Weekly News with Brian 2 to 9 December 2021

This Week with Brian

Including Greek alternatives, different reactions, pigs in blankets, efficacy, libertarians, booster patience, Christmas parties past and present, defenestration, a 1p fine, rural verges, the brink of extinction, refreshments, rockets, Hilary’s special stuff and no surprise.

Click on the appropriate buttons to the right to see the local news from your area (generally updated every Thursday evening) including gagging clauses, the high life, a sustainable motion, booster pop-ups, need not greed, Hungerford’s meeting, Kintbury’s clinic, Froxfield’s survey, Lambourn’s website, East Garston’s whiff-waft, Shefford’s treasure, Newbury’s light, Speenhamland’s grant, Hamstead Marshall’s hornet, Chieveley’s resignation, Enborne’s frequency, Thatcham’s past, Cold Ash’s beacon, Yattendon’s sale, East Ilsley’s gifts, West Ilsley’s signs, Compton’s complaint, Chaddleworth’s news, Padworth’s news, Theale’s amendment, Aldermaston’s nativity, Stratfield Mortimer’s contribution, Wantage’s evening, Grove’s rugby, Challow’s fair, Marlborough’s bulbs, Axford’s diary, Albourne’s optimism, Swindon’s dome – plus our usual hop, skip and jump through the websites and FB pages in 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

• With the new Covid variant now named and shamed, it’s not clear why about ten Greek letters were jumped before Omicron. Epsilon is the one after Delta, which has a wonderfully bad-guy ring. True, some of the intervening ones provide obstacles. In English at least, Eta, Mu and Nu could all be confused with less important ideas while Iota might give the impression no one at the WHO really cared. Xi might be something impossibly rude in Mandarin while Zeta has probably been copyrighted by Michael Douglas’ wife. Aside from demonstrating the erudition of whoever came up with using them, Greek letters might not have been such a great idea. They also give the impression that all are in a predictable parent-child relationship, creating a sense of order that’s at variance with the hectic partner-swapping that has caused these mutations. So, what other nomenclatures might the WHO want to consider?

[more below] 

If you’re searching for something utterly random, where the name gives no clue as to what it’s describing, what you can expect from it or what relation if any it bears with anything else, then you need look no further than the names of cocktails, cricket terms and English pubs. Variant Tom Collins, Variant Cover Point and Variant Coach and Horses tick all these boxes. They’re no more annoying than, for Mac users, the names of the various operating systems of OSX that were for many years named after big cats. I could never remember whether I was a Mountain Lion or a Snow Leopard, nor which was better or more recent. That’s the idea – each variant is just another thing, sort of related but also sort of not. As it is, I get the faint feeling that Variant Mu, Nu and all the rest of them have been and gone but that no one bothered to tell us, which doesn’t fill me with confidence. Also , under the current system, what happens after Omega? Nothing happens – ask any theologian.

• Whatever it’s called, the new variant has certainly got our attention. The PM’s promise to save Christmas may yet again be tested. There will, in any case, be fewer things to buy this year to celebrate it, which may be no bad thing. Who really needs pigs in blankets anyway? The booster programme has been stepped up, which it should have been anyway at this time of year.

• Some people, however, don’t believe in the efficacy of the vaccine. Aside from those who claim it is plain evil and mind-warping (which I think has been dealt with by the lack of any evidence), there are also more persuasive arguments that they are not as efficacious as predicted, particularly when it comes to reducing transmission. Many of these appear to emanate from the vaccine-sceptical HART group which, as this article in Logically explains, is attempting to develop a line into Westminster and Whitehall through its PR and lobbying work. There also seems to be conflicting evidence (see here and here), which I confess I don’t understand, as to how many people hospitalised with Covid were vaccinated.

The problem seems to be that we’re dealing with an ever-changing number of variables. Firstly, it’s been known that the vaccines’ efficacy wanes over time (hence the boosters), so how long ago we were jabbed will affect our risk. Secondly, the different vaccines will all show different characteristics. Thirdly, it was never claimed that they’d eliminate transmission and they aren’t “sterilising” vaccines. Fourthly, more of us are getting jabbed or boosted every day, so the percentage of those in hospital who have at one time been double jabbed will increase. Fifthly, people who’ve been double jabbed are (probably) less likely to do home tests and, of those that do, some are more likely to report negative results than others.

