This Week with Brian
Including tractorgate, avoiding the naughty bits, a stupid jacket, a blurred mind, strange language, bean counters in the black book, moral bankruptcy, a bourgeois illusion, nontuplets, a word abstemiously ignored, a poodle moth, permitted development, a unique gender inflexion, Franck Egglehoffer and waiting for the end of the world.
Click on the appropriate buttons to the right to see the local news from your area (generally updated every Thursday evening) including a 65th anniversary, an NDP roadshow, an extension for the eagle, a community bus, other plans, costing the pavilion, up in smoke, Hungerford’s club, Kintbury’s open day, Lambourn’s vacancy, East Garston’s group, Newbury’s festival, Greenham’s wait, Boxford’s phosphates, Wash Common’s quiz, Chieveley’s thanks, Thatcham’s library, Bucklebury’s lights, Cold Ash’s appeal, Compton’s grant, Beedon’s address, East Ilsley’s quiz, Theale’s update, Padworth’s jumble, Burghfield’s costs, Wantage’s wildlife, Grove’s decibels, Marlborough’s fridge, Berwyn’s project and Swindon’s bid – plus our usual hitch-hike around the websites and FB pages across the area.
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• Porngate, or tractorgate, has played itself out pretty quickly and seems perhaps about to be eclipsed by Starmer-partygate Before we move on to that, I think it’s worth reflecting on what the fall of Neil Parish tells us about what we expect of our elected representatives.
Your Local Area
Obviously, watching porn in the House of Commons isn’t a great look. Would it, however, have been OK if the debate had been about pornography? (Were it to have been, I’m sure he’d have mentioned it). I’m not sure what the debate was about as I haven’t followed the story that closely. It seems to me that watching anything on your phone is pretty bad if it isn’t to do with the debate and probably even then, as you’re there to be concentrating on what the other people are saying.
He said he was looking up something about tractors. Was the debate about tractors? I don’t think so. So why the hell was he doing that? The Guardian reports that the Labour Party has claimed that Parish “appeared to have committed a criminal offence which carried a maximum two-year prison sentence.” That was because he watching porn. But it’s OK to look up tractor prices (he runs a farm in Somerset). It must be OK, otherwise he wouldn’t have used it as a defence. So, by that logic, watching Basic Instinct on your phone during a Commons debate which you’re employed to attend but to which you’re paying absolutely no attention is absolutely fine, as long as you look away during the naughty bits.
Leaving aside what kind of porn site involves tractors, which I don’t even want to to think about, we turn next to the kind of tractor he was seeking to buy. It seems this was called a Claas Dominator. I imagine that if you type that into to Google you might get some X-rated replies. I did so. These are big and quite pricey and are described as “an icon among combine harvesters” on the company’s website. Claas sounds unfortunately like “class”. The idea that he might have been searching for a website called “Class Dominator” raises even more questions. That’s probably OK to do in the Commons as well.
One final thing on this poor man. I’ve never had to appear on national TV making a grovelling apology for a screw-up like this, but if I ever did I would not have chosen this jacket. A Tory MP who owns a farm in Somerset and goes around buying combine harvesters must have loads of jackets. Did he look at himself before setting off for the studio and say, “yes – this jacket is really going to swing the interview my way.”? Why is it waterproof? Did he think the interview was going to be conducted outdoors in a thunderstorm? And what are those corduroy patches on the shoulders? And, with that jacket, why that shirt and tie? Maybe I’m out of touch with West Country fashions but to me it makes him seem, at best, like a self-parody and, at worst, slightly bonkers. Anyway, that’s his career finished. Who’s next?
• Maybe the Leader of the Opposition. As mentioned, above Kier Starmer now stands accused of having a drink with other people during lockdown. As with BoJo’s various gatherings, I’m unsure whether the alcohol is somehow seen as a worse crime than the gathering by Fleet Street’s reporters, that notoriously abstemious group of people. The mention of this aspect certainly crops up in the stories about both politicians. I remember that there were rules during lockdown about not socialising but I don’t remember any about not getting drunk, or having a drink. It’s like with Mr Parish’s tractor/porn muddle – what is the real sin? As for who committed what crime, the various reports and investigations and accusations have rather blurred my mind. Perhaps that’s the intention.
