This week with Brian 21 to 28 July 2022

Further Afield the week according to Brian Quinn

This Week with Brian

Including investing in the future, a waste of money, the next PM, the last PM, libertarian drivel, lots of very small things, one very big thing, animal lollies, stronger than justice, three weather warnings, five easy pieces, five cities and four winners.

Click on the appropriate buttons to the right to see the local news from your area (generally updated every Thursday evening) 

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

• I don’t know if the word “hot” is appropriate to describe the weather over the last few days. Only twice before have I experienced temperatures like that and on both occasions I was a lot younger and had gone to seek them (in Crete and in southern France). This time, it came to me. We’re lucky that our house is naturally quite cold and also in a valley with a river (or what’s left of it given that it’s seasonal) running along one edge of the garden, which tends to ameliorate temperature extremes. Many were far worse off than us. None the less, suffering is highly subjective and I’ve never derived much comfort in any misfortune by reminding myself that someone else is getting it worse than me. This was no ordinary misfortune, however, and there were three things about it that were particularly scary. 

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The first is, of course, that we’re going to have to get used to it. These events will happen more and more frequently and with even greater severity. It may well already be too late to do anything about the worst effects of climate change. Humans can only cope with a small number of threats at any time, that number usually being one.

“Coping with” something, however, involves being able to do something about it on a time-scale which newspaper editors and social-media adherents are prepared to accept as reasonable (say about three days). There was nothing to be done about this heatwave apart from endure it: to prevent future ones will require changes that might take decades. The cost-of-living crisis can, however, be solved by Whitehall writing out enormous cheques, as during the pandemic. At the moment, though, the government’s main concern is who its next leader will be. In a month or so, the heatwave will have been forgotten but the cost-of-living crisis will not. As Professor Chris Whitty memorably and cheerfully remarked last autumn with regard to Covid, “winter is coming.”

I don’t think we’ve ever been been faced with an existential crisis like this. If nature wanted to plan a campaign against humanity its current tactic could not be improved upon – an advance towards us at a speed so imperceptibly slow that it’s easy for us to be distracted by something else, punctuated with spectacular examples of what its power really means, much as a terrorist executes random hostages. We all know now that we should have started dealing with this thirty years ago.

The second is the extent to which, for most of the last three or four days, my brain and body (and perhaps yours) almost completely stopped working. I’ll be honest, I thought I’d cope a bit better better than this.

The third is that the recent average temperature of say 38º is about 5% more than the “normal” July average (whatever that is any more) of 22º. (Absolute zero is -273.15º so it doesn’t seem sensible to use any other base point.) The really scary thing is that, even on this maximum scale, a 5% increase is pretty big. If one were to take 0º as the base point than the increase is a terrifying 72%. A repeat in August can’t be ruled out.

• What can we do about this? The horrible reality is that most of us can do very little (although that’s not to say we should stop trying). Investment in the future – whether it’s buying Premium Bonds or investing in a more sustainable heating system for our house – depends on having cash that we don’t immediately need and so can afford to tie up in something that will produce long-term benefits. The vast majority of the eight billion or so people on the planet are, however, looking no more than a couple of days ahead. It’s hard to think of a time in human history where the need for long-term planning has been more at odds with the clamour for short-term solutions.

• It’s amazing the extent to which even the heatwave can be politicised and turned into ammunition for libertarian drivel. My son Michael spotted this last week and penned this article for us, As of 22 July, the worst of the savage heatwave seems to be behind us: the even more savage erosion of our freedoms to which he refers continues apace, however, as the Met Office has now started issuing warnings about thunderstorms…

• Moving on from this to more minor matters, the battle to decide the next PM of the world’s sixth richest country will no longer be decided by a mere 357 MPs but by an electorate about 500 times larger, though perhaps no more representative of the population: the 180,000-odd members of the Conservative Party. There’s little I’ve read that suggests that this group of people – about 0.5% of the adult population – is in any way representative of it. The party is coy about releasing details of its members, but research suggests that nearly two-thirds are male, 90% are white and about half live in southern England. Opinion differs as to their age, 57 to 72 being proposed as the likely range.

I don’t know how much time and money the various candidates will have spent on social media but I venture to suggest that, in terms of getting themselves elected, this was almost totally wasted. For the first rounds, all the electorate was personally known to them. For the last one, I suspect that, if one accepts the demographics quoted above, social media is pretty useless as many of members will either distrust it, not use it very much or be largely oblivious of it. All of these are perfectly sensible positions to adopt.

