Weekly News with Brian 14 to 21 April 2022

This Week with Brian

Including leaflets at a rally, exhausting speculation, confusing rules, unfulfilled personal destiny, remote control, 1799, 2031, green cards, different billions, being hit in the face, political knockabout, processing happiness, the freemasonry of fecund fathers, cats and cucumbers, an odd survey, a phobia, autumn and Steve Buscemi.

Click on the appropriate buttons to the right to see the local news from your area (generally updated every Thursday evening) including Queen Anne’s makeover, emerging from the tunnel, a strange survey, a slapdash vision, 55,000 tonnes, land ownership, Hungerford’s pool, Inkpen’s pavilion, Shalbourne’s HGVs, Lambourn’s pergola, Shefford’s meeting, East Garston’s recycling, Newbury’s photos, Chieveley’s forewomen, Hamstead Marshall’s gravel, Greenham’s tower, Thatcham’s pressure, Cold Ash’s woodpecker, Frilsham’s power, Compton’s stores, Aldworth’s painting, Theale’s school, Aldermaston’s ramp, Englefield’s trail, Padworth’s sale, Wantage’s market, Grove’s meeting, Marlborough’s forest, Aldbourne’s dig, Great Bedwyn’s greening and Swindon’s skateboards  – 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

• One of the fascinations of partygate is wondering what’s going to happen next, nothing of this kind having happened before here. Fixed penalty notices are being handed round by the Met like leaflets at a rally. It seems as if there are more to come, possibly as few as two of the 12 events having so far been investigated. I don’t know if The Met is dealing which each event in turn or they’ve done them all and are doling out the fines in alphabetical order, or what. 

[more below] 

Problems might come if people start to appeal: if one is successful, will that mean that everyone at that event will have their fines cancelled? Also, I seem to remember there’s an accelerator with the fines for subsequent offences being increased exponentially (a word we were all learning the meaning of then). One cancelled fine for a multiple offender will presumably mean that the others have to be re-calculated. Do they get refunded for the extra cost if they’ve already paid them?

Next up is Sue Grey’s report, put on ice while the Met muscled their way to the front of the queue. What will that say? Supposing it disagrees with the Met’s findings? Will any variation provide grounds to appeal? Or has the PM ordered nobody to appeal lest further reputational damage result? Are you even allowed to prevent someone from appealing against a conviction? If this came out, might it not be an even more egregious sin? Will more parties come to light? If so, who will investigate them?

The speculation is exhausting, and a welcome diversion (for us, at least) from what’s going on in Ukraine. I think we agree that keeping an eye on this kind of stuff is important if for no other reason than I doubt it would be regarded as such in Russia. The UK may be a busted flush on the world stage but as long as we can give our leaders a thoroughly miserable time when they screw up and then lie about it we might be doing something right.

The Conservative party doesn’t seem to think that this is a good moment to have a leadership contest. Boris therefore limps on, wounded with many arrows but protected by the actions of, of all people, Vladimir Putin. As I suggested before, there is perhaps a dark freemasonry between world leaders who have several children born on the wrong side of the sheets. Is there anything Macron, Biden or Xi Jinping want to tell us?

The podcasts from the BBC’s Ros Atkins are usually worth watching and this one, about this matter, is no exception. He refers at the end to former PM Theresa May’s question in parliament shortly after the story broke: either the PM hadn’t read the rules, or didn’t understand them, or thought they didn’t apply to him: “which was it?” This is a variation on the “have you stopped beating your wife?” chestnut, none of the possible responses to this closed questions being politically attractive. The PM seems to be veering towards the second one.

• If the person who framed the rules didn’t understand them, what chance did anyone else have? In June 2021, the national Police Chief’s Council announced that forces across England and Wales had already issued over 117,000 lockdown fines. Some of these were, I recall, for absurd things, like people driving to go for a walk.

The interpretation of the rules seemed to be up to each force and many did things differently. We live close to the border of two and so noticed the variations. Local councils (of which there are many) issued their own guidance and the government kept changing its own. The letters pages of newspapers (and of this column) were clogged up with opinions and criticisms. Some people were getting their information about the rules second- or third-hand, often through the notoriously unreliable channel of social media. Others, not fully plugged into the 21st-century digital world, were relying on printed information which, where it was distributed at all, might have been out of date before it was read. A significant minority either believed in the virus but not in the government or didn’t believe in either, and so paid little or no attention to anything. Many people under 20 believed themselves to be immortal and omniscient. Everyone was stressed, nervous and working too hard or not at all. No one knew what was coming next. Any attempt at explaining and enforcing all these rules could not have been hopeful of good results.

None of these, though, should have applied to the PM and his acolytes. The defence that has been made, including in 13 April by Robert “Westferry” Jenrick, is that the PM and his team had been working very long hours. So had others. Michael Fabricant suggested that teachers and nurses did much the same thing, which provoked the contemptuous reaction you might expect. Grant Shapps said that the PM didn’t attend the events “with malice or intent,” but I don’t recall reading that as an acceptable exception in the regulations. As mentioned last week, the Honourable Member for the Eighteenth Century, Jacob Rees-Mogg, described the whole thing as trivial fluff: if it is, someone should tell the Met.

