This week with Brian 8 to 15 September 2022

Further Afield the week according to Brian Quinn

This Week with Brian

Including 70 years and 214 days, a week off, eight weeks off, the better of two PPEs, clearing the decks, no Zoom, the danger of oratory, beguiling drivel, a valediction, the last five years, leads on the pavement, no white men, the cost of living, a disguised slower ball, et tu Brute, a courtship ritual, the last song, free as a bird and I am a god.

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

• Well, we all knew it would happen one day: after over 70 years and 214 days on the throne, Queen Elizabeth II has died. The many obituaries and tributes that will be be published in the coming days and weeks will doubtless focus on her exceptional sense of duty and on the enormous social changes which her reign witnessed. Both of these are impossible to ignore. She was clearly a remarkable woman who throughout her life did at virtually every moment what was expected of her and what she demanded of herself, rarely falling below an absurdly high and dignified standard of behaviour. Whatever she did, she did it properly: which is perhaps something we can all learn from.

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Regardless of our political beliefs or our views of the monarchy, her death will inevitably lead to a period of reflection. A chain of continuity has been broken and a familiar certainty has been removed. This obviously comes at a particularly testing time for all of us. None the less, she would counsel us to optimism and a positive attitude. “Perhaps,” she once observed, “we make too much of what is wrong and too little of what is right. The trouble with gloom is that it feeds upon itself and depression leads to more depression.” That attitude is now needed more than ever.

• The thing about taking a week off from doing something regular (like this column) is that you think that this will leave you with more time and energy so that the next one will be twice as good. At the risk of issuing a spoiler alert, I need to disabuse you of that idea. As soon as you create a vacuum, a number of other things get sucked into it. In my case these ranged from a couple of stressful medical appointments to domestic decorating projects, and from the arrival of all four sons for a weekend of talking and eating to a desperate and largely unsuccessful attempt to get on top of my paperwork. We also had our 750th newsletter (held over for 24 hours due the Queen’s death) to plan. Not a normal week, all in all.

• We only took a week off: the government, however, has kind of taken eight weeks off. BoJo was pushed off the end of the plank on 7 July and it has for some mysterious reason taken the Conservative party eight weeks to whittle down the candidates for what might just be the worst job in the world from about a dozen to two, most of this time being spent on deciding which of the two Oxford PPE graduates it would select. The latter stages managed to expose a number of divisions in the party without really suggesting how they might be healed. The candidates were ostensibly addressing the nation but really only the 0.2% of it that were entitled to vote for them, so making the whole contest confusing, pointless and dishonest in roughly equal measure. The Conservative Party members are hardly a representative sample of the UK (in fairness, nor would the members of any other party be). Given the small size of the electorate, even the smallest ingrained bias or administrative mix-up could have had large consequences. I’m trying to imagine how Donald Trump might have reacted to the defeat were he Rishi Sunak: not, I confess, a very easy idea to get your head around.

• Eventually, Liz Truss emerged victorious from  this protracted penalty shoot-out and promptly jetted off to the north of Scotland to tell the Queen (couldn’t they have done it on Zoom?), so wasting another half a day. There was then a wholesale winnowing of the cabinet, with all the Sunakers being cleared out, the likes of Grant Shapps and Dominic Raab being among the first to be given their cards. Not all took it well, the wife of Johnny Mercer calling the new PM “an imbecile” for her decision to sack her husband. BoJo loyalist Pritti Patel, diodes clicking and flashing like crazy, jumped before she was pushed. I presume she was unhappy about this although it’s hard to tell much about her state of mind, most of her pronouncements seeming to have been Google-translated from Portuguese and then read out by a call-centre trainee. It looks as if we’ve also seen the last of Nadine Dorries, whose unflinching and frequently pouting support for BoJo were one of the few constants during the first half of the year. She changed sides at just the right moment and apparently was asked to stay but said that she would rather spend more time writing books. Politics’ loss is thus literature’s gain: or not, as the case may be.

• I’ve only heard our new PM speak a few times but no one can pretend that she is a natural orator. Even during a clearly carefully scripted piece of political knockabout during her first PMQs in which she was given a perfect feed by Theresa May, she seemed unsure of her script and what exactly the punch line was. Perhaps it’s good that we have someone in charge who isn’t that great to listen to. In their different ways, Churchill, Hitler, JFK, Obama, Trump and BoJo were or are very good at the chat. All came to power almost entirely due to their ability to say exactly what would most resonate with the most number of people, often regardless of its veracity; and to say it in the right way. Even if you didn’t agree with what was uttered, the words created doubt about previous certainties: a kind of destructive rhetoric that left a sufficiency of listeners in a state of febrile uncertainty and primed to hear more on the subject from the same source.

