Weekly News with Brian 13-21 January 2022

This Week with Brian

Including contrasting Messrs No-vax, No-party and No-sweat, Omicron’s possible peak, Dr Jab-Jab, the happy backbench life, de-ossifying the past, a mine-sweeping rat, living in the 1970s, less than a goal a game, life on the farm, Covid’s birthday, Bondi Beach, Sid Vicious and Gilbert O’Sullivan

Click on the appropriate buttons to the right to see the local news from your area (generally updated every Thursday evening) including working from home, volunteer parking, Eagle Quarter, Readibus on the box, to show or not to show, another problematic pitch, out in the cold, too little infrastructure, no repeat of ’69, Hungerford’s arts, Lambourn’s charge, East Garston’s burns, Shefford’s toddlers, Newbury’s plaque, Greenham’s EVs, Chieveley’s light, Thatcham’s garden, Cold Ash’s oak, Bucklebury’s byways, Brimpton’s unofficial street, Hampstead Norreys’ greenfest, West Ilsley’s news, East Ilsley’s grit, Chaddleworth’s lane, Theale’s consultation, Burghfield’s fixtures, Sulhamstead’s museum, Beenham’s party, Aldermaston’s objection, Wantage’s fundraiser, Grove’s fish, East Hanney’s MUGA, Marlborough’s vacancy, Ramsbury’s speed and Swindon’s donations – plus our usual trip 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

• Superficially, there’s little in common between Novak Djokovic and Boris Johnson. Djokovic follows an immaculately healthy gluten-free diet; Johnson looks as if he eats whatever he can see. “No-vax” Djokovic doesn’t believe in Covid jabs; BoJo does. ND has won 20 tennis grand slams; our PM has won none. Novak doesn’t rule a country (though I suspect that if he stood as President of Serbia tomorrow he’d win by a landslide), Boris, for the moment does, (although an increasing number of people think he shouldn’t).

[more below] 

What they do have in common, of course, is that recently they’ve both publicly been called liars, Djokovic (I think I’ve learned how to spell that now) by some off-air Australian TV journalists who thought the mic was switched off, Johnson (by implication) by the Leader of the Opposition in the House of Commons on 12 January. Both men also appear too have an alpine sense of entitlement and the conviction that their particular mission in life trumps everything else. 

After his legal reprieve a few days ago, Djokovic was forced to admit to breaking quarantine regulations by giving an interview to L’Equipe and that there were “mistakes” on his immigration form. The Australian government seems to have handled this badly, first by appearing to give assurances that he would admitted despite his non-vaccination, then by changing its mind, then by being dragged through the courts. If Djokovic wins the Australian Open, defeating an Aussie in the final, and the country then experiences a mutant and gluten-free Belgrade variant of Covid then it perhaps only has its rulers to blame.

BoJo, of course, is the ruler here; which is the problem. His excuse/apology in the Commons on 12 January was probably the best he could come up with given the corner he had painted himself into. It’s taken so long just to get him to admit that he was actually at the event. It’s worrying that he didn’t seem to know if he was there, but even more so that he could not, after 25 minutes, tell whether it was a meeting or a party. When a former Conservative Attorney General accuses him of being “effectively a serial liar” and previously loyal backbench MPs call him out (see below), you can tell that something’s not right.

As numerous articles have pointed out, our PM’s relationship with the truth could most politely be described as a marriage of his own convenience. This article in The Atlantic suggests that BoJo’s dealings with facts and veracity are utilitarian and dominated by a perhaps sincerely held sense of romantic patriotism which reduces any falsehood to irrelevance; also that we are all complicit in his lies and that in any case he has made no real attempt to portray himself as anything else – “his entire public life seems to have been one long nod and wink with the public.”

The same article cites BJ’s defeated rival for the Conservative leadership Rory Stewart – hardly for this reason an objective critic, one must admit – whose wonderfully fulminating piece of prose is worth quoting in full: “(Johnson) has mastered the use of error, omission, exaggeration, diminution, equivocation and flat denial. He has perfected casuistry, circumlocution, false equivalence and false analogy. He is equally adept at the ironic jest, the fib and the grand lie; the weasel word and the half-truth; the hyperbolic lie, the obvious lie, and the bullshit lie – which may inadvertently be true.” This, or someone very like him, is the man we have elected to lead us.

• Oh, the happy life of a loyal Conservative party backbencher. First, they were herded into the lobbies to vote in the Owen Peterson debacle late last year only for the plan to be withdrawn the following day, providing a perhaps unique example of a Commander publicly ridiculing the obedience of his troops. Then they were forced to defend the increasingly indefensible “parties” in Whitehall which their Commander was still trying to justify or deny.

