Weekly News with Brian 17 to 24 March 2022

This Week with Brian

Including two C-words, twenty years too late, a fortune in a suitcase, production and consumption, sanctions, resignations, gas, parties, losing face, losing five years, fake tans, making plans, food, water, half way to being an elephant, rumbunctious tabloid hyperbole, lots of trophies, an unexpected punch line and your lazy bed.

Click on the appropriate buttons to the right to see the local news from your area (generally updated every Thursday evening) including a perfect storm, Birchwood Care Home, parking compromises, arboreal rights, give way to pedestrians, Hungerford’s award, Kintbury’s speeding, Lambourn’s kennels, Shefford’s farm shop, East Garston’s café, Newbury’s lacrosse, Greenham’s arts, Hamstead Marshall’s hornet, Thatcham’s support, Cold Ash’s turkeys, Bucklebury’s meeting, Brimpton’s SIDs, East Ilsley’s pipes, Compton’s well-being, Brightwalton’s broadband, Theale’s reading, Mortimer’s tree, Padworth’s power line, Bradfield’s impasse, Wantage’s lens, Grove’s approval, Marlborough’s suspension, Aldbourne’s donations and Swindon’s phoenix – 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

• Keeping it short and simple this week as I’m a bit under the weather having caught the C-virus. Yes, I appear to have a cold. The main symptom of this was the familiar one of my brain seeming to be full of lots of TV sets tuned to different channels, followed by sleeping for 12 hours and waking up feeling as if I were recovering from a five-day bender. I don’t think that’s a symptom of Covid. The test was negative but I’m not sure how much that proves. Anyway, enough about me.

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• The Russian oligarchs like Abramovich are being clamped down on. This is, of course, lovely but about twenty years too late. The UK represented a good place for them to clean their money and their reputations after the smash-and-grab raids that followed the collapse of the USSR. This article will introduce you to some of them. Over 1,000 Russians have been “designated” – a slightly menacing word – to be sanctioned and have their assets frozen or investigated. A statement on the Gov.UK website on 15 March said that “the vast majority of today’s designations are made possible under the Economic Crime (Transparency and Enforcement) Act, which has Royal Assent. This has given the government new powers to act in the public interest and immediately designate individuals and entities under an urgent procedure, while evidence is gathered to sanction them under our own standard procedure.”

Unless all these people are directly implicated in crimes since the invasion of Ukraine, which seems unlikely, then everything that they’re now deemed to have done wrong they were doing before. I’m confused as to what they’re now up to that isn’t OK but which was before. If it was always awful, why has it taken so long to get the legislation passed to do something about it?

Nor am I quite clear what the purpose of this is: is to undermine Putin’s supporters, to make our financial standards tighter or to get our hands on their cash? Also, will this sudden revulsion against dirty money survive the current conflict?

• The worry, expressed by many including Time, is that sanctions often don’t work or do so only after having inflicted misery on the people least able to bear them. People like these oligarchs don’t get that rich in any way I can understand: but what seems certain is they didn’t do it by always following the rules (whatever they were in Russia in the early 1990s). I imagine they have a maze of secret tunnels in the financial world with a pot of gold at the end of every one. In any case, the jewellery and artworks that any of them could pack into a small suitcase would, if sold judiciously, probably provide reasonable luxury for a lifetime.

• Putin, of course, has a pretty big sanction of his own. He can say to the Europeans, particularly the Germans, “look, do you want this natural gas or not?”

• Our PM is facing much the same paradox in his current visit to the the Gulf states, including Saudi Arabia, and has promised to raise the matter of the Saudi’s patchy human rights record when discussing oil supplies. This was most recently shown by their executing 81 prisoners last week: then there’s Jamal Khashoggi; and we haven’t even started about women’s rights. As with the Russian oligarchs, questions about legality and morality have been an issue for years. This hasn’t stopped us buying their oil.

The reality is that we still need the stuff. This chart from Worldometer shows the other countries which are at the producers’ top table. One has to go down to Germany at #35 to find the first EU country: seven such countries are found in the top 35 countries by consumption. Germany, for instance, consumes about five times more oil than itself produces. The UK, in contrast, produces twice as much oil as it uses. Our PM’s intervention could thus be regarded as quasi-altruistic. The idea seems to be that if the Saudis can open the tap a bit more then prices will go down all round, so taking some of the heat off rising fuel prices and the political pressures that result. 

