Weekly News with Brian 3-10 June 2021

This Week with Brian

A good zero, the right to a flight, Variant Omega, playing catch-up, Vietnam, England selection, an internal report, spikes, dog bins, carer’s week, the 32nd minute twice, a hedge and the smuggler’s blues.

Click on the appropriate buttons to the right to see the local news from your area (generally updated every Thursday).

Matters covered here include the Sandleford inquiry, spring cleaning, Hungerford’s newsletter, Lambourn’ elections, Theale’s trees, Wantage’s charity award, Marlborough’s jabs, Compton’s contortions, trouble at Swindon’s oasis and the Cake Wood cows.

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

• This week saw the first day since whenever with no Covid deaths. Does this matter? Possibly not. Seven-day averages are better things to look at. But anything bad that records a zero is good news. Monthly figures are even better. Hospitalisations and deaths are kind of wobbling steady. New variants will emerge. Jabs seem to work against these so get them when they’re offered and, as JVT said, don’t “rip the the pants”off any new relaxations. We can only think so far ahead.

• If death figures stay in single digits then many will argue that there are many other things the government can do if its aim is to save lives, such as banning road vehicles (which kill five people a day on average, about the same as Covid) or bungee jumping (I don’t have the stats for that). There’s a slight feeling that the government, and perhaps the public, is experiencing something approaching a Stockholm Syndrome with regard to the virus. Perhaps we need a couple of months off and damn the consequences just to check we’re able to function without restrictions.

• A lot of newspapers, including the newspaper I will not name but which rhymes with “greyly fail” talks about the threat to “our holidays“, as if the the places that the owners of this paper enjoy are remotely the same as those that its readers ever visit. Being able to fly off anywhere in the world on a whim is not a human right. There are loads of lovely places to visit in the UK.

• The Covid variants are being renamed after Greek letters: this is “to avoid sigma” for countries or districts where they were first identified, rather than (we are assured) as a PR exercise as with the Winscale/Sellafield name-change to make us feel that they’ve gone away. Presumably, they’ll be avoiding the letter Sigma lest this be accused of accomplishing what the exercise is trying to avoid. The names of some Greek letters are, to my ear, almost indistinguishable. Also, there are only (I think) 24 of them. Will the virus respect this limit? Why not use animals, like Apple did with its big-cat operating systems? “Variant Pangolin” and “Variant Bat” would be two good ones to kick off with, just to remind people where this all came from. I certainly don’t welcome the prospect of living under “Variant Omega”, which has a very portentous ring to it and might be The Big One. I think I could cope with “Variant Terrapin”, though. Can’t help feeling that WHO is tempting fate with this system.

• Over half of UK adults are now fully vaccinated, the BBC claims. Including me, as the four-day ache on my upper right arm still testifies. No side-effects this time, though. Mind you, I can’t say that for sure. Without the jab on Saturday, I might have felt fantastic this week rather than OK (I’ll stick not twist with “OK”, I think).

• The BBC reports that the education recovery commissioner for England, Sir Kevan Collins, has resigned in a row over the lack of “credible” Covid catch-up funding.It’s impossible to say how much might be needed to bridge the socio-economic gaps that the pandemic has created, to say nothing of the ones that were there already. I hope this resignation was due to the point of principle, as he claims, rather than to some squalid internal political battle that he lost.

Dominic Cummings’ remarks seems to have vanished almost as completely as if they were never made. Some seemed fair, others self-interested. One possibly useful suggestion he made was that the UK seemed unwilling to learn from the lessons of countries in south east Asia, which have done a pretty good job at dealing with the virus.

• That said, Vietnam – where one of my sons has been since February 2020 – recently experienced a surge in cases. So far the country has reported fewer than 50 deaths. Let’s say that’s flawed and you need to multiply this figure by five. That’s still less less than West Berkhsire’s official death toll, from a population of about 160,000. Vietnam has about 96,000,000 people. The kind of government that Vietnam has isn’t what we’d all want to live under though it seems more light-touch than some of the others. In times of existential threats, places like Vietnam (which knows a thing or two about existential threats, thanks to SARS, MERS and the US military) seem to have done pretty well, as Honest Dom suggested. A lot of these things are cultural, though, not something you just introduce into Whitehall or the country at large by having intense focus groups, a slick slogan and looking all sincere on TV. What do we want, need or expect from our government? I suspect that a lot of the British dither has been caused by BJ’s fear that any regulations wouldn’t be obeyed. The result was often a kind of fudge which made them so complex that it was hard to understand what they were. It’s hard to obey something when you’re not sure what it is. In a lot of countries, the government just says “do this or else” and that’s that.

• As mentioned last week, the official public enquiry into our government’s handling of the pandemic won’t be starting until the spring of 2022. The unofficial one seems to have been publicly started this week. The virus is meanwhile, publicly or otherwise, mutating all the time.

