This week with Brian 25 August to 1 September 2022

Further Afield the week according to Brian Quinn

This Week with Brian

Including the great resignation, bish-bosh, three new stars, Catherine of Braganza, trapped in the past, the Liz and Rishi show, wired for sound, the last week of August, a bit of political knockabout, through the bathroom window, what the hell is that, number 46 and a wobbly elephant.

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

We were told this week that barristers were going on strike and (earlier this year) that one in six want to quit the profession. We also know that there aren’t enough GPs, NHS dentists or nurses, many of whom have apparently quit their professions as well. The hospitality industry pretty much closed down during the pandemic and, as plenty of anecdotal evidence from round here suggests, many of the staff have not returned. There are estimated to be over 160,000 vacant posts in social care. Fruit pickers are almost an endangered species. Retail, education, farming…the list goes on and on.

[more below] 

Where have these people gone? Some have vanished from the UK because of Brexit but that doesn’t explain it all. Is everyone now working as either a delivery driver, a call centre bod or a management consultant? Or is the UK now a largely gig economy where everyone does a bit of this and bit of that, taking out an appendix in the morning, defending a mugger in court in the afternoon and doing some maths tutoring in the evening?

I posed this to some friends of mine and learned that this trend is an actual thing and which even has a name: the great resignation. This article from The Conversation suggests that the situation is not so much that people are leaving professions but they are moving sideways into other roles in the same area. Some have retired early while others have left the country. Many, some known to me, have also joined the gig economy or turned a hobby into a business.

Add it all together and you have a difficult backdrop for any employer, the more so as costs and wages are rising. The employment market seems to be in a state of disruption: like more or less everything else, in other words.

• The cricket Hundred has me properly hooked. Purists will say that’s all bish-bosh but it has plenty of nuances and changes of pace and mood: the difference, compared to any other form of the game, is that everything has an immediate consequence. A batter will have not several overs but maybe one or two balls to play themselves in; a bowler, with a maximum of 20 deliveries, has no time to hit their rhythm; while every dot ball, dropped catch or boundary-saving dive is potentially significant.

As for the viewer, having some of the games on TV is a mixed blessing. August is, as a result, not the most productive month for me. Each Hundred is about as long as a football match with extra time, or a film, which makes it well short of the complete day’s wipe-out that comes from watching three sessions of a test match or a 50-over game. The trouble is, there are generally two consecutive Hundreds (the women’s in the afternoon and the men’s in the evening). More work clearly needs to be done early in the morning at this time of year.

One of the most interesting developments is having one of the fielders wired for sound so that the commentators can now and then get an on-field view about what’s going on or might be about to happen. The producers need to find someone who’s articulate, relaxed, amusing, insightful and able to multi-task. All the ones I’ve heard have ticked all these boxes. Cricket is a cerebral game and so has plenty of players who can handle this request. For a number of reasons, on-field chats with footballers would work a lot less well.

Probably the chief delight about cricket is the commentary. Unlike with most sports, the art of cricket commentary is similar to that of the art of conversation. There are long pauses which permit discursive chat and banter: the skill for whoever is running the show is to give the guests the right amount of slack and then get them focussed for the next moment of possibly explosive action.

(Others can join in as well. About ten years ago I made some contributions to an online chat during a test match that resulted in the Wikipedia entry for Charles II’s wife Catherine of Braganza briefly being changed. If you ask nicely I may tell this story on another occasion.)

Getting back to 2022, the BBC already had two total commentary stars for the Hundred in the very different shapes of Phil Tufnell and Carlos Brathwaite. To these have been added, for the Hundred, a number of past or present women cricketers, many of whom are absolute naturals. Former England player Isha Guha has been playing the anchor role for many of the matches and should definitely be used more, regardless of whether it’s a woman’t match or not. Then there’s the irrepressible Alex Hartley, a World Cup winner with England but now playing only franchise cricket, who as well as being insightful about her own specialist dark art of left-arm spin is also very funny. Most impressive in some ways is England fast bowler Issie Wong who is sharp, confident, incisive and, if you please, only 20 years old.