• All this will be of rather academic interest to people in Ukraine, for whom rising fuel bills in Western Europe will not test very high. The Ukranian government’s main concern at present is to stop the war on acceptable terms; indeed, much the same can be said for Russia’s as matters have clearly not panned out with simplicity and speed that might have been expected (as they also didn’t in Finland in 1939).

The minimum requirements should perhaps be, respectively, the continued existence of Ukraine as a sovereign state  with its borders as they were before the invasion (there’s surely no way Putin’s going to give up Crimea and its deep-water port); and an assurance that the country will not seek to join NATO or the EU. The longer this goes on, the harder these simple points might be to agree on. The more territory Russia occupies (particularly in the two Russian-dominated provinces in the east of the country) the less willing it will to relinquish it; while the more damage the country suffers and land it loses the less willing it will be merely to settle for a declaration about future intentions. Most wars end when both parties can do so without losing face. The moment when these two interests co-incide can, however, be easy to miss.

• As well as problems for Russia in the battlefield, there also seem to be some domestic difficulties, including what the BBC calls a “stream of resignations” from previously loyal media staff, including as a result of a high-profile intervention during a live broadcast. This is an unwelcome development for Putin but one that he can probably put up electorally with given the lack of any democratic opposition. Opposition from within the alpha wolf pack that he currently controls may be a different matter.

• Let it not be forgotten in all this that there are questions to be answered by our PM about partygate. For these not to be would rather undermine the premise that western values of representative democracy are worth defending.

• If you run a beauty salon and someone, perhaps with a Welsh accent, offers you some cut-price fake tan then it could have been nicked from a lorry in Anglesey last Friday. I suppose there’s a market for just about anything, though fake tan is surely harder to shift than most things. I’m indebted to our occasional bizarre-story correspondent Jonathan Williams for this nugget.

The best nicked from the back of a van story I heard took place many years ago in Battersea. One Friday evening, a builder’s van was parked outside a pub and a couple of rather thick villains half-inched some of the gear out of the back. In a wonderful case of “seemed like a good idea at the time” they then went into the pub to try to flog it. Who better to approach, they thought, that a couple of guys sitting at the bar with tool-belts round their waists and plaster-stained clothes. You won’t need to be told – but the thieves did – that these were the owners of both the van and the tools. I believe that a traditional south London “good kicking” followed. The two tea leafs probably mended their ways thereafter and moved into doing something honest and praiseworthy like running a hedge fund.

• One good bit of news is the release of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and Anoosheh Ashoori from their geo-politically inspired detention in Iran. I’m sure a book could be written about their detention – and probably will be – but it won’t be written by me. Good to have them back. Five years is a long time to be away, particularly if you have a young (now a less young) child. I can’t imagine how I’d feel if I’d been separated from any of my sons for that long at that age. Actually, I can: I’d be bloody cross. Hopefully Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe is of a more forgiving turn of mind than I am…

Across the area

• 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 1,558 CV-19 cases in West Berkshire in the week 6 to 12 March, up 691 on the week before. This equates to 983 cases per 100,000. The average area in England had 661 (425 last week). See also this map from Gov.uk which enables figures at a more local level to be obtained.

Preparing for the refugees

• There’s a letter in this week’s NWN asking what if any action was being taken by WBC to welcome Ukranian refugees, the writer hoping that the council was not meekly waiting to be told what to do by the government. The correspondent also wondered if the NWN’s editor has “actively asked WBC about this.”

I can’t speak for what the NWN has done but I got on the phone to Council Leader Lynne Doherty on 17 March and put the question to her myself.

She told me that the matter is to be debated at this evening’s full council meeting so a definitive statement would to await the results of that: she was, however, able to reassure me that WBC was not idly awaiting instructions from Whitehall. WBC, she stressed, understands its legal and moral responsibilities and the role it needs to play in the government’s Homes for Ukraine scheme. A good deal of work has been done, in conjunction with other local organisations, in preparation for what will need to happen once it’s clear how many refugees the district is asked to accept: until the government has confirmed this, there’s little more that WBC or any other council can do. This page on WBC’s site – which will be added to as necessary – provides more information on what the council is doing and what you can do to help. I hope this answers the correspondent’s concerns.

As regular readers will be aware, I don’t agree with everything that WBC does. I was, however, impressed with the way it responded to the pandemic. Indeed its approach, and those of other councils, was markedly better than the sometimes slow and cumbersome measures employed by Whitehall. One of the initiatives that came out of Covid this was the Community Hub. I understand that the structure, the lessons learned and indeed some of the staff will be used to create a Ukranian Hub or similar which should, with something to work from, be able to be set up pretty quickly.

