Weekly News with Brian 26 August to 2 September 2021

This Week with Brian

…a damaged foot, a returning son, darkness descending, collateral damage, a fishing hook, pigs in blankets, bindweed, two boring things, taking advantage, a fire, Armenian debating, no sampling here, satisfaction, Headingley, reaching for the moon and a well-spoken barber.

Click on the appropriate buttons to the right to see the local news from your area (generally updated every Thursday) including a showground correction, two pitches compared, the Eagle Quarter shrinks, green credentials, Hungerford’s animals, Froxfield’s festival, Lambourn’s plans, Shefford’s farm shop, Newbury’s flowers, Wash Water’s tense, Boxford’s replacement, Thatcham’s injunction, Bucklebury’s visit, Cold Ash’s delphiniums, Hermitage’s NDP, Hampstead Norreys’ sight-lines, Aldermaston’s show, Theale’s hall, Wantage’s planters, Grove’s station, Letcombe’s brook, Marlborough’s robes, Mildenhall’s recruitment, Swindon’s landmark and Wootton Bassett’s farce – plus our usual whiz around the websites and FB pages across the area.

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

Life is dominated here by Penny’s foot (you might remember I fessed up last week to running her over in the drive about two weeks ago) and the imminent return from Vietnam of our son Adam. He left for what was intended to be a two-month gap-year trip in February 2020 since when we’ve seen him only on Zoom. The main points of interest are (i) will he make the flight (for reasons he explains here this didn’t happen a couple of weeks ago); and (ii) what quarantine or self-isolation measures will be insisted upon (which change with bewildering frequency)? I’ll believe he’s back when I finally see him.

[more below] 

• Life for a lot of people further east is dominated by the Taliban, which has refused to extend the 31 August deadline for foreign troops to leave the country. Until then, western governments are trying to get as many people out as possible. Come 1 September, the darkness will return.

• Another piece of darkness in the world is to be found in Cuba where US sanctions have applied in various forms since 1960. Whatever goals this has accomplished, making the island republic compliant with Washington’s wishes has not been one of them. Indeed, it has had no more success than the military intervention which the Americans have favoured elsewhere (though sanctions are certainly cheaper). The matter is now so ingrained a part of US policy and is supported by so many emigré Cubans that it seems unlikely to be changed any time soon.

The festering dispute has recently led to an unexpected bit of collateral damage, My friend Loz Speyer, a jazz musician whose excellent compositions and trumpet playing owe much to Cuba’s musical heritage, recently sent round a promo email for some forthcoming tours and gigs which, after 18 months of closed venues, are now re-starting. (There are also some links to his music, which I recommend clicking on.) At the end, he added an appeal for any donations via PayPal to help support an extended family and the wider community in Santiago de Cuba. A day later he was forced to issue a correction. PayPal had delayed payments because of his initial request that donors quoted “Cuba fund” in the transaction which, he explained, “meant that we have come straight up against the US embargo.”

If you do donate, therefore, do not mention Cuba when describing the payment. (On second thoughts, this link might provide a short cut through the politics to the music and the cause.) When he had his first trumpet lesson he probably didn’t suspect that this would bring him into a collision with the US government but that’s what’s happened. I doubt this setback will weaken his resolve to try to help the people there’s he’s played with any more than it’s weakened the resolve of the Cuban people as a whole. Sanctions, like censorship, seem ultimately to be self-defeating. You also have to question whether any policy that has been in place for over 60 years and not accomplished its goal might need a little rearrangement, modulation or transposition to a different key. Maybe global politics and jazz music are more similar than they appear.

• Still with music, the man who was at the baby on the cover of Nirvana’s Nevermind album has decided to sue the band’s surviving members and others on a number of grounds including emotional distress, the lack of release documents for the photo and charges of child pornography. This is despite the fact that he’s been involved in various re-creations of the cover, for which he was presumably paid. Comparing the photo of the baby and of him now, I can give him the reassuring news that it would be hard to identify the former from the latter. Now, of course, the whole world knows. It’s the Barbara Streisand effect once again. The courts will decide. One might also ask (as I asked myself at the time) what creative process led to a baby being submerged in a swimming pool and photographed grasping at a fishing hook with a dollar bill snagged on it. Stateside rock and roll, eh?

• I heard something on R4 this week that said that the shortage of staff due the pingdemic and whatever else and various supply-chain issues had resulted in supermarkets being unable to guarantee that certain Christmas staples would be available in the quantities we have previously have demanded. The example he quoted was pigs in blankets, the planning for which apparently should have started by now, and for which demand might outstrip supply. Aside from the fact that a reminder of Christmas in August (many industries think about it a lot earlier than this) is slightly creepy, I think I could survive without 12-packs of undercooked sausages wrapped in cheap bacon and supplied in elaborate plastic wrapping, most of which will either be forgotten in the fridge, burnt in the oven or left on the side of the plate. In fact, any sustained thought about pigs in blankets, and the production process which enables me to so effortlessly buy them on 23 December should I wish, does more than almost anything else to make me consider becoming vegetarian. This is an option now has more and more to recommend it. Mind you, with slow-cooked lamb and crispy bacon sandwiches still an option that’s always going to be a tough call.

