This week with Brian 28 July to 4 August July 2022

Further Afield the week according to Brian Quinn

This Week with Brian

Including a mud-wrestling festival, a collapsed moderator, reaching the true blues, the gas war, globalisation, the machine stops, elderly and over-educated, a wonderful back-heel, a mini-bread catastrophe, attacked by emus, love needs a heart and 36 sixes.

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

• As the country battles heatwaves, strikes, inflation, a European war, the unfinished problems of Brexit, the resurgence of Covid, the arrival of Monkey Pox and the news that we will need to host next year’s Eurovisions, the Conservative Party has been indulging – no other word seems to serve – in a leadership contest. It’s slightly as if, in September 1939, the British army decided to concentrate its energies not on the threat of invasion but on holding a two-month mud-wrestling festival.

[more below] 

The contest, which already feels like it’s been going on for ages, started on 11 July when the 1922 Committee agreed the process and won’t be completed until 5 September when the leader is announced: eight weeks in all. General elections only last for five. This seems odd as in general elections there are often a double-figure number of candidates to choose from in each seat and over 46m people for the various parties to try to reach. With the Conservative contest, there are just the two candidates and only about 180,000 electors. Both candidates also know exactly who these electors are: while the members themselves probably made up their minds weeks ago. We are, however, being treated to a full English of TV debates, even though only about one in every 260 people watching them can actually vote.

But surely, you might say, it’s a good thing that the two candidates should show their colours and be held accountable? I’m not sure. I haven’t watched any of the debates but they must be rather artificial things . The impression is that they’re addressing everyone: the reality is that they’re not. All the messages are aimed at the Tory membership, This will shift the debate – and thus the policies that the winner will follow – into addressing the pre-occupations of the right. Each candidate’s perception of what will stir the members to find their fountain pen and scratch a mark in one or other box is thus much more important than what the country as a whole needs. The members of the Conservative Party are not, however, representative of the country.

Nor, I hasten to add, are those of any other party: although it is worth recording that as of 2019 the Labour Party had more members that the Conservatives, the SNP, the Lib Dems and the Greens combined. That’s not saying much. Even adding up the combined totals of the seven parties whose memberships are covered in this report, if 100 adults at random were gathered in a room only two would be a member of any political party. Just to pick one other stat, the average English person is 39 while the average Conservative party member is perhaps in their late 50s (no one seems sure). Statistica claims that the Conservative party is the only one of the five mentioned above which has more than half its members aged over 60.

Nor do the two candidates appear to like each other very much. Perhaps familiarity has bred contempt as they have both spent some time in the same Cabinet. The cover of the most recent Private Eye has a photo of each of them with the same speech bubble: “Only I can sort out the mess left by the government I was in.” The TV debates don’t seem to have sorted anything either. The first seemed to have been a rather bloodthirsty draw, while the second, this week, ended with the moderator collapsing – perhaps from boredom – which brought proceedings to a shuddering halt.

A number of members may already be yearning for the days of BoJo, a week being a long time in politics and perhaps enough for them to have forgiven his worst crimes. Were there to be a snap three-way vote amongst the members tomorrow, he might well win. As it is, the blue faithful will be need to make a fairly familiar choice, between a male Oxford PPE graduate with too much money and a female Oxford PPE graduate with too little sense of humour. A good, wide field then. May the better Oxford PPE graduate win.

• The idea of a gas war would, for most people, conjure up images of WW1. However, that seems to be happening right here and right now. Russia is applying the lesson that OPEC woke up to in the 1970s: if you have what everyone wants, to make more money or get everyone’s attention, all you have to do is start turning the tap off. The above-mentioned BBC article and those linked to from it provide a good number of charts and stats about Putin’s recent decision to do just this. The superficial good news is that the UK would be fairly unaffected by any shortages as we import less than 5% of our gas from Russia (for Germany, this is over 40%). Here in the Lambourn Valley we have no mains gas so it shouldn’t affect us at all. It will, of course, as there will be competition for other forms of energy. Typical bills might be close to £4,000pa by early next year. We’re all so inter-connected that no one is any longer immune from what happens elsewhere.