The irony is that the more his supporters try to defend BoJo, using arguments that even politicians should be ashamed of, the worse the backlash is. Grant Shapps said that you should “judge somebody overall for the way they perform.” Well, exactly. Boris Johnson is a liar.

• For the PM himself, I suspect that he’s still in the grip of some sense of unfulfilled personal destiny. He believed that Brexit was his Churchillian moment but this didn’t provide quite the 1945 conclusion he was after, the Northern Ireland problem proving as intractable as ever. Then Covid came along: at last a real, albeit invisible, enemy to fight. No clear victory there either, the campaign being shrouded in accusations of political ineptness and financial mis-appropriation while the enemy mutated itself away into something else (or maybe not). Then Putin got his guns out: the UK rattled its sabre but, like the rest of NATO, it can’t really do anything as Ukraine isn’t a member. Climate change has been the unspoken backdrop to the last few years but this has embroiled him in yet another titanic battle with his Chancellor and a rather underwhelming energy strategy statement announced on 7 April.

No one knows how long his premiership will last but history is likely to judge him as being a deeply flawed man who was thus, perhaps, an appropriate choice of leader for our deeply flawed times. It seems unlikely he will experience the orgasmic moment of triumph Churchill must have done in 1945. That, I think, is what he was after. Few PMs since have been handed such an opportunity. He’s so far had four. None have really worked out for him.

• As I’ve mentioned before, before any BoJo-bashers get too excited about the possibility of his being forced out of office, just look at who might take over. I remain genuinely scared by the thought of Number 10 being occupied by Priti Patel. In every interview I’ve seen her do, she gives the impression of being operated by remote control.

• I find Sunak’s travails much more mysterious. His wife’s financial affairs are one thing but it seems even odder that a Chancellor’ spouse can be non-dom. I’m indebted to Jonathan Bacchus for pointing out to me today in Hungerford that this status goes back to 1799 when it was introduced by Pitt to enable people with overseas property to protect this from taxation during the Napoleonic Wars. It seems to have stuck around; that and so much else that was convenient to the wealthy. You have to pay an annual charge of anything up to £60,000 to secure this which – given the sums of tax you’re avoiding – seems more like a bribe to me. However I’m the first to admit that I understand almost nothing about money.

None the less, her husband presumably does. He’s also a politician. He therefore might perhaps have advised her that, though it’s legal in the strict sense of the rules of the financial system over which he presides, it wasn’t a terribly good look. Of course, it may be that he simply didn’t understand the rules. These are probably much more complex than the lockdown ones and we’ve already seen what a mess his boss (and Sunak) got into over those.

• And what’s this US Green Card business? People will kill to get one of these but presumably Rishi wasn’t that desperate. Unless retaining it was some alpha-male dinner-party thing (“I’ve got a US Green Card – have you? No, I didn’t think so”) it could only have been because it conferred some advantage, presumably in terms of either taxation or residency. Which was it for him? Maybe he was just keeping it up until he could move back there: but last year he let it lapse. Why? That seems to have put paid to his chances of flouncing off the California in a sulk when public opinion turned against him like Prince Harry did.

• In Ukraine, both sides are disagreeing about accusations of war crimes, who holds what city, who has surrendered and who has not and virtually everything else. The west is pouring more weapons into the country. There have been suggestions that the Russian offensive has been inept. Certainly the Ukrainian army seems to have been putting up stiffer resistance than Putin might have expected, perhaps because he couldn’t believe that people would feel that strongly about a country which has only existed for 30 years. Nothing seems to be going according to plan, but perhaps that’s because I don’t know what the plan is. I’m also reminded of Mike Tyson’s wonderful observation that “everyone has a plan until they get hit in the face.”

• Apparently there’s a monster of a comet heading towards earth, the Bernardinelli-Bernstein, which is according this BBC article “larger than the US State of Rhode Island. ” This means absolutely nothing to me. I had to look it up and concluded that “about twice the size of London” would be about right, an image that would pack more of a punch over this side of the water. Was the BBC journalist just copying a US comparison without bothering to translate it? Apparently it’s going to miss us by a billion miles. Is that a US billion or a UK ones? This flypast also won’t happen until 2031: so, in the midst of everything else, it doesn’t seem like front-page news. Perhaps we need one heading for earth right now to make us come to our senses. I’ve seen Armageddon and know that such crises can produce unlikely heroes. Where are Bruce Willis and Steve Buscemi now we need them…?

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 district, county or borough 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 873 CV-19 cases in West Berkshire in the week 3 to 9 April, down 580 on the week before. This equates to 551 cases per 100,000. The average area in England had 446 (712 last week). See also this map from Gov.uk which enables figures at a more local level to be obtained.

• My attention was recently drawn to an odd looking survey about the future of Newbury and Thatcham. I have a number of misgivings about this: should you live in these areas you can find more by clicking on this week’s columns for the Newbury area or Thatcham area: the same paragraphs appear in both.

