Weekly News with Brian 19 to 26 May 2022

This Week with Brian

Including a man in his 50s, staying silent, understanding money, a Russian colonel, tearing the pants out of it, the good clockmaker and the devious seducer, DNA resurrection, plastic problems, windfall, King Harvest, jockeys in the wild, a big sale and forty minutes of snoring.

Click on the appropriate buttons to the right to see the local news from your area (generally updated every Thursday evening) including what do they do?, all not well, a handle on Sandleford, stakeholder engagement, levelling up, Hungerford’s installations, Froxfield’s energy, Kintbury’s objection, Lambourn’s award, East Garston’s wicket, Shefford’s babies, Newbury’s mayor, Donnington’s winner, Boxford’s refusal, Hamstead Marshall’s gravel, Speen’s café, Thatcham’s visit, Cold Ash’s swap-shop, Bucklebury’s communication, Chaddleworth’s newsletter, Beedon’s assembly, Compton’s grant, Theale’s fîete, Mortimer’s windmill, Burghfield’s democracy, Beenham’s art, Wantage’s park, Great Coxwell’s conservation, Marlborough’s festival, Aldbourne’s kerbs, Swindon’s duchess and Haydon Wick’s lunch – plus our usual yomp 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

• The House of Commons has been brought into further disrepute this week by the news that an as-yet un-named Tory MP has been arrested over rape allegations “dating back to between 2002 and 2009.”  All we know about the MP so far is that he’s male and in his 50s. Given the composition of the Commons, that doesn’t narrow it down very much.

[more below] 

The charity Rape Crisis says that in 2021 there were 67,125 rapes recorded by the police but also that five out of six women, and four out of five men, don’t actually report cases. The actual figure could thus be closer to 400,000. This is per year: so if we go back 20 years to when the first offence by the MP is alleged to have happened, we’re talking about perhaps as many as eight million cases. Rape Crisis’ stats go on to suggest that one in five women, one in six children and one in 20 men have been “raped, sexually assaulted or sexually abused.” The NSPCC puts the number of children who’ve experienced sexual abuse lower, at about one in 20. Even the lower figure is horrifying. By the nature of the crime, we’ll probably never know the true incidence. Some victims take decades to come forward. Others never do.

Aside from the shame or embarrassment that discourages many victims from reporting the crime – as well as the suspicion that the police wouldn’t be able to do anything, which nearly one in four women cited as their reason for staying silent – the problem with prosecuting is that it’s almost always one person’s word against the other’s. Even if the crime is immediately reported and forensic evidence is available, one still has to prove the matter of consent. Additionally, I suspect that many rapists are cunning and manipulative and find ways of creating some sense of complicity in their victims.

Many of them are also powerful, either physical or in other ways. If they’re public figures – think of Jimmy Saville – they might play the “who’s going to believe you?” card, perhaps accompanied with a promise of some favour or preferment (which might also have been used as a lure). A celebrated DJ or, in this case, an MP, are both clearly powerful people. So too are people who are, or see themselves as, figures of consequence within a smaller area. A pillar of the community may well feel that they have enough clout to deal with any consequences and also perhaps, in a perverse way, the feeling that they’ve somehow earned the right to do what they want.

Both Rape Crisis and the NSPCC say that a very large majority of attackers are known to their victims, which must create its own challenges to coming forward, particularly if the man is in a close relationship with a family member, such as being a step-father. This must be the hardest crime of all for a child to report, or to deal with as the years go by.

We mustn’t forget how much power adults have over children and how much most children are in awe of them. An argument with your own ten-year-old about homework or bedtime may suggest this isn’t the case: but these battles are being fought on familiar ground and for stakes which the children well understand. As soon as sexual predation appears, however, a child will be completely at sea. If they are known to their attacker there would be some bond which can be exploited, perhaps to the extent that the sexual aspect is described as “normal” and all part of their “special relationship.” As time passes it will become clear that it is not: but, looking back with adult eyes, the crime could seem to be one in which the victim had been complicit. Certainly the effort spent suppressing the memory, or memories, would work against coming forward later.