Euro 2020 starts on Friday 11 June 2021: it seems to have been delayed by a year for some reason. The last international football competition in these parts was the World Cup in 2018, a summer of at first delightful but then oppressive heat. The football, the sunshine and the unfolding drama of Brexit were the only things I recall being discussed then. If any of you are remotely interested, I write a song about that time which you can listen to here if you’ve nothing to do for four minutes. I suspect this competition will have a similar conclusion for England with a defeat in the semi-finals (probably to Germany).

• And as for the England selection, I’m bemused by why Southgate picked Raheem Sterling after his rotten performance for Man City in the CL final. Perhaps he didn’t watch the game. My having said that, Sterling will probably be top scorer as we win this thing for the first time. Quite happy to be proved wrong on this one…

Across the area

• The BBC reports that there were 46 CV-19 cases in West Berkshire in the week 23-293 May, down two on the week before. This equates to 29 cases per 100,000. The average area in England had 17 (13 the week before). 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.

• There has recently been a spike in Covid cases in West Berkshire which seems to mainly the result of two unrelated outbreaks in local schools. At a press briefing on 1 June, Communities and Wellbeing Service Director Matt Pearce said that there had been seven cases of the Indian variant in West Berkshire and a slight increase in hospital admissions; and that the infection rate was hovering around the 30/100,000 mark. I think he has team have acquitted themselves very well during the pandemic so when he added that situation was being closely monitored I’m happy to take him at his word.

West Berkshire Council claims that it “has performed strongly” over the last year, a fact that is “recognised in a recent report.” This phrasing suggested that this was an independent report so my first search was for a link to this so I could see for myself what it said, There was no link. It then appeared that this was an internal report (though it doesn’t say so in so many words: if that’s what it is, then it ought to have done). Without knowing more about who asked the questions and who drew the conclusions, there’s not much more that can be said about this. 

• West Berkshire Council is updating its local plan, something that needs to happen every five years. I understand that over 2,000 consultation responses were received, many of which would have been quite lengthy, and the processing these is taking considerably longer than expected. This puts at risk the proposed special council meeting in late July which will consider what needs to be amended. There are still several hoops this has to jump through (or lumber through – nothing in planning really jumps) culminating in an external examination. If this hasn’t all happened by the fifth anniversary about this time next year, WBC is open to the risk of speculative development: developers are more likely to get what they want if they can demonstrate that the local plan is out of date, while any refusal is more likely to succeed on appeal.

• And still with WBC, the Council has launched a new campaignRespect our Parks and Open Spaces. At a press briefing earlier this week, I asked Council Leader Lynne Doherty whether the problem with emptying dog waste bins – which seemed to appear in almost every parish council’s minutes recently – had been resolved. She assured me that itthishad been due to particular staffing problem five or six weeks ago which had been fixed. If any parish councillors out there see the problem re-appearing, I’m sure you know who at WBC you need to contact as you’ve probably done so already.

Click here for information about Carers’ Week (7-13 June) in West Berkshire.

• West Berkshire Council has refreshed its strategy for next two years – click here for more.

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.

• 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.

Click here for the latest Covid 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 the swans which appeared as the header image of the June Penny Post Hungerford, photographed by Barry Harding.

• The letters section of the Newbury Weekly News includes, as well as those mentioned elsewhere, climate change, vaccines, voter ID, Tesco’s meat and Cummings’ take on care homes.

• A number of good causes have received valuable support including: Sue Ryder Duchess of Kent Hospice (thanks to Robert Milson and Eleanor Taylor); Marlborough Kids’ meals (thanks to Marlborough Brownies); the Friends of Savernake Hospitaland Ann Yates for Marlborough Area Poverty Action Group (thanks to the Mayor of Marlborough); Ocean Ward at Southampton General Hospital (thanks to Robin Busby); the Little Princess Trust (thanks to Olivia Harper).

The quiz, the sketch and the song

• And so we come to the Song of the Week. I do like songs that tell a story: this one even got incorporated into an episode of Miami Vice (you remember, the show in which all the men had the sleeves of their jackets half rolled up, all the women had massive shoulder pad and both the men and the women had the same hairstyles). it’s not a very happy story, mind: but so few on this subject are – Glenn Frey’s Smuggler’s Blues.

• Which means it’s time for the Comedy Sketch of the Week. About time for a bit of Fry and Laurie and here they both are doing the mixed-up, muddled-up Hedge sketch.

• And we come to the Quiz Question of the Week. This week’s question is as follows: What do the years 1066, 1483, 1689 and 1936 have in common, as far as England is concerned? Last week’s question was: St Johnstone won both Scottish cups this season. Aside from that, what was remarkable about the two results? St Johnstone won both matches 1-0: on each occasion, the goal was scored by the same player (Shaun Rooney), with a header, in the 32nd minute. I think you’ll agree that’s quite remarkable. 

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: Newbury, Thatcham, Hungerford, Marlborough, Wantage, Lambourn, Compton, Swindon & Theale