• If anyone is in any doubt about the remarkable ways political leaders use language, a Kremlin spokesman had said that it’s “nonsense” that Putin will use the 9 May Victory Parade celebrations in Moscow as an opportunity to announce that Russia will declare war on Ukraine.It’s just a special military operation, of course.
• Meanwhile, this BBC article has claimed that “UK accountancy, management consultancy and PR services account for 10% of Russian imports in these sectors’ and from these the Russians are now cut off. It seems extraordinary to me that anyone in Russia has up until now been using PR services from the UK. “10%” seems like a lot. Perhaps it is. How many of these services does the UK buy in from elsewhere? Maybe I’m feeling in a particularly cynical mood but I can’t see how the removal of these bean counters and word polishers is going to bring Putin to his knees. Perhaps it will; perhaps this is Achilles knee. Time will tell.
• In the same article, Foreign Secretary Liz Truss is quoted as saying that “doing business with Putin’s regime is morally bankrupt and helps fund a war machine.” Assuming she’s been quoted correctly, that means that it’s the accountants and so forth who’re morally bankrupt, not his regime. Assuming she said, or meant, that it was his regime that was morally bankrupt then we really are entering choppy waters. If we’re looking for morally bankrupt regimes that fund war machines then many of the countries from which we buy, for example, oil or to which we sell, for example, arms would fail this test: as, therefore, might we.
To play this card, and live by it, all the time would probably be great but is never going to happen. To pull it out of the back of the pack just when it suits you makes you seem like – indeed, makes you – a hypocrite. Unless we all rise up in mass revolt, we’re all complicit in this. If the British Foreign Secretary has said this, it soon gets shortened to “Britain has said”. There’s no way out of the realpolitik rat-trap in which we’re stuck. For a sufficiency of the population, including me, life is made tolerable by accepting that collective morality is often subservient to personal benefit. Things like the special military operation in Ukraine force some people’s hands and you get the moral accusations flying around. If there’s some half-baked ceasefire and Putin starts selling gas cheaply again then all this will change. We all know this. We just don’t choose to think about it. We can’t afford to.
• Morality is perhaps a bourgeois illusion. Only societies which, or individuals who, benefit from the way the world currently is have the luxury of being able to think that it’s possible to follow a course of action that has a long-term or altruistic benefit, rather than one which merely permits survival at sunset. I think I try to live my life in a moral way – meaning, for this definition, that I try take the views of others unconnected with my immediate social group into account when deciding on any action – but the behaviour of our politicians and leaders, who get away with what they can, suggests that this is regarded as a contemptible attitude. Liz Truss’ comments prove that morality is a subjective, utilitarian and ultimately disposable concept anyway.
It’s sometimes necessary to take a firm grip on the basin as you look into the mirror and convince yourself that it’s actually worth following any rules at all. Councils, national parliaments, governments, religious organisations, trade unions, football clubs and all the rest of them break any regulations as much and as often they can to secure advantage and where the benefits of so doing outweigh the risk of detection. We claim that there are not enough police officers, planning enforcers, Ofsted inspectors and all the rest: have more of them and all will be solved. But no: all the the appointment of more of them will do is to increase the number of regulations and laws they will be expected to deal with. In some societies, like pre-1989 East Germany, there were too many people enforcing regulations; in some, like present-day Britain, there are perhaps too few. The fact that we all, from PMs downwards, organise our behaviour largely how balancing detection against advantage suggests that morality plays less part in our behaviour than any of us, including Liz Truss, would like to pretend.