Facts soon become unimportant when confronted with this kind of plausible or manipulative charm. If you are listening to a song with a compelling tune, you often cease to think about the lyrics. Indeed, all too often these are designed only to fit the mood of the music. On looking at them in isolation, stripped of their melodic and harmonic context, the rhymes often seem contrived, the sentiments callow and the overall message little more than beguiling drivel.

Thus it largely was with BoJo’s valedictory address outside Number 10 this week. A lot of the old tropes were trotted out, including about “getting Brexit done”. Yes, we left the EU, but that was going to happen anyway. What about Northern Ireland, the fisheries and the financial services? What about the legal action that the EU has launched? Are they sorted? It’s as if he had thrown all the plates and glasses in the sink after a dinner party, breaking some of them in process, and then swearing blind that he had done the washing up.

He then launched into a classic BoJo-Trumpian fulmination to the effect that his departure was the result not of any screw-up on his part but rather of the rules being changed half-way through the game. Alarmingly, he also hinted that he might return (again like Trump). The prospect of the two of them back in power can’t be ruled out. People with an almost autistic moral sense recognise no limits to their ambition and few constraints on their behaviour: if this is combined with a persuasive oratorial style and a serious crisis or two, anything can happen. We have been warned.

• One distinction that Liz Truss has managed to achieve is that I think this is the first time that none of the four main offices of state have been held by a white man.

We’ve just published an article about the background to the cost of living crisis (though there are a couple of aspects we find hard to understand) as well as an overview of the various responses on a national, regional and local level.

• I mentioned last time out about the cricket Hundred. That’s now over, the female Invincibles and the male Trents having come out on top in a couple of low-scoring finals. Hungerford’s Lauren Bell (who was at school with my two younger sons) was, for the second year in a row on the losing side in the final but had the consolation of being selected in England’s T20 squad for the forthcoming matches against India. Well done to her. She’s a devilishly quick fast bowler and with an expertly disguised slower ball that has had seasoned commentators purring with appreciation. I’m glad that my day job doesn’t involve having to face her in overcast conditions (or any conditions).

• And what about Chelsea sacking Tuchel? He’s a class act and no mistake. Big error in my view. And after just three defeats so far this season? It’s only September. I was born overlooking Stamford Bridge but I’ve never greatly cared for them (unless they were playing Man U, Arsenal, Barcelona or Bayern Munich). I bet BoJo felt some affinity for Tuchel’s situation and probably dashed off an email to him, possibly in Latin: “it’s so unfair: you lose a few games and they turn on you – et tu, Brute…”

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

Queen Elizabeth II: statements from the area’s councils

In 9 September, a statement was issued by West Berkshire Council. “The Councillors and Officers of West Berkshire Council are deeply saddened by the death of Her Majesty The Queen,” the statement began. “Our thoughts are with the Royal Family. In this bulletin you can read our tribute to Queen Elizabeth II and more about how you can share your memories and pay your tribute. 

You can click here to read the communication in full.

Statements were all issued by the Vale of White Horse Council and Wiltshire Council and Swindon Council. Town and parish councils will have also issued their own statements.

The last five years

Thursday 8 September sees the 750th weekly Penny Post newsletter. Not bad, eh? It’s grown a bit since Penny started if off as a vehicle for spreading information about the newly formed Valley Film Society, initially to about 25 people.

The last five years has seen a considerable expansion of the number of news stories that we’ve covered. Some have had their own posts: many more can be found in our eight regional news columns which are generally updated every Thursday evening. These include community notices, events and a look at the most recent parish- and town-council minutes. They also taken in some more complex stories ranging from sewage to planning, from football grounds to solar farms and from service cuts to issues of local democracy. To some of these we’ve returned time and time again: indeed there are several which were live issues when we published our 500th newsletter in September 2017 and remain so still.

In this post we’ve summarised about 35 of the main stories we’ve covered in this period (with links where appropriate) and also summarised the key principles that we try to follow when writing them. We hope to continue to cover similar issues and many more in the same way for many years to come. If you would like to suggest something we should be looking into, please email brian@pennypost.org.uk.

West Berkshire’s fund

On 8 August, West Berkshire Council, in association with Greenham Trust, announced “a £100,000 Emergency Cost of Living Crisis Fund to help charities support those affected by unaffordable hikes in energy prices and double-digit inflation.” Click here for more.