All this would seem to require a digital model of vast complexity and even then it would be dealing with imperfect inputs. And this is without the fact that, as Monty Python’s Brian reminded us, we are all individuals. Many models depend on the abstract idea of a hundred centi-tuplets. As it is, even identical twins don’t seem to develop identical symptoms. It hits us all in different ways. Years ago I caught Hep A from sharing an infected tuna sandwich with a friend of about the same age. I nearly died but was back to normal in four weeks. He was running on about half power for five months. Why should Covid be any different? Nor does it seem a surprise that transmission is still possible if you’re jabbed. All in all, it’s probably wise to regard your vaccinations not as a magic bullet, nor even a suit of armour, but rather as a shield which will be as effective as the ways in which you use it. One of these is self-interestedly altruistic – protecting others from your own possible infections in the hope that they will reciprocate.

• Armed with the idea that any of us can spread the virus, the return of face masks seems a reasonable idea. These are a good example of altruistic behaviour as they offer more protection to others than to the wearer. Many are a bit useless but there’s plenty of evidence that they’re better than nothing. I’ve generally used one these last few months in shops because it seems (a) polite and (b) protective of the retailers, who have hundreds of people coming in every day. What I can’t get is how this has been turned into a civil-liberties issue. It’s a public-health one.

The same point could, as has, been made about lockdowns, with plenty of recent demos. I’ve heard of even odder protests, such as people standing for hours in parks to protest against restrictions. The accusation is that these public-health measures are examples of state control that we must resist, lest were perish. I’m really struggling to understand how any government derives any political, repetitional or economic benefit from these measures. There are so many things that governments do which are worth protesting about, such as the Police, Crimes and Sentencing Bill and the continued failure to meet climate-change ambitions with meaningful legislation on matters such as house-building policy. Why are we wasting our time bitching about face masks?

• The HART group and others of their ilk will doubtless be preparing for a fight in Germany where the government has just announced that unvaccinated people will be banned from shops and bars.

• The booster programme does seem to have kicked in a bit recently, as the government promised. Ten days ago I visited the NHS website and was offered an appointment in Oxford on 22 December which didn’t work for me on any level. A week ago I was proposed one in Marlborough on 18 December: far from ideal but I booked it. On Monday, Penny discovered imminent appointments in Wantage, two of which we took and were duly jabbed on 1 December. If you don’t get the appointment you want then take it but check again and re-schedule if a better one comes up. The grit in the machine is that some sessions, like the pop-up booster clinics in Hungerford (and doubtless elsewhere) this month don’t get offered as options and there’s a separate booking (or walk-in) system for these. Keep your eye on local information sources, like Penny Post, for information.

• The season of Christmas parties is now upon us. These were discussed – if that’s the right verb – at PMQs this week. Much of the attention was on an event that took place in Downing Street almost a year ago. It seems there were more than one of these while the rest of us were stuck at home. Part of me has stopped being surprised, or even cross, at these kind of stories. As for this year, the official advice remains unchanged that they can go ahead. However, it seems likely that most people will be following JVT’s advice and not tearing the pants out of it. This remains as wonderfully vivid a phrase as when he first uttered it at a Covid press briefing last year.

• Moving away from problems at number 10…oh, hang on. It’s recently been announced that the Cabinet Office has been fined £500,000 for data breaches relating to the 2019 honours list when the recipients’ addresses were available on line for over two hours. Given the number of staff the Office employs (to say nothing of the consultants) and the example it should be setting – but has not always set – on adhering to its own regulations, this seems a bit pathetic. I also wonder who is really paying the fine. If it’s a company, it (and thus its shareholders) do. Who owns the shares in the Cabinet Office? I suppose we do. In round numbers, that’s about 1p from every adult in the country. I’ve got mine ready by the front door for whenever the collector comes round to get it.

It also seems to have taken two years to sort out and that was with the CO not even disputing the crime. How long would it have taken if the case had been contested? Until after the next election?

• This has all been a bit Covid-y this week, hasn’t it? Sorry about that. This would be a great time for governments to pass dodgy legislation, for large companies to announce dodgy financials and for tech giants to release  dodgy upgrades. Maybe all this has been happening, but I’ve been more concerned with booking and attending our booster appointments, sweeping up storm-damaged branches from the garden and finding out how the cats are managing to open the bathroom window at night. These things may not be news per se but they’re important to us. In the midst of this second strange seasonal period, we all have our own pre-occupations: and these, recently, have been ours…

Across the area

• Click here for news from your local council if you live in the Vale of White Horse, Wiltshire, Swindon or West Berkshire.

• Further information on your council’s activities is referred to in the respective Weekly News sections for the nine areas that Penny Post covers – Hungerford areaLambourn Valley; Marlborough area; Newbury area; Thatcham area; Compton and Downlands; Theale area; Wantage area; Swindon area

• The BBC reports that there were 861 CV-19 cases in West Berkshire in the week 22 to 28 November, down 41 on the week before. This equates to 543 cases per 100,000. The average area in England had 446 (450 the week before). See also this map from Gov.uk which enables figures at a more local level to be obtained.