Globalisation is wonderful (in theory) when everyone’s interests are aligned and when there are no immediate and unpleasant consequences. Brits can buy laptops made in Taiwan, Koreans can buy wine crafted in France, Egyptians can buy fish caught in Alaska, Canadians can buy Tequila distilled in Mexico: and so the cycle goes on. If we can pay for it, we can get whatever we want: thus it is that more and more items move from the “luxury” to the “necessity” category in our heads. Whether it’s Apple Macs, avocados, Adidas trainers or absinthe, then Amazon or whoever else can get if for us within 24 hours, no questions asked. In the same way, and again if we can afford to pay, we can get rid of anything from plutonium to plastic bags, often by shipping them somewhere else. To a large extent, a nation’s success is judged by how much it can consume and how much it can get others to dispose of the mess this creates.  As a result, the world is in a ferment of activity. Items that in general we don’t need or feel we can now do without are being moved around the planet in a way that is, it’s now increasingly clear, playing merry hell with both the environment and our own concept of what happiness or success actually mean. A disruption, such as happened in the  oil crisis in the early 197os, 9/11 and right now with energy prices, makes us realise how fragile this all is.

• The whole increasing sense of unease that I feel is underpinned by the internet, something which in its public application has yet to turn 30. Although I am assured by experts – and one close friend of mine was involved in getting the whole thing fired up – that it would now be almost impossible for it to collapse, I can’t shake off the feeling  that one day this thing upon which we reply will one day just stop working. Have a read of EM Foster’s short story The Machine Stops for a prescient view of this fear from 1909.

I didn’t worry about this five years ago, so perhaps this is just a result of the effect that Covid, Putin and climate change have had on our lives. It’s now clear that there are forces at work which are either indifferent or actively hostile to the way of life to which, with significant local variations, the majority of us have become accustomed to. It’s perhaps hard to believe that anything that existed when we were born – the NHS or the welfare sate, for instance – could ever cease to be; and so equally hard to believe that anything that emerged since we became sentient – the internet or Bitcoins, for instance – can have any permanence. My sons, all in their 20s, will have different but identically predicated views of their own certainties.

• To return to the gas wars, the huge lesson this teaches me is that we must all look to rejecting globalisation as a solution to all the problems we face. The main issue, from which all else flows, is that of energy generation. The technology now exists to enable countries to use wind, tidal, solar or geo-thermal power sources to create all we need needed. We are, however, as Putin’s latest gambit has shown, still largely trapped in the same pinch as we were nearly 50 years ago during the oil crisis. All our policies on everything from now on should be subordinated to making countries, districts and communities both sustainable and independent for energy generation. Each country or region will have their own solutions but the emphasis should be placed on those that admit of the least interference from forces that they can’t control. At present we see fuel and energy as coming from an invisible hole in the ground thousands of miles away. That idea has worked for the last hundred or so years – a minute in terms of our time on this planet and a mere heartbeat in terms of its existence – but its time is surely up. We have perhaps a decade to make a seismic shift. I won’t find this any easier than will anyone else. It will require massive state investment. It may not be possible for our competitive and aggressive species to achieve it all. However, that seems to be the reality we are facing.

• And  then, on top of all these problems that we have, we go and make life more difficult for ourselves by relying on the moral and religious norms handed down to us by the archaic tenets of organised religion. An Egyptian woman living in Saudi Arabia has this week been arrested by the Saudis after being accused of posting “sexually suggestive content,” the accusation being that she was trying to turn women into lesbians. Firstly, it doesn’t work like that: secondly, even if you do this, so what? Islam, like most religions, has always been proselytising of its own beliefs but heaven help anyone who can be seen as pushing a different agenda. That’s the trouble with monotheism: they’re right and everyone else is wrong. The hypocrisy of organised religion constantly takes my breath away. The combination of  a mediaeval history degree and a lifetime spent watching our major faiths in action has convinced me that the whole lot of them – despite any truths their founders, if they ever existed, may have been privy to – were conceived by, and have been perpetuated by, a bunch of elderly and over-educated misogynists who managed, through casuistical arguments and centuries of social control, to manipulate us into believing that morality could only be realised through religious observance, on their terms.