• What has roots that can be nine metres long, always spirals anti-clockwise, is edible in moderation but is a strong laxative, is recommended as a cure for spider bites and has a possible value in trading cancer? The answer, I learn from the letters section of this week’s Newbury Weekly News, is Calyistergia Silvatica or bindweed to its friends, of which I am certainly not one. If you’ve got it in your garden you’re stuck with it. There is nothing you can do, apart from move house. 

• The most recent Private Eye has – along with its excellent MD column, tales of the companies who have done very nicely out of the pandemic and much more besides – has on page 15 an article about the developers Gladman. This casts an interesting light on the way that such companies go about getting what they want from the local planning authority (LPA).

It was pointed out to me today by someone with considerable experience in the process in West Berkshire that the terms “local”, “planning” and “authority” were in many ways misnomers as so many decisions are taken in Whitehall, in boardrooms or in the courts. Indeed, the article quotes Gladman as once having assured its landowning partners that a refusal from a LPA was “nothing to worry about” as it relied on the appeals process to achieve its ends. The piece concludes with the ominous remark from the firm’s chairman five years ago that “we target local authorities whose planning systems are in disarray and which are vulnerable to a quick application.” Given recent governmental change to the National Planning Policy Framework, which has resulted in several councils, including West Berkshire, finding that its updated local plans (the cornerstone of a robust system) have been put on hold, such developers may soon find that the number of their target authorities will be considerably increased.

With the possible exception of sewage, few things are more boring than planning. Most of us think about these as little as possible until an issue rears its head near us in which case it’s almost impossible to think about anything else. The systems that operate these processes are the offspring of an uneasy and often unhappy marriage between government and the private sector. They also both have to work under environmental regulations which many would argue are (i) out of date, (ii) subject to the diluting effect of lobbying and (iii) not sufficiently strongly enforced.

Two things that affect a lot of us directly, and all of us indirectly, are the ease with which sewage discharges can be made into waterways and the shortage of affordable homes (there are other problems with these two areas, too). These two aspects of government policy have effectively been outsourced to the private sector. Private-sector companies exist to make money. Fixing overloaded sewerage systems and building two-bed homes for rent are not profitable. The companies involved thus look for every means possible to avoid doing these things. The fines or developer contributions (which they can also evade) clearly don’t act as sufficient deterrents.

There are some problems that need a national initiative  to solve and these seem to be two of them. Gladman and other similar companies are playing by the rather one-sided rules of the system as it’s currently devised. The proposed planning reforms will be likely to give them even more power and the LPAs even less. As for the proposed environmental bill, which will include measures to reduce discharges which were first suggested in a private member’s bill in January 2021, the shape and scope of that is also uncertain. Any enforcement will also still seem to rest with the Environment Agency, a body whose decisions (certainly based on some cases round here) are not always quick or effective. Unfortunately, as some of the pandemic responses have shown, when the government takes direct control of something the instrument proves to be very blunt and the results even more mixed. Perhaps the best hope for a solution for some of these inequalities will come from consumer power: certainly this will be a more effective way of ensuring that homes are built to a sustainable standard than any amount of legislation. Whether it can help our polluted rivers or the people who need a family home is less certain…

Across the area

• The BBC reports that there were 540 CV-19 cases in West Berkshire in the week 16 to 22 August, up 149 on the week before. This equates to 341 cases per 100,000. The average area in England had 316 (292 the week before). See also this map from Gov.uk which enables figures at a more local level to be obtained.

16- and 17-year-olds are now being offered one dose of the Pfizer vaccine and these will be provided at the Northcroft Centre between 1 and 4 September. Please see this page on West Berkshire Council’s website for details. There are about 4,200 people in this age group in the district and about 40% have been vaccinated, which means there are about 2,500 arms awaiting their shot. For the country as a whole, 77% of people have received two jabs and 88% of people one. The lower rate among the 16/17 group is because vaccinations have only been offered to them fairly recently.

• The two big issues in West Berkshire last week – the fire at the clubhouse at the Faraday Road football ground and the planning infringement at Lawrence’s Lane in Thatcham – have moved forward a bit. With regard to the fire, arson is strongly suspected but not yet proved. What is happening is that the remains of the clubhouse are being demolished (despite a legal challenge that the roughly one third that was claimed to be structurally sound should remain) after investigations by building experts including those from another authority found that the structure was unsafe. You can read WBC’s statement here. Although the building will soon be demolished, the application by WBC to do just this will still need to be heard by the District Planning Committee in order to accord with due process. Nothing about Newbury’s football ground is simple, after all. See the Newbury Area Weekly News section or more on this. 