Our own Laura Farris was, as reported by Newbury Today, asked by BBC Politics what she would have done if she’d been invited. To reply “I would have gone” would have associated her with all the discredit currently descending on the PM; to reply “I would not have gone” would be to say that the PM was wrong in issuing the invitation at all. She chose the latter option. Hitherto one of the PM’s most loyal supporters, this perhaps represents a genuine realisation that anything other than a condemnation wasn’t going to wash in her constituency. She and her backbench colleagues may henceforth take a more sceptical view of the PM’s assurances and judgement. As they have all been elected to represent their constituents – however much this might become blurred in the strange alternative universe of Westminster – this seems to be, as 1066 and All That would say, A Good Thing.

• A person of much less importance in the world than either of these two men is Prince “no sweat” Andrew who, like Djokovic has recently been to the law to try to have his way. He was less successful, a New York court deciding that he must face a civil case for sexual assault allegedly committed in 2001. As the BBC’s royal correspondent commented, “trying to block the case using the deal between the dead paedophile Jeffrey Epstein and Virginia Giuffre was already heavy with reputational risks.” All three of them, No-vax, No-party and No-sweat, may find there are more risks to contend with in the weeks ahead. Of the three, I’d rather be Djokovic. He’s only (probably) broken, or perverted, Australian immigration law. The other two seem to be in a far leakier boat involving public trust and institutional reputation.

• Meanwhile, back on Planet Covid, this BBC article suggests that the Omicron wave might already have peaked. The death figures are rising but tend to at this time of year anyway. The slightly crude measure of recording all deaths as down to Covid if the person had tested positive within the previous 28 days may be responsible, given how many people probably have it. The reduction in reported cases may be due to the shortage of test kits or the fact that, now the seasonal festivities are over, we’re less likely to bother to test ourselves anyway. If the number of people entering hospital with Covid is stabilising, as the stats suggest, then it probably doesn’t greatly matter how many people have it if it’s not causing serious problems. At no time have I ever seen stats relating to people who have a cold, or even flu, and charting that against death rates, howsoever calculated.

Vaccination still seems to be the most likely reason for any success against this bastard virus: coupled, perhaps, with the fact that its mutation towards a condition that can most easily lead to co-existence with us was always a likely outcome. We’re by no means out of the woods but getting jabbed seems a good way forward. If the massive mortality, sterility, insanity and molecular disintegration predicted by the anti-vaxers were true then, 13 months and over nine billion doses on from the first vaccination in Coventry on 8 December 2020, there seems little sign of it. Sir Dr Jab-Jab still has my vote.

• Much worse than any of these local dramas might be the fate of Ukraine, a country which, like so many others, is fated to be in the shadow of a larger neighbour which will use any bargaining chip without any compunction. Putin’s immediate aim seems to have been to get the US to the negotiating table over the heads of the EU, NATO and Ukraine itself. Part of his frighteningly agile, opportunistic and alarming mind seems to be locked in the 1970s when the USA and Russia (aka Soviet Union) were the only shows in town. Russia’s recent demands amount to NATO reducing its ambitions to pre-1989 levels, something that is never going to happen. The Guardian quotes the UN’s Secretary General as saying that there is “a real risk for a new armed conflict in Europe,” something which no one other than those in the former Yugoslavia will have experienced since 1945. Hyperbole perhaps: but no story involving an unscrupulous, manipulative and heavily armed man locked in an obsessional attempt to turn back the clock is likely to have a happy ending.

• Speaking of obsessions, we are in danger of becoming obsessed with statues. On 12 January, a man vandalised the Eric Gill statue at Broadcasting House. Last week, four people were recently cleared of charges of criminal damage for pulling down the Edward Colston statue in Bristol, a verdict which prompted a furious outcry from some Conservative MPs. Jacob Rees-Mogg’s assertion that this demonstrated the value of the jury system did not, for instance, prevent cabinet minister Grant Shapps from claiming, as reported in The Guardian, that this “potential loophole” should be closed. There seems to be a real danger that Pritti Patel’s police, crime and sentencing bill will confer harsher penalties on those who knock over statues than on those who knock over living people.

I must declare a non-interest in this because I’m almost completely oblivious of and indifferent to any form of visual or representative art. Words and music move me; art does not. I also have a history degree (much good it’s done me professionally) which has told me that no view of any one person is immutable. In so far as I notice them, statues at best provide an ossified view of the past. They normally depict a middle-aged man, often in some kind of ceremonial dress, staring blindly into a future he cannot hope to understand and which will probably find him increasingly irrelevant or inconvenient.