• Moving on to lighter and more positive matters, the Women’s Euros, which will conclude on Sunday 31 July with the final between England and Germany, has been a delight to me (much as the women’s cricket Hundred was last year, a competition I watched and enjoyed far more than the men’s and to which I am again looking forward who it re-starts next week). As with my earlier comments about the internet, it’s a lot easier to accept something as being both normal and permanent if it existed when you were a child: anything since then requires an act of will, rather than a default acceptance. When I was growing up, football and cricket (there are no other sports in my view) were played by men. That is no longer the case. People growing up now will see that the women’s versions are, if not yet equal in coverage and finances, at least in a far closer orbit and certainly the equal in terms of skill and dedication to the male versions.

This is an excellent change. Over 9 million people, including me, watched England’s 4-0 victory over the world’s second-ranked country Sweden earlier this week. You should take a look at Alessia Russo’s back-heeled goal in this match. In 1993, the year the internet came out publicly, Arsenal beat Doncaster Belles to win the Women’s FA Cup in front of a mere 3,500 people at the Manor Ground in Oxford. It just goes to show that we can change the way we see things…

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; Burghfield area; Wantage area

• On Thursdays I need to make a lot of phone calls but today most of them have gone unanswered. This always makes a writer a bit despondent – I imagine people see my number flashing up and think, “On no, I don’t want to talk to him” – but in fact it seems there’s a problem with Vodafone and perhaps other networks in the area. No idea why or for how long.

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 large flightless birds. Why, well, when you see a headline that reads Man fleeing Wiltshire crash scene attacked by emus, you’ve just to read it, haven’t you?

• The letters section of the Newbury Weekly News includes, as well as ones referred to elsewhere, communications on the subjects of Newbury’s football grounds (of course), insulting half the population, geese and words on war.

• 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. The web is still capable of luring us into unintended games of word-association-football-match-box, etc whereby you start looking up one simple thing and end up being led astray, like a dog seduced by enticing scents, until five clicks later you’re somewhere utterly different. The other day I looked up some population statistics for the UK and then, by a strange and tangled route I can’t now recall, found myself reading about the former Little Feat frontman Lowell George (a man who, according to a reviewer back in the day, had a slide-guitar sound that could cut a donkey in half from twenty paces). I recalled that he’d co-authored a song on Jackson Browne’s superb Running on Empty album, which I’d always loved, so I listened again – yup, it still sounded as good as ever: better, possibly, as this version has been re-mastered. So, click here for Love Needs a Heart.

• So that makes the next stop the Comedy Sketch of the Week. Trying to pick the best scenes out of This is Spinal Tap is almost impossible as there are so many to choose from. Here’s just one: The Mini-bread Catastrophe.

• And to bring things in to land, here’s the Quiz Question of the Week. This week’s question is: The record for the most sixes scored in an international T20 match is 36 and was set last month. Which two countries were involved? Last week’s question was: The 13th Women’s European Football Championship is currently taking place in England. Only four countries have ever won it – name them. Germany (eight wins), Norway (two) and Sweden and The Netherlands (one each). Germany will have a chance to make it nine this weekend when they take on England at Wembley, the first international final between the two countries since that match in 1966 about which we’re still talking. 4-2 would do for me this time as well. I don’t think any Russian assistant referees are going to be involved on this occasion.

For weekly news sections for Lambourn Valley; Marlborough area; Newbury area; Thatcham area; Compton and Downlands; Burghfield area; Wantage area please click on the appropriate link

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Covering: Newbury, Thatcham, Hungerford, Marlborough, Wantage, Lambourn, Compton, Swindon & Theale