So, hands don’t appear to being sat on though it’s absolutely fair that people should check this for themselves. However, you can go to WBC direct, rather than via the local paper.

This supports a statement issued by WBC on 14 March: “West Berkshire Council has been horrified to see the tragic impact of the invasion of Ukraine and we welcome the government’s announcement of the Local Sponsorship Scheme. We understand that local authorities will have a key role in the new scheme and we will debate a motion at this week’s Council meeting to decide how we in West Berkshire can take part. We know that the community will also want to support the scheme, having so generously helped refugees arriving here from Syria and Afghanistan in recent years. We will make a further statement about our plans after this meeting and when we have received details of the scheme from the government.”

Other news

• The sewage problem is attracting an increasing amount of interest and it’s a particular problem in places like the Lambourn Valley and the area around Aldbourne and Ramsbury which have both variable groundwater levels and SSSI rivers which are subject to stringent protection. I spoke to local campaign groups, local councillors, Thames Water and the Environment Agency to see what the latest situation was: you can read the article here.

West Berkshire Foodbank has also been in the news recently as a result of debates about its future funding at West Berkshire Council and concerns that demand for its services is outstripping supply. Click here for the latest statement from the Foodbank’s Manager, Fran Chamings.

• West Berkshire Council is encouraging people to pledge to do their bit to clear up the litter that blights the natural environment during the Great British Spring Clean 2022.

• The Household Support Fund Scheme is ending soon – get you applications in by 18 March to be sure you don’t miss out if entitles. More details here.

• Local charity Connecting Communities in Berkshire (CCB) has stressed that help is available for those struggling with rising energy bills. CCB has been running a project tackling fuel poverty for 10 years and can provide expertise in supporting low-income families that are struggling with the recently confirmed price rises. For more information, contact Helen Dean on helen.dean@ccberks.org.uk or visit www.ccberks.org.uk.

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.

Click here for the latest environmental 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 our large aquatic distant cousins, blue whales. Apparently their tongues (according to David Attenborough, and I’m certainly but to argue with him about something likes this) weigh as much as an elephant.

• Councillor Alan Law’s letters to the Newbury Weekly News are often quite amusing, if rarely in the way he probably intends. He wrote one last week which confusingly, to me at least, compared the Green Party to the Khmer Rouge, something which probably encouraged a few people to join them out of sheer curiosity. His letter provoked two responses (one from the target of his ire, his Green Party colleague on WBC, David Marsh) in this week’s paper. These cranked up the invective another notch or so, his observations being variously described as “a toy-town version of the modus operandi of Eastern European demagogues,” “rumbunctious tabloid hyperbole,” “a less-than-hilarious stand-up routine” and “a ludicrous and downright offensive comparison.” I can’t wait ’til next week. Councillor Law, the floor is yours.

• The letters section of the Newbury Weekly News includes, as well as ones referred to elsewhere, communications on the subjects of Russia’s back pocket; an inferior site; minerals and waste; scammers; and nuclear weapons.

• A number of good causes have received valuable support recently including: several local charities and organisations (thanks to Greenham Trust and parish and town councils); the DEC Ukraine Humanitarian Appeal (thanks to to the Burghclere Miniature Railway and the Jubilee Day Nursery in Padworth); Great Ormond Street Hospital (thanks to Chloe Thorne).

The quiz, the sketch and the song

• So here we are at the Song of the Week. Always loved this and heard it again by chance the other day – the wonderfully bouncy Get out of Your Lazy Bed from Matt Bianco in 1984.

• Which must mean that next up is the the Comedy Sketch of the Week. Again, not a sketch but a lovely 45-second clip from Have I Got News for You? in which Paul Merton shows us how to turn two failed attempts at jokes into a superbly funny punch line.

• And to conclude matters, here’s the Quiz Question of the Week. This week’s question is: How many major trophies have Chelsea won since Roman Abramovich bought the club in 2003? Last week’s question was What is the average pulse rate of a full-grown elephant? The answer is about 30 beats per minute. Out of curiosity I just checked my one resting rate (55). As it seems from further research that anything between 60 and 90 seems to be normal, it appears that I’m about half way to becoming an elephant (It doesn’t work like that – Ed).

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