• West Berkshire Council has launched a consultation on its draft adult social-care strategy (2022-2026) “to give service users, staff and other local people and organisations the opportunity to share their thoughts on what the priorities should be over the coming years.” This will run until Monday 3 January 2022.

Local plans are important documents that – like journalists of legend, and perhaps reality – need constant refreshment if they are to remain functional. A halt was called to West Berkshire’s (and all other ones) earlier this year as a result of new government regulations about the amount of foresight or “vision” that needed to be demonstrated: planners now need to look an almost impossible 30 years into the future for larger developments. (I’m all for a bit of forward thinking, but how accurate would your 1991 predictions have been about the present day?) WBC has now agreed the timetable for its own plan and you can read a statement here. As the portfolio holder Richard Somner correctly points out, this is a matter of some urgency as the more out of date a local plan is, the greater the risk of speculative developments which, even if refused, might succeed on appeal.

• West Berkshire Council’s Giving Tree campaign is back and WBC is “teaming up with local domestic abuse services to wrap up Christmas for those in need.” Read more here.

• See the Weekly News sections for Hungerford and the Lambourn Valley for details of new Covid booster vaccination centres which will be running in Hungerford, Kintbury and Lambourn on certain days in December.

Surviving to Thriving, a joint venture set up by WBC and Greenham Trust, has recently exceeded its fundraising target of £300,000. It is aimed at all not-for-profit organisations operating in West Berkshire and will provide varying sizes of grants (from £500 up to a maximum of £30,000) that will help them to carry out their activities (possibly online), make one-off purchases or set up new initiatives to help to mitigate the impacts of Covid-19 on mental health and wellbeing.

• West Berkshire Council is conducting a consultation into how its libraries are used and how that can be made even more relevant to your needs. Click here for details. This has been extended until 15 December. WBC says that the response has been good but that more feedback is needed from younger people and families. Even if you don’t visit a library, WBC is keen to hear from you.

Click here for information on changes to WBC’s online payments system which have recently come into force.

• As part of the district’s recovery from Covid-19, West Berkshire Council partnered with Greenham Trust  to create the Let’s Get Active Fund  (LGAF), creating a fund to improve access to physical activities in West Berkshire through proposals developed and organised by local community groups. More information here.

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 libraries newsletter from West Berkshire Council.

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

Click here for the latest business 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.

• A report referred to in the recent minutes of Chieveley Parish Council says that West Berkshire has 1,675km of rural verges. This seems like an awful lot but I suppose with all those twisty roads with verges on both sides it soon adds up. This is pretty much the distance between Madrid and Amsterdam. I’m not sure if this is useful comparison or not.

• The animals of the week are the Desertas Island land snails which have been saved from the brink of extinction by a breeding programme run by Chester Zoo.

• The letters section of the Newbury Weekly News includes , as well as ones referred to elsewhere, communications on the subjects of competing plans for football in Newbury, Laura Farris’ voting record, refugees and the green bin service.

• A number of good causes have received valuable support recently including: several local causes (thanks to Greenham Trust – see here for a full list); St Mary’s church, Speen (thanks to the recent winter bazaar); the Newbury 41 Club (thanks to shoppers in Newbury); several local charities (thanks to the the smiling Santas); elderly people in the district (thanks to the NWN’s Christmas Parcel Fund); Brighter Futures (thanks to Gerry McCann, the recently retired landlord of The Wheelwrights Arms in Lambourn).

The quiz, the sketch and the song

• And here’s your first vaccination in the form of the Song of the Week. I loved this when I first heard it back in…well, a long time ago and I love it now. Adele fans may recognise some of the same harmonies and chord structures as in her song Chasing Pavements: the same man, the strangely named Eg White, was much involved in that, too. My choice is from the wonderful and under-rated 24 Years of Hunger album by Eg and Alice and has one of the most beautiful choruses I’ve ever heard – click here for Rockets.

• Now you’re double jabbed, thanks to the Comedy Sketch of the Week. There weren’t many darker comedies than The League of Gentlemen and few darker characters that the butcher Hilary Briss and his “special stuff” that he sold under the counter. Here he is

• And just for good measure, here’s the booster of the  Quiz Question of the Week. This week’s question is: Where are the headquarters of the Williams F1 team, founded by Frank Williams who died this week? Last week’s question was: Dorothy Parker once said when at a particularly animated party that “if all the women in this room were laid end to end…” – how did her remark end? It ended with “I wouldn’t be at all surprised.” Well, that’s what people said she said at the time. With these famous wits, you never can tell…

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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