See also this article on Penny Post (also published on 8 September) about the national, regional and local responses to the crisis.

Pavement cables

As we mentioned last week, my eye was caught by a story in the Newbury Weekly News last week about the problem of cables being laid across pavements to allow people to charge their EVs if they had no off-street parking and if there was no EV charging point nearby (they’d be lucky as currently West Berkshire only has 36 of these). This didn’t seem like a huge problem considering all the other things going on so I didn’t immediately look at this myself.

A few days later, however, I changed my mind. At the meeting of Hungerford Town Council (HTC) on 5 September, it was revealed that HTC had anticipated this issue last November and asked WBC what its policy was. The plan, the town council was told, was the gullies would be built in or under the pavement – presumably at the homeowners’s expense – and that trials would be being conducted. A question to WBC on 8 September, nine months later, revealed that these trials were still taking place.

I’ve never made a gully in a pavement but I’m pretty certain that the proposal isn’t really practical. It will be expensive, time-consuming and disruptive, the first of these on its own being a sufficient discouragement for people to switch to EVs. One might also ask that if it’s taken nine months and counting just to do some trials, how long will the actual install take? What’s needed is some simple and practical advice about what people can do themselves, and now. Not everyone will follow advice issued by their local council but a fair number will. The lack of any guidance also suggests that the council has no clear view on the matter, from which it’s easy to infer that it doesn’t really care about it at all.

In such cases, a useful first step is to see what other councils do. Here one doesn’t have far to look, neighbouring Hampshire having provided what seems a clear and pragmatic suggestions involving cable protectors. One imagines Hants has looked into the legal issues of this, but this could be established in one phone call. It’s true people would probably have thought of this themselves and the idea would quickly spread by example. There was, however, an opportunity for WBC to show some leadership on this small but important issue. If there’s anything on their website about this then I can’t find it. 

As to how much of an issue this might be, I’ve done some rough calculations to see how many homes might be affected. There are about 158,000 people in West Berkshire which, at the official average of 2.4 people per dwelling, means about 66,000 homes. This summary page suggests that about two thirds (44,000) of the district’s homes are in urban areas. If we further assume that half of these urban dwellings either have off-street parking or no car and no intention of getting one, that leaves about 22,000 homes which might need to run a cable across the pavement (although it’s true that not everyone can be sure that they can park directly outside their home)

One of the biggest obstacles to EV ownership, particularly in built-up areas, is where you can charge them. Anything that can be done to make this easier is surely a good thing: and, as the Hampshire example shows, doesn’t have to cost the council a penny. Electricity from your home can also be massively cheaper than from public EV posts (though these barely exist in West Berkshire). A bit of support for what can immediately be done by residents would seem to be called for. Not too late…

Other news

• 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.

• Primary school pupils across West Berkshire are being asked to help name WBC’s new food-waste collection vehicles. “The competition is being run through schools,” a WBC statement says, “and we’re looking forward to seeing some fun suggestions to put a smile on residents’ faces as they venture out across the district.  Book tokens and family swim passes are up for grabs for the schools and pupils who submit winning entries. Details of the competition and how to enter have been emailed directly to all primary schools in West Berkshire. The competition closes on midnight at 25 September. More information on the new food waste service can be found here. I wonder if “Trashy McTrashface” will pick up any votes…

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.

• 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 for a post listing the various places which are offering a takeaway and/or delivery service. If you are aware of any others, let us know.

• The animal of the week is this male bird of paradise who really pulls out all the stops to impress his date.

• The letters section of the Newbury Weekly News includes, as well as ones referred to elsewhere, communications on the subjects of a lack of vision, a natural desire, littering, banks and boy racers.

• 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. This is not the greatest Beatles song: but the circumstances of its re-discovery, its recording and the superb video makes it, at the very least, a worthy and poignant  curiosity piece. So, click here for Free as a Bird.

• Which brings up the Comedy Sketch of the Week. I do love the movie Groundhog Day and could watch it over and over again (OK, that’s an old joke). Here’s the I am a god scene.

• And so it must finally be the Quiz Question of the Week. This week’s question is: What is (I think) unique about the four senior members of Liz Truss’s cabinet? Last week’s (actually two weeks’ ago) question was Which is the only Beatles song (aside from the posthumous Lennon ones) to have been recorded in the 1970s? This was George Harrison’s I Me Mine. I should have said “not recorded in the 1960s” as the posthumous Lennon ones (such as the one mentioned above) were recorded much later. Sorry about that: still, there was no prize at stake.

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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