The solution is simple. Pull them all down, every one of them, and put them in museums or turn them into building materials for homes. If in perhaps no other respects, Islam is right on this: to make a physical likeness of someone is to imply a permanence of the ideals they convey that touches on (should you believe in the concept) the divine. When Eric Gill’s and Edward Colston’s statues were erected their subjects must have seemed like obvious public benefactors. Later generations have decided otherwise, with all the discord this causes. Why take the risk? Why assume that our view of what constitutes greatness is imperishable? If we have to have public memorials, let’s make them intentionally temporary, like the fourth one in Parliament Square. It’s also specious to say, as Boris Johnson has done, that to remove statues is to lie about our history. The real lie is to to say that it is, literally, set in stone. So, down with the lot of them and let’s try to understand these complex figures through their actions rather than by what their adoring contemporaries or supplicants chose to erect in our public squares.

• There seems to be some rule in the African Cup of Nations that virtually all matches must end 1-0 or 0-0. I hope that, unlike Ukraine, it’s going to explode into life soon. Ah, I see it just has, Cameroon beating Ethiopia 4-1. The power of the press, eh? I hadn’t even published this and still the message got through.

• Last week, I said that all I wanted to see from the Ashes was at least one England century and at least one of the two remaining games being taken into the last session of the fifth day. These wishes were granted in the fourth test in Sydney (though the draw only transpired because most of one day’s play was lost to rain). There’s still one more test to endure, followed by all manner of increasingly short-format matches against the Aussies, culminating perhaps in a a best-of-three game of French cricket on Bondi Beach: all of which we’ll probably lose…

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 1,930 CV-19 cases in West Berkshire in the week 3 to 9 January, down 463 on the week before. This equates to 1,218 cases per 100,000. The average area in England had 1,447 (1,729 last week). See also this map from Gov.uk which enables figures at a more local level to be obtained.

• West Berkshire Council invites all residents who have an interest in improving health and wellbeing in the area to take part in a virtual conference from 10am to 12.30pm on Friday 21 January. This will look at five different aspects of the issue: “(1) how can we work together to reduce the difference in health between different groups of people; (2) how can we support individuals who are at higher risk of bad health outcomes; (3) how can we help children and families in their early years; (4) what is needed to promote good mental health and wellbeing for all children and young people; and (5) what is needed to promote good mental health and wellbeing for all adults.” For more information, click here.

• West Berkshire Council has launched a new grant scheme to support businesses in the district. The Additional Restrictions Grant Challenge Fund is an opportunity for local businesses to apply for grants of up to £25,000 to fund projects which will stimulate growth and recovery, under the categories of either Green Growth or Digital Improvements. The deadline for applications is 13 February 2022 and successful businesses will receive their grant in early March. More details can be found here.

• The successful holiday activities and food programmes run by West Berkshire Council last year will continue in 2022, funding having recently been secured from the government. Those who are entitled to participate will be contacted by their schools in good time.

• West Berkshire Council is accepting applications for a new grant scheme to support businesses in hospitality, leisure and accommodation that have been impacted by Omicron. See more details here. There is currently £1.52m allocated to this fund. WBC has received 43 applications so far (but welcomes more).

Surviving to Thriving, a joint venture set up by WBC and Greenham Trust, has 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.

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 Covid 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.

• The animal of the week is Magawa, the mine-swiping rat whose sensitive nose helped sniff out over 100 explosive devices in Cambodia and who has recently died. Sadly, another 60,000 Magawas will be needed to replace him in that country alone which has an estimated six million landmines.

• The letters section of the Newbury Weekly News includes, as well as ones referred to elsewhere, communications on the subjects of the continuing saga of the football grounds in Newbury, a privative activity, a startling defence, homeless charities, and Tony Blair’s knighthood.

• A number of good causes have received valuable support recently including: Victoria’s Promise (*thanks to Ed Smith’s Atlantic challenge); Hungerford Methodist Church’s Christmas hampers (thanks to local residents); numerous local charities (thanks to Greenham Trust and local councils); West Berkshire Foodbank (thanks to residents of Burns Walk in Thatcham).

The quiz, the sketch and the song

• And here’s your Australian visa in the form of the Song of the Week. Another superb piece of work, albeit rather different from last week’s – Hateful by The Clash from their epic album London Calling. It’s as good an anti-heroin song as I’ve heard (and was apparently written about Sid Vicious, a far better memorial than he deserved).

• Is it a party? Is it a meeting? No, it’s the Comedy Sketch of the Week. If you fancy a career move then follow this advice from Mitchell & Webb about getting into Farming.

• You’ve been stripped of many of your royal titles? Never mind, try the Quiz Question of the Week. This week’s question is: Which Gilbert O’Sullivan song changed rap music? Last week’s question was: Which very small thing that’s been on our minds recently celebrated its second (official) birthday on New Year’s Eve? The answer is Coronavirus which was first officially named and shamed by the WHO on 31 December 2019.

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