Weekly News with Brian 21 to 28 April 2022

This Week with Brian

Including caught out, an episcopal firestorm, the Rwandan dead cat, Jimmy Saville, food for thought, le débat, women in politics, unintended consequences, Bill’s genius, how many cows, keeping Sir Keef happy, impersonating Boris, fractions of a penny, four more inches and life upside-down.

Click on the appropriate buttons to the right to see the local news from your area (generally updated every Thursday evening) including Recognising a pigeon, Tutti Day, a good survey, a less good survey, the Bazalgette Principle, café chat, three housing figures, a green gong, Hungerford’s festival, Kintbury’s tennis, Lambourn and Shefford’s assemblies, East Garston’s bluebells, Newbury’s raffle, Shaw-cum-Donnington’s school, Greenham’s run, Chieveley’s meeting, Thatcham’s names, Cold Ash’s tadpoles, Brimpton’s parking, Compton’s hobbies, East Ilsley’s retrospective, Brightwalton’s pop-up, Theale’s trail, Bradfield’s walk, Burghfield’s café, Tilehurst’s second refusal, Mortimer’s rhymes, Beenham’s quorum, Wantage’s scythes, Grove’s injection, East Hanney’s easement, Marlborough’s band, Andbourne’s donations and Swindon’s knitting  – plus our usual trek 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

Partygate continues its awful, lurching progress through our lives. BoJo has said that he’s apologised and some of his MPs seem to have accepted this. The unanswerable point is that he’s only done this apology thing because he was caught out and filmed and his staff were filmed and they’ve been caught out and fined by the police and may yet be again. An apology in these circumstances isn’t an apology: it’s a confirmation. An apology is when one does so as an act of free will.

[more below] 

• I was driving at the time and so concentrating on my road safety but I caught the end of the BBC’s World at One on the radio today. Sarah Montague was asking a particularly inarticulate Tory back-bencher, whose name I immediately forgot, about what the PM had said to his minions about the latest political firestorm. This concerned Boris’s comments about the BBC’s and the Archbishop of Canterbury’s views of the Rwandan migrant idea, his comments being variously interpreted as badmouthing either (i) Welby or (ii) Welby and the BBC for being tougher on this than they had been on Putin.

Sarah Montague, who often doesn’t strike me as the most effective interviewer, asked the MP several questions which were phrased as either/ors. To these he generally answered “yes” and then start talking about something else (such as what the PM had not said), whereupon she would pull him up and the whole process would be repeated. At the end – having established that the PM had not accused BBC of treating the Rwanda policy with more criticism than it have given to Putin – she ended with “thank you for confirming we got our coverage right.” Things have come to a sorry pass when our national broadcaster needs to get approval from a semi-articulate backbench MP in a last-minute rushed interview that its editorial coverage of a topical political issue has been OK.

• The Rwanda issue has a whiff of a dead cat about it – this is the strategy of distraction that’s used in extremis when you want to deflect attention from a more immediate problem. Isreal used this plan (though in secret) about eight years ago and it didn’t seem to have worked, a former Israeli MO telling the BBC earlier this week (sorry, I can find the reference) that he’d been to Rwanda a few years afterwards and had the strong impression that all the refugees had been somehow pushed into Uganda. The illegal migrant problem is horribly difficult but it doesn’t seem right, as appears to be the case, as regarding all people with dark skins to be equally at home in a country full of people who also have dark skins. The Guardian says that the PM is going into battle with the archbishops about this, which sounds pretty dead-cat to me.

• Meanwhile, Russia has released a video of what it says is a successful launch of a nuclear-capable missile. Putin said it was “food for thought for those who try to threaten Russia.” I though it was Russia doing the threatening right now.

• For a lot of people of my generation, 7.20pm on a Thursday was the moment for Top of the Pops, the one and only time when, in those pre-MTV and YouTube days, you could see your pop idols store their stuff. Many of these were hosted by Jimmy Saville: the first time I encountered him – thank god, only on TV, never in person – it seemed clear there was something odd about him. Friends who worked at or with the BBC told me after the scandal broke that “everybody knew,” statements that now seem slightly complicit though I confess I don’t know how I’d have gone about bringing down a peculiar but formidable national treasure, as he had cunningly made himself out to be.