The police must find these allegations exceedingly difficult, particularly if they’re historical or involve a prominent person, nationally or locally. Each case is no small matter, however, and each needs to be looked into. Societal changes, which take generations, will help change this. There are also now a large number of charities and organisations to assist victims.

However, as with all crimes, the predator also needs to be restrained by the expectation, or at least the fear, that they will be caught. Reporting crimes early is key to this. I concede that in such cases this often doesn’t happen soon enough, or at all: which is exactly what the perpetrators want. Even if cornered, they might make out-of-court settlements which silences the victims but establishes no public guilt and thus reduces the whole transaction to a purely legal and financial matter. It’s then up to each party to decide whether they feel the victor: but, ultimately, the person who has bought someone else’s silence has merely compounded their original crime.

• I have grave difficulty understanding money, of almost any sum, so don’t ask me for insights into what prices have suddenly gone bango. This article on the BBC website might help. The thing I do know about it is that, like so much else in life, it represents a triumph of collective faith and imagination over empirical reality. The ten-pound note in my wallet is only worth ten pounds because, say, Neil and Karen at the Hungerford market are prepared to share my view. If anything happens over a short period which might make my tenner seem to be worth less, or their fruit and veg more, then the transaction will fail. Inflation increases this tendency and creates doubt, uncertainty and suspicion. And, for many people, poverty. One of the ways of dealing with it is to raise interest rates (ie, the cost of money), so if you’ve got a mortgage then even worse pain may await. All in all, we might be better off without it but I don’t see that happening any time soon.

Meanwhile, the idea of a windfall tax on energy companies seems to be gaining momentum: not because the government sees this as an inherently good thing but because the political pressure, including from within the Conservative party, is becoming too powerful to resist. I’m uneasy about it: not because I have any great sympathy for the energy companies but because I don’t think that raiding someone else’s bank account is a solution to anything. A tax system that needs to rely on occasional plunders – for so they could be seen – is to admit that it doesn’t work very well and isn’t responsive enough to the needs of the market. Also, one exceptional measure can justify future ones, which may be more pernicious.

• A Russian colonel, Mikhail Khodarenok, appeared on a prime-time TV show this week and undermined several of the tropes that seemed to be the mainstay of the Kremlin official line: namely that the Ukrainian army is in disarray; the war is going well; all is good.

He painted a very different picture, warning people against relying on “informational sedatives” (a lovely phrase) and saying that the Kremlin’s view that the opposing forces lacked morale was “to put it mildly, not true.” A million Ukrainian soldiers could mobilise, he asserted, supported by arms supplied by the west in defence of their “motherland”. This was a word he repeated twice (albeit the second time with the qualification “as they see it”). This surely counters the central point of Putin’s thinking: Ukraine isn’t their motherland, it’s the Russians’. From this tenet flows the entire justification for the war being just a mere special military operation.

The colonel also said that things would get worse: another surprise for many Russians, perhaps, as previously many might have thought that military matters were on track. The fact that his country was “in total geopolitical isolation, even if we don’t want to admit it” might not have gone too well, either. It will be interesting to see if Mikhail Khodarenok makes any more TV appearances in the near future.

This could, of course, be a cunning plan either to prepare the population for something other than total success or – and here one gets even more devious – allowing a dissenting or alternative view some airtime to demonstrate that the coverage is uncensored, so making all the positive spin seem the more believable. Anyone who always attacks or always defends is, as well as being boring, impossible to believe. Perhaps Putin has realised that.

And talking of surprise TV stars, Professor Sir Jonathan “don’t tear the pants out of it” Van-Tam was unable to attend his knighthood ceremony this week because he has Covid. This seems an entirely reasonable irony. He also said he’d had to miss a couple of his beloved Boston Utd’s games, which he described as “absolutely dreadful.” His reaction of not being able to go to the investiture was by contrast described as a “disappointment.”

