Justice Network ranked Jersey as the eighth most aggressive tax haven in the world, a claim the island’s regulators disputed. A number of people benefit greatly from this. Viewed in this light, this gunboat diplomacy is perhaps more logical than was the Falklands War.

• If you don’t like football you can skip over this paragraph. There will, for the third time since 2008, be two English teams contesting the Champions League final later this month. This has been scheduled for Istanbul. Whether it’s a good idea for two squads and their travelling armies of medicos, psychologists, dieticians, agents, hairdressers and the rest to travel this far in the middle of a global pandemic is a matter that UEFA might want to consider (but probably won’t).

• Clearly I was wrong in my opening paragraph. There are a number of things that still annoy me on a daily basis. I would continue in this vein but this week has been particularly occupied with e-newsletters, as the first week of the month always is (if you don’t know, we do a weekly one for most of West Bershire and the surrounding area and monthly ones for Hungerford and the Lambourn Valley). The bank holiday didn’t help: nor did the discovery today that we have a leak in the tap of our internal stopcock but no idea at all where the external one is, without which the internal one can’t be isolated. Before you roll your eyes at this domestic oversight, I’d ask you to say now where your external stopcock is. Exactly. You need to identify it perhaps once every 20 years and few of us record such information. If you know exactly where your exterior stopcock is, and have the tool to open it, and know whether you turn it clockwise or anti-clockwise, then I hate you…

Across the area

• The BBC reports that there were 46 CV-19 cases in West Berkshire in the week 26 April to 2 May, up 22 on the week before (mainly, I understand, due to an outbreak in a school). This equates to 29 cases per 100,000. The average area in England has 16 (18 last week). See also this map from Gov.uk which enables figures at a much more local level to be obtained.

Click here for details of Covid lateral flow tests, which are available at four sites across the district (Hungerford, Newbury, Thatcham and Burghfield); and of home-testing kits. This post also has information about such facilities in neighbouring districts.

• West Berkshire Council Leader Lynne Doherty has recently shuffled her pack with some portfolio roles being re-assigned. Click here for details.

• West Berkshire Council, in partnership with its waste contractor Veolia, is trialling four new recycling banks to increase collection of plastic waste. The banks will be for the collection of plastic pots, tubs and trays and are now available to use. These will be at the Paworth and Newbury recycling centres, at Hungerford station car park and the Kingsland Centre car park in Thatcham.

Sovereign Housing is offering £90,000 of community grants to community groups within three miles of any Sovereign-managed property. See The Good Exchange website for more.

• West Berkshire Council says that one in six people who invested in the Council’s Climate Change Bond liked the idea so much they have donated their interest back to the scheme.

• The West Berkshire Covid dashboard can be visited here.

• Click here for the latest news from West Berkshire Council.

Click here for the latest business newsletter from West Berkshire Council.

Click here for the latest residents’ newsletter from West Berkshire Council.

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

• See also the sections for Wantage, Marlborough and Swindon below for initiatives from Vale of White Course Council, Wiltshire Council and Swindon Council.

Click here to visit the website for West Berkshire Council’s Community Support Hub. You can also or call 01635 503 579 to speak to the the Building Communities Together team. 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.

• You can click here to choose to receive all or any of West Berkshire Council’s e-newsletters.

• 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.

• The animals of the week are a direct result of today’s elections. I don’t know why dog owners feel compelled to take photos of their mutts at polling stations but it seems to be a thing. Here are a few the BBC website picked out.

• The letters section of the Newbury Weekly News includes, as well as those mentioned elsewhere, ones on the subject of fly tipping, the Greenham Control Tower, table service, pigeon ping-pong, the Tory trough and social housing.

• A number of good causes have received valuable support including: Wild Oxfordshire (thanks to The Big Give’s Green Matched Fund); several local charities (thanks to Newbury BID and the Crafty Craft Race); Children with Cancer UK (thanks to Jess Bowsher); the Motor Neurone Disease Association (thanks to Andrew Lenaghan); Brendoncare Froxfield (thanks to local staff); Dignity in Dying (thanks to Sara Fenton).

The quiz, the sketch and the song

• And so we roll up to the Song of the Week. Thanks to Prof JC who sent me this link of the Brothers Cometose’s version of the lovely Brokedown Palace by The Grateful Dead.

• Here we are again at the Comedy Sketch of the Week. Not a sketch but a very funny scene from Father of the Bride with Martin Short camping it up like nobody’s business, and with the craziest accent you ever heard, as the wedding planner Franck Eggelhoffer.

• And we come in to land with the Quiz Question of the Week. This week’s question is slightly topical and is: How many European football finals have been between two teams from England? For last week’s question, I directed you to our latest prize quiz on the subject of farm produce which gives you the chance to win £75-worth of vouchers from Karen and Neil Millar-Ward’s fruit and Veg stall at Hungerford, Thatcham and Marlborough, Cobb’s Farm Shop in Hungerford and Honesty’s coffee shops throughout the area.

For weekly news sections for Lambourn Valley; Marlborough area; Newbury area; Thatcham area; Compton and Downlands; Theale area; Wantage area; Swindon area please click on the appropriate link.

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Covering: Hungerford, Marlborough, Wantage,   Lambourn, Newbury, Thatcham & Theale