Steve Coogan is, I learned today, playing him in a forthcoming BBC TV drama, The Reckoning, and in this article discusses the challenges and difficulties of playing such a monster. I can’t think of anyone better. Alan Partridge has more than a whiff of Jimmy Saville: while Coogan himself is an actor of great versatility, as anyone who has seen Philomena will surely testify.

Re-runs of old TotPs featuring Saville have been exorcised, and I’m ambivalent about that. You don’t want to normalise these people – although there was nothing normal about him – but you can’t airbrush them out of history either. That was what he was: a DJ, who were gods in those days, doing their strutting stuff on-camera and then god-knows-what other stuff off it. The BBC still shows documentaries about Hitler and Stalin. Perhaps that’s easier to do as neither of these two gentlemen, unlike Saville, were ever their employees. Mind you, in those days different rules applied. We can’t forever be beating ourselves up about, for instance, the casual racism and sexism that we inherited. The BBC had a monster on its books and didn’t deal with it. I don’t know who could have done. The whole thing about psychopaths like him is that they get you to buy into their view of life and make everyone but them seem wrong. Very few of us, back in the ’70s, would have done any better. Hopefully Steve Coogan’s series will make all of us, including the BBC, feel a bit better. Live and learn.

• I’m something of a Francophile – my parents lived there for 15 years and I’ve visited France more  times than I can count – but I haven’t been following the election there as closely as I might have done: Penny Post is (this column excluded) a publication with an intentionally local news focus on which I must concentrate most of my efforts. From what I gather of Le Débat, Macron appears to have got the edge over his opponent, though to a lesser extent that in 2017. As I wrote to some French friends today, the prospect of Le Pen ruling France alarms me as much as the thought of Priti Patel ruling the UK. Both are possible scenarios.

• And, before you start, this has nothing to do with their both being women. Both Penny and I have several times written about, or commissioned others to, the gender disparity in our elected officials, never mind in other aspects of life. Our district of West Berkshire, for instance, has 43 councillors, six of whom are female. I wrote to all of them today asking a few questions about this issue and will report these when thy’ve had a chance to respond.

Some councils are up for election next month – though West Berkshire and the Vale of White Horse’s electors will have to wait until May 2023 and Wiltshire’s until 2024 – but questions about our representatives are worth thinking about now given how long the lead-time for an election is. There are other disparities to address in our municipal choices as well our course, including matters such as ethnicity, age and disability: but, like most men, I can only cope with one thing at a time. A survey done in 2019 claimed that the average councillor was a 59-year-old, white, able-bodied man called Dave. I doubt the situation’s changed much since.

• It’s the Queen’s 96th birthday today (21 April) and my eye was caught by this article on the BBC website about what things amuse her. Glad to see that Dad’s Army, without doubt the greatest sit-com ever made, is on her list: but what really caught my eye is that she is, apparently, a very good mimic. She is said to be able to an excellent impression of former Russian President Boris Yeltsin, an image I’m finding rather hard to get out of my mind. I wonder if here repertoire includes any other Borises?

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 628 CV-19 cases in West Berkshire in the week 10 to 16 April, down 246 on the week before. This equates to 396 cases per 100,000. The average area in England had 305 (446 last week). See also this map from Gov.uk which enables figures at a more local level to be obtained.

Unintended consequences

There’s an article on p10 of this week’s Newbury Weekly News which looks at how business parks are evolving due to rapidly altering working patterns and demographic changes which Covid has exacerbated but which were in many cases in evidence before. I imagine that many of the points would apply to any other district in the country.