• Wednesdays and Thursdays (when we do the newsletter and the news sections) and Fridays (when we deal with matters arising from, or parked as a result of, these and also a do three or four radio shows between us) are quite exhausting. Our typical relaxation on Friday night is cooking and eating a pasta- or curry-based dish with a bottle of red in front of a police procedural. Last Friday, though, provided a total change of scene to unwind as we were instead in the beautiful setting of Sheepdrove in Lambourn to listen to a piano recital by Mikhail Kazakevich as part of the Newbury Spring Festival. On the menu was Bach, followed by Schumann.

Anyone who knows me at all will be aware that my musical interests, in both writing and listening, involve electric guitars, sequencers and lyrics that tell a story. I’m a sucker for a cool guitar lick, a shuffled drum fill or a clever internal rhyme. That said, what I’ve heard of Bach (not nearly enough) I love; Schumann I knew virtually nothing about. I went along to the concert with an empty mind: or rather, with a mind that needed to be emptied and was being offered a new way of accomplishing this. Being a very indifferent musician and unfamiliar with the pieces, I wouldn’t presume to comment on the execution (though I found the piano a bit too “toppy”, certainly in the first part). What stunned me, however, was the different ways I reacted to the two composers’ music.

The Bach preludes and fugues at first created a sense of calm but no particular mental visualisations. This was slowly replaced by a reassuring sense of order. After about fifteen minutes an image of a clockmaker drifted across my mind, to which I held onto. It seemed perfectly appropriate to the elegance and structure of the music. This much I know about Bach, that many of the resolutions can be spotted a split-second before they happen, leaving you with a sense of satisfaction. Every so often, though, there’s an unexpected detour. This stirs you slightly and quickens your senses but doesn’t alarm. You know you are in safe hands and you will reach the destination in his own good time.

After the interval, it was Schumann’s turn. This was a very different experience. I immediately found myself imagining a man in a 19th-century drawing room,  dressed in all the finery that the age and his class could provide, making a series of propositions to someone I couldn’t visualise. His approaches moved with unnerving ease from gushing flattery to veiled threats and from oily charm to elaborate promises. It was like eavesdropping on a seduction, or an elaborate con. It was slightly exhausting and, at that time of the week, demanded too much of my emotions.

The finale, which I imagine was also Schumann, alternated between anger and introspection. So caught up was I in the image of the roué in the salon that I saw this as the thoughts of the “victim” who was veering between incoherent rage and trying to see the bright side of whatever they’d unwillingly agreed to.

By the time the last chord had faded, so had the image. It was as transient as that: powerful at the time but essentially of the moment and, fortunately, not my problem. Bach’s good clockmaker persisted, however: ever diligent, ever reliable, ever inventive. It was like being given a brief and uncomprehending glimpse of the machinery of the universe. Probably this impression wouldn’t have been as powerful without Schumann’s strutting peacock, the artifice of which was something I admired more than I enjoyed. 

So, if you ask me to choose between the two maestros I know now what my answer would be, which I couldn’t have offered with such certainty this time last week. As for the police procedurals, elegantly crafted things as they are too, they’ll be waiting for the next time…

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 138 CV-19 cases in West Berkshire in the week 9 to 15 May, down 31 on the week before. This equates to 87 cases per 100,000. The average area in England had 82 (108 last week). See also this map from Gov.uk which enables figures at a more local level to be obtained.

Plastic problems

I was recycling some accumulated hard plastic at the mini recycling centre (MRC) at Hungerford station car park last week (click here for a list of all of these in West Berkshire) and it struck me that the container for these also accepted cans. As cans are collected at the kerbside, this made me wonder why hard plastic couldn’t be collected in that way too and sorted along with the MRC stuff. Ask an expert, I thought, so dropped a line to WBC’s waste manager Kofi Add-Gyamfi. He told me that materials collected at the MRCs are sorted (at Padworth) before being sent to the recyclers and there’s limited capacity there and that “costly modifications” will be needed before it can accommodate more. Many manufacturers are also beginning to change the packaging used for products which means that “more certainty is required before introducing significant changes to our collection or sorting systems.”