• Changing the key as we move into the coda of this section, the BBC website has reported that the nontuplets born in Mali a year ago are all fine and healthy on their first birthday. I can’t believe their parents are. Four children at decent intervals wore me at times to a state bordering on lunacy: and I didn’t even have to do the breast-feeding. But nine. Nine? I see they have an elder sister, who’s pictured smiling in the photo. I sense she’s going to get pressed into serious action pretty soon…
Across the area
• 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 area; Lambourn Valley; Marlborough area; Newbury area; Thatcham area; Compton and Downlands; Theale area; Wantage area; Swindon area.
• The BBC reports that there were 201 CV-19 cases in West Berkshire in the week 24 to 30 April, down 123 on the week before. This equates to 127 cases per 100,000. The average area in England had 123 (200 last week). See also this map from Gov.uk which enables figures at a more local level to be obtained.
• West Berkshire Council’s Children’s Services has retained its Good’ status following the latest inspection from Ofsted.
• West Berkshire is set to receive an allocation of £1m from the UK Shared Prosperity Fund to help level up communities. A statement from WBC said that “The funding will be used to deliver projects that fall under the three priorities of the scheme: communities and place, supporting local business, and people and skills. We are also set to receive a £674,525 allocation for the Department for Education’s Multiply programme to improve the numeracy skills of local adults who need it.”
• 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.
• 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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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 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 Berkshire, Vale of White Horse, Wiltshire and Swindon.
• 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.
• A letter on p18 of this week’s Newbury Weekly News from Lib Dem Councillors Alan Macro and Tony Vickers refers to the problems that can arise from conversions under permitted development rights, to which I referred on 21 April (commenting on an article in that week’s paper). The correspondents say that a number of unwelcome issues can arise from this “as such conversions do not have to follow most planning policies.” It does appear to be a very strange arrangement ,not least because the planning authority has to deal with all the mitigating consequences of the re-developments but has no say in whether or not they go ahead. It’s a bit like trying to rule a country but with a constitutional an exemption for anyone born on a Tuesday who don’t have to obey and of the laws.
• The animal of the week in the Venezuelan poodle moth. Yes, you read that right the first time. It looks like…well, a cross between a moth a poodle. Is is real? I don’t know. I do hope so.
• The letters section of the Newbury Weekly News includes, as well as ones referred to elsewhere, communications on the subjects of time to go, bad news for the NHS, policies for young people, sports maths and community solutions.
• A number of good causes have received valuable support recently including: several local charities and organisations (thanks to Greenham Trust and town and parish councils); Curridge School (thanks to Chieveley Parish Council); Thatcham Town CC and Swings and Smiles (thanks to Thatcham Town Council’s Mayor’s charities); DEC Ukraine (thanks to numerous local diners and events, including those at the Shalbourne May Day event); Brightwalton Village Hall (thanks to recent village fête); Hungerford Rotary Club (thanks to the Classin Vehicle Show).
The quiz, the sketch and the song
• So we approach the station that is the Song of the Week. Haven’t had any Elvis Costello for some time so let’s fix that right now: Waiting for the End of the World (seems appropriate at the moment) from his stunning debut album, My Aim is True.
• A bit of a delay for passengers so we’ll divert you with the Comedy Sketch of the Week. A bit snipped from a movie which I’m sure I’ve offered you before but it still makes me giggle, so here it comes again: Martin Short’s wonderful turn as the camp and incomprehensible wedding arranger Franck Egglehoffer in Father of the Bride with Steve Martin being, well, Steve Martin.
• And we crash into the buffers at platform 7 with the Quiz Question of the Week. This week’s question is: What’s the only English adjective (I’m tempting fate by saying “only”: see below for why) that inflects according to the gender of the noun it describes? Last week’s question was: What is the only word in English that contains all six vowels in their correct alphabetical order? I’m indebted to Julian Rota of Kintbury for pointing out there are in fact two (as well as few really strange and ugly ones that are best left to the Scrabble board). I knew of “facetiously”: he also reminded me about “abstemiously”. The fact that the first came to mind but not the second perhaps tells you all you need to know about me.