• From autumn 2022, food waste in West Berkshire will be collected weekly (on the same day as your usual recycling and rubbish collection) using eight new purpose-built vehicles. WBC’s contractor Veolia currently collects food waste every fortnight in the green bin ((even for those who do not have a garden waste subscription). The plan is that most properties will be provided with a 23-litre kerbside caddy with a lockable lid which can be stored outside with other recycling containers. Residents who share a bin store in flats and communal properties will receive a different sized bin to share with neighbours. All residents will also be supplied with a handy five-litre kitchen caddy to collect food waste in before emptying it into their bigger kerbside caddy outside. WBC is conducting a to make people aware of the forthcoming changes and to learn more about their recycling habits and their thoughts on other aspects of the new system. You can click here to have your say on this matter. The survey will remain open until midnight on 3 May 2022.

Please click here for information about what local councils are doing to help support refugees from Ukraine and how you can help.

• 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.

• 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 Museums 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 letters page on the Newbury Weekly News would not be half so entertaining without the regular contributions from local councillors having a pop at their political opponents. This week, Ross Mackinnon gets his time in the sun, criticising both the Green Party’s policies and the Lib Dems’ conduct at the March Full Council meeting. Much of the first seems to be part of the inevitable political knockabout, spilling over from Twitter exchanges, and includes what he sees as some choice phrases. One of these – “weapons-grade” followed by an expletive of your choice – has been freely used by both sides and is in any case hardly original.

He also suggested that “completely impartial” members (how did he know they were impartial?)  of the public had written letters complaining about the “horrible things other parties” were saying, though I’m not sure what the “other” refers to: parties other than his own, or other that the Greens, the last one he had mentioned?  Indeed, I found some of his points a little hard to follow, partly because of his confusing use of pronouns. Perhaps these details don’t matter so much on Twitter, in the same way as they don’t in the closing-time arguments in pub car parks which many exchanges on this platform so closely resemble.

He also says that “it was good to see the Lib Dems and the Conservatives compromise and bash out a motion agreeable to both parties calling for more action on sewage discharges.” The implication is that the joint motion was agreed before but this wasn’t what happened. The motion was presented by the Environment portfolio holder and, during the debate, five Lib Dem amendments were accepted: but these weren’t agreed in advance. (Were they to have been, time would have been saved at the meeting, which was long enough as it was.) Ross Mackinnon is right to say that compromise is in many cases welcome – no party has a monopoly of the truth, much as they tell us otherwise.

He concluded by referring to just one aspect of the procedural car crash at the very end of the full council meeting from which no party emerged with any credit. Indeed, anyone wanting to find reasons why they should not become a councillor could do a lot worse than watch the last ten minutes of this on WBC’s Youtube channel. You can see my report on the last motion at this meeting (which includes a link to the video) by clicking here.

• The animal of the week is this cat which is frightened of cucumbers, a fear which online research reveals is shared by many other felines. Mind you, if someone crept up behind me while I was eating, put a strange object about the size of my arm just behind me and then made me turn round, I’d probably jump in the air as well. This article in Reader’s Digest advances some theories for this terror and also says that you shouldn’t try this on your cats at home. I’m slightly ashamed to admit that we already have: absolutely no reaction at all.

• The letters section of the Newbury Weekly News includes, as well as ones referred to elsewhere, communications on the subjects of crime, climate change, re-surfacing; religion, banking and the Highway Code.

• A number of good causes have received valuable support recently including: several local charities and organisations (thanks to Greenham Trust); Aldbourne Sport and Social Club (thanks to Aldbourne Parish Council); the West Berks Therapy Centre (thanks to Greenham Parish Council); Ukranian refugees (thanks to Chris Terry); Berkshire Youth (thanks to the National Lottery).

The quiz, the sketch and the song

• So we are at the Song of the Week. The Beatles were, of course, The Beatles and that is that. However, most would agree that their genius was in their melodies and arrangements rather than in the lyrics which at times were downright lazy. The Kinks, on the other hand, displayed far more lyrical inventiveness and some damned fine tunes to boot. By “The Kinks”, one of course means Ray Davies: the fabs had three world-class songwriters whereas Ray Davies composed virtually every Kinks song on his tod. This song isn’t as well known as Lola or Waterloo Sunset but in my view better than either. Anyone who can start a song with “From the dew-soaked hedge creeps a crawly caterpillar” deserves a lot of respect. So, here it is: Autumn Almanac.

• Next we glide into the Comedy Sketch of the Week. Bill Bailey is very talented and very funny. Here he takes a look at the unique way in which people in Britain process happiness.

• And to bring things to an end, it’s the Quiz Question of the Week. This week’s question is: What does actress Suranne Jones, of Gentleman Jack fame, have a phobia about? Last week’s question was: Who is the father of Katerina Vladimirovna Tikhonova and Maria Vladimirovna Vorontsova? The answer is, of course, Vladimir Putin. He’s the father of a few other people as well. it seems. And, of course, the father of Russia. He’d like to be the father of some other places as well. He’s like that: spreading the love wherever he goes.

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