When I was growing up it was generally assumed that all women were uninterested in team sports; and, for that matter, that most men were interested in them. Sport is a fairly important part of life for many people (just look at the TV viewing figures for major events) and so it’s easy to see how an interest in (and thus in some cases a proficiency in) a major sport somehow puts you in the fast lane and the top tier. At the schools I went to between eight and 18, sporting excellence (which I never possessed) ranked much higher than did academic attainment: indeed, in terms of being cool, the latter was an an active drawback. If you could execute a perfect cover drive or drop-kick then you were in some way blessed. Even knowing what these things were and being able to identify one when it happened was pretty useful. If you couldn’t tell a cover drive from a drop kick then a number of doors of opportunity were perhaps closed to you, or so you might feel. Times are now more fluid. It has certainly helped that the long-held view that women were inherently bad at football or cricket has been found to be complete rubbish.

This is important because most of our core values are instilled in us by the time we reach adulthood. These become progressively harder to change with each passing year. A good deal of human intelligence is expended on providing rational arguments to support a point of view that is essentially an emotional or instinctive and which in most cases had its origin in our formative years. Anything to do with religion and, in most cases, politics can be put in this box, as can many societal views. Many of us have at times wished we were back in the supposedly carefree days of our childhood. The reality is that, for better or worse, a good part of us lives there yet; imprisoned in a past from which we can’t escape and which we can barely remember.

This article in The Conversation performs a linguistic analysis of Rishi Sunak’s and Liz Truss‘ speeches and comes to the conclusion that “Sunak is more authentic and emotional and Truss more analytical.” (I’m not sure whether “authentic” can be applied to anyone who seeks political office, so desperate are they to appear top be all things to all people.) The article seems to support my doubt. “Worryingly,”it concludes, “both candidates were below the average for analytical thinking. This might indicate that they haven’t really thought through their ideas, are avoiding being too specific or even flip-flopping in response to each other’s claims and counter-claims in frantic efforts to win votes.” Business as normal, then.

• Going back to the fielders in the Hundred wired for sound, I wonder if this might profitably be extended to other occupations. Imagine if an MP, a bus driver or someone installing a fibre-optic cable were filmed. Much of the chat would be people shouting at each other, getting on or off the bus or the sound of drilling: but, every now and then there’d be a thread of insightful comment: video gold that could make a media star of the most unlikely person.

• I read somewhere (can’t remember where) that people born in the last week of August were, in the UK at least, more likely than those born in any other week to do badly by various measures of attainment. The reason, it seems, is that they were always the youngest in the school year (which starts on 1 September) and so experienced various size- and age-related humiliations that they were never able to dispel. Makes sense to me: my birthday in 29 August. Partly for this reason I shall be giving this column (and all the regional news ones) a rest next week while I reflect on and – far too late – try to rectify the problems this trauma has caused me. If I’d thought about it in time, and been American, I could have sued my parents but that moment has passed. Assuming I survive this period of self-examination, I’ll see you in a fortnight…

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

Puff pastry

West Berkshire Council has recently conducted an annual review of the its 2021 Economic Development Strategy Refresh “to showcase what we have achieved over the last year. The review looks at the progress that has been made against delivering the goals of the strategy, with a summary of actions and achievements, and includes some feedback we’ve received from local businesses that we’re proud of. It also looks at areas where our priorities have changed in response to external factors, such as the emergency response to the pandemic.”

Councillor Lynne Doherty, Leader of West Berkshire Council, said that “this has been a valuable chance to take stock of the commitments we made last year and the progress that has been made towards achieving them. Our focus throughout most of 2021 was on supporting our small businesses to mitigate the impact of the pandemic. Now, a year on, we are able to shift our focus back onto the longer term issues we know are a priority for local people, such as supporting high-quality employment and enhancing our town centres to galvanise West Berkshire’s position as a great place to live, work and do business.”

All of these hosannas are perfectly normal things for councils to indulge in, particularly with an election on the horizon: it’s all quite harmless stuff and just what one would expect. I was, however, slightly surprised at the “five key achievements highlighted in the review” which the press release picked out:

  1. The £6,420,000 of Covid support grants distributed to local businesses
  2. Setting a new way forward for the redevelopment of the London Road Industrial Estate
  3. Delivering a Masterplan for Newbury town centre with similar work on the way for both Thatcham and Hungerford
  4. Targeted support for employment and skills through the Kickstart scheme and Rebel Business School
  5. Enhancing our engagement with local businesses and delivering a Business West Berkshire website.