Whatever kind of places we build, by the time they’re finished it’s so often discovered that they’re in the wrong place or of the wrong kind. Sixty or so years ago, things were perhaps simpler. Most people worked in offices, shops or factories – and rarely from home – usually five or six days a week. People tended to get married, have children and not get divorced. You were more likely to work for someone else than for yourself. You would travel to work by foot, train, bus or bike or, if you were rich enough, by car. Social housing was built by the council. The recently-created welfare state gave you a previously unimagined cradle-to-grave guarantee of care and support. Many aspects of your life were structured or pre-determined. 

None of these certainties apply any more. Our behaviour is now far less homogenous or predictable. Increasing social mobility, rising divorce rates, the national shift to being a service-based economy and the possibility of home working that the internet has provided are just four examples of things that our forebears, were they be teleported forward from the 1950s, would find very difficult to adjust to. Indeed even if, like us all, you’ve lived through it, the changes can be pretty baffling particularly when imposed overnight, as during the pandemic.

In 2013, permitted development rights (PDR) were introduced which, amongst other things, enabled commercial buildings to be converted to accommodation without going through the planning system. This seemed like a swift and easy way of allowing the market to react quickly to a perceived need and, as the NWN article reports, many people have benefited from this. It’s not an unmixed blessing, though. Just as the imperative for a new-build developer is to build houses as large as possible, as these are more profitable, so someone converting an office block will be tempted to divide these into as many units as possible, for the same reason. So extreme had this practice become that a few years ago the government was forced to issue the regulation that all such conversions needed to have windows.

Furthermore, although developers will respond to market forces they can also create them. If an area has a sufficiency of developable greenfield sites and of commercial property ripe for conversion, then the area might soon become awash with five-bed houses and studio flats, which would in turn result in an influx of people into the area to snap these up. The practice off land-banking means that large developers and landowners can control the supply and thus the price of land and thus the value of what is built on it to what many feel is an unhealthy level. Squeezed in the middle of all this are people, perhaps with a family or wanting to start one, who need a two-bed house or flat ideally with a small garden. As these are in short supply, they are becoming more expensive and for many, unattainable.

As the NWN article also points out, the design of commercial buildings is often not ideal, the lack of sound-proofing being one problem that’s cited. Some may not be an ideal location, so requiring car journeys or dangerous crossings for visiting shops or schools. As the planning authority can’t control or predict exactly where these will appear it can’t plan for the necessary mitigation that might be needed (though it does receive developer contributions from the conversions). Finally, as the article relates, it can lead to the pendulum swinging too far the other way, quoting one local property expert as saying that the supply of offices is “very low” at the moment, probably partly for this reason. For the last couple of years, “the office” for many of us has been the spare room or the kitchen table and it’s still not clear to what extent working habits will prove to have been permanently changed by the pandemic. As for those who can’t find or can’t afford a two- or three-bed home, many are moving away, so leaving some towns with a demographic problem that will particularly affect their schools and GP surgeries.

Some aspects of the housing system (like PDRs) move too fast while others (like developments such as Sandleford which have been planned for over a decade but have yet to see a brick laid) too slowly. There probably isn’t a happy medium to be found.: as with most things, there so rarely is.

In other sections…

• For coverage of Burghfield’s café , see the Theale area column.

• For coverage of the the second refusal of the application at Pincents Lane in Tilehurst see the Theale area column.

• For coverage of the long-awaited re-furb of Hungerford’s Queen Anne building, see the Hungerford area column.

• For further coverage on the “survey” about these Newbury and Thatcham which has popped up on social media last week, see the Newbury area or Thatcham area columns.

• For coverage of Oxfordshire’s proposed housing figures (there are three to pick from), see the Wantage area column.

Other news

• West Berkshire Council’s Additional Restrictions Grant (ARG) Challenge Fund has closed and the Council has announced that it will distribute £696,601 to 44 local businesses through the scheme, “following a very competitive assessment process.”

• West Berkshire Council’s new business website has recently launched, the intention being “to give businesses all the latest information and support channels they need to start up, relocate and grow in West Berkshire.”

• West Berkshire Council is offering eCargo bikes for businesses in the district to try out as part of a new environmental scheme.

• 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.