Personal appeals through whatever mailing lists the two candidates can obtain is one one way that the battle will be fought. The other is through the national press which, I suspect, a reasonable number of members of Conservatives (and perhaps other parties) still see as important. We might therefore all expect a barrage of pro and anti headlines and articles for the two candidates over the next couple of months even though these are aimed at only a tiny percentage of the people who even buy newspapers any more.

• As for the outgoing PM, BoJo’s last PMQs were conducted in a ghastly level of hypocrisy. At the end he appeared to suggest that it was not the end, “hasta la vista: mission largely accomplished – for now.” The first bit is reminiscent of Bush’s premature verdict on the Iraq fiasco in 2003: the “for now” suggests that he’s planning a comeback. The hypocrisy came when all his party stood up to applaud him as if he’d just scored a century at Lord’s, even though many of them had been plotting his downfall only a couple of weeks ago. There is nothing more unedifying about politics than watching it in action at moments like this.

• I don’t know why I read articles about things like the size of the universe or the number of atoms in it (about 10 to the power of 80, if you can imagine that) but my eye was seduced by the large number of articles about the James Webb telescope which is now sending back stunning images from a long way away or a long time ago, depending on which way you look at it. My mind, still suffering from internal heatstroke, was in no condition to absorb or understand some of the facts. Take this article in The Hindu (which it prefaced with the accurate warning that “this is going to hurt your brain”): when the telescope sees light from galaxies as they were 13.7 million years ago, these are “not 13.7 billion light-years away. The actual distance to those galaxies today would be about 46 billion light-years. This discrepancy is all thanks to the expanding universe.” This, the article concludes with masterful understatement, makes calculations on a large scale “tricky.” I think “tricky” is an awfully well chosen word here…

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

Click here for news of summer events and activities for families and children in West Berkshire.

• The latest round of members’ bids (by which local councillors can bit for projects in the ward they represent) has been announced by West Berkshire Council.

• A new group, Draughtbusters, is being created to help tackle draughts and poor insulation in the homes of the district’s elderly and vulnerable residents. More details can be found here.

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 museums newsletter from WBC.

• Click here for the latest news from West Berkshire Council.

Click here to visit WBC’s business website.

Click here for details of consultations currently being run by WBC.

Click here for the latest libraries newsletter from WBC.

Click here for the latest Covid newsletter from WBC.

Click here for the latest waste and recycling newsletter from WBC.

Click here for the latest residents’ newsletter from WBC.

Click here for the latest business newsletter from WBC.

Click here for the latest environmental newsletter from WBC.

• 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 ones at Longleat that were give ice lollies to keep them cool during the recent heatwave.

• The letters section of the Newbury Weekly News includes, as well as ones referred to elsewhere, communications on the subjects of e-scooters, dog whistles, taxes and an insulting point of view.

• 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, here comes the Song of the Week. I was having an email conversation with some friends this week and one of them suggested a song (can’t now remember which one) the structure or time signature (7/8) of which remanded me of a song by Sting from back in the ’90s which I hadn’t heard for decades. Thanks to the inter-web thing, within seconds I was listening to it. The lyrics are a bit silly but constructed with the man’s customary precision: the music is wonderful and, as you’d expect, expertly performed. He is a sharp and clever songwriter who surrounds himself with top-notch players. I am also always in awe of anyone who can play the bass guitar and sing at the same time. The video is also notable for showing what a lovely house Sting had (or had then); also for an accident from 2′ 10″, the result of which fits the music so perfectly that it’s hard to believe it wasn’t pre-arranged. Anyway, check out Love is Stronger than Justice and decide for yourself.

• So that makes the next stop the Comedy Sketch of the Week. Another, separate, email exchange with the same group of people, one of whom is about to move to New York, led to a discussion as to whether you “hold” or “slide on” an aspect of a meal you don’t want when Stateside. So far as I’m concerned, the ultimate source material for this is Jack Nicholson’s attempt to order what he wants in Five Easy Pieces: so, here it is.

• And to bring things in to land, here’s the Quiz Question of the Week. This week’s question is: The 13th Women’s European Football Championship is currently taking place in England. Only four countries have ever won it – name them. Last week’s question was: In the 1960s, the location of Milton Keynes was chosen because it was roughy equidistant from which five English cities? These places were (and, indeed, are) Leicester, London, Birmingham, Oxford and Cambridge.

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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