Weekly News with Brian 6 to 13 January 2022

This Week with Brian

Including Planet Novak, Sir Prof and Sir Prof, 700,000 objections, 100,000 super-spreaders, QAnon and on, confusing hangovers, consequences, mumbo-jumbo, the polar bear in the room, hospitality jitters, teeth being shown, too much to ask, the deacon’s blues, a second birthday and speaking English.

Click on the appropriate buttons to the right to see the local news from your area (generally updated every Thursday evening) including the ombudsman speaks, spick and span, precept time, health provision questions, robins on the box, Hungerford’s newsletter, Lambourn’s plans, East Garston’s repairs, Shefford’s toddlers, Newbury’s larder, Greenham’s code, Hamstead Marshall’s any other business, speeds community, Chieveley’s delegation, Thatcham’s post, Bucklebury’s bus, Compton’s vote, Cold Ash’s news, West Ilsley’s fundraising, Chaddleworth’s grit, Burghfield’s bell, Bradfield’s centre, Theale’s cycleway, Padworth’s jumble, Aldermaston’s past, Beenham’s greening, Wantage’s pupples, Letcombe’s film, Grove’s rhymes, Marlborough’s trees, Ramsbury’s tipping and Swindon’s regeneration – plus our usual prowl 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

• Australia has long been very aware of the need to protect itself from foreign contamination – try arriving at Sydney airport with a some tangerines and a sausage roll and see what happens – and this has extended itself to its attempts to prevent the spread of Covid. At times, this even led to it preventing its own citizens from returning home. You need to be fully vaccinated to enter the country: unless, it briefly seemed, you’re a 20-time tennis grand slam winner.

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Earlier this week Novak Djokovic was granted an exemption from needing to be vaccinated on medical grounds. Things moved quite quickly after that. There were some grumbles in Australia; he got on the plane; then it was reported on 5 January by the BBC that the forms had got fouled up and that he he hadn’t been allowed into the country. “His current whereabouts and visa status remain unclear,” the BBC article stated, a phrase that would be menacing if it were describing the location of, say, Peng Shuai, the Chinese tennis player.

During this hiatus, opposition in Australia rapidly mounted, with similar accusations of entitlement and disrespect as were levied in the UK after the Christmas party scandals. The country’s PM weighed in, saying that the player could be “on the next plane home” if the medical proof weren’t sufficient: indeed, according to a later BBC report, his visa was indeed cancelled, sparking howls outrage in Serbia. The episode could yet turn into a diplomatic incident, fuelled by protests in his homeland and accusations by his parents that the Australian government was holding him prisoner. On 5 January the player had said he’d appeal, though he may think that the moment has passed. It’s also hard to see on what grounds an appeal might be based. Djokovic has said that he is “opposed to vaccination”, which doesn’t sound like a medical reason to me. I might try that later this month, telling HMRC that I’m “opposed to paying tax.” His rival Rafael Nadal put it more diplomatically: “everyone is free to make their own decisions, but then there are some consequences.” Indeed. 

• Meanwhile both the French and the British leaders have decided to stop pulling their punches, the former promising that he would “piss off” those in France who weren’t vaccinated, the latter saying that anti-vaxers were “completely wrong” and spouting “mumbo jumbo.” 

• BoJo’s remark about disinformation campaigns came on the first anniversary of one of the oddest events in recent American history, the storming of the Capitol by a mob of Donald Trump’s supporters. This was a last-ditch attempt to overturn the ratification of the election result that they claimed was fraudulent and gave the country’s conspiracy theorists their brief moment in the sun. I remember being amazed at the colossal intelligence failings that allowed this to happen, in this place of all places and on this day of all days: such things can’t be organised entirely in secret. There’s not much point in messing about with other countries, as the USA is fond of doing, if you can’t even protect your own HQ.