• This week’s Newbury Weekly News provides colourful retrospectives of some of the Easter events. I met the paper’s Photo Editor Phil Canning at the opening of Inkpen’s new pavilion last week (see the 14 April section of the Hungerford Area Weekly News column) and, on the strength of our chat, I’m happy to draw your attention to these sections and their photos, many of which he would have taken or edited. The Shefford duck race, Newbury’s Easter Wonderland, the Lambourn Open Day, All About Dogs at the Showground and the Devizes to Westminster canoe race are all featured.

• There’s a letter in this week’s Newbury Weekly News which says that we’re all paying too much attention to partygate, in the process devoting another four column inches to the subject. Aside from the fact that, for a writer, it’s the gift that keeps on giving (we have to fill these columns somehow), it’s important to establish if the person leading the country is or is a not a liar. The correspondent says he wrote a letter about the amount of travel on the road on Christmas Day but there wasn’t any comment on the letters page about it. Well, no, I don’t suppose there would have been.

• Another correspondent asks petrol companies to stop displaying fuel prices always ending with .9 of a pence, a campaign that seems as doomed as getting shoe shops to sell their goods for a round number of pounds. He asks what you can buy for .9 pence. I can offer one possibility. Years ago I heard a story of someone, I think in Italy, who diverted all the fractions of a Euro from the banking transactions he was controlling into his own account, which soon swelled to a size he was not able to keep secret. It’s hard to see who the victim was here as the rounded-down sums otherwise presumably disappeared out of the system. It can’t just do that, can put? Any experts out there who can shed any light on this?

• The animal of the week is this two-toed sloth, one of the inhabitants of The Living Rainforest in Hampstead Norreys. Nature has produced some strange-looking beasts, and sloths are right up there (and upside-down).

• The letters section of the Newbury Weekly News includes, as well as ones referred to elsewhere, communications on the subjects of extreme male control, conversion therapy, short memories, privatised services and warped criticism.

• A number of good causes have received valuable support recently including: several local charities and organisations (thanks to Greenham Trust); St Mary’s Church in Great Shefford (thanks to the duck derby); Swings and Smiles (thanks to the Easter Wonderland); Versus arthritis (thanks to Renate Hughes); the Thames Valley Air Ambulance and the Lambourn Valley Housing Trust (thanks to the Lambourn Open Day).

The quiz, the sketch and the song

• So we are at the Song of the Week. The Rolling Stones’ Exile on Main Street is widely regarded as one of the great rock albums of all time and a personal triumph for Keith Richards. It also proves what can be accomplished even in the most chaotic and dissipated circumstances, both words certainly applying to the band’s residence at the Château Nellcôte in Villefrance-sur-Mer in 1971. One of the best songs from the album was Happy: apart from some backing vocals by Mick Jagger, none of the other band members other than Sir Keef even appear on the track. It was one of the first Stones songs on which Richards did the lead vocals and has become a staple of their live performances ever since. This version was performed in New York with Sheryl Crow in 1999. A classic.

• Next we glide into the Comedy Sketch of the Week. I’ve decided, belatedly perhaps, that Bill Bailey is possibly a comedy and musical genius. This one is Any Song Sounds Better in Heavy Metal (it starts of for some reason with the first part of the routine about happiness I mentioned last week and then it cuts into to something else. His death-metal version of Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star is really worth a click).

• And to bring things to an end, it’s the Quiz Question of the Week. This week’s question is: The largest shark that is ever known to have lived was the Megalodon, which grew up to 20m long. It’s stomach is estimated to have had a capacity of 10,000 litres. Assuming cows existed then and were part of its diet, how many cows could it have eaten to leave it full? Last week’s question was: What does actress Suranne Jones, of Gentleman Jack fame, have a phobia about? The answer is wrists. Carpophobia is the word for this which, according to her Wikipedia entry, she believes “possibly developed from viewing imagery of Christ’s crucifixion and stigmata as a child”. My father was also brought up in the Catholic faith: the nuns’ main achievement, after teaching him to write with his naturally dominant left hand strapped being his back, was to give him a paralysing stammer which blighted much of his childhood.

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