1 and 4 were merely administering payments or schemes that came from Whitehall. Don’t get me wrong: I think WBC administered these pretty well, particularly the Covid-related ones, but I don’t see how these could be claimed as economic achievements.

3 has indeed been commissioned and been provided by  the consultants and some its recommendations may have been implemented: but “delivered” (ie “completed”)? This is also an opportunity to express once again my loathing for “delivery” being used to describe something that isn’t the arrival of a package, a pizza or a baby. I doubt I shall ever convince WBC about this but I’ll keep on trying.

2 is even more perplexing, Nothing has been provided or built (or “delivered” ) at the LRIE apart from some court summons and eviction notices, and an access road that should have been paid for by developers. Over the last 20-odd years the scheme has been been through several aspirational phases: the new way forward to which the bullet point refers is the announcement earlier this year  that this industrial estate would become…wait for it…an industrial estate. I would have kept this massive municipal embarrassment off any list of solid achievements.

5 I shall hand over to Lib Dem shadow Economic Development portfolio holder Jeff Brookes: as the list is a piece of political puff pastry, it seems appropriate to have another politician respond. “I support a new website geared for the business community although this should have been developed years ago – the web is not exactly new! But having developed a good looking website, where can I register my interest/email address in order to get news and engaging with the Council? If I navigate the main West Berkshire website – which most businesses will start with – there is no link to this business website and neither do I find it if I search “Business” or “Economy” on there. Finally on this new website, there is no link to it from the WBC LinkedIn profile, so the business network does not have sight of this website. This is just poor; before launch they should have anticipated all of this and had it easily accessible by multiple means.So this is a rather unimpressive list that seeks to paint the Conservative Council in a good light when frankly, the opposite is true. All in all, nothing to see here of any consequence!”

As I said, all good, harmless political knockabout fun. If you missed this exchange, don’t worry: there’ll be others coming along at increasingly frequent intervals between now and the election on 4 May 2023.

Other news

• West Berkshire Council “congratulates all young people who collected their A level, AS level, T level and level 3 VTQs exam results yesterday. We wish them well on their next career-path steps.” Read more here.

• West Berkshire Council has issued a statement on the subject of moving-traffic offences, which you can read more about here. The consultation closes on 20 September.

• From the same council, click here for details of the 2020 Summer Reading Challenge.

• West Berkshire Council is hoping to secure £4.5 million for a series of local projects. “If we succeed in securing a share of the Government’s UK Shared Prosperity Fund,” this statement reads, “we would use £1 million of that money for projects focussed around four main themes: re-designing Newbury Wharf; creating new sports facilities in Purley on Thames; supporting local culture and heritage activities in rural communities; and giving advice and guidance to businesses to help them thrive.”

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

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.

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.

• You can click here to choose to receive all or any of West Berkshire Council’s e-newsletters.

• 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.

• 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 animal of the week is this baby elephant taking its first faltering steps. All together now: “Aaaah…”

• The letters section of the Newbury Weekly News includes, as well as ones referred to elsewhere, communications on the subjects of open and closed minds, degeneration or regeneration, a voting record, Covid screens and the energy crisis.

• 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 we are at the Song of the Week. You can’t go wrong with picking a Beatles track for a section like this (well, you can, but not very often). Here’s one of my Fabs’ favourites, McCartney’s She Came in Through the Bathroom Window from Abbey Road. This was the last Beatles song on which all for of them played at the same time, so something of a melancholy milestone.

• Which brings up the Comedy Sketch of the Week. Following on from last week, a bit more Bill Murray, this time with Steve Martin on Saturday Night Live: What the Hell is That?

• And so it must finally be the Quiz Question of the Week. This week’s question concerns, like the song (above), the last rites of The Beatles’ career and is Which is the only Beatles song (aside from the posthumous Lennon ones) to have been recorded in the 1970s? Last week’s question was: Americans give their Presidents numbers: which number is Joe Biden? He is number 46 (which reminds me of that crazy 1960s TV show, The Prisoner: “You are number 46.” “I am not a number, I’m a free man…”)

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