The QAnon conspiracy has faded as quickly as has the memory of President Trump, in the UK at least: though not, it seems, in the States. This report by the BBC’s Stephanie Hegarty claims that 40% of Americans either believe QAnon  is correct (7%, down from 17% last year) or think that it might be. The central tenet, let us remind ourselves, is that the country is run by an elite cabal of satanic paedophiles whose malign hand can be detected in almost every aspect of life, notably Covid (another fraud that was invented to enslave us). They’ve got three years left to put together a solid campaign at the next Presidential elections. With up to 40% of the country supporting or potentially supporting such ideas, this may not be as far fetched as it sounds. After all, look what happened in 2016.

• The two Professors who were unexpectedly forced into the limelight due to Covid, Whitty and Van Tam, are now knights as a result of the new year honours. Appearing on all those prime-time broadcasts with BoJo is certainly worthy of some reward, although you could argue that, as Chief and Deputy Chief Medical Officers, they were merely doing their jobs. The honours system is a deeply peculiar and somewhat suspect system; almost as much so as is the House of Lords, sometimes the destination of the honours system’s beneficiaries. As usual, Private Eye has taken a withering look in issue 1564 at some of the less deserving recipients.

Few of the recent awards have come in for as much stick as the knighthood given to Tony Blair, a man whose career will always be defined by the war in Iraq, our involvement in which could most politely be described as questionable. As over the evening of 5 January, a petition to have the honour withdrawn had received over 700,000 signatures (this was not created on parliament’s website and so the government is not obliged to take any action). The Guardian points out in this article that these things are in the Queen’s gift, not the current PM’s; also that every previous leader has been given one eventually. Having a Sir Boris around will take some getting used to.

Omicron infection figures are going through the roof but this so far doesn’t seem to be translating into a proportionate increase in deaths or hospitalisations. (This isn’t the only significant measure, though, as it’s been suggested that 1.3 million people may be suffering from long Covid. For obvious reasons, it’s not yet clear how long “long” might be.) The hope is that this, or another variant that’s even more infectious and even less dangerous, will eventually out-perform its rivals. We’ll then for evermore be in a state of armed truce with an enemy as serious as the the cold or, more probably, flu.

In the meantime, however, Omicron is proving very wily. As Private Eye’s most recent MD column pointed out, it appears to be able to evade lateral-flow tests and also can have symptoms which are similar to the kind of bad hangover that many experience in December.

We do, however, seem to be in a better place than we were a year ago. The testing and jabbing can’t continue for ever. The virus has mutated at pace, as they do, and this could prove to be our salvation. Amazingly, Covid only celebrated its official second birthday on 31 December, that being the day in 2019 when the WHO was first officially notified of it (how long it had been known about before then in China remains uncertain). If it were a human, it would barely be able to talk or feed itself by now. Maybe we’re not such a smart species after all.

• Meanwhile, the polar bear in the room throughout all this has been climate change. Despite COP26, mounting scientific warnings and regular protests, it’s been impossible for the subject to get, as the media experts say, significant bandwidth. The irony is that Covid has provided both the example of an issue which requires global co-operation and the the monopolising of our attention which prevents this being applied to anything else. Most governments can’t cope with more than three immediate problems at the same time. Covid, the economic challenges and the desire to hang onto power have pretty much filled the pot in most cases.

• Two things that I mentioned in my last column before Christmas seem still to be in the balance. The first is how well the hospitality industry will fare (better in England than in the other three countries of the UK as long as the current regulations persist). As Romilla Arbour  from the Honesty Group pointed out, not to support venues now would be to a large extent to negate having done so previously. The government appears to be following a hard-hat, Churchillian approach to Covid, certainly in England, with further restrictions being deemed unlikely at present. How confident punters will be at socialising in public remains to be seen. January must even in good years be a ghastly time to run a pub or restaurant. This is not a good year (though it’s better than last).