• Regarding the unlawful development at Lawrence’s Lane, WBC obtained an injunction this week for work there to stop: read WBC’s statement here. To continue the theme of due process, the fact the a planning application was lodged (albeit the afternoon before) means that this must now be seen through the system. It appears that there are some problems with the application, though I’m not sure if these apply to the documentation or to the fact that the works prematurely done over the weekend differed from what was specified. If the latter, this would seem to have been a serious faux pas by the applicants as complete accord between the plans and what had been started would make their case stronger and turn the issue effectively into a retrospective application, of which there are many each year. Like the Faraday Road matter, this will also proceed through the system as if nothing had happened.

• This week also saw the submission of the planning application for the proposed sports hub at Monk’s Lane which some claim (though others do not) is a replacement for the disused Faraday Lane ground. You can West Berkshire Council’s statement on the matter here. For more on this, see the 26 August section in our Newbury Area Weekly News.

• I mentioned last week about the changes to the local plans which many local planning authorities have had to make as a result of changes to the National Planning Policy Framework which were confirmed last month. My interest is the extent to the consultation in January gave warning of the proposed change. In this I’m hampered by the fact that the document on the Gov.uk website appears to have had phrases added and I’m not clear when this happened (and so who saw what version of the text when). I’ve asked the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government for some clarity on this but have yet to hear back. I’ll park this until I’ve done so.

• West Berkshire Council is consulting on its Local Flood Risk Management Strategy (LFRMS) and you have until Sunday 3 October to have your say. See here for more information.

• From 31 August there will be some changes to bus timetables in the district, more information on which can be found here.

• Details of West Berkshire Council’s holiday activities and for programme can be found here.

• West Berkshire Council is running a consultation (which closes at midnight on Sunday 5 September) into the lido at the Northcroft Centre

• Another West Berkshire consultation (which closes at midnight on Friday 30 August) covers the region’s bus services. 

• WBC has announced a second round of grants for local infrastructure projects proposed by community groups for the benefit of their residents and businesses. Bids are now invited from community groups to be received by Tuesday 31 August (ie very soon). Final decisions will be made as part of the 2022-23 budget debate next year. Click here for more.

Click here for information about lateral flow tests available in West Berkshire.

• The West Berkshire Covid dashboard can be visited here.

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

Click here for details of consultations currently being run by 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 for initiatives from Vale of White Horse Council, Wiltshire Council and Swindon Council and the various towns and parishes.

Click here to visit the website for West Berkshire Council’s Community Support Hub. You can also 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 animal of the week are these members of parliament (it happened to be in Armenia but could have been anywhere) who got involved in a pub-car-park-style brawl.

• The letters section of the Newbury Weekly News includes, as well as those referred to elsewhere, coincidences, climate change, skylarks, smart motorways, delusional boy-men, dog bins and the Elections bill.

• A number of good causes have received valuable support including: Wiltshire Air Ambulance (thanks to its summer raffle); Newbury Cancer Care (thanks to Jenny and Thomas Kirby); MacMillan Cancer Support. (thanks to Marcelle Monument); RNLI (thanks to the charity football match in Hungerford); the Macular Society (thanks to Noeline Rycroft); NHS Charities Together (thanks to Eddie Franklin); Prior’s Court (thanks to Jools Montague); Thrive (thanks to AWE).

The quiz, the sketch and the song

• So here we are at the desert that is the Song of the Week. With the passing of the great Charlie Watts this week, the world is a less rhythmical and also less well-dressed place. The story of how he punched Mick Jagger for referring to him as “my drummer” is well known. I also like the tale of when, in the ’80s, a producer or engineer new to the Stones’ way of working, suggested that Watts’ drum-track could be sampled and looped. Keith Richards took the technician to one side. “That man sitting over there,” he growled, “is the best rock and roll drummer in the world. No one samples Charlie.” So, it’s got to be a Stones song this week – but where to start? Let’s play it safe and go for Satisfaction.

• Followed by the cheese course of the Comedy Sketch of the Week. Fry and Laurie produced many outstanding sketches, several featuring Stephen Fry as a loquacious and menacing shop-keeper or similar and Huge Laurie as his increasingly bemused client. This one, The Well-spoken Barber, is an excellent example of this style that they more or less copyrighted.

• And so to the Port and cigars time with the  Quiz Question of the Week. This week’s question is: What happened at Headingley on 25 August that has only happened twice before in test cricket? Last week’s question was: What is 243,042km long? The answer is Canada’s coastline (including all those islands) which, if unravelled, would stretch about two thirds of the way to the moon. I’m struggling, and failing, to think of what that might look like.

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 

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