He also referred to the economics. “We collect only plastic bottles at the kerbside,” he added. “This has comparatively higher quality and attracts more robust market prices than other household plastic waste types. If we collect other lower-quality plastic packaging together with bottles at the kerbside, it will reduce the overall quality of the plastic sent to market unless significant effort is put in at the materials recovery facility (MRF) to sort the mixture.” Collecting these lower-quality, but often bulky, plastics at the kerbside will, he said, also lead to more time taken to collect and probably more lorries.

Space being at a premium in many homes, one thing WBC might want to look at is offering free or subsidised domestic plastic crushers for homes. These are not large and there are many models available. Another – one for the planning department, currently hard at work on updating its local plan – is to ensure that all new food shops above a certain size have a dedicated place, inside or adjacent to the building, where as wide a range of plastics and other materials can be collected for recycling. This may be in place for all I know. If it isn’t then it should be, and enforced.

The MRCs are, Kofi also pointed out, “located at places that can be stopped at as part of people’s normal errands.” They are, in other words, near the supermarkets from where most of the plastic we’re recycling comes from in the first place. Just as we now are training ourselves to make sure we have shopping bags before setting off for the weekly shop, we also perhaps need to to remember to take our plastic as well. Solar and wind farms are not many people’s preferred neighbours but they at least remind us that we can no longer assume that our energy comes from some invisible hole in the ground on the other side of the world. In a similar way, it’s perhaps no bad thing to be reminded that when we buy things packaged in plastic that it has to go somewhere afterwards. Actions, as we are increasingly being reminded, have consequences.  However, we need the government, councils and retailers to continue to do their bit as well.

Other news

• West Berkshire Council and the Thames Valley Chamber of Commerce are encouraging businesses to take part in an economic surveyclick here for details.

• On Saturday 21 and Sunday 22 May 2022 there will be a give-away event at the Padworth Integrated Waste Management Facility (IWMF), Padworth Lane, RG7 4JF, between 10am and 4pm where residents will be able to pick up Veolia’s locally produced soil conditioner for free.

• 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 new business website has 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 helen.dean@ccberks.org.uk or visit www.ccberks.org.uk.

Click here for the best coverage we’ve seen of all things football-related in 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 these threatened species whose DNA is being frozen so that at some point in the future they could be resurrected.

• The letters section of the Newbury Weekly News includes, as well as ones referred to elsewhere, communications on the subjects of visions, elections, a high price tag, religion and Sandleford

• A number of good causes have received valuable support recently: see the various news area sections (links above) for further details.

The quiz, the sketch and the song

• So, up looms the Song of the Week. The Band was one of the most original, and one of the most traditionally American, bands there has been, and turned out a number of wonderful songs chronicling and exploring many aspects of life which most other songwriters of the time had not even tried to grapple with. King Harvest (Has Surely Come) is a good example.

• Which means that next must come the Comedy Sketch of the Week. One of my favourite Big Train sketches – and there are quite a few of those – is this pseudo nature documentary about a pack of jockeys being stalked by The Artist Formerly Known as Prince – Jockeys in the Wild.

• And finally it’s the Quiz Question of the Week. This week’s question is: What was unexpectedly sold in Newbury for £1.5m this week? Last week’s question was: What is remarkable about the circumstances in which Keith Richards wrote the song Satisfaction? The answer is that he wrote it in his sleep. Back in the day, Sir Keef would keep a cassette player and a guitar by his bed in case he had any late night-inspiration. On one occasion in 1965 he struck gold without waking up. The following morning, or so the story goes, he saw that the tape had payed to the end: on re-winding and playing, he found himself listening to the now-famous riff followed by “forty minutes of snoring.” The snoring part’s probably worth something, if only as evidence that Keith Richards, at least once in his life, actually went to sleep.

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