• The other issue still TBD is the inexplicably insane reluctance of the government not to permit local councils to operate remotely. I know I bang on about this a lot but this is an aspect of life round here that we cover. If one thinks of them less as councils – which conveys only a negative emotion to most people – but rather as nearly 10,000 monthly and legally obligated potential super-spreader events dotted evenly across the country involving at least 100,000 people most of whom are in clinically vulnerable are groups and all of whom are likely to be more than averagely involved in meeting and dealing with local residents: think of them like that and the extent of the craziness becomes clear. Remote meetings weren’t ideal in some ways but were better in others. I understand that letters and emails are flying in on a daily basis to the Housing Ministry, including one from Hungerford Town Council. Perhaps the time has come to start an official parliamentary petition (maybe this has happened) the results of which Whitehall would have to at least acknowledge.

• I also mentioned in my last outing about the seeming change of policy and flashing of long-blunted teeth by Ofwat and the Environment Agency which should, or so many hope, provide some solution to the disgusting state of our rivers as a result of unauthorised sewage discharges. Thames Water has recently announced a major improvement programme at its Hungerford works, which may or may not be the result of this.

Meanwhile, Private Eye 1564 has pointed out that neighbouring Southern Water has chosen to spend nearly £13m on an advertising campaign to encourage its customers to save water. This article in Water UK suggests this might be a difficult task, as average usage only fell from 143 litres a day per person in 2019 to 142 litres in 2020. Southern Water is also changed with being the biggest polluter amongst the water companies and was last year hit with a £90m fine from the EA for thousands of illegal discharges which even the then light-tough regulator was unable to ignore.

The problem in our part of the country, and several others, is the groundwater which rises, usually in the early months of the year, and floods in through the cracks in the elderly pipes. These are no more emergencies than are the rising and setting of the sun but seem to have treated as such by the water companies, so enabling them to discharge effluent from the system by the cheapest route: into the SSSI-protected River Lambourn in our case. Let’s see how sharp Ofwat’s the the EA’s teeth are. One thing’s for sure, there are now a lot more groups watching the situation than there were a few years ago.

• Oh, Lordy: the Ashes are still going on. The first three tests were horrible catastrophes; the fourth seemed to be a bit more even after the first day but then went all horrible again. All I want is to see at least one England century and at least one of the two remaining games being taken into the last session of the fifth day. Is that too much to ask…?

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 2,364 CV-19 cases in West Berkshire in the week 27 December to 2 January, up 666 on the week before. This equates to 1,492 cases per 100,000. The average area in England had 1,729. See also this map from Gov.uk which enables figures at a more local level to be obtained.

• 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. Proposals could include new equipment, development of an app or website to improve a service, or covering the costs of connecting to full-fibre for rural businesses. The deadline for applications is 13 February 2022 and successful businesses will receive their grant in early March. More details can be found here.

• West Berkshire Council is now 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.

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 animals of the week are these Bengal cats – amazing bright and beautiful animals but, as this video shows, they can also be quite a handful.

• The letters section of the Newbury Weekly News includes, as well as ones referred to elsewhere, communications on the subjects of hunting pictures, a viscount’s drive, flexible working, the football ground and Christmas at Greenham.

• A number of good causes have received valuable support recently including: Newbury cancer Care (thanks to the football tournament at Henwick); various local charities (*thanks to Broadmead Estate Services); Hungerford Rotary Club (thanks to Santa’s sleigh); West Berks Foodbank (thanks to Park House School); the Alzheimer’s Society (thanks to pupils at Cheam House School).

The quiz, the sketch and the song

• And here’s the New Year’s Day hangover (or maybe a bout of Omicron) cure in the form of the Song of the Week. This is one of the most wonderful songs ever written, setting a standard in this first week of the year which none of the other 51 are likely to live to up to: Deacon Blues by Steely Dan.

• You’re fumbling in the cupboard for the Alka-Selzer in the form of the Comedy Sketch of the Week. A wonderfully silly sketch from the wonderfully talented Big Train team: Do You Speak English?

• Dry January? Never mind, try the Quiz Question of the Week. This week’s question is: Which very small thing that’s been on our minds recently celebrated its second (official) birthday on New Year’s Eve? Last week’s question was one of 19 that we’ve set for our Christmas and New Year quiz, with the chance to win a wonderful prize from The Ibex in Chaddleworth – details here.

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